Gadget Bag: Photo Backpacks

For trekking into the backcountry of a national park, a backpack is the best way to haul your photo gear

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Serious hikers depend on backpacks to carry their shelter, clothing and chow. This popularity has provided fuel for variety, innovation and attractive prices. But not all backpacks are suitable—or sensible—for carrying camera gear. Properly designed photo backpacks protect your equipment while making it easier for you to carry a heavy load. Those with neck or back problems appreciate the redistribution of weight afforded by backpacks. Most offer space to stow personal items, music players, raingear or a lightweight jacket, food and a bottle or two of water. Many photographers carry a notebook computer with their photo gear on a daily basis. Photo backpacks really shine because all of your equipment can be packed into one easy-to-carry bag.

Check these details when selecting a backpack. Starting with what you plan to carry, will it hold everything you need? How many cameras and how many lenses? What size computer? Then look for telltale signs of comfort (strap construction, padding), accessibility (how easy it is to reach your gear) and durability (weather-resistant with sturdy snaps and zippers).

Tamrac Adventure 10

The Tamrac Adventure 10 Model 5550 is designed for photographers who use a pro digital SLR. The pack will accommodate a large camera with grip and zoom lens attached, plus additional lenses, a flash, accessories and a laptop. The bottom portion provides protective padding while the top affords space for personal items like a jacket or snacks. The computer compartment is separated from the other storage areas and easily holds the largest MacBook Pro or similar 17-inch computer. Two mesh side pockets provide quick access to accessories and water bottles. The strap harness is secure and comfortable enough for a long haul with a heavy load. Smaller models are available in the Tamrac Adventure series.

Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted V2.0

The Airport Addicted V2.0 from Think Tank Photo is the frequent-flying photographer’s best friend. Designed specifically with airport travel in mind, it holds the maximum amount of gear you can take aboard a plane as legal carry-on. Features include a beefy security cable and combination locks that allow you to lash your bag to an immovable object, plus a fully removable computer case that allows easy access to a 15-inch laptop once you’ve boarded the plane. Inside the lid there are pockets for odds and ends, and you’ll find a zippered top pocket to stow your ticket, passport or reading material. The shoulder harness is nicely padded and provides two stretch pockets on the front, two D-rings to attach accessories and an adjustable sternum strap.

Mountainsmith Spectrum Daypack

The Mountainsmith Spectrum Daypack has been redesigned for 2010 and is now made with 100% recycled PET ReDura material. Sized for popular compact DSLRs in the Nikon D90 range, it offers a comfortable, molded back panel, rubber molded haul handle, contoured shoulder straps, adjustable sternum strap and a load-stabilizing compression system for all-day carrying comfort. The top-access padded computer compartment will hold most 17-inch laptops, and the net side pockets fit oversized water bottles.

Lowepro SlingShot 200 AW

Lowepro offers gadget bags, backpacks, cases and shoulder bags to meet every need. One of their most imitated is the SlingShot series. The unique and highly practical design allows the bag to be quickly shifted from “carry mode” to “ready mode.” Simply swing the bag around from your back to your front and open the zippered flap. The SlingShot 200 AW model will hold a DSLR and up to six lenses, and features a pair of roomy pockets for smaller accessories like flash units or filters. There’s even a permanently sewn-in microfiber cloth that covers and protects the camera’s LCD, a memory card pouch and a place to stow your lens cap so it doesn’t get lost when you sling into action.

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Kata GDC R-104 Rucksack

The Kata GDC Rucksack series offer light weight, extra protection and easy portability. There are models available to accommodate up to two SLRs and five additional lenses. The GDC R-104 Rucksack holds a pro DSLR with battery grip and 300mm lens and can be conveniently customized by repositioning the padded dividers. The multipurpose compartment in the back will protect a 17-inch notebook computer or personal items. Two removable side pockets provide additional storage for accessories or a water bottle, and the included tripod holder attaches to either the back of the bag or one of the sides. The well-designed shoulder harness includes a unique cushioning and shock-absorbing system, and a removable waist belt provides weight distribution and ventilation. The R-104 is compatible with Kata’s EPH system that allows connection of additional pouches and storage bags.

National Geographic Walkabout Rucksack NG-W5070

The National Geographic Walkabout Rucksack series is available in small, medium and large sizes, and offers a unique and distinctive appearance. Made of green-gray cotton canvas with leather trim, with a water-resistant nylon interior and brushed aluminum rings and rivets, these bags are handsome and comfortable. The NG-W5070 (Medium) Walkabout will handle one DSLR, lenses, flash and most 15-inch laptops. The padded lower compartment provides excellent protection for camera gear while the upper personal storage compartment holds items like snacks and clothes. You can remove the divider between the top and bottom compartments to create one large storage space. Two side pockets provide a home for water bottles, or they can be used as
an anchored support for a tripod or monopod.

Tenba Shootout Daypack

The popular Tenba Shootout Daypack holds two DSLRs, five to seven lenses (up to a 70-200mm ƒ/2.8), plus accessories, clothing, food and other items you need for an extended excursion. The Daypack is similar in size to the Small Backpack, but instead of including a removable interior, tripod carrier and computer sleeve, Tenba provides their exclusive PackOUT pocket, which uniquely expands to provide about 240 cubic inches of additional storage space.

Petrol PMCK-1N

The PMCK-1N Shell Camera Backpack from Petrol weighs just 5.7 pounds, but is large enough to carry a camcorder such as a Canon XH A1, Sony PMW-EX1 or Panasonic DVX-100B, plus accessories. Made from blue and black Cordura and ballistic nylon, the PMCK-1N provides full protection and features removable, padded dividers inside and double-sided pockets on the exterior. The backpack system is constructed of breathable 3D mesh and provides adjustable sternum and waist straps.

Adorama Slinger

The Adorama Slinger Single Strap Backpack is a combination shoulder bag plus backpack plus sling-type pack, all in one. The exterior of the Slinger is water-resistant and durable. The main compartment measures 10x10x4 inches. Main features include a quick-release snap closure, padded wide shoulder strap, comfortable two-inch waist strap, D-rings for clip-on accessories and molded carrying handle. Three outer pockets offer extra storage space for small items, and a zippered security pocket protects tickets, maps or other valuables.

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Naneu Echo-X

The Naneu Echo-X is a messenger-style sling pack with a single over-the-shoulder strap that allows full rotation from back to front for convenient accessibility to the camera compartment via the water-repellent zippered side opening. The Echo-X is made of water-resistant ballistic nylon and incorporates military-inspired features for added equipment security. The padded strap features an adjustable Velcro® closure for easy dismount and provides a quick disconnect buckle for complete security. The sternum strap stows away in its own compartment. Despite its compact configuration, the Echo-X fits a pro DSLR in the Nikon D3 or Canon EOS-1D Mark III class with a lens up to nine inches long attached, plus three additional lenses, flash
and accessories.

Domke F-3

The Domke F-3 Backpack is configured exactly like the popular Domke F-3X Super Compact shoulder bag, but with extra room at the top for accessories. Like most Domke bags, the F-3 is made of long-lasting, flexible cotton canvas with special foam padding in the bottom to protect equipment from impact. The inside is divided into two sections for lenses (or accessories) and two sections for pro camera bodies. There’s a zippered mesh pocket for filters or caps, and a zippered front pocket. Plus, three additional exterior pockets hold accessories of various sizes. The backpack harness has thick foam padding and a sternum strap.

Clik Elite JetPack

The rugged Clik Elite JetPack is constructed of 1680D ballistic and 420D high-tenacity nylon fabrics, and is built to withstand extreme use. It will protect a 17-inch notebook computer, compact DSLR, extra lens, flash and accessories. Your camera nestles into the Camera Capsule, a cleverly designed padded cradle that can be removed from the JetPack, zipped closed and used separately to shelter the camera gear. With the Capsule removed, the JetPack becomes a roomy overnight pack. It features internal mesh pockets to organize small items, an expanding internal zipper pouch and a large front pocket that holds items like a phone or GPS. Mesh side pockets provide a home for water bottles or MREs, and a small tripod or monopod can be lashed to the JetPack’s side using the hide-away tripod strap.

Calumet BP-1500
Gura Gear Kiboko

The Calumet BP1500 Large Backpack will stow two DSLRs with lenses attached, another body, five or six lenses, flash and much more. And you can carry it easily, thanks to the BP1500’s fully adjustable suspension system, which includes padded shoulder straps, an adjustable waist belt, and a comfortable chest cinch strap. The outer top pocket provides three levels of storage for personal items, and the waist belt features two compartments for GPS and cell phone.

The Kiboko Bag from Gura Gear is only four pounds, but is large enough to pack pro DSLRs (or larger) and lenses up to 600mm. Thanks to a high-tech Dimension Polyant VX-21 fiber, the Kiboko is tough and resists abrasion, and it looks good, too. Inside you’ll find enough room for most anything you’d need and extra dividers to keep everything organized and secure. There’s also a weather cover for extra protection from rain and snow.

(800) 223-2500

(800) 453-2550

Clik Elite
(888) 532-2545

Domke (Tiffen)
(800) 645-2522

Gura Gear
(832) 295-0709

(201) 818-9500

(800) 800-LOWE

(800) 551-5889

(866) 258-6469

National Geographic
(201) 818-9500

Petrol Bags (Camera Dynamics Inc.)
(845) 268-0100

(800) 662-0717

(914) 347-3300

Think Tank Photo
(866) 558-4465


    The tape covering both top and bottom zips are badly designed and ineffective. They act as a scoop for the rain, and channel it onto the zips, causing dampness within the backpack compartments. The zips are prone to being fouled by the tape coverings. The carry handle bounces on the back of the neck, and channels rain down the wearers back.

    Most camera backpacks are surprisingly heavy and it would be useful to have a comparison of weight across bags (maybe a table comparing weight, size, strap type, etc). Serious travelers/hikers usually need a padded waist strap and go for the lowest weight possible (without compromising durability and features). I expect that a company that produces lightweight, well constructed bags for the serious traveler/ hiker would make a lot of people happy and capture a big part of the market (even if it cost more).

    I’m a little surprised to see the LowePro Slingshot on this list for hiking. It’s a great bag for urban work or where quick access to the camera is required, but it’s a terrible bag for a hiking trip. The single-strap design does a terrible job with the weight on a longer trip.

    I use either a Tenba Shootout or the LowePro Primus on my hikes. The Primus takes priority if it’s a multi-day hike.

    The Think Tank Airport Antidote V2 is one of the best backpacks for airline travel when carrying allot of pro equipment and a Macbook 15 pro, it is however heavy when loaded…the MRock Canyonlands is best for general hiking (works as a slingbag or a backpack according to your preferred setup). It has stunning access options and is fairly weather proof. Another great bag I have used around the world is the National Geographic medium backpack but it has issues holding a pro sized body or a DSAL with a grip. (not very deep). Has a ton of pockets and nooks!

    Ditto on the Think Tank Antidote V2…this bag is almost perfect for travel…a bit lacking in for serious hiking…but certainly doable. The quality of this bag and careful design puts it far ahead of the average backpack. It is my personal favorite especially for foreign travel. It is SWEET!

    Think Tanks for sure built tuff and intelligently for pro’s they are famous in design, ruggedness and professional stature. IMO they are timeless and I carry exclusively Think Tank and Domke…trust me they will satisfy your needs.

    (built like tanks…designed by photographers)

    I have tried many many camera bags, and the Gura Gear Kiboko bag actually gets awesome reviews and I would love to buy one. When looking at the specs, the 4lb weight is very very appealing, even though it isn’t a small bag.

    I am suprised to not see the f-stop Tilopa on this list, it truly is an AMAZING bag. Interchangable camera units provide enough variable amounts of storage for any traveling photographer. Compartment access is simple and secure with plenty of room for various pieces of equipment. One of the few bags that is framed and it is very comfortable on an extended trip.

    I think they were trying to hit a happy medium with this article and trying to indicate bags for each specialized field trip. Overnight and you want a bigger back pack to carry personal items and camera gear. Day trip the Lowepro Slingshot would do the trick etc. Each bag listed has features for different sorts of backpacking experiences.

    I have the Lowepro 220 and it is perfect for me and what I shoot. I have reached the age where roughing it is a Motel with only 20 channels. If I drive long distances or fly. I* have a metal case with pluck foam that all my gear fits into. Lockable for airflight (which I don’t do anymore)or car travel with suitcases stacked around it. So everyone has a favorite that fits their needs. That is what the article is trying to cover, just whatever fits your needs.

    Can someone please explain why you would want to backpack into some backcountry locations and haul a 15-17″ laptop with you? Without hauling a portable generator or extra batteries (weight) what good would it do you? I just don’t get it. I don’t understand the technology minded young people of today. Digital is great and it has lightened the load since you no longer have to carry multitudes of film. 1000 pictures does not make your camera weigh any more but 100 rolls of film would. I am not knocking anyone that does that I am more curious than anything else. When I first looked at the Lowepro 220 slingshot, I thought, “There is no place for the laptop.” Then I laughed at myself since most if not all of our travel is by auto. I have never had any problem finding enough space for the laptop back with charger, mouse, etc. Again I am not knocking anyone but just curious about the thinking behind that?


    I like to carry a light laptop with me on multi-day photo excursions because at night I can review what I have gotten during the day. This way I know if I need to go back and reshoot something because my clients are unlikely to pay for me to go back “in country” to reshoot. Yes, the extra battery weight is a pain, but having to reschedule and return to an out-of-the-way location is a greater pain.

    I’m with Larry on this one. And the thing with all of these bags, in fact, a serious flaw with any photo backpack, is the lack of space available for storing food, water, extra clothing, and the other items necessary for hiking in the backcountry.

    I’ve found that a multi-day pack designed for backpacking offers more usable space and a better fit, for less money than these photo backpacks.

    For a day hike, a photo backpack may be valuable in the way of holding equipment in a padded/secure manner, especially when you are carrying telephoto accessories which can be longer. A non photo oriented multi-daypack in most cases does not have a padded inner shell which would leave larger or sensitive equipment exposed to pressure. I myself have rigged a lowepro camera bag to the back of a Kelty rucksack for use of my dslr with smaller lenses, but if you get in the range of up to 500 mm lenses, you need the protection of a larger photo backpack. Some have zipper access areas and side pockets which can hold some extra materials. If you are out for a day, you can usually dress accordingly with the climate and weather conditions and not be badly disappointed. Dedicated backpacking is dedicated backpacking, and dedicated photography is dedicated photography. Specialization buying is the point.

    I love the Tamrac Adventure 10 Model 5550 backpack model because this is completely made for me. This is a backpack for the DSLR photographers. I have recently bought a camera and now, I am looking for a safe backpack for trip. However, finally, your blog gives me the thing I wanted for. Now, I will research more about the backpack to make a final decision. Thanks admin!

    None of the bags reviewed have a hydration bladder facility. As a regular wearer of camera backpacks this is a necessity for me. Water bottle storage just doesn’t cut it, you have to take the pack off to get a drink. The only bag that I have found with a bladder is a Kiesel. I don’t carry a laptop in my Lowepro Photo Trekker, I put a bladder in there. Any serious backpack should have a bladder.

    No thanks on the bladders. Ever have one break? I routinely carry 6-8 liters of water with my old MT Smith Paragon pack. Get creative. I put one on each shoulder strap and I use a slim profile chest pack that easily connects via clips. Camelback makes great water bottles with the bite valve option and accessory hose.

    Your photo on the main page shows a large green backpack between the Tamrac and the Dryzone. Is that just pretty graphics or a real photo backpack? As far as I can tell no company out there has built a true back-country photo backpack.

    On the day-pack and serious travel side, folk should take a look at the Gura Gear Kiboko. Lightweight, rugged, and built for airline travel, this pack has won me over.

    Still need a true multi-day outback photo backpack, though.

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