Gadget Bag: Photo Backpacks

When you want to take more than just a body and lens into the field, a backpack gives you the capacity and the comfortable means to carry everything

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Tamrac
Tamrac Adventure 10 5550

This time of year, just about every outdoor photographer is enjoying the late-summer weather and some quality time with nature and a camera. And why not? The days are long, the temperatures are warm, and there’s plenty to see and photograph. When you want to be out shooting for a long time, chances are you want more than just a camera body and a couple of lenses with you, and when you’re going to load up, a backpack is the best tool for hauling your camera gear, as well as a spare jacket and a granola bar or two. Photo backpacks offer protection, load capacity and redistribution of weight so that you can carry more gear a longer distance with less fatigue.

If you frequently carry a notebook computer with your photo gear (who doesn’t these days?), photo backpacks are a great choice because you can consolidate all of your equipment in one easy-to-carry bag. Backpacks are ideal for bicycle excursions, too, and they’re available in more sizes, configurations and material options than ever before.

Think Tank
Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter
Tenba
Tenba Shootout

When selecting a backpack, start from the inside out. Think about what you plan to carry. Need extra space for rain gear and a survival kit? A pouch for your MP3 player or GPS? How many cameras and how many lenses? Computer? Once you’ve established the load you need to stow, consider your alternatives from the standpoint of comfort, accessibility and appearance. Make sure that the bag you select will fit you snugly but comfortably, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’re hauling a tree stump on your shoulders. And if getting to your gear as quickly as possible is more important than anything else, be prepared to investigate some of the hybrid shoulder-sling-type backpacks, as well.

From Think Tank Photo comes the Shape Shifter, the first backpack designed to expand and contract to fit D-SLR equipment. By flattening down to a three-inch thickness, the backpack can be collapsed and still carry up to a 17-inch laptop and accessories, but in a much smaller profile. Photographers who already use Think Tank’s belt system can integrate the Shape Shifter and support the weight of the backpack with the belt. Estimated Street Price: $249.

The Tenba Shootout backpack collection offers models in various sizes and shapes, so you’re assured to find the right one to meet your exact needs. The popular Shootout Daypack will fit a pair of D-SLRs, five to seven lenses (up to 70-200mm ƒ/2.8), plus the accessories, clothing and food you’ll 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 its exclusive PackOUT pocket, which uniquely expands to provide approximately 240 cubic inches of additional storage space. This compartment will accommodate lightweight, non-breakable items like rain gear, MREs, boonie cap and the like. Estimated Street Price: $199.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

NG W5070
National Geographic W5070

The Tamrac Adventure 10 Photo/Laptop Backpack (Model 5550) was designed for the modern SLR photographer, with room for a pro digital SLR with an eight-inch lens attached, additional lenses, flash unit, accessories and a 17-inch laptop computer—everything you’d need for outdoor photography. The lower compartment is completely foam-padded to protect your photo gear, while the large upper compartment has room for items like lunch or a light jacket. The laptop compartment also is padded. Double-zipper pulls provide quick access to gear, while a weather flap provides protection from the elements. Tamrac’s patented Memory & Battery Management System identifies unused cards and batteries with red flags. The comfortable foam-padded backpack harness with sternum strap is contoured to distribute the weight across the shoulders, while a padded waist belt also helps distribute weight comfortably. The pack comes in red/black or gray/black, measures 14x10.5x25 inches and weighs 5.25 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $189.

Naneu Pro
Naneu Pro UrbanGear U220

Available in small, medium and large sizes, the National Geographic Walkabout Rucksacks are as distinctive as they are functional. Made of gray cotton canvas with leather trim, a water-resistant nylon interior and brushed aluminum rings and rivets, these are as handsome and comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans. The NG W5070 (Medium) will handle one D-SLR, lenses, flash and most 15-inch laptops. The padded lower compartment offers excellent protection for your camera gear, while the upper personal storage compartment holds other items like food, clothes or your e-book reader. Estimated Street Price: $180.

Mary Farace
Mary Farace Daypack

Best known for its military-style bags and backpacks, Naneu Pro has introduced a full line of photo bags called UrbanGear. The full-sized UrbanGear U220 is a convertible backpack/rolling camera bag that will hold a pro Canon EOS-1D-type D-SLR with a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens, plus six more lenses, flash and a second camera body. The laptop compartment includes a padded sleeve that will fit most 17-inch computers. There’s a dedicated audio compartment with a poke-through grommet for your headphone cable, a water-bottle pouch and a tripod sling. Smaller members of the UrbanGear series offer similar features and the same high quality but less capacity. All offer contemporary styling and rugged protection. Estimated Street Price: $249.

Lowepro
Lowepro DryZone 200

Despite its low price, the Mary Farace Daypack Backpack (sold by Adorama) can hold a compact digital SLR with four lenses, including a 50-200mm zoom, plus accessories like a flash unit and battery charger. The 14x12x6-inch unit meets airline carry-on regulations, and nine repositionable dividers allow you to customize the live area to suit your gear. There are pockets for items like memory cards, manuals and sunscreen. The backpack is made of Softex nylon with lots of padding and has ergonomic straps for comfortable
carrying. Estimated Street Price: $49.

The first totally waterproof, soft-sided camera backpack, the Lowepro DryZone 200 will float even when fully loaded with gear. The roomy backpack will hold a large 35mm or pro digital SLR, four to five lenses (up to a 300mm ƒ/2.8 with hood reversed), flash and accessories; a medium-format system; a small field camera system; or a pro video system. An inner drypod with patented waterproof TIZIP zipper provides 100% watertight protection, while the heavy-duty padded camera compartment is fully customizable. Other features include an outer shell with technical backpack harness, ergonomic lumbar support, fully adjustable CollarCut shoulder straps, a tuck-away tripod holder, self-draining mesh pockets and more. The unit measures 14.6x11.4x19.1 inches and weighs 6.94 pounds.
Estimated Street Price: $364.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Kata
Kata GDC R-104
Domke
Domke F-3

The Kata GDC Rucksack series offers stylish protection and easy portability for one or two SLRs and up to five additional lenses. The main compartment of the GDC R-104 model will hold a pro D-SLR 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 that provides weight distribution and ventilation. The R-104 is compatible with Kata’s EPH system that allows connection of additional pouches and storage bags. Estimated Street Price: $274.

The Domke F-3 Backpack is made of long-lasting, flexible cotton canvas with special foam padding in the bottom to protect your equipment from impact. The inside is divided into two sections for lenses (or accessories) and two sections for pro camera bodies. There also are zippered mesh pockets for filters or caps and a zippered front pocket. Plus, there are three additional exterior pockets for accessories of various sizes. The backpack harness has thick foam padding and a sternum strap. Domke bags are made in the USA and are well known for their legendary durability. Estimated Street Price: $169.

Tamrac
Tamrac Adventure 10 5550

This time of year, just about every outdoor photographer is enjoying the late-summer weather and some quality time with nature and a camera. And why not? The days are long, the temperatures are warm, and there’s plenty to see and photograph. When you want to be out shooting for a long time, chances are you want more than just a camera body and a couple of lenses with you, and when you’re going to load up, a backpack is the best tool for hauling your camera gear, as well as a spare jacket and a granola bar or two. Photo backpacks offer protection, load capacity and redistribution of weight so that you can carry more gear a longer distance with less fatigue.

If you frequently carry a notebook computer with your photo gear (who doesn’t these days?), photo backpacks are a great choice because you can consolidate all of your equipment in one easy-to-carry bag. Backpacks are ideal for bicycle excursions, too, and they’re available in more sizes, configurations and material options than ever before.

Think Tank
Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter
Tenba
Tenba Shootout

When selecting a backpack, start from the inside out. Think about what you plan to carry. Need extra space for rain gear and a survival kit? A pouch for your MP3 player or GPS? How many cameras and how many lenses? Computer? Once you’ve established the load you need to stow, consider your alternatives from the standpoint of comfort, accessibility and appearance. Make sure that the bag you select will fit you snugly but comfortably, otherwise you’ll feel as if you’re hauling a tree stump on your shoulders. And if getting to your gear as quickly as possible is more important than anything else, be prepared to investigate some of the hybrid shoulder-sling-type backpacks, as well.

From Think Tank Photo comes the Shape Shifter, the first backpack designed to expand and contract to fit D-SLR equipment. By flattening down to a three-inch thickness, the backpack can be collapsed and still carry up to a 17-inch laptop and accessories, but in a much smaller profile. Photographers who already use Think Tank’s belt system can integrate the Shape Shifter and support the weight of the backpack with the belt. Estimated Street Price: $249.

The Tenba Shootout backpack collection offers models in various sizes and shapes, so you’re assured to find the right one to meet your exact needs. The popular Shootout Daypack will fit a pair of D-SLRs, five to seven lenses (up to 70-200mm ƒ/2.8), plus the accessories, clothing and food you’ll 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 its exclusive PackOUT pocket, which uniquely expands to provide approximately 240 cubic inches of additional storage space. This compartment will accommodate lightweight, non-breakable items like rain gear, MREs, boonie cap and the like. Estimated Street Price: $199.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

NG W5070
National Geographic W5070

The Tamrac Adventure 10 Photo/Laptop Backpack (Model 5550) was designed for the modern SLR photographer, with room for a pro digital SLR with an eight-inch lens attached, additional lenses, flash unit, accessories and a 17-inch laptop computer—everything you’d need for outdoor photography. The lower compartment is completely foam-padded to protect your photo gear, while the large upper compartment has room for items like lunch or a light jacket. The laptop compartment also is padded. Double-zipper pulls provide quick access to gear, while a weather flap provides protection from the elements. Tamrac’s patented Memory & Battery Management System identifies unused cards and batteries with red flags. The comfortable foam-padded backpack harness with sternum strap is contoured to distribute the weight across the shoulders, while a padded waist belt also helps distribute weight comfortably. The pack comes in red/black or gray/black, measures 14x10.5x25 inches and weighs 5.25 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $189.

Naneu Pro
Naneu Pro UrbanGear U220

Available in small, medium and large sizes, the National Geographic Walkabout Rucksacks are as distinctive as they are functional. Made of gray cotton canvas with leather trim, a water-resistant nylon interior and brushed aluminum rings and rivets, these are as handsome and comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans. The NG W5070 (Medium) will handle one D-SLR, lenses, flash and most 15-inch laptops. The padded lower compartment offers excellent protection for your camera gear, while the upper personal storage compartment holds other items like food, clothes or your e-book reader. Estimated Street Price: $180.

Mary Farace
Mary Farace Daypack

Best known for its military-style bags and backpacks, Naneu Pro has introduced a full line of photo bags called UrbanGear. The full-sized UrbanGear U220 is a convertible backpack/rolling camera bag that will hold a pro Canon EOS-1D-type D-SLR with a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens, plus six more lenses, flash and a second camera body. The laptop compartment includes a padded sleeve that will fit most 17-inch computers. There’s a dedicated audio compartment with a poke-through grommet for your headphone cable, a water-bottle pouch and a tripod sling. Smaller members of the UrbanGear series offer similar features and the same high quality but less capacity. All offer contemporary styling and rugged protection. Estimated Street Price: $249.

Lowepro
Lowepro DryZone 200

Despite its low price, the Mary Farace Daypack Backpack (sold by Adorama) can hold a compact digital SLR with four lenses, including a 50-200mm zoom, plus accessories like a flash unit and battery charger. The 14x12x6-inch unit meets airline carry-on regulations, and nine repositionable dividers allow you to customize the live area to suit your gear. There are pockets for items like memory cards, manuals and sunscreen. The backpack is made of Softex nylon with lots of padding and has ergonomic straps for comfortable
carrying. Estimated Street Price: $49.

The first totally waterproof, soft-sided camera backpack, the Lowepro DryZone 200 will float even when fully loaded with gear. The roomy backpack will hold a large 35mm or pro digital SLR, four to five lenses (up to a 300mm ƒ/2.8 with hood reversed), flash and accessories; a medium-format system; a small field camera system; or a pro video system. An inner drypod with patented waterproof TIZIP zipper provides 100% watertight protection, while the heavy-duty padded camera compartment is fully customizable. Other features include an outer shell with technical backpack harness, ergonomic lumbar support, fully adjustable CollarCut shoulder straps, a tuck-away tripod holder, self-draining mesh pockets and more. The unit measures 14.6x11.4x19.1 inches and weighs 6.94 pounds.
Estimated Street Price: $364.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

Kata
Kata GDC R-104
Domke
Domke F-3

The Kata GDC Rucksack series offers stylish protection and easy portability for one or two SLRs and up to five additional lenses. The main compartment of the GDC R-104 model will hold a pro D-SLR 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 that provides weight distribution and ventilation. The R-104 is compatible with Kata’s EPH system that allows connection of additional pouches and storage bags. Estimated Street Price: $274.

The Domke F-3 Backpack is made of long-lasting, flexible cotton canvas with special foam padding in the bottom to protect your equipment from impact. The inside is divided into two sections for lenses (or accessories) and two sections for pro camera bodies. There also are zippered mesh pockets for filters or caps and a zippered front pocket. Plus, there are three additional exterior pockets for accessories of various sizes. The backpack harness has thick foam padding and a sternum strap. Domke bags are made in the USA and are well known for their legendary durability. Estimated Street Price: $169.

RESOURCES
Think Tank Photo
(866) 55-THINK
www.thinktankphoto.com

Tenba
(914) 347-3300
www.tenba.com

Tamrac
(800) 662-0717
www.tamrac.com

National Geographic (Bogen Imaging)
(201) 818-9500
www.bogenimaging.us

Naneu Pro
(866) 258-6469
www.naneupro.com

Mary Farace Daypack (Adorama)
(800) 223-2500
www.adorama.com

Lowepro
(800) 800-LOWE
www.lowepro.com

Kata (Bogen Imaging)
(201) 818-9500
www.bogenimaging.us

Domke (Tiffen)
(631) 273-2500
www.tiffen.com

23 Comments

    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?

    Larry,

    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.

    I do not know whether the question here will be related to the post, but I’m looking for it.. what to fill in a backpack for photography to look like example pictures that you’ve shared.

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