Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW Review
In-depth, real-world review of one of the year's best camera backpacks - the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW. See whether it's right for you and your gear!
Lowepro has a reputation for creating a huge variety of well-made bags, but competition in recent years has been stiff, with a new breed of Kickstarter-driven competitors shaking up the market. Lowepro has clearly been paying attention and has designed a very smart, solidly padded and refined bag in response.
Camera backpacks that get everyday use, offering flexibility and nice finishing touches, are all the rage right now, and Lowepro’s FreeLine BP 350 AW is a welcome addition to the party.
Its understated appearance offers a wealth of features, functionality and finishing touches that make it a joy to use.
Rugged, spacious and highly customisable backpack that keeps your gear safe and organised.
Every bag has its shortcomings and compromises but they’re few and far between on the FreeLine BP 350 AW.
If you’re after a camera rucksack that’s packs a huge amount of both gear and features, this could be the bag for you.
Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW Specs
- Smart appearance
- Gear feels well protected
- Easy access on the go
- Swaps out to a regular backpack very easily
- Side doors don’t stay open when you want them to
- Sternum strap is very hard to hook into place
- Weight: 2 kg (4.4 lb)
- Internal Dimensions: 25.5 x 18 x 47 cm (10 x 7 x 18.5 “)
- External Dimensions: 29.3 x 20.8 x 48.7 cm (11.5 x 8.2 x 19.2 “)
- Camera Compartment Dimensions: 25 x 16 x 32 cm (10 x 6.3 x 12.6 “)
- Top Compartment Dimensions: 25 x 15 x 15 cm (9.8 x 5.9 x 5.9 “)
- Laptop Compartment Dimensions: 25 x 1.5 x 40 cm (9.8 x 0.6 x 15.7 “)
- Material: Super high-grade nylon with carbonate coating
- Fits: Up to 15-inch laptop; Cords, cables and personal items; DJI Mavic 2 Pro or Zoom; DSLR or Pro Mirrorless body with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached; Medium tripod
- Removable internal shelf/divider system
Build & Appearance
Despite a reputation for making high-quality bags, Lowepro has rarely drawn praise for the elegance of its creations — until now.
Available in two colours — black and heather grey — the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW is a notable step away from the typically tactical or sporty designs while still offering something highly technical.
Both colours have a distinctly urban feel and have clearly been influenced by recent trends in bag design. Both are smart, understated, and avoid drawing unnecessary attention.
Something that strikes you quickly is how well protected your gear will be inside this bag. Without adding a ton of weight, the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW offers more padding than many of its rivals, particularly on the bottom.
In addition, the way it’s packed out means that none of your lenses or bodies is sitting against the bottom of the bag. As a result there’s lots of protection from any hard landings when setting the bag down.
The bag has a semi-rigid structure, making it feel solid but not heavy. The exterior is not a firm shell but the interior shelving system and the amount of padding allows it to keep its shape.
Lowepro takes a lot of pride in how tough the exterior material is. As you’d expect, it is scuff and water-resistant, and all of the zips are weather-proof. The YKK design means that there is webbing on either side that folds over the seam as you pull the zipper closed.
The black version that I received picks up dust readily and the semi-gloss finish makes any dirt very visible, but it does seem very resistant to scratches and brushes clean easily.
Lowepro also includes a rain fly as standard. I appreciate not having to pay extra for a fly though I do wish it had been incorporated into the bag itself as I have a habit of forgetting where I’ve tucked them away when they’re not in use, or losing them completely.
The shoulder straps are wide and well-padded, easy to cinch and loosen, and additional handles are on top and on each side.
The sternum strap adds comfort and pulls the bag snug against your bag, but one of my biggest criticisms of the bag is how fiddly it is to hook and unhook. It gets easier with practice but it’s definitely annoying.
One of the shoulder straps features a zippered pouch that expands to accommodate a large smartphone that is then secured using a velcro flap.
[Editor: Every backpack should have one of these, but surprisingly few do! So useful.]
On the top of the bag’s face is a small zippered pocket suitable for small, non-valuable items when on the go, or perhaps a phone and passport when passing through airport security.
All of the attachment straps are secured with anodised aluminium buckles, with Lowepro opting for intelligently designed hooks, rather than male/female plastic connectors that clip together and risk becoming tired or broken.
This is a nice touch that adds to the sense of refinement, and keeps it in line with many of its competitors.
While the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW feels sleek, secure, and self-contained, the zippered top access is also a little bit restrictive when trying to max out its capacity.
Bags with roll tops or magnetically attaching flaps allow you to push the bag beyond its dimensions when required.
By contrast, the fixed shape and zip system means that once you’ve maxed out its capacity, there’s no scope for pushing its limits, or making it more compact when only half full.
That said, there’s plenty of strap options should you need to find a means of attaching something like a coat or a picnic blanket, and the rigidity of the bag makes your gear feel well protected.
Three zippers give you access to the main body of the bag. Two are symmetrically placed on either side, creating doors that allow you to quickly slide out your gear.
The top zip gives access to an upper compartment that can hold more camera gear but is designed more for clothing, food, or non-camera bits and pieces.
These side doors are easy to open but be warned: there’s no means of stopping them from flapping back into place, making repacking a little bit annoying. Their hinges mean that they always want to be closed which is a small usability aspect that has been overlooked.
The exterior of each side door has an expandable pocket that can accommodate a water bottle or a tripod, with straps immediately above to ensure that nothing is going to escape.
Another small criticism: don’t expect to fit a huge water bottle into these side pockets. They’re quite compact and the elastic only stretches so far.
All of the straps are detachable and those on the side offer a nice extra feature: they can loop through a couple of the zippers to add an extra layer of security, making the bag slightly tamper-proof.
As well as the straps above each side pocket, there are two more on the front of the bag to accommodate a large travel tripod. The hooks make it feel incredibly secure and your gear is not going anywhere, even when bashed about.
The laptop section sits as you would expect, alongside your back. Unlike many bags, the width of the laptop you can add here is generous, meaning that there’s ample room for a 15” MacBook Pro and a large tablet.
One nice touch is the tech pouch for stowing chargers and cables. Most companies sell such pouches separately but Lowepro has included it as standard.
Ingeniously, this pouch sits snugly right at the bottom of the bag (still quickly accessible via the side doors), offering an extra layer of protection between your precious camera gear and whatever hard surface the bag ends up being placed upon.
Lowepro has designed a rather ingenious shelf/divider system that makes this bag very easy to use, although there are a few disadvantages.
The major advantage is the amount of flexibility when choosing the layout of the bag.
You slide out the shelf system completely, lay out your gear using the various horizontal and vertical dividers that attach via a very sticky velcro, remove your gear and then slide the shelf system back into the bag.
This means that you can engineer your own shelf system that is perfectly customised to your equipment and instead of having to fight with fiddly velcro in awkward places, it all happens outside of the bag.
The other big advantage of the shelf system is that if you want to use the bag without the shelves, you can quickly pull it all out and have a traditional rucksack that has a single internal cavity, and then refit the shelves easily once you need to use it as a camera bag again.
The resulting disadvantage is that it is not as easy to tweak the divider layout on the fly, especially compared to some of the bag’s competitors.
For example, if you pack your bag to fit your camera body with a large lens attached, it’s not that easy to repack the camera with a pancake lens attached as the shelves and dividers will probably need to be completely reconfigured.
Another disadvantage is that, depending on your gear, you might not be able to make best use of the space. Once a cavity has been divided, any space that’s not being used is lost if you don’t have something small enough to fit into it.
The symmetrically-placed side doors each contain various pockets on the inside for various knickknacks, some of which are specifically designed to hold memory cards.
Strangely, Lowepro offer no volume measurement in litres for the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW, but my estimate is somewhere between 25 and 30 litres.
Into the two shelves, I typically pack two medium-sized full-frame zooms, my Sony a7 III with a nifty-fifty attached.
The 35mm pancake lens has to go into its own mini-pouch and gets stowed in the top compartment, along with my hat, snacks and other odds and ends.
The tech pouch has my laptop mains, a GoPro and a charger, with the bag easily accommodating my 13” MacBook Pro (and a 15″ would be no problem), USB power bank, and a book.
There’s also a little room to spare at the top, perhaps enough for a sweater or a small rain jacket.
Need something smaller? Check out the LowePro PhotoSport AW III.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The side doors of the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW offer easy access to your gear, though it’s annoying that they refuse to stay open, as this makes managing lenses and memory cards quite frustrating when you have your hands full.
Arranging the shelving system initially is a little fiddly and it’s somewhat annoying that if you change to a completely different sized lens while out and about, you will probably need to change back before repacking your camera.
However, those small points aside, this is an excellent bag to use, offering reasonable compromises with some useful features.
Value for Money
At a little over $200 — and often less, depending on your choice of colour — the Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW is excellent value, especially when compared to the price of some of its competitors, such as the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30L.
It offers urban styling with refined features, and a rugged, reliable build that is in keeping with the Lowepro brand.
Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW Review | Conclusion
The Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW is a well-made, carefully considered, refined backpack for everyday use, offering rugged materials, excellent built quality and some nice details that make it a pleasure to use.
There are a few minor points that detract slightly from its overall appeal but the pricing makes it a solid choice for this seeking a backpack that offers quick access, good protection for your gear, and flexibility.
Clearly a lot of thought has gone into the bag but even if some aspects feel a touch over-designed, there are few better options out there, especially at this price point.
Rugged, spacious and highly customisable backpack that keeps your gear safe and organised.
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