If like me, you enjoy photography, you probably have heard of or even use a Lowepro Camera Bag. But did you know that they now also produce a line a bags called the Lowepro Optics Range that is especially designed especially for birders and wildlife enthusiasts that often use binoculars or spotting scopes as as well as their cameras.
The Lowepro Field Station Belt Pack
I was recently given the chance to test the smallest bag in the range, called the Field Station it is a hands-free beltpack or fannypack that can carry your binoculars (or camera), field guide and some personal items like your money, keys, phone and a small water bottle.
But the Field Station is far more than just a bag that you carry your binoculars and field guide in as it also has a unique and rather ingenious platform that slides out of the bag. Called the “QuickShelf”, you use it to support your bird book, field guide or even a tablet-style computer like an iPad. What I really like is this shelf is not only steady enough to support your book, but you can make notes on it. This means that when you spot a bird or other wildlife, you can look it up, leave the book open at that page and then continue to observe it through binoculars, going back to the book at any time for further reference or to make notes.
Whilst the Field Station has been aimed at birders, I feel it has the potential to be very useful in a wide variety of situations. This would include general wildlife observation and even field researchers who often use binoculars and who could use the steady platform to write down their observations and notes. Artists could also use the shelf to make quick sketches on a pad whilst out in the field.
So on Safari, especially walking safaris this small bag would be ideal for travelling light leaving both hands free, which always makes walking through the bush much easier.
Using the Field Station
To really test the Field Station, I took it with me on a number of walks and I must say that even when fully loaded with my full sized Vanguard Spirit ED 8×42 binoculars, a large bird book, a compact camera, a small bottle of water, my cell phone, my keys and a wallet it was still pretty comfortable even after a few hours of walking.
For me the most comfortable way to walk with it, is to swing it around and use it more as a bum bag and then twist it back to your front when you need anything from it.
Accessing your binoculars and your reference book from the bag is fairly quick and easy, although to make it as quick as possible and to ensure that you don’t scare away birds and other wildlife with the un-zipping sound, I would keep the lid closed but unzipped. This is not a problem because the binoculars fit very snugly in their pocket as does your book in the shelf section. Things like your money and keys can be kept in a number of other pockets that have their own zip to keep them safe.
Initially I though that the shelf would probably be a little gimmicky, but after trying it and getting used to it, I found that it actually works really well and it is something that I really grew to like. What is interesting is that in the past I would often not bother to take my bird book or other reference books with me as they would often get damaged in my back pack and were just too much of a pain to access. With the Field Station, there really is now no reason not to take one with you as both of these problems have been addressed. I also like the attention to detail with the elastic strap that you can use to keep a place in the book for even quicker access.
A Compact Photography Bag?
One feature that I really like about this bag is it’s versatility: On my walks I always like to take some sort of camera with me and on my first few tests with the Field Station, I just took my compact camera which easily fitted next to the binoculars in the main compartment. This camera is fine for taking general scenic shots, but is just not good enough when it comes to taking quality photos of birds and other wildlife.
For this, the camera that I have been using is the excellent Fujifilm Finepix HS20 EXR, a fairly large bridge camera that is not much smaller than most SLR’s. To fit it into the Field Station all I did was to remove the binocular compartment which works pretty well.
Then for my binoculars, I just used my favorite binocular harness, the LockDown Optics Deployment System, which meant that I on my walks I now not only had my bird book, binoculars and best camera with me, but was still completely hands free – Excellent.
Beltpack Vs Backpack
Up until now I have always used my favorite camera backpack, the Vanguard Skyborne 45, but there have been times when I have wanted to travel a little lighter and because you carry it on your back, it can take a little time to access your binoculars and books from the top compartments.
Weighing just 1.6lbs/0.7kg, it is far lighter than the Vanguard backpack and because it sits on your waist, it makes accessing your binoculars and books far quicker than having to take a pack off of your back and put it on the ground.
However if you wanted to take a lot more gear, a backpack like the Vanguard Skyborne 45 would be far more suitable.
Other Storage Space
As well as your binoculars and field guide, the bag also has a number of pockets and compartments in which you can carry a bunch of other gear that you may have or need for a full day out on safari:
On bag’s exterior has two mesh pockets, one on either side of the bag, both of which have an elasticated top and the one on the right also comes with a flap that is fastened with Velcro. These make ideal places to carry things like camera batteries, pencils or a small water bottle. Then on the front there is another pocket, that can be zipped closed.
In side the bag, there is another zipped pocket under the lid, a snap keyring holder and a small pocket that looks like it had been designed to hold a mobile phone.
Overall I really like the Lowepro Field Station and recommend it to anyone looking for a small lightweight solution to carrying your essential field equipment that would work well on a walking safari. It is very well made with high quality materials, the flip out shelf is a great feature that has been very well thought out and it was comfortable to wear even on long walks and fully laden.
Cost & Where to Buy
The Lowepro Field Station costs about $99 in the US or about £80 in the UK:
Lowepro Optics Range
- Scope Travel 200 AW - Can carry a spotting scope, tripod, binoculars, compact camera, digiscope adapter, field guide and personal items
- Scope Photo Travel 350 AW – Can carry a spotting scope, tripod, binoculars, DSLR, extra lens, laptop, field guide, personal items
- Scope Porter 200™ AW – Can carry a spotting scope, tripod, binoculars, hydration reservoir, field guide, personal items
I would like to thank Warehouse Express for organising the Lowepro Field Station bag to be sent to me to review. I would also like to point out that all the reviews on this site, including this one are my opinion and are not influenced in any way by manufacturers, distributors or suppliers. I do however think that it is worth noting that at the time of writing Warehouse Express currently have the Field Station listed on their site for £139. Check current price on Warehouseexpress.com.
- Safari Equipment Guide
- Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack Review
- LockDown Optics Deployment System Binocular Harness
- Field Guides, Safari Books & African Bird Books