New camera backpack

Regular reader(s) know that I have an ongoing quest to find a camera backpack that really works for me. I’ve tried with normal backpacks and customised them for carrying gear, and I’ve tried with several dedicated camera packs. My most recent camera pack is the Lowepro Flipside 400 AW which I’ve had for two years, which is actually a relatively long time for me to use the same pack… which I guess means that it has been serving me well. There is however one major failing with the Flipside and it’s the space reserved for non-photography items such as lunch and extra clothing. The front compartment that should hold all that extra stuff is flat and I can only put a small thermos it in. Despite this shortcoming it’s a good pack and there are many things to like about it as well.

Over time though the small nags start to build up, and I came to the point where the lack of extra space made me go on the lookout for a new solution. There are more and more camera packs on the market and it’s especially delightful to see that many manufacturers create packs for the outdoors person in mind, for example F-Stop and Clik Elite. Unfortunately neither of these companies have any representation in Sweden, but Dakine also make camera backpacks which are based on the same principle, i.e. a padded camera protection unit inside the backpack. But even then I hesitated, as much as I read about the pack I still wasn’t convinced that it fulfills my requirements.

My new backpack
My new backpack for photo hikes. Currently it’s not holding any extra gear so it’s looks shorter than its capacity in the picture.

So I started looking for normal daypacks instead. The skiing backpacks in particular are interesting, because all those strap systems give you plenty of options to attach a tripod. However, most of the hiking/skiing etc backpacks share a common problem – they are top-loaders. It just doesn’t work with camera gear plus clothing plus food, because then you would have to pack the camera at the bottom and the rest on top and how much fun will it be to take out your camera then?

The requirements I have for a photo hiking backpack:

  • room for camera equipment (normally one body plus one or two lenses plus accessories)
  • relatively easy access to the camera (”relatively”, because something has to be compromised)
  • room for extra clothing
  • room for food (with a way of packing the food and thermos that there is no risk of squashing the sandwich and no risk of any liquids leaking onto the camera gear)
  • good tripod carry system
  • comfortable on the back, without feeling lopsided when the tripod is mounted on the side of the pack
  • not too big so there isn’t too much empty space even when going on a lighter hike
  • front or back access (absolutely not top-loader)

I have a small camera bag which swallows the 40D with a lens attached, so after reading about these adventure backpacks with their separate padded units, I decided to use the small bag as the camera unit, and if I need any additional lenses, I can use my neoprene wraps to protect them.

Now it was just a matter of finding a backpack that would fulfill all my requirements while being the right size to store the small camera bag. When I came across the Bergans Birkebeiner, I saw the potential – it is the right size, it is has a ”hatch” at the bottom, it has a front pocket big enough to store my filters, and a roomy top pocket for accessories. If I store the small camera bag upside-down, I can use the hatch to access the camera gear while the bottom of the small bag acts as a divider for the sack so I can put the clothes and food on top. I didn’t have the small bag with me but a quick measurement told me that it fits. Then I tested the tripod attachment and it felt good, even if I don’t dare to use the mesh pockets because I don’t think they can hold the weight. To be honest, I don’t know how much the side compression straps can carry either, but they should be stronger than the mesh anyway.

Camera access
Camera access

When I got home, I moved everything from the Flipside to the new backpack. There are two problems that I can see at the moment:
1) Accessories. I used a small bag for the spare battery and memory card and lens cleaner etc but it still feels a little bit unorganised. The Flipside may have flat pockets, but it has many of them and they are just big enough to separate all those small things from each other. So I have to think about it and see if could find something a bit more structured, but if the backpack otherwise works then those accessories are a marginal problem.
2) Camera hatch at the bottom in front. This means that I have to be careful where I set down the pack (luckily I’ve never had the habit of setting down gear in pools of water) and it also means that the pack will do a lot of time lying down on its back. This will be an issue in the winter and the risk of getting snow into the pack is also bigger like this. But if it becomes a problem, then I will just use the Flipside instead. I got this new backpack primarily for summer anyway, for those long hikes in the mountains!

That was all the theory. Now I need to go hiking!

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