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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW Review

Two small rucksacks go head to head in this test. Both offer a similar specification and should be ideal for landscape photography. Will the Kata and its unusual design prevail against the conservatively styled Lowepro?

|  KATA 3N1 20 in Bags, Cases and Straps
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Build and handling

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Kata 3N1 20 main image
Kata 3N1 20 priced at £89.99
Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW main image
Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW at £129.99

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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Lowepro main compartment
The dividers are organised well in the Lowepro with lots of space for equipment.
Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Kata main compartment
The bright yellow colouring of the Kata is to help find small items in the dark. A smaller hardware section makes it harder to fit everything in though.

Both the bags in this test offer a solution for carrying your photographic equipment without taking up too much space. They're both similar in weight and size, they both hold roughly the same equipment and are within £50 of each other. So will the cheaper Kata offer the best value for money or will it be better to spend the extra cash and go for the Lowepro?

Shaped like any other rucksack, the Lowepro uses a tried and tested design that allows maximum equipment to be fitted into the space available. In contrast, Kata have never been a company that conforms to ideology and the 3N1 20 is no exception. It's decidedly thinner than the Lowepro although shares a similar height and depth.

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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Lowepro extracting the camera
With the tripod on the lid, it makes it top heavy and could flip over if it's not securely held or the tripod removed beforehand.

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Features
The back of the Lowepro has a thin, wide zip which access a pocket for holding personal equipment such as pens, paper, mobile phone, mp3 player and anything you may feel you want to take with you. The main compartment holds your entire photographic gear. The dividers are set up to accept a DSLR body and 70-200mm lens in the centre and Lowepro suggest 4-5 lenses and flash but I think there could be space for a spare body at the bottom in the middle and still have space for 3-4 lenses, possibly five depending on the size of them. These are simply guidelines and are open to change to your own shooting preference. On the inside of the lid is a webbed pocket for filters and below are two memory card pockets.

There are also two elasticated netting pockets on the sides of the bag which could be used to fit small drinks cartons in.

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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Lowepropersonal contents area
There's plenty of space for all your basic effects  in the Lowepro such as pens, paper, map, phone and mp3 player.
Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Kata personal contents area
Items are more snug in the Kata but still fit in without any problems due to lack of space. A nice touch is the removable memory card pouch.

There are two main compartments to the 3N1 20. The top compartment is smaller and for personal accessories. There are two small velcro fastened pockets and a webbed zipper pocket on the inside of the flap. On each side of the bag is a zipper to access the bag without taking it off your shoulder. That's the beauty of the 3N1 20 and also how it gets its name. It is simply three bags in one. The straps can be unclipped at the bottom so you can attach one diagonally and use it as a messenger style pack. This type of bag is easier to swing round and access. The reason behind the two zippers is because the straps can be interchanged either way which means it's great for left and right handed people.

Inside the main compartment, there's not as much readily available space due to the compartment split. The specification of the bag lists 3-4 extra lenses being able to be fitted in and if they're small enough, yes but I think realistically, you're looking at 2-3 extra lenses.

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Build and handling
The Pro Runner 300 AW sports all the typical features that you'd expect from Lowepro such as weather sealing, rain cover, tripod feet holster and a soft, light grey interior. The attractive black exterior is made from 600D (denier) polyester while the grey interior is a 210d nylon PU velex.

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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Lowepro rain guard
A simple grey rain guard covers the whole Lowepro rucksack.
Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW:Kata rain guard
At first I was worried that the rain cover was too small, but it's a perfect fit.

Kata have a tendency to rename the materials that they use so it's difficult to put a finger on exactly what they're made of. The black & red exterior is “Nailhead” nylon for abrasion resistance while the bright yellow interior is a more familiar 200D nylon. The reasoning for the garish yellow colour on the inside is for night shooting. At night, if you lose a small black accessory such as the PC sync cap, you're more likely to see it on a bright yellow surface than a grey or black one.

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Performance
I found that the Lowepro was a bit more comfortable to use while out walking because of the chest clips to hold the straps in place. The downside of this bag is that it has to be taken completely off and rested on the ground before you can take anything out. Also, the tripod is placed on the main compartment lid, so if you open the bag with it on, the lid becomes top heavy and can catapult your equipment all over the floor.

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Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Kata strap options
The straps can be detached and reattached diagonally to make the bag a messenger type. This allows for fast access while still on the shoulder.

In my experience, I've always thought Kata bags are difficult to get into and the 3N1 20 is no exception. The zips are higgledy piggledy using one continuous zipper system but placing it through a strap so you can't use it all. The point that the zipper goes through a strap, a plastic buckle has been fitted. Once this is unclipped, the whole side of the bag can be dragged open which is a lot quicker to use. But it leaves part of the bag open to let moisture in which is a big concern. That being said, it's a lot easier to get stuff in and out of the bag and lefties will also appreciate being catered for. One area I'm disappointed in is the lack of provision for a tripod. It means I have to carry one separately and I'm far too good for that.

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Verdict
Both bags have unique attributes from each other that make them appealing and your own verdict will be based on your personal requirements. For me, despite the interesting design that the Kata bag provides for left-handed photographers, it doesn't tick enough of the other boxes that the Lowepro covers. The bag isn't easy to get into, there's not as much space due to the split compartments and there's no tripod holster although on the plus side, it's possible to fit a trolley frame to it to give it wheels.

For my photographic needs, I have to hand it to the Lowepro, it's a simple tried and tested design and I like the amount of space it provides with organised, segmented areas that are all easily accessible. While I have to commend Kata for attempting a more radical approach to allow provision for left and right-handed people and although I think the bag is ideal for cityscapes because of the added security of leaving the bag on and the lack of a tripod holster, I think the idea still needs some work. I've never thought that splitting a bag into two parts is strictly necessary either and I'd only get a bag like that if I really needed it.

Despite being £40 more, the peace of mind I get knowing I have my tripod strapped to my bag and that I can get to all areas of the bag are worth the extra money for the Lowepro and I think it's the best bag out of the two in this test.

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Pros
Kata 3N1 20 Lowepro 300AW
Excellent for left and right-handers Well laid out design                                
Thermoshield shock absorbing material Comfortable on long walks
Bright interior for high visibility Tonnes of space

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Cons
Kata 3N1 20 Lowepro 300AW
Not easy to access main compartment Tripod on lid makes it unstable when opening
Zipper slightly open allowing moisture in Has to be completely taken off to access any gear
Split compartments  

  Kata 3N1 20 Lowepro 300AW

Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW

Kata 3N1 20 & Lowepro Pro Runner 300AW: Specification
  Kata 3N1 20 Lowepro 300AW
Price £89.99 £129.99
External dimensions    
Height 44cm 44cm
Width 19cm 19cm
Length 23.5cm 33cm
Internal dimensions    
Height 30cm 38.5cm
Width 16cm 11.5cm
Length 22cm 28.5cm
Weight 1.22kg 1.4kg
Laptop space No No
Rain cover Yes Yes
Tipod holder No Yes

The Kata 3N1 20 costs around £90 and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Kata 3N1 20

The Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW costs around £130 and is available from Park Cameras here:

Lowepro Pro Runner 300 AW

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howarthp 12 11 United Kingdom
22 Apr 2010 4:45PM
I've got the Kata bag and have found it useful. However, I've just bought the ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro (albeit priced at 120). It's a much more useful bag but only a little bigger. It easily fits a pro SLR with a 70-200 and has a great tripod attachment. I do believe thought that there isn't such a thing as the perfect single bag!

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