Gadget Bag: Save Your Back

Think beyond the shoulder bag
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Clik Elite Access Chest Pack; Scottevest SeV Expedition Jacket

When I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, I was determined not to allow it to interfere with my regular activities. What started as a constant, but tolerable pain escalated to daily agony accompanied by sleepless nights. That’s when I realized that wearing a camera around my neck wasn’t in my best interest.

Nonetheless, like most photographers, I felt my camera must be ready for use in an instant—I had to find a better way to carry my gear, but it had to remain readily accessible. To my surprise, I discovered many solutions. As I began evaluating the alternatives, it immediately became clear that I had to adopt more than one, depending on the season, situation and the amount of equipment I needed to haul.

My overall goal was to achieve balanced weight distribution, with little or no load on my neck. The ideal remedy should allow me to walk long distances for long hours with few additional aches and pains. By alternating between the various systems described here, I’ve been able to accomplish exactly that.

When I first heard that the Scottevest SeV Expedition Jacket had 37 pockets, I thought it must be a parlor trick—but upon inspection, I admit it’s thoroughly practical. It offers photographers plenty of room for lenses, compact cameras, a light meter or two, an iPod and iPad (yes, iPad), filters, wayward lens caps, a GPS and much, much more. Equally important, there are places to stow things that always seem to get in the way, like car keys, water bottles, sunglasses and lunch. There are special hideaways for your passport, business cards and a multitool, too. Made of waterproof and breathable material, the SeV Expedition is machine-washable and comes complete with a detachable hood. Estimated Street Price: $200.

Tamrac Model 153

The Tamrac Model 153 World Correspondent’s Vest was designed with photographers in mind. Particularly comfortable in moderate to warmer weather, it’s constructed of 100% cotton with nylon mesh cooling vents. There are a total of 14 pockets, four of which are large enough for lenses. Two zippered side pockets securely store memory cards or car keys. Three more pockets inside the vest safely hold travel papers or other valuables. On the back, there’s a large Velcro®-closing pocket that can stow a sack lunch or rollup rain hat. This timeless design features four D-rings on the front to facilitate attachment of a press pass or show badge, and snap-down epaulets that keep camera straps from slipping off the shoulder. Estimated Street Price: $114.

Sun Sniper TPH

The Sun Sniper TPH (Triple Press Harness) can accommodate as many as three pro-sized DSLRs with ease—one on the left, one on the right and one right up front. They cleverly deploy many friction-reducing bearing elements, shock absorbers and other physical devices to make it easier to carry a heavy load of gear without distress. Since the weight is evenly distributed, the rig feels balanced and steady. Your equipment is more secure, too. The Triple Harness has steel wire in the strap to prevent strap cutting. It’s a system worth deeper investigation for all photographers.

The closest you’ll ever come to having four arms is strapping on a Clik Elite Access Chest Pack. It’s designed to carry a DSLR or small camcorder in front of you, on your chest, where it’s always accessible. It’s a great carry solution for bike riders, too, and puts zero stress on necks. Compression buckles secure the camera and hold it steady in its cocoon while your arms are free for other duties. The pack includes Clik Elite’s ChestPort system, so it can be used in conjunction with many of their backpacks. Alternatively, it can be used with the provided harness. The pack is made from 330-denier ripstop Cordura with 1680-denier ballistic nylon trim, which means that it should last forever. Estimated Street Price: $68.

Think Tank Photo Speed Demon

Here’s a name synonymous with unique carrying alternatives: Think Tank Photo. They revolutionized belt packs and didn’t stop there. They have branched into state-of-the-art travel solutions for working pros, including the Airport International V2.0 and StreetWalker Pro, two bags that every professional should consider. If you want to move the weight of your DSLR, lenses, flash, etc., from your neck/shoulder to your torso, Think Tank can provide a well-engineered belt pack system. Their Speed Demon can accommodate most DSLRs and a few lenses. But don’t stop there—you can add separate belt bags for lenses, flash and other accessories. Check out all of the options on their website. Estimated Street Price: $139 to $179.

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SpiderPro Dual Holster

The SpiderPro Single Camera System allows you to carry a pro-sized DSLR with a long zoom on your hip where it’s always ready for action—instead of around your neck where it’s crushing vertebrae C4-C5. It’s a unique system that consists of a well-designed belt and a baseplate that attaches to the bottom of your camera. Once secured, simply snap the baseplate into the groove on the holster and, presto—the camera is riding your belt instead of your neck. Spider Holster also offers a two-camera system. For a modest price, existing Spider Holster owners can purchase the modular pad along with a second holster to convert a single-camera system to a dual-holster rig. Also offered are adapter kits for attaching the SpiderPro to Lowepro S&F belts as well as Think Tank Photo belts. Spider Holster has created a complete system that’s worth a second look. Estimated Street Price: $135 (single); $235 (dual).

Lowepro S&F Modular Carrying System

The Lowepro S&F Modular Carrying System is living proof that those who design their bags and carry solutions are photographers who know what we go through on a daily basis. The system consists of 17 components, and there’s no doubt that you can assemble the right combination to tackle any field job. Of particular interest is the Lens Exchange Case, a unique contraption that temporarily holds and separates two lenses while you switch from one to the other. It’s so intuitive that you’ll wonder why no one has ever thought of this before. Once you’ve made the switch, the pouch switches back to a normal-sized single-lens carrier. And there’s even a spot to temporarily stow lens caps. Estimated Street Price: Varies.

Cotton Carrier

As I’ve written before, the Cotton Carrier is clearly in a class by itself. It’s a complete camera carrying solution, as well as a completely new approach to the age-old problem of carrying a lot of camera equipment on one single human body. The basic system accommodates one or two regular DSLR cameras and comes with a unique one-size-fits-all adjustable vest. The system can handle virtually any size of camera and lens combination comfortably without the pain and aggravation associated with traditional neck straps. Best of all, the equipment is literally at your fingertips, ready for action. Estimated Street Price: Starts at $99.

Tenba Shootout

The Tenba Shootout Waistpack is two bags in one. Designed to be a hip-hugging waistpack, it comes complete with a handgrip and shoulder strap for instant conversion to a conventional shoulder bag. The top flap opens away from your body for accessibility—and security. Best of all, you can access the interior compartment through either end without opening the top flap. The end flaps are easily identified by the red zipper pulls. When it’s raining or snowing heavily, you can swap lenses out through the side-access zippers instead of using the main opening at the top. This helps keep the interior dry while you continue to switch out gear. There’s also a dropdown front panel with compartments for a phone, GPS and other small accessories. Estimated Street Price: $86.

Black Rapid RS DR-2

The Black Rapid RS DR-2 Slim Double Strap consists of two straps that are connected in the front and back to create a harness. Each strap is attached to the tripod socket of a DSLR. The user wears the pair of cameras gunslinger-style, with both hands free. Because the load is evenly distributed, the whole rig is comfortable. The double strap also can be configured as a single R-Strap. In that case, it’s worn diagonally from left shoulder to right hip. Either way, the camera is readily accessible and can be swung into action easily. Estimated Street Price: $129.

Black Rapid
Clik Elite
(888) 532-2545
Cotton Carrier
(877) 852-9423
(800) 800-LOWE
(866) 909-8378
Spider Holster
Sun Sniper
(800) 662-0717
(914) 347-3300
Think Tank Photo
(866) 558-4465