Review: Shimoda Explore 40 Backpack (the Essential Adventure Camera Bag)

The Shimoda Explore 40 is arguably overkill for most photographers.

I’ve known about the Shimoda backpacks well before they were announced, and for a period of a few months I’ve been reviewing and testing the Shimoda Explore 40. For the first time ever, I’m shocked to say it – this bag is overkill for most photographers in almost every single way. For the working professional, the travel photographer, or for the photographer who essentially needs to bring their life with them as they traverse their nomadic lifestyle, the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack will let you do all that and more. With tons of weather sealing, a three way zipper, pockets within pockets, dividers that can be placed throughout the entire bag, lumbar support, expandable storage, and a whole lot more there is so much the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack has to offer.

Again, I’m going to preface this by saying that this is a very extreme backpack. If you live in a city, there’s no reason to have this thing. If you trek out, hike, camp, or essentially need to carry all the things with you, this bag will become your best friend.

Tech Specs

Ergonomics

When you look at the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack, you’ll see it has a very outdoorsy feel. It isn’t fashionable but quite practical instead. The material is one that in many ways reminds me of the same material used for windbreaker pants and coats. If this were the late 1990s, then this would be really in fashion. But I guess the 90s are coming back, aren’t they?

The bag you see here is in its configuration designed for grab and go. Not all of the dividers are in there simply because I didn’t want to use all of them. More on this later.

On top of the Shimoda Explore 40 you’ll see three different zippers. The front and back zippers are very standard. But the third, middle zipper was designed with three zipper tabs. Why? Well, that’s how the side access system works. This zipper lets you access the main part of the bag while keeping it tight. This configuration lets you choose which side you want that feature to work with. It’s a very ambidextrous system.

Here’s what that side access looks like. I only need to pull the lower zipper to access my Mamiya RB67 that’s inside.

The back zipper gives you access to a top area with more pockets and straps inside. I used this area to pack a lot of 120 film.

The front pocket can work for other things. I stored film I shot in here. The pocket runs the gamut of the entire front face of the backpack.

On either side, you can use the strap system to connect something like a tripod, water bottle, blanket, etc. The straps are on either side and can also be connected to extra pouches that come with the bag.

Now we’re getting to some of the most exciting parts of the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack. Here are the backpack straps. They’re hefty and conform to your body. You need to loosen them before you put the bag on. Then, when the bag is on your back, you can tighten them. There are also full straps that go around your waist as well as straps that close up around the top across your chest. These backpack straps can hold a water bottle if you expand their pockets.

So here is why you really need to loosen the backpack straps first. This area is padded and designed to give you some nice lumbar support. I’ve never seen this with any camera bag but it makes it immensely more comfortable. When you tighten the straps of the Shimoda Explore 40, it presses in against your back for ergonomic support.

When you open up the lumbar area, you get the main access to your gear. The door can hold a laptop with ease while the main compartment is designed for cameras, lenses, flashes, etc. I shoved a Mamiya RB67, lens, prism finder, Mamiya 6, lenses, and more in here on a number of trips I’ve made around the tri-state area in the past few months. With no other backpack would this have been comfortable; at least none I’ve tried.

Build Quality

I’ve taken the Shimoda Explore 40 through both rain and snow. It’s survived both, and the gear inside was also fine. It has also been hurled onto shelves of trains, taken bumps from turnstiles, etc. I wouldn’t recommend it for the city dweller, but it is surely well suited for the suburbs and the great outdoors.

Ease of Use

Perhaps one of the toughest things to do with the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack is figuring out exactly how you want to configure it. But to be fair, that’s a very personal issue. I don’t configure it the same way that David at Digital Photo Pro does. And unless you’re bringing a whole lot of stuff, I’d honestly leave it at home otherwise it may become cumbersome. Again, it’s a backpack strictly designed for travel. If I were going away on a five day trip, I may want to reach for the 60 liter version though, due to the roll top design. But the Shimoda Explore 40 is an offering designed to go squarely against something like the WANDRD PRVKE packs. It offers a fair amount more versatility than WANDRD does; but it can’t convert into a tote back and it will always be big and bulky no matter what. I’d strongly recommend the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack for a weekend trip that requires you to bring all the necessities possible.

Conclusions

I think the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack is an incredible bag. If I shot more landscapes and decided to do more Urbex or adventure work, then it would be an essential item for me. But as a photographer who dwells in the city, it’s not designed for me. It’s too large, stands out with its color profile, and is basically overkill. With my mirrorless camera kit and a monolight inside of this bag I’d still have more room for so much more stuff. With that said, I don’t need all that extra room.

Will I use the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack again? On press trips, I surely will. The photographers who will get the best use out of the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack are those who take weekend trips and make some sort of gainful, taxable income from their photography. Otherwise, photographers who have a car and just need to take most of their stuff with them will appreciate the Shimoda Explore 40 backpack as well.

The Shimoda Explore 40 backpack deserves both our Editor’s Choice award and Five out of Five stars.