Camera Backpacks; Practical Choices With Style Page 2

While front/rear-panel access to camera gear does away with that awkward upper "jaw" that sometimes destabilizes a bag when it's pulled back to allow you to get inside, it also means you have to lay the bag flat or lean it back to get at your gear, as you would with the more traditional camera backpack designs, as used in the Tenba Shootout and Adorama Mary Farace packs. The Naneu Pro and Tenba packs offer one more advantage: removable camera inserts, which convert these bags to a standard daypack/overnight bag.

Each of these packs carries camera gear top to bottom, with the Tenba Shootout (bottom left) the most spacious; the Adorama Mary Farace daypack the smallest and lightest (top). The Think Tank Rotation360 pack (bottom right) is split into two sections, both holding gear.

Normally, I'd put anything from my macro ring flash (in its pouch) and lens shades to a light jacket or rain slicker in the top section of a split-level bag. Gaining access to the upper tier on split-level bags varies. The National Geographic bag has a flap with drawstring closure, whereas the Naneu Pro and Tamrac bags have a front-loading zippered compartment (as does the Think Tank--but for camera gear in this instance).

Camouflage and earth tones are immediately recognizable traits in this group, but under the hood each sports a two-tier system, with the adjustable, padded lower section devoted to camera gear, the upper level to personal items. Left to right: Tamrac's Adventure 9, National Geographic's Earth Explorer, Naneu Pro's Alpha.

What To Look For In A Photo Backpack
· Good overall fit--the bag should be both comfortable and functional. In fact, you shouldn't even be aware that you're wearing it after the first few minutes. Some bags enhance comfort with a breathable mesh back panel with lumbar support so sweat easily evaporates while providing back relief. The shoulder harness should distribute the weight evenly on your back. Bags that extend down to the waist should have a waist belt--smaller bags don't need it. The chest (sternum) strap should be elastic for utmost comfort and easily positioned up or down to a degree so it can be adjusted for the individual wearer--that's not always the case and some chest straps may prove uncomfortable to some people. Compression straps on the waist belt and shoulder harness help to adjust the load for utmost comfort and support--but they are rarely available on smaller bags.
· Customizable padded camera section--it doesn't have to be stiff, but it should reassure you that your gear is safe. An adjustable interior keeps gear organized and at the ready; I especially like a high visibility interior with light tones.
· Outer shell--the variety of material used ranges from some type of canvas (hemp in the National Geographic pack) to various nylon weaves in all the other bags--all highly durable and all water-treated, but not equally water-resistant, which is why a rain cover helps (but, again, not always the case). The padding surrounding the camera section should be thick enough to resist the normal bumps and bruises.
· Solid construction and easy/secure closure system--reinforced stitching at stress points (strap attachments, for instance) is a sign of a well-made bag. Hardware, such as zippers, should function smoothly; redundant closure systems (zipper plus buckles, for example) help keep outsiders out and also let you quickly get in and out of the bag (use only the buckles or the zipper to close the bag when not moving about).
· Pockets inside and out--lots of them to hold a variety of items, such as a water bottle outside the bag; a hideaway tripod sling is helpful, but straps are a workable alternative.
· Laptop section--obviously only needed if you carry a laptop, and big enough to fit--some are a tight squeeze, others too roomy. When not carrying a laptop, I use this section for other stuff, just nothing bulky, since the laptop compartment usually lies against your back.

Travel Tip
It bears repeating: never check camera gear as baggage. Before leaving home, verify carryon allowances online and measure the full bag, making sure there are no bulges anywhere. It's also prudent to weigh the bag in case of weight restrictions. One further note: I stick my tripod inside my checked baggage as a precaution.

Adorama Camera, Inc.
42 W 18th St.
New York, NY 10011
(800) 223-2500

Bogen Imaging Inc.
(National Geographic)
565 East Crescent Ave.
Ramsey, NJ 07446
(201) 818-9500

Lowepro USA
1003 Gravenstein Highway North, Ste. 200
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 827-4000

Naneu Pro
551 W. Grant St.
Orlando, FL 32805
(407) 859-9571

Tamrac, Inc.
9240 Jordan Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
(800) 662-0717

8 Westchester Plaza
Elmsford, NY 10523
(914) 347-3300

Think Tank Photo
2360 Mendocino Ave. A2
Box 307
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(866) 558-4465