This and That by Steve Shor - Photo Back Packs

I have found that finding and choosing a back pack to carry my camera gear was much harder than I anticipated.

It would seem that with the plethora of manufacturers and styles it would be much easier than it actually is. However when the rubber hits the road as they say, many of the options just don’t make the grade.

This is also a very personal decision as every one is different in body type and needs.

For years I have made due with a conventional day, back pack which has enough room to carry my camera gear of choice. However, since most of these types of bags contain one large deep pocket it means that it is not as elegant to place one or two cameras with lenses into the pocket and have convenient access to them.

The photo back packs on the other hand are designed specifically to store your camera gear in well padded slots and provide fairly easy access to your gear. However they do not always pay attention to the fact that you must comfortably carry this pack for hours at a time and they often do not allow enough space for other items like clothes, rain gear, food etc.

I think you are starting to see some of the difficulty in finding one bag that will meet all your needs.

My back pack of choice for many years was a Columbia pack that has one deep pocket, one front pocket, a top pouch, plenty of straps and a very comfortable waist belt that was padded plus contained a few smaller pockets to store things like keys etc. It also had two side mesh pouches that could be used for water bottles or to carry a tripod.

  • Exterior: 11 in. front to back, 18 in. tall, and 14 in. wide.
  • Interior: interior pocket is 10 in. wide, 15 in. deep and 6 in. front to back with high density foam in place (placed by me) to help stiffen the back of pack.

With this arrangement I could easily carry one camera body and several lenses plus a host of other items like filters, cleaning kits, extra memory cards etc. I also could carry a light sweater and rain parka down in the main pocket. And as I said, my tripod mounted to the side.

Some of the main issues were that it was difficult to take a camera with lens out of the main pocket and at least 80% of the time the lens cover would pop off as I removed it from the bag. Sometimes I wanted to carry two cameras with lenses attached and this was even more difficult to do, but still doable.

Even with some of these issues it still has served me as a pretty good camera pack.

Some of the issues have been:

  1. the back is not very stiff and so I had to insert a piece of stiff foam to give bag more support when carrying.
  2. the camera gear is not well protected and lenses and cameras tend to knock about a bit. Usually I keep each lens in a case so this is not too much of an issue. Once however when I had my camera with 80-400 lens attached in pocket and lowered to ground a little too abrubtly I cracked the lens cover. I reduced this problem by lining the bottom of the bag pocket with foam cushioning.
  3. when traveling by plane and wanting to take my laptop with me, as well as needing to take my chargers and backup hard drives etc it gets almost impossible to fit everything into this carry-on back pack. I have done it but it is a bear to carry.
  4. As I mentioned I have rigged up a way to carry a tripod but this makes it even more difficult to get cameras out if I just wanted some grab shots.

So, I have been looking for a “better” backpack for the past several years. Like I said there are many many choices but somehow none seem to address everything I want out of a bag.

After searching the internet and reading blogs and reviews I came down to two bags that interested me.

These were the Tamrac Adventure 9 and the Lowepro Pro Trekker 400. Both were about the size I thought could be used as an airplane carry-on case and both had separate pockets for a laptop and room for a DSLR and several lenses. The Tamrac Adventure 10 appealed to me also but it had a 25inch outside height dimensions which was 5 inches taller than the other two and which might be a stretch as a carry on.

The bag I actually purchased was the Tamrac Adventure 9 :

  • interior upper pocket is 6 in. front to back, 10 in. wide at bottom to 6 in. wide at top and 7 in. deep
  • camera pocket is 12 in. wide at the bottom and 10.5 in. wide at the top, 7 in. deep, and 9.5 in. top to bottom.

The camera pocket can easily fit in my Nikon D300 with 80-400 telephoto attached and 3 or 4 other lenses. The top pocket which is separate from the camera gear pocket can hold some snack foods etc and I find that I can actually fit another camera body with lens into this pocket if I should desire (that is with lenses shorter than 7 in.). The computer pocket can be used for some light clothing etc when not carrying a laptop.

What I don’t like about it so far is that it is not as comfortable to carry on my back. The shoulder straps are padded but not as well as my regular backpack and it only has a waist strap and not a padded waist belt. Even this one additional feature would have improved its comfort a great deal. Also it does not have a way to carry a tripod on the sides or back, although it says you can carry one on the bottom if you purchase additional tie straps.

Below are pictures of both bags so you can get a feel for how they look.


Columbia Back Pack


Tamrac Adventure 9

I can tell you that you MUST try to physically see a bag you intend to purchase and better yet try on a loaded bag. Sometimes it is helpful if you can find a You Tube video where someone is showing you their bag from several views.

I have listed a number of the manufacturers of photo back packs for you to peruse should you ever be in the market for one. I have also included a few articles I found which discuss some of the features to think about and also a comparison of several bags.

My main advice is to be patient and do LOTS of research before purchasing one of these.

In the end you may have to get TWO bags for your use. One might be for traveling with gear in your car or only walking short distances and another might be for when you expect to be out hiking for several hours.


7 Photo/Laptop Backpacks Reviewed:

National Geographic Earth Explorer Large and Medium, Tamrac Adventure 9, Crumpler Keystone, Kata R-103 GDC Rucksack, Lowepro CompuTrekker Plus AW, and the Think Tank Airport International.

Howard Carson

AccessoriesPhoto Backpacks; Amiable Traveling Companions For Your Gear …. By Jon Sienkiewicz • May, 2007

It’s been said that every gadget bag is a compromise between how well it protects your gear and how easily your equipment can be accessed. This is especially true with photo backpacks. But if you need to carry a heavy load of gear into the field, a properly fitted backpack is hard to beat. Besides cost, there are five points to consider when selecting a backpack. How you rank them depends on how and where you plan to use the bag.


The first point is protection. The typical backpack is divided into three or more functional compartments, although designs differ from bag to bag. Except on the least expensive bags, the main equipment area can be further divided by means of adjustable partitions that secure with touch fastener-type hook-and-eye fasteners, so each camera body and lens sits in its own space. Look for well-padded dividers that create thick walls between individual items. The second area is for a notebook computer. If you carry a 17” notebook, make sure the backpack has a PC sleeve large enough to accommodate that size. The third area is for miscellaneous items. Sometimes this space can be used to tote something as large as a folded raincoat, but it’s usually the smallest compartment more suitable for accessories and cables.


For most photographers, accessibility is the deciding point. How frequently will you need to get at your gear? Because backpacks position your equipment behind you, it can be hard to reach a lens or accessory without removing the bag and setting it on the ground. Notable exceptions to this rule are the sling-type packs from Lowepro, Tamrac, and others that can be quickly swung around from your back to your front. You may also want to consider using a waist pack in addition to your backpack—that way you can keep mission-critical items within easy reach. You can also attach frequently used equipment to the outside of most gadget bags, either in a pouch (as in the case of a cell phone or GPS) or by rigging it directly (a tripod, for example). Some manufacturers offer a full line of dedicated accessory pouches to accommodate a water bottle, filter pouch, memory card case, or other custom-fitted container.


Look for a pack that has wide, padded straps. Most backpacks make use of modern, lightweight materials that provide tremendous strength and minimal weight. Some bags have harness-type straps that interconnect across the chest or waist belt and allow you redistribute the load to achieve better balance. If you travel through airports often, consider a backpack that is equipped with internal hideaway wheels.


Backpacks are made from a variety of materials, the most popular being a nylon derivative called ballistic nylon. The denier (the linear mass or “heaviness”) of the fabric differs depending on bag maker. Lighter weight materials are used for internal areas. In general, look for tightly double-stitched seams, YKK zippers, and strong hardware connections, particularly if the shoulder straps are removable.

Many bags are waterproof and/or include fitted, seam-sealed rain cover as part of the standard package.


Beware of good-looking backpacks that were not designed to carry photo equipment. While they might be handsome and wear a famous logo, most general-purpose backpacks do a lousy job of protecting your camera equipment. Besides, there are so many dedicated photo backpacks available you’re bound to find one that suits you.

Backpack Links Good selection of bags Probably has the largest selection of bags. Not the greatest website

- Steve

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of four articles which unfortunately went unpublished last year. Please note– the articles may refer to previous topics and contain out-dated links. However, the articles still contain valuable information worth reading. New articles are on their way soon… Enjoy!

Comments are closed.