Shimoda Explore Adventure Camera Backpack Review
This is a review of the newly designed Shimoda Explore v2, a camera backpack designed specifically for travelling photographers.
Shimoda Designs is an adventure camera bag company that thrives on real-world adventures and lifelong exploration.
The Explore 2 has the chassis of the Shimoda Action X line but revised to satisfy landscape and travel photography needs.
Travel-specific features include strict carry-on friendly sizing, luggage pass-through handle, hidden passport pocket, filter pocket, lockable zippers and weather-proof construction.
As we’ll see in my review, the Explore 2 also offers various other unique features that make it a standout camera backpack in a sea of competitors.
Let’s take a closer look.
Table of Contents
Shimoda Explore 2 Specs
- Comfortable to carry
- Excellent weight distribution
- Useful pockets/clips (esp. on straps)
- Stylish & functional design
- Durable & weather-resistant
- Stowable water-bottle/tripod holders
- Ventilated and compact hip belt
- No front padding in Core Unit prevents ‘solo’ use
- No laptop sleeve fastener
New Travel & Landscape Features
- Sized for Carry-On
- Luggage-Handle Pass-Through
- Filter Pocket
- TSA Lock- Friendly Zippers
- Hidden Passport Pocket
- Case Handle
- Aired-out Harness
- MIC Mount
- Dual-Access Document Pocket
- Low Contrast Logo Details
Shimoda Standard Features
- Height Adjustable Harness
- Side Access
- Rear Access
- Removable Belt
- 16” Laptop Sleeve (E30 & E35), 13” Laptop Sleeve (E25)
- Modular Core Unit System
- Stowable Water Bottle and Tripod Pouches
- Quick Reach Phone & Accessory Pockets
- Key Ring Clip
- 12 Access Strap Attachment Points & Accessory Straps
- YKK Splash Guard Zippers
- Heavy-Duty Base Material
- Safety Whistle
- Side Handle
- Internal Frame
- Shell: 420d & 210d Nylon Ripstop OX Carbonate Coated
- Components: YKK & Nifco
- Zippers: YKK (including Splash Guard)
- Webbing: Nylon
- Harness: Air-mesh, Perforated EVA
- Others: Genuine Leather, TPU, Aluminum
Army Green or Black
3 sizes: 25L, 30L, 35L and 2 new Core Units.
Build & Appearance
As a lifelong explorer, snowboarder and designer known for developing some of the most innovative camera bags in the world, Shimoda founder Ian Millar clearly puts a lot of thought into designing products that last.
Built off the adventure-ready Action X chassis, the Explore v2 has been stripped of the sports-specific details of the Action X to be given new travel and landscape photography related design features.
The Explore V2 is built for serious mountain travel but can easily cruise through less intense photography scenarios and days travelling through airports.
Constructed with durable water-resistant materials, the bag feels strong and built to withstand extreme weather conditions, but doesn’t make any sacrifices with its weight.
Many camera backpacks feel heavy before even being loaded with gear – thankfully, the Explore V2 is refreshingly light, despite its solid construction and numerous storage features.
The Explore v2 is a great looking camera backpack. It’s hard to design a hiking/adventure bag that looks as good in the mountains as it does in the streets, but Shimoda has managed it.
Due to overseas travel restrictions and the general lack of mountains where I live, the first test of the Explore 2 for me occurred during a short weekend trip from Gold Coast to Sydney for a wedding.
Normally I’d be very hesitant to bring anything that even mildly resembled a hiking backpack with me on such a trip, especially for use at a wedding.
However, thanks to the sleek and unassumingly cool looks of the Explore v2, I was comfortable to have it on my back for the entire time.
Shimoda bags all have awesome colours – the black Explore v2 is a very dark shade of grey, meaning it doesn’t look too much like a regular camera backpack.
The zipper pulls are highlighted with brown leather grab handles, making them easier to see in low light and adding to the overall great looks of the bag – a lesser brand may have chosen a much brighter colour accent, but Shimoda went for something understated.
Even the logo is a subtle touch – imperceptible from a distance and low-key when viewed up close.
The Explore v2 backpack is sure to attract compliments, whether you’re halfway up a mountain or halfway down your local street.
Having a lot of storage features on a camera backpack is a bit of a mixed blessing. While it’s great to be able to have a dedicated pouch, sleeve or pocket for every single piece of your gear, it does require regular use to become efficient at finding your sh*t.
The Explore V2 features a lot of places to store stuff. It’s not excessive, but is a little overwhelming at first, and does require a fair bit of playing around so you can get to the point where you know exactly where you stored that pesky USB dongle, without having to unzip 20 other pockets first.
Once you’ve reached this level of muscle memory, the Explore v2 is a joy to use – the pockets, pouches and sleeves are well-designed and provide ample space for all the various knick-knacks we photographers tend to hoard. You just need to resist the temptation to fill every single one of them!
Starting from the front of the bag, there are two zippered pockets – one that’s the depth of a large book, or one of Shimoda’s new travel pouches or wraps, intended for documents, face masks, filters or other slim items.
The other front pocket features a zipper that’s angled towards the top of the backpack. Inside it, you’ll find two deeper sleeve-like pockets on one side and two shallow zippered pockets, presumably intended for filters.
The fronts of these pockets are weather-proofed, ensuring further protection from the elements even when you open the outer layer.
Moving up from there is another zipper and the first main compartment – a spacious ‘bucket’ that’s ideal for a jacket, sandwiches or other non-camera related gear.
On either side, the fabric features a zippered pocket – one with a mesh front, the other with a padded one.
Above this is the main zipper which gives access to the entire inside space of the backpack. On one side is yet another mesh zippered pocket. If you’re keeping count, that’s… a lot of pockets.
Depending on how you’ve set up the internals of the backpack, you may not actually use this main zipper much. With my small mirrorless camera unit, I was able to carry another few clothing items above it.
All internal zipper pulls have fabric extensions, making them easier to grab even when you’re wearing gloves or have frozen fingers!
One side of the Explore 2 features a zippered pocket that allows access to the inside of the bag, direct to your camera in the camera unit.
This has become a pretty standard feature on camera backpacks in 2021, allowing relatively quick and easy access to your main camera while the bag is still on one of your shoulders.
What’s not standard is the way that the Explore 2 conceals a set of water bottle/tripod/light stand holders within the side pockets, which fold out to hang on the outsides, with straps to secure everything in place.
I love this feature, which helps keep the silhouette of the backpack sleek and minimal.
I’m also impressed that I can easily reach around and grab/reholster my water bottle while the backpack is still on my back – no other backpack has allowed me to do that.
The other side pocket offers two more weather-resistant zippered filter pockets and an unzippered sleeve on the other side. If you think that’s enough storage options, we’re not done yet…
The entire back panel unzips to reveal the main cavity of the Explore 2, including one of the same zippered mesh pockets from before, this time with a zipper at the bottom, allowing you to access items without resorting to some hand origami or reentrance via the upper zipper.
On the inside of the back panel, there’s a padded laptop pocket, big enough for a 16 incher if you opt for the E30 or E35. You can also access the laptop from the upper zipper.
I would have liked some form of closure at the top of the laptop sleeve, (such as a small piece of hook & loop fabric), to prevent my laptop from sliding out when the bag is open and resting at an odd angle. It’s a minor thing, though.
Still with me? Good, because the final storage features are, in my opinion, the cherry on the top of this incredibly well-thought-out camera backpack.
Listen up backpack manufacturers: if you want to make your backpacks 10x more useful, include pockets on the straps! Shimoda are wizards at this.
On the Explore v2, you’ll find 2 perfectly placed smartphone-sized zippered pockets at the base of each strap, one elasticated to house a big-ass iPhone Max. I like to keep my sunglasses in the other.
These strap pockets are placed in the absolute ideal location for quick access. If you own a compact camera that’s small enough, you’ll now have the perfect spot to access it.
Getting stuff in and out of the shoulder strap pockets is simple, quick and fun. They’re in the best position to carry your most-used possessions – even better than pockets on hip belts.
Above the strap pockets are several fabric loops and two round plastic ones, all for carabiners, I assume.
I think we’re done now with the storage options. Now, where did I put that dongle…?
You’ve probably gathered by this stage in the review that you can squeeze a crap ton of gear into the Explore v2, with everything being organised to an OCD-level of tidiness.
Shimoda offers 2 sizes of ‘core unit’, aka internal camera units – small mirrorless (W26cm x H29cm x D13cm) and large mirrorless (W29cm x H38cm x D13cm). You can, of course, use them with a DSLR or any type of camera.
Depending on how you set up the internal dividers of the core unit, you can squeeze in a wide array of gear. Anything left over could conceivably be carried in the upper cavity, wrapped in clothing for protection.
I did find the dividers a little confusing to set up since they were what I considered to be rather odd lengths and shapes. As you can see in the image above, this resulted in a bit of bending and shaping, and I still had some empty spots to spare. Obviously, this will depend on the kind of gear you want to carry.
Unusually, the top flap of the core unit isn’t padded at all, with the padding from the laptop sleeve at the inside rear of the Explore giving the core unit its final layer of protection. This is entirely adequate when the bag is closed but does mean you can’t use the core unit separately – something I like to do when on location.
Above the core unit, I could carry enough clothing for a 2-night trip to Sydney and still managed to fit the backpack in the modest overhead locker of a domestic Australian budget airliner.
Ease of Use/Comfort
The Shimoda Explore v2 is the most comfortable camera backpack I’ve ever used. Yep, I know – that’s a big statement, but it’s true.
And you know what held the title for me before this one? The previous Shimoda Explore! For carrying comfort and weight distribution across the shoulders, these guys know that they’re doing.
The shoulder straps are padded and ventilated in a way that lets you forget you’re wearing them.
You can adjust the height of the upper strap (S, M, L) so it suits the height of your upper body, and secure them at the front with an adjustable chest strap… which also features a whistle!
The back panel itself is soft, well ventilated and feels great on your back.
The luggage pass-through handle is a nice touch if you use a roller bag, and the hidden passport pocket is so well hidden that I couldn’t find it!
There’s also a detachable hip belt made from the same lightweight, breathable, padded materials as the shoulder straps.
I’m not a huge fan of hip belts due to their bulkiness, but this one is different – it features various cutouts for ergonomics, which has the additional benefit of reducing bulk – you can remove it and actually carry it inside the backpack if you wish.
I hiked with approximately 10kg of gear in the Explore 2 up Bald Rock, the largest granite monolith in Australia (3.2km loop, 185m climb) without the hip belt and the bag performed perfectly – I simply forgot it was there.
As for general ease of use, the Explore v2 great… once you’ve remembered where you’ve put everything! All zippers are lockable and slide smoothly. Getting into the main cavity of the bag is simple and fast.
Value for Money
The 35L Explore v2 I reviewed will be priced at $320, but can be ordered now for only $225 via Kickstarter – that’s a huge discount.
(You can heck out all the prices for the various sizes and core unit kits by clicking the button below.
Whether you manage to grab an Explore v2 during the Kickstarter campaign or after it’s finished, the Explore v2 represents excellent value for money.
As for the warranty: “If your Shimoda bag fails due to manufacturing or material defects within five years of purchase, we will fix or replace it.”
Sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
Shimoda Explore 2 Review | Conclusion
If you’re looking for a new camera backpack that will accompany you on your future travels and adventures, I highly recommend the Explore v2.
The Explore v2 is the comfiest camera backpack I’ve ever had the pleasure of using – you actually look forward to putting it on your back!
My only recommendations would be to spend adequate time organising your gear inside all the various pockets and to stick to the various locations you choose until which point you know where things are before you try and access them.
Also, you really don’t need to use every single pocket, however tempting it may be!
Shimoda has created a wonderful product – lightweight, stylish, functional, durable and innovative. It’s perfect for the great outdoors but doesn’t look out of place on the street.
The Explore v2 will be on my back for a good few years. Bravo, Shimoda!
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.