Backpack First

The problem with most photo backpacks is that they’re perfect for carrying cameras, lenses and a ton of small accessories, but perfectly awful when it’s time to pack anything larger. Yes, I know—some models will accommodate a notebook PC. But many of those require the mouse and AC adapter to share space with camera accessories.

To make matters worse, some bags are designed to discourage the user from accessing the contents when the bag is in the carry position. That’s fine for many people, and would be fine for me, too, if I didn’t change lenses so often—or if I had a 15 mile hike in between changes. But I don’t work that way—I guess my attention span is too short.

I needed a backpack that could carry my DSLR, a few lenses (including long zooms), a flash and Minolta Auto Meter IVF. Easy enough—but I also needed space for a lightweight raincoat, sack lunch, a Ziploc bag full of filters, knife, flashlight and miscellaneous other items. Oh, yeah—binoculars, sunglasses and a bottle of water, too. And above all else, I wanted to be able to get at the camera and lenses inside without stopping and removing the pack.

I almost gave up. Then I discovered the Tamrac Aero Speed Pack 85 Model 3385.

The main SLR compartment is long enough to accommodate a camera body with a Tamron 70~200mm f2.8 or similar zoom attached, and deep (or tall) enough that I don’t have to remove the battery grip from my Pentax K20D. There’s also plenty of room on the side to stuff the wide strap (to keep it way from the camera’s LCD) and even a locking pouch that will hold a lens cap (up to 77mm or so). In addition to everything mentioned above I can fit five lenses besides the one on the camera. And it will hold a notebook computer with a 17-inch monitor in a padded, isolated compartment away from the other stuff.

The shoulder straps are comfortable and simple, and that’s welcome. Some bags have a rigging system so complex that you have to go to Marine boot camp for training. You can attach Tamrac’s SAS (Strap Accessory System) pouches to the shoulder straps, too, so you can have your cell phone or other items close at hand.

Everyone has different needs when it comes to backpacks and gadget bags. That’s one reason why there are so many on the market. If you only need to carry photo equipment and aren’t worried about packing other gear, one of the Lowepro Slingshot packs might be the ideal solution. They’re sturdy, versatile and affordable. But if you need space for a slew of odds and ends, give the Tamrac Aero Speed Pack a close look.