Six of the Best Backpacks for Photographers

We put six of the best backpacks through a demanding test to find out which offers the best capacity and comfort

Backpack group test

If you've ever attempted to cram clothes, food or a laptop in a general camera bag that is intended to carry photo kit and nothing else, then you may want to consider a larger, dual-purpose backpack.

Several photobag manufacturers offer backpacks that are designed to split their capacity in half, leaving you with a dedicated area for your camera equipment and a separate space for carrying other items such as a packed lunch, waterproofs or a change of clothes.

Getting the capacity just right for each compartment is half the battle of producing a great  backpack, but it must also tick all the other essential boxes. These include offering a waterproof cover to keep your kit dry, a tripod holder to leave you with both hands free, as well as waist and chest straps to make sure it's comfortable and secure to carry on the move.

There's a large selection of these type of bags available so we've gathered together a selection of similarly sized ones from the likes of Crumpler, Kata, Lowepro, Manfrotto, Tamrac and Vanguard.
Loaded full to the brim with camera kit and other general accessories, we put each one through the demands of a daily commute to find out how they fared in terms of the capacity they offer, their general usability and how comfortable they are on the shoulders.

 

Crumpler JackPack Half Photo

Key Specs

  • Street price: £128
  • Interior Size: 25x36x24cm
  • Exterior Size: 34x46x21cm
  • Laptop compartment: Yes
  • Weight: 1.5kg 

Crumpler's Cupcake design has recently been replaced by the Jackpack series of backpacks. This half photo model is the smaller brother of the full photo version and is constructed using a Chicken Tex fabric and waterproof ripstop lining for maximum durability.


Unlike the Cupcake, the Jackpack design benefits from clip-fastened waist and chest straps to enhance stability on the move, but we would have liked the chest strap to be elasticated to allow for movement. The lower compartment has thick, removable padding and we managed to fit a semi-pro DSLR (without grip) with standard zoom attached, sqeezing a pair of smaller primes alongside.

The top compartment offers plenty of space for everyday essentials and a softly lined compartment is ready to swallow a 15in laptop. Despite there being only one external pocket the interior is littered with pockets and there's space for a tablet too.

On the shoulder it's one of the most comfortable Crumpler packs we've ever used. Light when empty and secure when full, the padded air mesh offers superb ventilation from perspiration and the side extensions make it comfy at your side when the waist strap is used. Overall, there's very little to fault other than it being a bit pricey.

 

Manfrotto Veloce VII

Key Specs

  • Street price: £75
  • Interior Size: 30x24x17cm
  • Exterior Size: 48.5x34x25cm
  • Laptop compartment: Yes
  • Weight: 1.5kg

Largest of the six backpacks on test, Manfrotto's Velcoce VII features a slightly different design from its rivals. It has a top compartment for general kit much like the others, and this is accessed via a super-size buckle on the top corner.

To get to the main camera compartment, however, you're required to place the bag face down on the ground and fold back the shoulder straps before gaining entry. This is a good design if security is your main concern but not so good for speedy accessing to your camera kit (not to mention keeping your bag clean).

As for the size of the camera compartment - it's huge. A partition down the side lets you store a tripod up to 40cm in length and the roomy interior allowed us to cram it full with a semi-pro DSLR (with grip) and standard lens, 100-400mm telephoto zoom as well as a pair of smaller primes. Our only main gripe is the internal padding which didn't offer a snug fit for gear like the other bags, leading to our kit moving about a bit when on the move.

It also comes supplied with a 17in laptop compartment, two large external pockets, a well-ventilated lumbar pad and a chest strap. Unfortunately, the chest strap isn't elasticated as it should be to allow for chest movement.

 

Tamrac Adventure 9

Key Specs

  • Street price: £99
  • Interior Size: 29x14x22cm
  • Exterior Size: 33x28x51cm
  • Laptop compartment: Yes
  • Weight: 1.8kg

Tamrac's Adventure 9 backpack is available in two coloured versions - grey and black or red and black. The dual compartment design is equally split and unzipping the lower compartment reveals a spacious and deep interior.

Capable of holding a semi-pro DSLR (with grip) and standard zoom attached there's ample room for additional lenses including a 70-200mm f/2.8 and a smaller prime. On the inside flap of the front compartment there are four useful CompactFlash card pockets and an additional larger pocket that's handy for storing filters.

As we discovered though, the flap that's designed to prevent rain from creeping past the zipper can get caught up when the compartment is being opened and closed. This becomes extremely irritating when you just want to get to your kit without fuss.

Due to its curved profile, the top compartment isn't as spacious as you may expect but it's still a good place to store waterproofs, lunch or batteries in the small pouch that's included. The two spacious side pockets are a great place to store a water bottle and a slot to carry a 17in laptop is also provided. In use the bag sat comfortably on our back and on the move it was extremely secure thanks to the waist and chest straps.

 

Vanguard Adaptor 46

Key Specs

  • Street price: £52
  • Interior Size: 24x15x26cm
  • Exterior Size: 27x25x45cm
  • Laptop compartment: Yes
  • Weight: 1.8kg 

Vanguard's Adaptor 46 is one of four bags in the series, and is a smaller alternative to the Adaptor 48. Weighing just 1kg it's the second lightest bag on test, and features zipper openings to the lower camera compartment on both sides.

Whether you're left or right handed you can slip a shoulder strap off the shoulder, pull it round and gain access to your camera and lenses in a flash. With a bit of persuasion we crammed in a semi-pro DSLR (without grip) and a pair of primes alongside but there wasn't space for any additional lenses or a flashgun.

Opening the top compartment reveals this area is also on the small side and we just about squeezed in a packed lunch. There are two mesh pockets within the lower compartment to store compactflash media, and the side compartment is handy for transporting a tablet or laptop provided it doesn't exceed 13in.

Like all the bags in this test the standard of the stitching is exceptional and the addition of a tripod holder could prove valuable if you want to keep both hands free when you're walking. Like Kata's 3N1 there's also the option to turn it into a sling bag. Generally, we found the Adaptor 46 slightly small and it lacks waist and chest straps.

 

Lowepro DSLR Video Pack 350AW

Key Specs

  • Street price: £69
  • Interior Size: 26x14x22.5cm
  • Exterior Size: 35x25x49cm
  • Laptop compartment: Yes
  • Weight: 1.8kg 
  • Weight: 1.5kg

Lowepro's DSLR Video Pack is a great example of a fifty-fifty backpack that provides an equal amount of space for carrying camera kit and everyday essentials. Within the top compartment you'll find a handy pouch for storing chargers and cables, as well as smaller pockets and a transparent sleeve for storing business cards.

 

The laptop section is designed to hold a 17in model and the lower camera compartment offers masses of space to store kit. We had no difficulties accommodating a semi-pro D-SLR (with grip) and standard telephoto attached.

The deep compartment also gave us plenty of room to fit 70-200mm f/2.8 and 105mm f/2.8 lenses and flashgun alongside. Thick internal dividers offer strong levels of protection and for those who'd like the support for carrying a tripod there's a hideaway sleeve and securing buckle on the side that doesn't impede access.

Swing the pack off to your left shoulder and it's possible to gain access to kit in a matter of seconds - great for any spur-of-the-moment shots. Waist straps and chest straps are both featured and the AW initials in the product name is the tell-tale sign that it's also supplied with an all-weather cover that is permanently secured to prevent it being lost.


Kata 3N1-20 DL

Key Specs

  • Street price: £99
  • Interior Size: 28x20x15cm
  • Exterior Size:25x42x21cm
  • Laptop compartment: No
  • Weight: 0.9kg

The 3N1-20 DL is a new addition to Kata's backpack fleet. To separate it apart from other models it features three carrying options in one and, as well as being used as a backpack, the left and right shoulder straps can be tucked away to turn it into a sling if preferred.

The design portrays a cleaner look to previous 3N1 models and there are fewer buckles to speed up entry to both the top and bottom compartments. The bright yellow interior is designed to make it easier to find the kit you want when you need it and we managed to fit in a semi-pro DSLR (without grip) and kit lens attached with space to the side for a flashgun and two small prime lenses.

Most of the space is dedicated to the camera compartment in this bag so don't expect to cram much more than a small lunchbox in the top compartment. Being so slim, it's not surprising that it can't cater for a laptop or tablet, but it does benefit from rain cover to keep kit dry.

As for pockets, there's one internal pocket and two external ones to hold chargers or other small accessories. Fully laden, the pack feels great but is let down by the lack of waist and chest straps. Without these the bag can sway a little, particularly when moving fast.

 

Verdict

In all, three bags have picked up an 86% rating. First is Kata's 3N1-20 DL. It's suitable if you own an entry-level DSLR kit and like the idea of slinging it over the shoulder but as we found out it's trickier to access than others and you can barely fit anything in the top compartment.

Tamrac's Adventure 9 holds lots of kit but unfortunately the zipper cover got caught in the zip on more than one occasion and became a real nuisance over time.

As for Vanguard's Adaptor 46 it's well constructed and comfortable, just a tad too small, so you may be tempted by its bigger brother - the Adaptor 48. In stark contrast, Manfrotto's Veloce VII swallows kit with ease, but of all the bags, we found it was hardest to prevent our kit moving about in transit.

Crumpler's Jackpack Half Photo is a top-notch bag: durable, stylish and comfy, it's a pleasure to use, and despite the camera compartment being slightly smaller than we'd have liked, the main section is spacious enough for a spare pair of shoes!

Our winner here though is Lowepro's DSLR Video Pack 350AW, which has everything you need and want with this type of bag. With pockets galore and space to accommodate even a pro DSLR, it offers exceptional value for money at just £69 - and it's for these reasons it deserves a WDC Gold Award.

 

Other site sections

Forum Posts

10 Tips for Better Camera Panning

Okay, no one can guarantee perfect pans, but with practice, patience and a grasp of the basics, dramatic images of subjects in motion are certainly...


Shooting technique help

Me and my sister were just shooting some pucks and figured we'd record ourselves and try to figure out how to improve our techniques. I've watched...


More from the Techniques Forum