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

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Cupcake design has recently been replaced by the Jackpack series of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.