A photographer’s camera bag is the unsung hero of the working professional. Without it, photographers simply could not do their jobs. But for as many good bags out there, there are hundreds of bad ones. Let’s sort through all the noise.
Backpacks are and will always be a highly contentious and subjective debate. Everybody has their favourite backpack and there is no one right answer.
What We Are Looking For
Backpacks must perform certain tasks. The requirements vary depending on what the intended use is. For example, while a day-use bag needs to be light and mobile, a travel bag needs to be comfortable to wear for long periods of time and able to hold more than just camera equipment. The requirements for adventure backpacks are different. They must be able to hold extremely precise adjustments, and have an internal support system. In all cases, photographers expect their bags to be durable and long-lasting as well as secure.
I have actually argued in the past that it is impossible to make a single backpack that works for everyone, and I stand by that. This is why we are not going to name the best backpack for all photographers in this article. Instead, we’ve broken down our ratings into seven categories that we think cover the most use cases that photographers can expect to run into.
We’ll update this story as needed, but for now, these are our recommendations for the best backpacks and bags photographers can buy. As a note, all bags below have been tested by PetaPixel staff to verify recommendations.
Update 9/02/2022 by Jaron Schneider: New recommendation for best day-use bag, updated recommendations for best adventure bag.
At a Glance
Best Day-Use Backpack for Photographers: Gura Gear Kiboko City Backpack
The “day-use” backpack is perhaps the most difficult to sift through as it is the most popular style and therefore the most manufacturers compete to earn your attention. It is also the category where the most concessions are made to appeal to the widest group of photographers, making it very difficult to find one bag that does everything right for every possible use case. For years, the best choice was Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2 despite numerous issues with it because it was able to be the most for the most people. That finally changes with Gura Gear’s Kiboko City backpack, which does everything the Everyday Backpack does better — and more.
Gura Gear created a backpack smaller than the Everyday Backpack, which can carry more gear. While it’s not deep enough to hold a larger camera like a Nikon Z9 or a Canon 1DX, it easily holds other cameras like any from Sony, the Canon R5, or the Nikon Z7 II. It features a roll-top so it can expand to carry soft items like a sweatshirt or jacket, has multiple pockets all around the bag for various accessories, and has a properly divided interior that holds a variety of lenses and other camera equipment.
The quality and construction of the Kiboko City are top-notch. Although the bag may not be waterproof, all zippers and other parts will resist water.
Beyond those basics, the Kiboko City has side panel camera access, a magnetic hiding water bottle side pocket, a center channel tripod holder, high-quality shoulder straps, and Fidlock magnetic fasteners. Although the bag costs a bit more than Peak Design’s backpacks, you still get your money’s value.
Other solid picks include the aforementioned Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2, the WANDRD PRVKE, or the LowePro ProTactic.
Note: At the time of publication, the Gura Gear Kiboko City backpacks were still being offered on Kickstarter. Do your research on any crowdfunding campaign you are considering backing. We only recommend trustworthy and legitimate campaigns. However, it is possible to lose your funds when you back any crowdfunding project. PetaPixel is not compensated for any Kickstarter project.
Best Adventure Backpack for Photographers: Shimoda Action X70
Price: $500 (includes the extra-large photo core)
If you aren’t an Adventure photographer, odds are high that you don’t quite understand the hype behind Shimoda’s products. You will appreciate the versatility, durability, modularity, comfort, usability, and usefulness of Shimoda bags if you’re an Adventure photographer. This is what the bags are all about: maximum utility in a very tight space.
Shimoda makes bags for photographers who plan to take long, multi-mile hikes and need something that can support equipment as well as essentials. Shimoda, therefore, had to create a backpack that could excel at carrying equipment but have all of the other benefits of a true backpacking backpack. The Shimoda Action X70 is lightweight when empty, has an internal rigid frame that distributes weight evenly across the wearer’s back, has adjustable shoulder straps (a must), robust waist straps, and has a removable modular core system that makes it adaptable to the various kinds of adventures a photographer could have.
Shimoda saw a need in the market that was underserved and has truly excelled at making near-perfect bags to fit that specific niche. These bags can take an absolute beating and never tear or fray, and that’s important for something that’s going to be exposed to the elements immediately and for years.
For those looking at alternatives, the Atlas Adventure Pack is a great choice. The Adventure Pack has plenty of storage and is practical. It is designed to allow photographers to transport both camera gear and clothing at once. The only issue is actually getting your hands on one, since they are in limited supply.
Another excellent option is the NYA-EVO Fjord, which we recommend just about as high as the Shimoda Explore. The Fjord bags are extremely well made and have many of the same benefits seen with the Shimoda series.
Note: At the time of publication, the NYA-EVO Fjord backpacks were still being offered on Kickstarter. Make sure you do your own research into any crowdfunding project you’re considering backing. We only recommend trustworthy and legitimate campaigns. However, it is possible to lose your funds when you back any crowdfunding project. PetaPixel is not compensated for any Kickstarter project.
Best Travel Backpack for Photographers: Shimoda Explore 35 V2
Price: 25L is $372, 30L is $384, and 35L is $400
Shimoda nails adventure so it’s no surprise that they hit another home run for travel. The Explore series is brand new and takes everything right about the Action X70 and slims it down into a more manageable size. The excellent build quality and modularity remain but in a package that is much easier to travel with.
The company made a few adjustments to the design that I found make is really great for travel both over land, sea, and air. The two straps on the shoulder can be used to carry a passport and a phone. This is very useful when you have to travel by plane. The bag is lightweight when empty and can hold just enough camera equipment to satisfy a photographer who likes to travel light but also still keeps enough room for a few other basic essentials. The bag retains Shimoda’s rigid interior frame, so it can evenly distribute the weight over the body for a more comfortable and long-term wear.
These bags were built with carry-on in mind, and the Shimoda Explore 35 V2 qualifies in this regard for those who fly in the United States in “premium seating options,” while the Explore 30 v2 is sized for stricter European Union guidelines. The Explore 25 V2 is compact enough that it will travel almost anywhere and easily fit under an airline seat.
This isn’t the kind of bag that you can bring and carry everything you need for an international journey, that is more a duffel or the adventure category’s game. Instead, this bag is one that you can comfortably wear all day between trips back to a home base, whether that is a tent or a hotel room.
Best Backpacking/Hiking Backpack for Photographers: Moment Strohl Mountain Light Backpack
Moment isn’t traditionally known for making backpacks or hiking equipment, so it might come as a surprise that the company’s first attempt at a true multi-purpose hiking and camera bag is a real winner. We took a look at the Moment Strohl Mountain Light 45L Backpack and found it to be extremely lightweight, flexible, and of superb construction for what is a really low price of $200.
Designed as a hiking bag or for overnighting, the Moment Strohl Mountain backpack is compatible with modular elements like the camera loader and the camera insert but aren’t bound to them, meaning the Strohl can work as a camera bag when needed but can convert to general use otherwise. The only downside of this arrangement is that at the time of publication, Moment does not offer a particularly large camera insert. While well made, it’s small, and won’t be enough to fit more than one camera body and one medium-sized lens along with a short list of accessories. If more is needed, the Strohl Camera Loader can be deployed as well, but this bag is for hiking first, photography second. That’s what many people will find to be fine.
Moment says that it created the bag with Alex Strohl (a French adventurer and photographer) and placed emphasis on making the bag light and durable. Moment claimed that it was the lightest ever outdoor camera bag. It is light and easy to use. I have tested it. Moment’s bag was extremely durable, and it is light, which is very important for backpackers. The bag’s interior is rigid, so the weight of your load will be evenly distributed.
My only gripe with the Moment Strohl Mountain backpack is that the waist straps aren’t particularly rigid, which means they can’t bear weight without combining with taught pressure. That said, those who wear this backpack are unlikely to do so without tightening down the waist straps firmly, so this complaint is likely not a big deal to most who would be interested in the pack.
Best Rolling Bag for Photographers: Think Tank Airport International V3
Think Tank has absolutely nailed the rolling bag niche. The company actually has a line of very capable rollers, but the Think Tank Airport International V3 is likely the best for most. The International is ideal for traveling, can hold a lot of equipment and is constructed of durable materials.
Rollers need just a few things. But few companies can get these basics right like Think Tank with its International. Think Tank’s International has a great handle, smooth wheels and clean access points. It also fits into overhead bins. Think Tank’s collapsible handle is exactly what you want to see in a robust yet lightweight design, the wheels make nary a sound when rolling down an airport hallway, the bag is easy to open and features multiple pockets and pouches, and the International is named such because it complies with overhead bin size restrictions for both domestic and international travel.
Best Duffel-Style Bag for Photographers: Wandrd HEXAD Access Duffel Backpack
Price: $260 for the bag alone and $328, which includes one essentials bag and a camera cube
The duffel bag is difficult to judge. While Shimoda and Peak Design have products that might technically be considered, Wandrd has the best selection. If you are looking for one bag that is capable of holding everything for a multi-day trip but don’t expect to wear it on your shoulders the entire time, duffels are a great choice and the Wandrd HEXAD Access Duffel Backpack is the best of the bunch.
The HEXAD is a hybrid backpack and duffel bag but is most certainly useful as both. It uses a modular core system that is easy to put in and remove, so the bag can be more than just a way to transport photography equipment. It is spacious and compact without being too big, so it can hold all your essentials, including clothes and lenses. It achieves this by its ability to open and collapse based on how much needs to be stowed inside of it. It’s a small backpack, but it can hold quite a lot. It’s quite impressively large at its largest. The versatility and utility of this bag is based in its ability to switch between the two and all other forms.
The build quality of the Wandrd HEXAD is great too, and I don’t expect it to wear out any time soon. It’s not a major complaint. I do wish that it came with one over-the shoulder strap. This would make it easier to carry and use the bag like a backpack.
Best Messenger-Style Bag for Photographers: Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2
Messengers aren’t for everyone, but those who use them like them for their ease of use, quick access, and small size. While the Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2 isn’t what most would call “small,” it is smaller than full-size backpacks but doesn’t sacrifice any of the durable, high-end touches that the bigger bags get. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger V420 delivers the quick, easy access messengers require. It also features the many little touches you will love from the company, including clever design choices and integration of magnets.
It may sound like a cop-out for Peak Design to pick this bag because it’s popular. The Everyday Messenger, the company’s original foray into bags, has enjoyed a huge success for many years. Like the Everyday Backpack and the Everyday Messenger, it seems to have made the most concessions in order to be appealing to the broadest range of customers.
If you’re not a fan of Peak Design, HEX’s Ranger Sling XL is a solid alternative. Although it is slightly larger, the Ranger Sling XL can hold more equipment. It also has a faster and easier access for those looking for quick but organized access. It, like Peak’s Messenger, holds a maximum of a 13-inch laptop but Hex’s strap design makes the whole package lay against your back more comfortably than you might expect from a messenger-style bag. You can pick one up for $150.
Best Accessory Bag for Photographers: Peak Design Tech Pouch
I cannot overstate how important a good tech pouch is and how having one can be life-changing for a photographer who regularly travels. Before I had a tech pouch, I was cramming cables and adapters and memory card readers into side pockets and constantly losing track of them. The Peak Design Tech Pouch changed all that.
The level of organization that the Tech Pouch affords frees up so much mental energy when I’m on the road. Although it is a basic bag, it is so sturdy and well-made that I have to give it a shout out. I’ve seen several other tech pouches from other companies but none nail it like Peak. It’s made of tough materials that don’t attract dust or pet hair like other small bags. The interior has two sections and a divider at the center that can hold five more sections. All seven of these compartments are visible from the second you open the pouch.
I am able to store and organize every little piece of tech I need to charge or connect any time, all at my fingertips in an easy-to-see layout. While the Moment Tech Organizer is close (and less expensive at $50), Peak Design right now makes the best one we have tested and for $60, we think it’s well worth the price.
Image credits: Header image courtesy of Moment.