Shimoda Explore 30L Backpack Review – The Best Landscape Photography Bag

Table of Contents

“The Shimoda Explore series is designed specifically for landscape photographers. It is high-quality, extremely comfortable and has a few features that make it superior for hiking in particular, although it can also work as a daily bag. It’s a very technical bag – with lots of straps, pouches, and pockets.”

Quick Overview

Shimoda wasn’t a camera bag company that was even on my radar until recently. The Explore V2 didn’t come to my attention until I started hearing about these bags online. Landscape photographers such as Mark Denney, Alan Wallace, TKNorth, etc. all talked about this bag, as well as many other people who posted favorable reviews on it online.

When I first saw the Explore V2, the aesthetics of the bag really appealed to me. The nuback leather pulls were one of the best choices as they make this bag look high quality without being too flashy.

The shimoda has a more understated look vs. the more modern looking Peak Design or Wandrd bags. It has a fancy Jansport-type look to it. While it’s a bit bulkier than some backpacks, partially with it’s large straps, it’s a bag that doesn’t draw much attention but also looks great.

It is also quite a bit more expensive than the Wandrd / Peak Design / most camera bags as well. This bag certainly does need to feel premium at its price point.

“Shimoda 35L vs Peak Design 30L vs. Wandrd Prvke Lite”

I ordered both a 35L and a 30L – I could only keep one but I couldn’t decide between the two sizes.

30L vs. 35L

The two bags are very similar, but the 35L is a bit more boxlike while the 30L is more slim and oval shaped.

The depth of the 30L is decent for most cameras. I can fit a Sony A7IV or A7Riii with an L-Bracket just fine. It would not fit if a battery grip was attached.

Most prime lenses will fit, my Sony 24-105 is a perfect fit, as are all my primes. The Sony 12-24mm f2.8 doesn’t fit vertically on the 30L, but fits great in the 35L.

Sony 12-24mm – Upright in Medium DSLR / 35L

The extra depth of the 35L is more ideal for larger camera with battery grips or large zoom lenses, video equipment such as gimbals, monitors etc.

However the 30L is much more ideal for a mirrorless kit with a 24-70mm, 16-35mm or similar and a couple primes. With less vertical headroom, the gear fits a little more snugly where a small prime in the 35L will have much more room to move up and down inside the divider.

You can lay a mirrorless camera on its side in both backpacks, my A7Riii with a L-Bracket still fit inside even with a laptop in the compartment, though it was a tighter fit.

If you are torn between the 25L, 30L, and 35L, here’s what I recommend

25L –

  • Limited gear capacity
  • Only fits a 13inch laptop
  • Only fits small mirrorless core unit.
  • A bit too small for its price point – in my opinion.

30L –

  • Fits a mirrorless camera, 2-3 lenses, and a drone.
  • Fits two mirrorless cameras – with minimal extra room.
  • Fits most compact Sony lenses, smaller zooms.
  • Larger lenses take much more space as they will need to put in horizontally.
  • Good for intermediate landscape kit, day hikes, or most daily photography.
  • This is the “goldilocks” for me as it combines decent capacity with a slim profile

35L

  • Fits DSLR, battery grips, and large zoom lenses/accessories
  • Works best for photographers with two camera bodies and multiple lenses
  • Works better for videographers who will likely need more room.
  • Smaller lenses have more room to move around.
  • Extra inch of depth makes backpack feel more bulky.

External Pockets – Front

The Shimoda Explore 30L has at least 10 exterior pockets, over a dozen external zippers, and about 10 interior pockets. This bag takes some time to get used to as I often would mix up which pocket I put things in.

The bottom frontmost pocket is only useful for very flat items, I rarely used this pocket for much but you could fit your ID or some cash or something in there.

The top frontmost pocket is far more useful. has two clear pockets for batteries / filters and a deeper pocket below. The two clear pockets are quite helpful for small items but are also quite deep.

I would be careful putting smaller items in the main front pocket as they can often fall to the bottom and become lost indefinitely.

This front pocket can also fit up to a 3L Hydrapack and comes with a hole to route it to the outside of the bag which is very helpful for hiking.

When choosing a hydration pack for this bag, remember that the front pocket will be resting directly on the ground when put down to access the camera cube. Slim/flat bladders work much better as a rounder one may cause the bag to wobble around awkwardly.

A full 3L bladder causes the front to bulge quite a bit and makes it harder to set the bag down
External Pockets – Side

On the sides of the bag, there are two quick access pockets and a horizontal zipper which allows you to fold out two additional expandable water bottle pockets.

The right side (when your wearing the backpack) – give you access to the camera compartment for quickly using your camera without setting the bag down. There is much debate between left vs. right side quick access, I prefer right side so this was a positive for me, but keep in mind if your used to left access this camera bag might not feel right.

Peak design offers access on either side and Wandrd as well as most other camera manufacturers have left side access.

You can still access a mirrorless camera with an L-Bracket so I find the camera access door is sufficiently large for most mirrorless cameras without a large grip.

The left side of the backpack looks similar, but this side instead only has two clear pockets specifically for filters.

This is so you can access your filters easily from the side when the bag is laid down. I would have preferred if either side could be quick access as when I first got the bag I would sometimes forget which pocket accessed the camera vs. filters.

The expandable water bottle slots of either side are quite useful. I like that they can stow away as it makes the bag look much more clean. When in use, the quick access, filter pocket will be impeded.

These oversized external pockets can fit a large Nalgene bottle of most tripods easily, and there are extra straps on each side to tie everything down .

These pockets are also much more oversized than the exterior pockets on most other bags and help to further expand the storage capacity significantly.

External Pockets – Top

The first top pocket is best used for most of your non camera stuff, like snacks or things you might need to access quickly. This top pouch is more difficult to access when the bag is set down on its back to access the camera cube, so it is less convenient for filters and camera stuff.

The material is a nice teal color that makes things easy to find, and this compartment also has two zippered pouches. They are easy to mix up, so it takes a bit of memory to remember what you put in each one.

One of the pouches has a key ring which is a nice place to store your keys when off on a trip.

The top-most zipper is used to access the laptop compartment and the area directly above the camera cube.

I’ve stored an extra lens or a drone wrapped in a t-shirt here, i’ve also put in a folded up gimbal, jacket, bulky items, etc.

If you use the shimoda large mirrorless core unit, it will take up this area of the bag.

There is also a zippered pouch that is accessible from the top and bottom – which allows you to use it from the top access and the camera cube when the bag is set down.

External Pockets – Straps

The bag also has two large pockets on the straps themselves.

These pockets are quite large and can hold almost any size phone, a wallet, knife, etc. They also have straps to hold a microphone such as the Rode Wireless Go.

This is a specific feature that really shows how specifically this bag is to landscape photographers who likely are also vlogging by giving a specific place to mount a mic on the straps.

Both these pockets were immensely useful to me and one of the extra features I enjoyed about this bag.

Backpack Straps & Hip Belt

In the words of Chase Reeves, a backpack reviewer who hade a full review complete with a shimoda intro song – “Super comfy straps oh my god this fkin comfy straps we gotta talk about these straps yo”

Indeed, the straps on the Shimoda Explore series are amazing.

The straps on this bag are wide, well padded, and also a bit bulky. Having used bags by Peak Design, Wandrd, Thinktank, Lowepro, etc. I can tell you that Shimoda has the most comfortable straps by far.

One of the nice things about the peak design and other minimalist bags is the straps can be folded away, while others have magnets to keep them nice and tidy.

Shimoda straps kinda just hang there and they definitely increase the size of the bag significantly. When flying on airplanes, I often had to tuck them quite a bit to fit under the seat.

However, these bulky straps contain the utmost comfort. When I first got this bag and tried it on a short hike, I was amazed how much lighter my gear felt.

The straps are also interchangeable and adjustable to different torso heights. Shimoda even makes female-specific torso straps which is something no other camera bag company seems to be doing.

The straps on this bag were a huge selling point for me. They are well tailored for long hikes and have large pockets for accessing things. They also are compatible with the peak design capture clip – if needed.

The Shimoda 30L also comes with a hip belt. The hip belt is quite bulky and does make it more difficult to access the camera cube as well as significantly increasing the profile of the bag.

I found I rarely needed the hip belt as the bag is already quite comfortable, however if you want ultimate comfort, have back pain, want to prevent back pain, or even completely reverse back pain, the hip belt in combination with the sternum straps makes for an incredibly comfortable bag even for very long hikes.

More Straps

Speaking of straps – this camera bag has a lot of them.

There are two on the side for securing your tripods and things, two adjustment straps on the shoulder straps, and an additional two external straps you can fasten to the bottom or front of the bag.

Having such a strappy bag with many attachment points is quite handy, but I will admit it does clutter the look of the bag quite a bit.

This bag has excess nylon hanging all over the place, and particularly when using the two extra external straps for securing a tripod on the bottom, I noticed lots of extra nylon hanging down the back.

The tripod / side straps also don’t have place to tuck away, when fastened they prevent side quick access / filter access, when unfastened, they hang awkwardly on the sides.

The bag also has an easy to use buckle sternum strap that adjusts on a rail system – its quite nice and works well.

Laptop Compartment

The Shimoda Explore has a laptop compartment that can hold up to a 16 inch laptop.

I like that it can be accessed from the top zipper as well as the camera cube.

My main complaint with this laptop compartment is that it does not have a strap to hold a laptop in place.

For a bag that has a million straps everywhere else – I found this kind of surprising.

If you bag is set down on an incline or when moving around in a car, your laptop can (and mine did) slide into the upper compartment and out of its sleeve.

This is such a simple touch that would make the bag much better.

Not one to be undeterred, I decided to make my own laptop sleeve strap just to show how easy it would be.

Using a nylon strap and a couple velcro adhesive squares, I made a well functioning laptop strap that solved this issue. I tried both 3/4 inch and 1-inch nylon, you can decide which looks better.

A sew-on strap with the Shimoda logo seems relatively inexpensive to implement and would be a nice touch for this bag if they added it from the factory.

Otherwise, the laptop sleeve holds my 14” MBP laptop quite well so there’s not much else to say there.

The Camera Cube

Now for the most important part of the bag – the actual camera core unit.

Shimoda sells different “core” units for their bags. They are interchangeable between bags, though some fit better than others.

These core units are well made, but they are also quite expensive too.

The Shimoda 30L fits the medium mirrorless core unit, which has about an inch less depth than the DSLR version, but is otherwise fairly identical.

The bag uses well padded dividers that take some time to configure, but stay in place quite well.

Here are a couple sample configurations with my mirrorless Sony kit. For quick access, you need to put the camera in upside down so when you access it will be right-side up when the backpack is on your back.

Overall the core unit and dividers are very high-quality and work well. The medium mirrorless core unit will work with the Action X50 as well if your interested in a larger, cross-compatible bag.

The core units also have their own waterproof carry case and offer a good amount of protection on their own.

If you choose to use a large core unit, it will compromise some space on the upper pockets of the bag.

Long-Term Use / Summary

I have used the Shimoda Explore V2 30L for almost a year now and it has quickly become my favorite bag for landscape photography.

Here’s a few things that stood out most to me

  • The backpack has a metal frame, giving it much more rigidity than other bags in its class.
  • The water bladder and pass-through for a mouthpiece makes it easy to hike and hydrate without stopping to put down the pack.
  • The nylon exterior has held up well to the elements, the laptop compartment and core unit stays dry in all conditions.
  • The quick-access side zippers have a small gap between the zipper pulls that can let in a small amount of water.
  • There’s a lot of excess nylon that hang all over the place.
  • The backpack was ridiculously comfortable when brand new – over time the EVA foam on the straps and back has become more compressed and slightly less comfortable.
  • This is the perfect landscape photography bag.

This bag is still the most comfortable bag I have ever owned. It really does make heavy gear feel lighter and is tailor-made for long hikes.

The exterior pockets that are perfectly sized for a Nalgene bottle, right-side side access, water bladder pass through, and understated yet elegant exterior look all really appealed to me as a landscape photographer and quickly made this one of my favorite bags.

The Shimoda is definitely a pricey bag – but if you like the outdoors I think its one of the best investment you can make.

Many other bags – such as the Peak Design Everyday or Wandrd Prvke – offer a more minimalist design and work well as everyday bags – but the Shimoda is definitely specifically for outdoor photographers and day hiking.

I can’t wait to see where this bag will take me next. 🙂

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