A two-year review of the Shimoda Explore V2 camera bag

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Disclaimer: this review is by Shimoda ambassador Dylan Giannakoupolos.

As long as photographers have roamed the earth, they've been in pursuit of the perfect camera bag.

You know the one….. the bag which is both lightweight and compact but can fit everything you need and is equally well-suited for multi-day hikes through the backcountry, as it is when taking a casual stroll through the city.

Camera bag manufacturers have done little to tame this ever-growing fascination among photographers, often with claims of each new release being the greatest to hit the market.

Like many photographers with Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS), my camera bag collection borders on an unhealthy obsession fed by the burning desire to find the perfect camera bag.

Instead of rehashing the specifications, which have been thoroughly discussed in numerous other reviews since its release, I'll be sharing my insights on the Shimoda Explore V2 series based on over two years of extensive real-world use, both locally and abroad.

In full disclosure, I’m a Shimoda Designs and Maxxum ambassador and they provided me with the bags discussed in this review. However, the opinions expressed are my genuine thoughts and beliefs.

But first, how did I get here? 

Over my eight-year photography journey, I've accumulated a total of ten camera bags, ranging from compact 5L shoulder slings to hefty 50L hiking packs. Whilst some of these bags could be better described as a poor decision reminiscent of a hangover, they’ve given me invaluable insight into what I want and need in a camera bag.

It's important to note that whilst I predominantly shoot travel and landscape photography, my work extends across various genres and subjects. Therefore, I tend to pack a range of lenses, a secondary body, a tripod and filters.

When travelling, I often pair my main backpack with the 6L Sling from Peak Design, which I pack in my checked luggage. However, for this discussion, my focus will be exclusively on camera backpacks.

While I could manage without the Sling, a backpack is a non-negotiable.

For the longest time, my go-to bag was the ThinkTank Airport Commuter.

This bag travelled around the world with me without fail, but over time, its flaws became increasingly apparent.

Whilst the bag was capable of carrying a lot of equipment, the lack of an internal frame to distribute the weight, led to it being uncomfortable to use for long periods.

In addition, the front-loading camera compartment also meant that the mesh padding on the back of the bag would be exposed to the ground whenever I’d go to access any of my equipment, leading to my back being covered in sand, mud and who knows what from shooting in urban environments.

With a trip to Tanzania planned for 2020, I needed a bag which could handle the dusty environment, whilst having enough room for my telephoto lenses and of course, it had to have a rear-loading camera compartment.

After a lot of research, I ended up purchasing the F-Stop 50L Tilopa. Needless to say, that trip didn’t go ahead… thanks COVID!

Whilst the Tilopa 50L covered the shortfalls of the Airport Commuter in terms of comfort and rear access to the camera compartment, I never enjoyed using it.

The F-Stop internal camera units (ICU) are very well padded, however, this comes at the expense of storage capacity.

Even with the X-Large ICU, it surprisingly couldn't accommodate much more gear than my ThinkTank bag, failing to justify its larger size.

Shimoda Explore V2 series

I had heard great things about Shimoda’s Action X series bag but I didn’t think it would be a far enough departure from my 50L Tilopa, and its robust outdoor feature set seemed excessive for my needs.

On the contrary, the Explore V2 series appeared to strike the ideal balance I was seeking— a bag equally at home at seascape locations and in urban settings.

If you aren’t familiar with the Explore V2 Series, it comes in 25L, 30L, and 35L versions, with various strap options tailored to different body types. While the 30L and 35L models include a 16-inch laptop sleeve, the 25L version features a 13-inch sleeve. However, the core feature set remains consistent across all sizes.

These bags feature a height-adjustable harness for personalised comfort, rear and side access to the camera compartment, and two stowable pouches for tripods or water bottles. Additionally, they all have an internal frame to provide greater support and weight distribution.

One notable highlight of the Shimoda Core Unit system is its cross-compatibility with multiple series and sizes of bags. This versatility allows photographers to tailor their setups to suit various shooting scenarios, which is an advantage for photographers like myself who photograph a wide range of subjects.

Moreover, the units' removable design offers flexibility, enabling the bags to serve multiple purposes beyond photography. Whether optimising storage for clothing or switching between core units to meet changing demands, the flexibility of the system opens up a world of possibilities.

My Current Configuration

With numerous sizes and configurations to choose from, picking the right combination of bag and core unit can be tricky. I am fortunate to have both the 30L and 35L Shimoda Explore v2 bags which I pair with the following Core Units:

30L w/ Medium Mirrorless V2 Core Unit

This combination is ideal for mirrorless camera users. It comfortably fits a single camera body (without a battery grip) a zoom and 2-3 prime lenses. Whilst it is possible to fit a second camera body without an attached lens, it limits what other accessories you can fit into the core unit. Personally, this is my preferred choice when packing light and I don’t need to bring a lot of equipment. 

35L w/ Medium DSLR V2 Core Unit & Large DSLR V2 Core Unit

When I need to bring two bodies, battery grips or large telephoto lenses, this is when I turn to the 35L bag. I opted for the DSLR Core Units as they take advantage of the additional depth in the 35L bag. This added depth enables zooms like Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II or Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II to be stored upright rather than horizontally, saving space. I can similarly also pack a secondary camera body on its side with a lens attached, to take full advantage of the additional depth.

In my opinion, the Medium DSLR v2 Core Unit strikes the perfect balance for this bag. It provides ample space for camera equipment in the Core Unit for the majority of my needs, whilst leaving enough room in the top compartment for filters, a jacket, and other accessories.

Shimoda Explore V2 35L w/ Medium DSLR v2 Core Unit (left) and Shimoda Explore V2 35L w/ Large DSLR v2 Core Unit (Right).

The Large DSLR v2 is my preferred Core Unit when I’m using large telephoto lenses like the Sony 200-600mm which cannot fit in the Medium Core Unit.

It’s also my go-to for when I need to carry a lot of fragile camera equipment, that can’t be safely stored in the top compartment. However, it's important to mention that this unit reduces the capacity of the bag's top compartment.

Having now travelled extensively with these bags, it's time to evaluate what's working well and what could be improved. 

What I Appreciate

  • The design of these bags is unbelievably well-considered. Frankly, I could write a whole post just on the feature set alone. From the inclusion of filter and hidden passport pockets, to the sealed zipped areas, and the wet compartment with a drainage hole - perfect for putting clothing that got wet when shooting seascapes, these bags cover all bases.
  • Ergonomically, the combination of the internal frame, height-adjustable harness, chest and waist straps allow for the bag to be about as comfortable as you could hope for when you have it packed full of heavy equipment. Additionally, the option to remove the waist belt comes in handy when you need to be mindful of the bag's weight and size.
  • The exterior materials of the bag are highly durable. I have used this bag in some pretty dirty conditions and even after two years of extensive use, a wipe with a damp microfibre cloth has the bag looking as good as new.
  • The multiple exterior handles positioned at the top, side, and bottom make it easy to manoeuvre the bag into the overhead compartment of a plane or around locations while the rear access door is open.
  • The Explore v2 series bags have both rear and side access to the Core Unit, a must when shooting in wet and dirty environments to avoid the back of the bag getting wet. Additionally, the built-in laptop sleeve in the rear door ensures the core unit's weight doesn't press against the laptop when the bag is lying down.
  • I’ve seen a lot of versions of tripod & water bottle holders and Shimoda’s version is by far my favourite. The Explore v2 has two holders enabling me to carry a tripod and water bottle in either compartment. There are also three cinch points which securely fasten your equipment to prevent swaying while walking.
  • Each bag comes with a rain cover and two accessory straps, enhancing versatility by enabling the attachment of equipment to the bag's exterior via the 12 accessory attachment points.
  • Whilst looks aren’t everything, I love the design and aesthetic of these bags. Particularly in the black version, it doesn’t scream camera bag.
  • Last but not least, the versatility of the interchangeable Core Units has been a welcome change to my workflow. On numerous occasions, I've travelled with both the Large and Medium DSLR Core Units, typically flying with the Large Core Unit and packing the medium unit in my checked bag. This flexibility allows me to customise my bag based on the daily requirements of the project I’m working on.

What Could Be Improved

  • Whilst I like having the laptop sleeve in the rear door, there should be a Velcro strap or some form of protection to prevent laptops or tablets from accidentally sliding out.
  • There's no dedicated spot or hidden compartment for an Apple AirTag, although Shimoda has addressed this in their most recent Action X and Urban Explore series bags.
  • I miss the dedicated pen holder in my old ThinkTank bag. Whether I’m filling out a customs form or writing in my notebook, having a dedicated spot for a pen is always helpful.


While I firmly believe there’s no such thing as a perfect camera bag, the Shimoda Explore V2 range comes very close. The bag’s sleek design and durable construction give me the confidence to take them anywhere whilst also addressing the shortcomings of my previous camera bags.

Even after two years, they still look as good as they did when I got them. With three sizes, various harness systems and a highly versatile, interchangeable core unit system, recommending the Explore V2 is a no-brainer in almost any scenario.

I want to thank Andrew J Clarke Photography for photographing some of the images used in this review.

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