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Gear Review: Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW

March 8, 2010

After 7 years of hard use the zipper on my old Lowepro Topload 70 AW finally failed and can’t be replaced.  I used that good ol’ chest pack hiking, backpacking, canyoneering and climbing and grew to love the immediate access it provided to my camera.  It did take a little while to get used to hiking without being able to see your feet.

Naturally, when it died, I picked up a replacement.  Lowepro made some changes to their entire Toploader line and I was excited to get my hands on the latest model.  We were in Phoenix so I headed over to Photomark and picked up a spankin’ new Toploader Pro 70 AW.  I was disappointed to learn that the new Toploaders aren’t sold with a chest harness.  You have to order one, and they aren’t even out yet.  Lowepro gets a big ol’ suckola for that bonehead move.

The new design is a little more streamlined and the fabric seems to be tougher, and maybe even a little more weather-resistant.  There are two external mesh pockets that weren’t on the original model.  Lowepro kept the compression strap and an attachment strap for accessory pouches. 

New to this model are a Fastex buckle that supplements the main zipper.  I found myself leaving the pack unzipped and only fastening the buckle to allow even faster access to my camera.  Also, the main zipper now opens to the side of the pack rather than from the rear.  I’m not sure why this design change but I got used to it after only a few hours.

The rain cover now deploys from a hidden pouch on the side of the pack instead of from inside the front pocket.  This was a smart design change.

Lowepro added a small zippered pocket to the top of the pack.  I find this pocket to be perfect for my business cards, remote shutter release, microfiber cloth, hot shoe bubble level and the hotel room shower caps mentioned in this post.  They kept the front zipper pocket but it’s now considerably smaller.  In the old model I was able to carry 2 GND’s, a polarizer, a variable ND filter and a compass.  In the new model I have to cram the polarizer and vari-ND in and the pocket barely zips over them.

The main compartment is also smaller than on the old model.  Where I used to have room on either side of the attached lens to store additional small items, now there is none.  It’s a tight fit with my Canon 5D2 and attached vertical grip, and either a 24-105mm or 16-35mm lens, including hood.

Lowepro provides a padded 3 point shoulder strap that I promptly trashed.  Since the new chest harness isn’t yet available I attached the old harness for my field tests.  To date I’ve done 4 hikes with the Toploader Pro 70 AW, two of which were several hours long in rugged desert terrain.  The pack carries as comfortably as my old one, although I did note that it doesn’t sit as close to my body.  I suspect this is a result of using the old harness with the new pack.  After some use I grew to like the side opening design and I really like that I can use one buckle to keep the main pocket closed instead of having to zip and unzip it all the time.  My camera carries securely inside the pack, which is well padded, and was comfortable to wear for several hours at a time.

Overall, I think Lowepro has done a respectable job designing this new pack.  They should include the chest harness, and I hope it will carry closer to my body with the new harness attached.  I do wish it could carry a few more small items like my old pack.

Would I recommend the Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW?  Yep, I sure would.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2010 4:02 pm

    Nice review Bret, surely helpful!
    I was considering a topload myself sometime ago, but found it would be practically useless for my means of transportation (motorcycle), maybe only for short rides or short hikes, then again I find myself changing from the 70-200 to the 17-40 quite often, so I don’t know how that would work.
    Ended ordering a flipside 400AW and waiting to see if its worth its reputation! 🙂

  2. aluter permalink
    March 8, 2010 9:36 pm

    Not sure what you mean about the harness … I bought the Toploader and harness a month ago with no problems. Are they coming out with a new design on the harness?

    • March 8, 2010 9:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment.

      The harness that comes with the Toploader is a 3 point shoulder sling, not the chest harness I use. The 4 point chest harness allows you to wear the Toploader on your chest while carrying a full backpack. The 3 point shoulder strap won’t work in this role.


  3. aluter permalink
    March 8, 2010 10:04 pm

    Yeah, true and a pain in the butt … but I was able to buy the chest harness separately. You mentioned it was not yet available. I had no problem picking one up.

    • March 8, 2010 10:52 pm

      The older style chest harness is available. The new harness that is actually designed to work with the new Toploader, which has assymetric attachment points on the top, isn’t yet available. According to Lowepro it should be shipping in about 30 days. The old harness does work but it’s imperfect. Who knows, maybe you got lucky and found a new one on the shelf!

  4. aluter permalink
    March 8, 2010 11:08 pm

    Doubt it … it hangs pretty loose. Hope the new one is a bit snugger.

  5. March 9, 2010 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the review Bret. I live by my AW-75 Toploader but keep having zippers go out on me. My current one is almost gone and I’ve been trying to figure out what to use to replace it. I like the idea of the side opening and buckle as that would help, even when the zipper goes. I’m sad to hear that it has less room though. It was nice to be able to hold my 5D with a 17-40 attached and my 70-200 in the bag together with my GNDs. I look forward to hearing reviews about the new harness. The current one isn’t all that great, especially on very long hikes.

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