the dan milner photography blog: tales of an adventuring photo chimp

November 6, 2010

Bag it to go: the search for the holy grail of camera backpacks

Filed under: outdoors, photography — Tags: , , — danmilner @ 7:37 pm

After our eyes, us photographers are an understandably precious lot when it comes to our backs.

You see no matter how dreamlike a job we have, our pursuance of photographic delights in an attempt to eek a living from our passion means that inevitably we get to carry a lot of sh*t. And it being expensive, optically perfect sh*t means that its also heavy sh*t. It seems that there is a perfect correlation between weight and quality when it comes to pro photo gear and lugging it around means needing something that won’t leave us zimmer-framed by the time we reach 50 (wow, I’d better watch it, that isnt far away..). Take your average mountain biker’s or backcountry skier’s day pack. Seems like a fair bit to carry, especially up hill. Triple that weight at least and you have an idea. Skinning across snowy glaciers or pedalling up 700m climbs on some remote mountainside to altruistically make a rider look good in a photo, you can be sure the pack on our back weights a good 10-15Kg.

So it happens that in my 15 years shooting this kind of stuff  in places as diverse as Greenland and Kashmir, Morocco and Chile, I have tried a good variety of dedicated photo backpacks: Burton’s F-Stop and Zoom packs, Dakine’s Sequence, the geekily named DR-467i from Kata, and plenty more. Backpacks are to me, what shoes were to Imelda Marcus (google her, kids), albeit with a lot less evil involved. I just love them. They are probably the only bit of “outdoor kit” that gets me excited (OK, apart from Yeti bikes). Not even cameras raise the same kind of bubbling fervor, and finding a good pack fills me with a sense of ease. I know my job just got a tad easier. Such packs are paramount to my work; needing to be accessible quickly, carry all the camera and other sh*t I need on the mountain and be able to survive a good shoeing at the hands of blizzards, mud, dust, helicopter and snowmobile thrashings and assorted other luggage-war crimes. And they need to be comfortable for days on end and stable on the ups and downs. In fact on many bike escapades I use a regular backpack from Osprey and slot my Leica M8 and lenses inside in a padded case.

Seriously comfy big gear eater: Flipside 500AW

But when it comes to the big SLR kit and dedicated shoots you cant beat a dedicated photo backpack for ease of use and quick set-up times. But despite the dozen or so specific camera packs I’ve abused I have still to come across the “perfect one” that works for adventure photographers. But I’ve come close. The latest incarnation is the LowePro Flipside 500 AW (link is for the 400) handed to me by LowePro as part of a “limited Pro-only run”. Chuffed I thought, I have finally earned the recognition my loyal time in the blustery field serving the adventure photography cause deserves, that is until I noticed the run was limited to 1200 packs and I got number 1096.

Still, ego aside, this is a damn good pack and after years of being ‘away’ from LowePro since early use of their Nature trekker pack, it has made me look again at what they have to offer. The Flipside 500 isn’t perfect, not at least for a lot of what I do: it cant carry a snowboard, struggles to sleeve a water reservoir and it has far too few organiser pockets (it was developed for the regular sports photographer). But, it is probably the most comfortable and stable medium sized camera pack I have ever tried, period.  The inside swallows down 2 Pro 35mm bodies plus 3 or 4 lenses (70-200/2.8 included) without gagging, and the pocket a couple of flashes, radio slaves and mini-tripods. Even with all this weighty punishment, it stays comfortable and stable on the back, doing an admirable job to disguise the physio session-inducing mass inside, even when on the bike.

Time to look again at LowePro I think. Now, if they could only make one that…. (insert random request here)


1 Comment »

  1. worth a look. i am not a photographer, but the bags look sick.

    Comment by rodney — November 6, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

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