I’ve spent a lot of time reading about, testing, and evaluating different bags and backpacks in the last 5 years, because I spend all day with one as my primary mode of organization. I have ADD, and I use a bag as my base of operations: If I need to take my wallet out of my pants, it goes in my bag. If I need to put my sunglasses away, they go in my bag: everything in its right place. I know where everything is, and if it’s not there, something is wrong. It’s a system I’ve developed over the last 20 years to avoid losing things, so the design and functionality of a bag is very important to me. This is even more important when evaluating a camera bag, when the amount of gear and accessories is multiplied times 10.
When I came to WRI I inherited a ThinkTank Airport 2.0 suitcase my predecessor used to carry gear overseas, and it worked really well for the first two trips I took. Designed within standard airline carry-on baggage measurements, it fits in an overhead bin and holds a huge assortment of gear securely and gently. This worked well until I realized I didn’t need to bring everything with me, and started to pare down my traveling kit for the sake of weight and simplicity. One drawback to its design is that it doesn’t hold a laptop, so once I was on the ground I had to either lug the whole suitcase with me or split gear out into a separate backpack I’d also inherited, which did some things well but came with its own limitations.
This was a LowePro Fastpack 250 AW, and while it held a camera body, two to three lenses, and my sound gear with a laptop, I found that when it was fully loaded it was extremely uncomfortable for long-term usage. For short distances it did the trick but most of my shoots are all-day events and by the end I’d be aching from the straps or the distribution of the load. As a light-duty, incognito backpack it’s aces but it’s not an all-day rig.
So I hunted around for a new pack to meet in the middle. What I settled on was a LowePro ProTactic 450, which itself fits inside carry-on measurements but adds space and is designed for longer-term use. It’s roomier than the first pack and will hold about 80% the gear the ThinkTank will, plus a laptop. It has two zippered doors on either side for easy access to primary or secondary cameras, plus a door on top for a third. The outside is covered with MOLLE-like webbing for addition of pouches or straps, which came in handy for strapping a mini-tripod to the bag in Colombia. There’s a waist belt which doubles as a removable fanny pack, and a built in rain cover in the bottom.
On this trip I pared my kit way back: I took a Canon 5D body, a 24-105 f/4L, 70-200mm f/2.8L zoom, a set of Sennheiser wireless lav mics, a Zoom H4 audio recorder, a Zacuto eyepiece, a GoPro Session 5, a DJI Osmo, and a mountain of batteries for each camera system. On the outside I strapped a Zomei q666 tripod. My laptop traveled through security in a messenger bag (easier and faster for airport security), along with a Kindle HD and my Fuji X-T10. I found it relatively easy to work with but found a few flaws in practice.
The bag held the kit above with ease. I stuck the 5D/24-105 in the right-side compartment, attached the tripod to the left side with one of the provided MOLLE pouches, and put the Osmo in the top compartment for most of the trip. Getting into and out of the main bag opening was easy as long as the waist straps were pulled out of the way. Jumping into cabs was much easier with a backpack, and I felt more secure on the street wearing it than I would have pulling a suitcase around behind me.
The provided dividers were plentiful but for some areas of the bag wound up being 1/2″ too short to allow the velcro to reach both sides of the chamber, so I didn’t feel like things were as secure as they should have been. The waist belt was good to use with a full load, but the front half is nothing but a thin nylon strap, which cut into my stomach after a while. The fact that it can be separated from the pack is interesting, but I’d prefer it to be permanently attached and fully padded to offset the weight of several big lenses. The shoulder straps themselves are comfortable but could stand to be reinforced and widened by another 1/2″ or so; after a week of constant usage I noticed the threads connecting the straps to the bag were visible and beginning to pull apart. This is the problem with making a pack built to carry lots of heavy equipment: it needs to be made heavier-duty to stand up to all that weight. This pack is underbuilt for a full real-world load, and that shows.
I like the laptop sleeve, and there are three flat zippered pouches on the outside for things like papers, small straps, and other flat objects. Anything larger needs to go in the main compartment because it closes up snugly to the dividers inside. The included MOLLE attachments work very well, although they aren’t standard military dimensions. I did buy a set of 10 elastic strap fasteners from Amazon which came in super handy for tying my jacket to the outside of the pack.
Overall, I’m mostly happy with this pack. I think they’d be able to make it better by addressing those few gripes, building it stronger for a full kit, and removing a few of the whiz-bang features with better-engineered, simplified elements.