Shimoda has released a new 2.0 version of Action X, their camera backpack designed for outdoor, adventure seeking photographers and videographers. With V2, Shimoda has tweaked and incrementally improved the original design of Action X to make the backpack more comfortable and useful.
- Expandable roll-top for extra storage
- Quality construction and durability
- Exceptionally comfortable to wear
- Internal openings for hydration bladders
- Rain cover included
- Beautiful new yellow color
- Shoulder and waist straps are comparatively stiffer and less breathable
- Exterior straps sometimes block zippers
- Roll-top clasp design looks awkward
- May be more bag than most photographers need
- Could look strange when worn anywhere but on a mountain
Disclaimer: Shimoda provided an Action X50 V2 and DSLR Large Core Unit for this review. Otherwise, they have had no involvement in the editorial content of this review (outside of answering technical questions). They have not paid for this review, and are seeing it at the same time as you. All opinions are my own.
Shimoda Action X V2 improvements
Action X is available in traditional black, army green, plus a new bright yellow color way. I usually prefer black or some shade of gray with nearly every product I buy, but much to my surprise, yellow has totally won me over. Shimoda picked just the right hue, for the yellow feels organic and warm, not synthetic or cold. I also like how yellow perfectly contrasts the bag's black straps and clasps, and the fact it provides better visibility and safety when used outdoors.
Action X's front panel pocket has been tweaked to incorporate a second laptop sleeve that holds laptops up to 16". Though this provides less padding and protection compared to the back laptop sleeve, the front sleeve does offer quicker, more convenient laptop access (compared to laying the bag down and opening the back panel).
Following a recent trend seen in other camera backpacks, Action X V2 now incorporates a concealed pocket for an AirTag/Bluetooth tracker inside its front panel. I wish this pocket was integrated into the frame of the bag to make it even less conspicuous, but it's nice having a dedicated pocket.
One feature I particularly like in Shimoda backpacks is their mesh side pouches for tripods and/or water bottles. These pouches remain discreetly concealed inside a pocket when not in use and can be easily pulled out when needed. In Action X V2, Shimoda has enhanced their design by making them removable using a pair of small black clips. Removing the pouches provides additional packing space when not in use.
Action X V2 also sports a larger zippered pocket on the shoulder strap to accommodate Pro and Max size iPhones (and similar sized Android models). My iPhone 14 Pro Max with a Peak Design Everyday case fits nicely, and I really appreciate having a secure, zippered pouch to keep my phone safe while hiking. It does take a bit of practice to get the hang of removing and putting back the phone while wearing the bag, but it works well for me.
Shimoda has also added a small pocket to the bottom of the bag's interior to store the free rain cover that comes with Action X. I like having a dedicated spot for the cover when not in use, but by storing the rain cover inside the bag, a user would have to open the back panel in the rain (where their camera gear is stored) to get the cover out. The rain cover also adds padding underneath a Core Unit and pushes it higher inside the bag (making top compartments more difficult to access). For those reasons, I'll likely keep my rain cover in a side pocket.
Comfort and fit are hallmarks of Shimoda bags (their Explore V2 is the most comfortable camera backpack I've ever worn). Shimoda has updated Action X with a more adjustable waist belt to better fit users with smaller waists. Like the first Action backpack, the waist belt may be removed when not in use, and is now easier to unhinge from its velcro mount using a handy plastic tool that comes with the bag.
Shimoda enlarged V2's side handle so it may be more comfortably used as a luggage handle pass through. Simply lay the bag sideways on top of a rolling bag, then pull the luggage's telescoping handle through the loop. Nice feature to have when carrying both the backpack and luggage through an airport or around town.
Also new is an additional handle at the bottom of the bag. This allows the bag to be more comfortably picked up two handed without pulling on the shoulder straps. This is especially helpful when moving the backpack when facing down on the ground.
Finally, Shimoda has added a new 40 liter X40 bag size that slots between the X25, X30, and X50. This would be a more ideal bag for those who want a slightly bigger bag than 30 liters, but not quite as large as 50.
Adding Shimoda Core Units
Unlike some camera backpacks that come with padded interiors and dividers, Shimoda backpacks are empty. Camera gear is packed using Core Units held in place by the bag's frame (meaning, no awkward clips). This modular approach provides more flexibility and allows users to choose whichever units work best with their gear.
Shimoda offers "Starter Kit" bundles that include one medium or large Core Unit (depending on bag size). These bundles cost a little less compared to purchasing a bag and Core Unit separately, and provide a good starting point for the average user. More Core Units may be purchased and used if needed.
For this review, Shimoda sent me a new DSLR Large V3 Core Unit that fills nearly the entire interior cavity of the X50 sized bag. The V3 version of the DSLR Large Core Unit provides extended height and better accommodates camera bodies mounted with long telephoto lenses (eg, Sony 200-600mm, Canon 100-500mm, etc).
Like other Core Units, the DSLR Large has zippered side access for accessing a camera through the side exterior of the bag. The flap of the Core Unit tucks into the side flap to make the door easier and faster to open. Side access is faster and easier than placing the bag on the ground and unzipping the back panel.
Core Unit dividers provide the perfect balance of protection and flexibility. Their high density foam is rigid and strong enough to stay in place when positioned, yet provides sufficient affordance by flexing and bending (without detaching). I especially like their large velcro tabs, which do a great job of keeping the divider layouts in place.
As for the difference between "Mirrorless" and "DSLR" Core Units, I prefer the "DSLR" sizes (even though I technically carry a digital mirrorless camera) because their dimensions are deeper, which means gear sits lower. The deeper slots also allow smaller items to be stacked. If packing larger camera bodies and/or lenses, the "DSLR" Core Units would be a better choice.
Check out Shimoda's Core Units product page to see which Core Units are most appropriate for each bag, and which are most ideally suited for use together.
Wearing the Shimoda Action X V2
I find Action X to be just as comfortable as the Shimoda Explore backpack, but different. The shoulder straps and waist belt on Action X are stiffer, less plush, and less breathable in comparison. This makes Action X feel warmer when hiking, but on the upside the straps are less susceptible to rips and tears when used in harsh climates. I personally prefer the more ventilated, moisture wicking straps and back on the Explore bags, but would use the Action X if traveling to a environment where rain, snow and ice would be a factor.
One of my favorite features of Shimoda bags is their adjustable shoulder straps. I'm tall, so I always loosen shoulder straps on backpacks to position their waist belts lower on my hips. But this then causes the shoulder and sternum straps to sit uncomfortably high on my torso.
Action X solves this problem with adjustable strap mounts (pictured below). Taller users can raise the straps up, while shorter users can lower them down. Either way, the bag then sits better on the shoulders and hips, which equates to less strain and better comfort when hiking.
The X50 has four adjustable options - S, M, L and XL. I assumed being six-foot-four I'd use XL, but L was more comfortable. So if you're a taller and/or bigger photographer than me, the X50 should fit you well.
Also noteworthy, bags purchased directly through Shimoda may be ordered with three alternate shoulder straps specially designed for women at no additional cost. Check out their women's collection for more info.
Additional design details of Action X V2
Action X includes an expandable roll-top for packing bulkier, heavier items like jackets, hats, food, or other items too large or awkward for the bag's interior. This space tightly rolls-up and folds down when not in use, then expands to add an additional 7 liters of packable space. I find this to be extremely helpful and useful, especially when the interior of the bag is filled with Core Units.
I also like the dual mounting straps on the front panel of Action X. These provide a convenient spot for hiking poles, tripods, snow shoes, or other bulky items that can't fit elsewhere. Both straps pass through a black loop that segments the front into two channels. A single channel can also be created by pulling the straps out from under the center loops.
Another win with Action X is its support for hydration bladders (I like the HydraPak Bladder). Bladders hang on a hook inside the zippered front pocket, and their drinking tubes then tunnel through a couple of discrete openings in the interior and exterior of the bag to reach the front shoulder strap. Thankfully, neither the bladder nor tube get in the way when taking the bag on or off, or when accessing interior camera gear.
Action X bags also come with a canvas helmet pouch that clips to the front panel. This makes storing and carrying an awkward bike, climbing or ski helmet easier when not in use.
What I don't like about Shimoda Action X V2
Action X V2 improves the design of the original bag, but for me, it's still not perfect. The bag has a few, small negatives to consider.
First, I'm not crazy with how the roll-top compartment looks when rolled up and clasped together. The excess material has a tendency to stick up, and looks a bit like a hat. I think the top would look more streamlined if there were one clasp at either side that folded down and connected to the side of the bag. Minor thing, but it still bugs me.
Second, Action X provides a clever, integrated mount for keys. This helps prevent keys from accidentally falling out of a pants pocket (a constant fear of mine when traveling alone). Unfortunately, the Action X key ring is all the way at the bottom of its internal pouch; making keys difficult to get to when other items are packed on top. I'd rather have the key ring in one of the side pouches for easier access.
Third, Action X's external straps often block zippers from fully opening. I have to frequently slide a zipper under a strap, or unbuckle a strap altogether, in order to fully unzip some pockets. Perhaps it's the kind of thing I'll eventually get used to.
Fourth, the side pockets are open and accessible to rain, dirt and sand when their (now removable) tripod/water bottle pouches are pulled out. Perhaps this could be addressed with a two-stage zipper (one outer, one inner) that closed the pockets when pouches are hanging outside. I still prefer the overall design and experience of Shimoda's tripod/bottle pouches to other bags, but feel there's still room for improvement.
Fifth, the black TPU straps at the bottom of the bag (used to secure the aforementioned tripod/bottle pouches or other side mounted items) are more cumbersome and time consuming to tighten and loosen than the nylon straps. The rubberized straps do appear to be stronger and less prone to rips and tears, which could be helpful when mounting skis or other items, but aren't as easily manageable.
Is Action X V2 right for you?
Overall, the V2 version of the Shimoda Action X refines and improves what was already a fantastic bag for outdoor photographers and videographers looking for a durable, comfortable bag that can withstand harsh weather and environments. Like the Shimoda Explore, the design of Action X is smart and thoughtful, with quality construction and unique design details. The bag is also very comfortable to wear, even for long durations of time. Action X isn't perfect, but it's pretty darn close.
Action X may, however, be overkill for the average outdoor photographer. If you don't need to carry action/adventure gear like skis, helmets, snowboards or similar items, hike extensively, see yourself using the bag in inclement weather, or need an expandable roll-top for bulky items, a simpler camera bag may be a better option.
Another consideration is warmth and moisture wicking. I'd absolutely use Action X in cooler seasons, or when traveling to wet, snowy places (eg, Iceland), but if I were doing landscape photography in Death Valley or Utah in warmer months, I'd prefer a more breathable bag (like the Shimoda Explore).
All that said, the Action X is absolutely worth the money and would be a smart investment for any photographer and/or videographer looking for something better, more rugged and customizable than the average camera backpack.
Here's the video version of this review.