Tamrac Anvil 23 Photo Backpack Review: The Bag Man Looks at Tamrac's New Pro Pack Line

To say that the photo backpack category is a little crowded is like saying that a few people try to board the subways in Tokyo during rush hour. If you’ve ever been to the Land of the Rising Sun and attempted to take mass transportation around 1800 hours (6pm) you know what I mean. Hand-to-hand combat is easier, but probably no harder than trying to find a niche for a new product in this overpopulated photo accessory category.

The new Tamrac Anvil Professional Series is staking its claim the old fashioned way: by offering enough variations in the product series—and enough flexibility built into each product—so as to assure that every photographer gets exactly what they want.

There are six models to choose from and they differ in size and of course features. They are more alike than different. The Super 25, for example, accommodates an 800mm lens, should you happen to have one of those in your equipment closet. The Slim 11 will easily hold a DSLR attached to a 70-200mm f2.8 (or any lens up to 14-inches long) as well as a 15-inch computer and at least four more lenses. There are four other models including the one I have been testing, the Anvil 23.

From the front (the surface the person walking behind you sees) the sturdy Anvil 23 offers three zippered pockets to conveniently stow things you may need to access immediately. The bottom pocket is large enough to hold two 15-ounce cans of Trader Joe’s Turkey Chili (don’t ask).

Between the top two pockets Tamrac placed two removable straps that can be used to lash a tripod to the backpack at the location where it should be attached—in the very center. A third strap, on top of the pack, secures the tripod firmly. For heavier ‘pods, the bottom pocket can be used as a boot.

While we’re still looking at the front, let’s commend Tamrac for applying their logo in a subdued, stealth black-on-black instead of giant shiny letters that scream “Cameras inside!”

Beneath this layer is a thickly padded pocket for a notebook computer up to 15-inches in size (my MacBook Air swims in it). All pockets and sleeves are zippered, and these are self-healing YKK zippers, so no worries there.

The front of the bag unzips fully to expose a non-scratching, padded storage area where I was able to place nine lenses and my Nikon D800 with a Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 attached. The main storage area is deep—so even longish lenses can be packed lens-cap-up instead of on their sides. Dividers, of course, are moveable and stay put once positioned.

The inside of the lid that covers the storage area features three large pockets with see-thru covers. Tamrac makes it a point to emphasize that these are not PVC. In fact, there is no PVC in the bag whatsoever. If you don’t know why that’s important, let’s just say there are alternative materials that are kinder to humans and the environment.

On each side there are two wide straps that support MOLLE fasteners or basically anything that can be attached to a regular trousers belt. Very handy for water bottle holders, binoculars cases, knives and the like. You can use Tamrac’s MAS and SAS accessories too. The top has a strong, padded haul handle. And there are compression straps strategically located to keep everything snug.

The shoulder harness is adequate. It’s not the best I’ve seen but I found it comfortable and satisfactory. Here’s something that more than makes up for the mediocrity of the harness: the waist belt is very wide, very comfortable and easily removed. That’s right—you can leave the waist belt at home if you’re going to be using the backpack as I did—in and out of the car and at the airport. When you want to hike, just reattach the belt and you’re in business.

Small but important detail: Tamrac packs a polyester, seam-sealed, weatherproof rain cover inside. You won’t need it until you need it, and then man, you will appreciate it.

The Anvil 23 is reasonably light—about four and a half pounds (without the chili) and it’s sized to be legal carry-on (although you should always confirm this with your airline). Retail prices range from $229 to $329. The Anvil 23 that I tested runs $289.

—Jon Sienkiewicz