All hype or just right? Shimoda Explore v2 review
I've reviewed a few camera backpacks recently, and each time a different photographer has contacted me to recommend Shimoda. I have known about Shimoda bags for a while, but have never had the chance to try one for myself. My curiosity got the best of me, so I purchased a Shimoda Explore v2 35L for use on a recent landscape photography trip to Joshua Tree National Park in California.
- Incredibly comfortable
- Fully adjustable shoulder straps
- Alternative shoulder straps for women and plus size photographers
- Dual tripod/bottle pouches
- Easily removable waist belt
- Rain cover included
- Numerous storage options and configurations
- Bag cannot be expanded to carry extra items
- Not ideal for taller, longer tripods
Shimoda Explore v2 sizes and Core Units
The Explore v2 is available in three sizes: 25 liters, 30 liters, and 35 liters. I opted for 35 liters because that is the maximum bag size most airlines around the world allow to be used as a carry-on. Some European airlines may be happier with the 30 liter size, but I've never had a problem with 35 liter backpacks. When in doubt, always check carry-on size restrictions with airlines before showing up at the airport.
Shimoda sells each Explore v2 bag as a discounted "Starter Kit" which includes the bag itself plus a "Core Unit" camera cube insert. The 25 liter kit includes a small mirrorless core unit, the 30 liter a medium mirrorless core unit, and the 35 liter a medium DSLR core unit. You may also purchase just the bag itself, then add-on whichever core units you prefer.
I haven't tested the mirrorless core units, but from what I can tell, the main difference between them and the "DSLR" core units is depth. For example, the Medium DSLR core unit in the 35L bag is 6.7 inches deep, while the Medium Mirrorless core unit in the 30L is 4.7 inches deep. That's a pretty big difference.
Personally, I'd rather have deeper core units to stack more gear, and provide better protection for larger camera bodies and lenses, so I'm very happy with the Medium DSLR unit that comes with the 35 liter starter kit. Everyone will have different needs and preferences of course, so Shimoda thankfully makes it easy to build out exactly the bag that will work best for you.
Also worth knowing, Shimoda also sells extra dividers and specialized divider pockets to help users configure their gear layouts. You can find even more add-ons on their accessories page.
Shimoda Explore v2 pockets and storage
Most camera backpacks with fixed, velcro divider interiors don't provide additional space for bulkier items including jackets, food or anything not related to camera gear. Shimoda solved for this by providing a large, top-entry pocket that utilizes the extra space above a single interior core unit. This space would be decreased when stacking a Medium and Small core unit together, or adding a Large core unit, but otherwise it's a smart solution to a common problem.
The Explore v2 backpack has two cleverly designed water bottle/tripod pouches that can be unfolded from the side zippered pockets. You can use these pouches whenever you need them and then easily tuck them away to create a cleaner profile when you don't.
Additional pockets with thin, zippered pouches are available around the sides and front of the bag. These are great for filters, memory cards, microfiber cleaning cloths, documents, or anything thin and fiddly.
Shimoda Explore v2 harness
Shimoda designed the Explore v2 with an adjustable shoulder strap harness, similar to what you'd find on outdoor camping backpacks. This allows the shoulder straps to be moved higher or lower for people with longer or shorter torso lengths. For example, with a tall, six-foot-four person like me, the strap would be attached to the highest "L" (large) slot. People with shorter torsos would choose the lowest "S" (small) slot. Adjusting the shoulder harness position raises and lowers the entire bag to better align the waist belt on your hip bones (laterally across from your belly button).
The shoulder straps that come with Explore v2 are very well padded, with small, individual sections of interior foam that bend and mold around the shoulder. This is better and more comfortable than most camera backpacks that use only single (or maybe two) pieces of solid foam inside each strap.
Extra zippered pockets are provided at the bottom of each strap, one for a phone and the other for a small water bottle, action camera, or anything small that you may need while hiking. Shimoda also included a small strip of fabric inside the phone pocket for mounting a wireless microphone, if that is of interest. My iPhone 14 Pro Max was a bit snug in the phone pocket, but the pouch did zip closed. Users with smaller phones should have any issue.
Explore v2 also includes an adjustable sternum strap that helps keep the shoulder straps from pulling away from the body when carrying heavier loads. The sternum strap has just the right amount of tension to be adjusted up and down for optimum positioning, then stays in place when hiking and wearing the bag. The sternum strap cannot be removed, which I see as a good thing, for it means the strap will never be lost.
The waist belt is well padded and flexible, with an open cut-out in the middle that allows the strap to more comfortably bend and move while wearing the bag. When carrying lighter loads, the waist belt may be quickly removed by detaching a strip of velcro from inside the waist belt slot.
Shimoda also offers alternate shoulder straps for women and plus sized photographers. Female customers have three options — simple, simple petite, and tech — which may be selected at checkout when ordering an Explore V2. The plus shoulder straps provide extra material and padding for larger photographers, plus larger accessory pockets.
So all that said, how comfortable is the Shimoda Explore V2 to wear, especially when loaded up with camera gear? Everyone will have different opinions on fit and comfort, but for me, the Explore V2 is unquestionably the most comfortable camera bag I've ever worn.
After adjusting the shoulder straps to fit my long torso, the bag fit me perfectly. The waist belt landed precisely on my hip bones, while the shoulder straps extended a few inches below my armpits as they should. To me, the Explore V2 felt like a perfectly fitting pair of jeans. I was able to wear and hike with the bag for hours on end without any issues.
Final thoughts on the Shimoda Explore v2
Overall, the Shimoda Explore v2 backpack is thoughtfully designed and extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods of time. I like the modularity of its Core Units, the strength and flexibility of its padded dividers, and the many thoughtful design touches (including a free rain cover with pouch that comes with the bag).
I dragged the Explore v2 across abrasive rocks and through prickly thorn bushes during my extended hikes in Joshua Tree, and the 420 Denier Nylon shell never ripped, scuffed or scratched. I imagine the Explore v2 should hold up quite well for years to come.
I'm particularly impressed with the level of dedication Shimoda has given to the design of the shoulder straps. I also think it's great that the company is providing alternate strap designs that don't cost extra for female photographers.
At the time of this review, the Explore v2 35L Starter Kit costs $399 in the United States, and is available in black and army green colorways. That is more expensive compared to similar 35 liter camera backpacks from the other companies, but I think the price is absolutely reasonable for the level of quality and comfort provided.