No matter what adventure you’re planning, finding the perfect pack is the first step. You don’t want to be ten miles deep in the backcountry, realizing that your bag lacks weather coating, or that the shoulder straps you thought were sufficiently padded now feel like a taut seatbelt. Before you run out and buy your first bag, you’ll need to think deeply about what kinds of pictures you will be taking. Are you more interested in trail hiking or ski touring? Will you be bringing telephoto lenses to photograph wildlife, or will you be taking mostly wide shots of landscapes?
Be realistic in your expectations. If you’re someone with a lot of outdoor hobbies, you should find a bag that can evolve with you, perhaps one with extra room for gear, water bladders, or accessory clips. If you’re an urban dweller, perhaps you’d be better off getting a small pack that can double as an every day carry bag on the subway.
It’s important that you consider what kind (and how much) gear you’ll be taking with you, how much you want to spend on a bag, and how easily you need to access your gear. We’ve compiled a list of bags to suit every kind of shooter. Whether you’re a filmmaker going on a multiple-day backpacking trip or a grandparent photographing your grandkids at the beach, this list is bound to have something for you.
The smallest of the bags we recommend is the Lowepro Photo Active 200 AW. It’s lightweight yet rugged, with 16 liters of total usable volume. This would be a good option for a small day hike or a city walk. Keep in mind, though, that there’s very little room in the bag for anything but your camera. This is a good option for someone who only wants to bring a minimal kit.
The bag has one small, fleece-lined pocket up front for a cell phone, and two stretchy pockets on the sides for a water bottle or tripod. There’s also a back pocket with enough space for a 12-inch tablet, 13-inch laptop, or a 2-liter water bladder with a pass-through hole for the hose.
The removable foam camera shelf fits snugly in the bottom of the bag and can be reconfigured easily to fit a variety of cameras and lenses. The Photo Active 200’s shelf is by far one of the most robust on this list. Unfortunately, there’s no divider between the main compartment and camera compartment, making it unsuitable for housing small objects that can become dislodged, fall, and get wedged behind the camera shelf.
If you’re shooting with a full-frame camera or using a larger, 15-inch laptop, we would recommend going for the Fastpack Pro BP 250 AW III. The Photo Active 200 is made to fit small mirrorless cameras, APS-C, and Micro Four Thirds cameras, while the Fastpack Pro 250 has more room to accommodate large cameras and lenses.
The Fastpack feels quite a bit roomier, with a total volume of 25 liters, compared to the Photo Active’s 16 liters. It would be a little oversized for daily use on a subway or bus; however, the extra room would be very useful on longer hiking trips or adventures on which you’d like to bring extra meals, snacks, and gear.
If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, the Ruggard Lynx 45 SlingPack might be for you. This beefy little bag is extremely well made, with robust zippers and a durable nylon exterior. It has a completely separate compartment with a generous amount of room for extra gear, outerwear, and snacks. The camera compartment is fairly large, with room for a DSLR camera and 200mm lens. The bag also has a special pocket that can hold a 13-inch laptop.
This is one of the more minimalist bags on the list, with few extra pockets, and there is no dedicated space for a water bottle. It also lacks back, shoulder strap, and waist strap padding, making it not the best choice for long or difficult hikes.
Like Lowepro, Thule is a hallmark company with a long history of making solid camera bags. The EnRoute Camera Backpack is no exception. Like the Lowepro Photo Active 200 AW, the EnRoute is made to fit smaller, APS-C or mirrorless cameras with a minimal setup.
If you’re planning to use this bag mainly for outdoor adventures, we would recommend opting for the 25-liter option. You’ll most likely be grateful for the extra space, and the roll-top design is more useful than the zippers on the 20-liter bag. The 20-liter is smaller and sleeker, however, making it a better every day carry or subway bag.
Unfortunately, the two bags do share the same, relatively small camera box and the main compartment isn’t sealed off from the camera compartment in either bag, making it easy to lose small items behind the box. However, on the upside, both bags do have water bottle and laptop pockets.
The last two small bags on our list are geared toward every day carry or light backpacking bags.
The Peak Design Every Day Backpack v2 has a sleeker, more urban design than the bags we’ve mentioned so far, making it a better option for someone who wants to use it primarily for every day carry. It is sturdy enough to use outdoors, however, with its durable nylon exterior and waterproof bottom panel.
The bag has a four-step metallic clipping system on the front that is cool in concept but takes a little getting used to. It’s available in 20- or 30-liter options and comes with a highly customizable, removable divider system that makes it easy to accommodate a wide variety of gear. Because the divider system is so customizable, it feels less sturdy than the Lowepro’s rigid foam system. There’s also no separation between the main compartment and the bottom compartment, making it easy to lose small objects behind the camera compartment.
The last small bag we’d like to mention is the WANDRD PRVKE 21L v2 Photo Bundle.
Arguably the sleekest bag on this list, the PRVKE 21L v2 is a camera bag designed to look cool while carrying a camera. It has a roll-top and 21-liter carrying capacity. This bag is great for people with minimal gear, but wouldn’t be ideal for someone with a large setup.
If you’re interested in more urban, every day carry bags, check out Cory Rice’s article, One Photographer’s Quest for the Perfect Commuter Backpack.
For those outdoor extremists in search of the perfect high-performance bag, meet the Photosport X AW Bag, from Lowepro. The Photosport is designed for all types of mountaineering, from ice climbing to ski touring. It has a 48-liter volume (there is also a 35-liter option) and is made of recycled nylon. It also comes with a removable weatherproof cover and a variety of specialized straps for climbing ropes, crampons, and skis.
Your camera gear is stored in a removable Lowepro GearUp Pro Cube that’s accessible through front and rear zippers. The cubes come in three sizes, and the largest of the cubes can accommodate a 200mm lens. With that in mind, if you’re a wildlife photographer with a collection of large, telephoto lenses, you might want to consider a different bag. The cube itself is attached to the bag with gear clips that keep the bag suspended in the bag, protecting it from sharp rocks or moisture when the bag is sitting on the ground.
If you’d like to read more about this bag, check out this announcement.
Another medium-sized bag worth considering is the Thule Covert 32L DSLR Camera Backpack. The Thule Covert bag is a superbly made backpack, great for a long romp in the woods or a trip abroad.
It has an easy-to-access rolling top, expandable side pockets that can accommodate a water bottle, and a dedicated sleeve for a 16-inch laptop. The side pockets make gear easily accessible and a large rear zipper offers you a top-down view of your gear. The compartments in the bag are also completely sealed from one another, preventing items from shifting or sliding down during travel.
One additional cool feature is that the compartment housing your camera is fully removable. It has its own set of straps and can function completely separately from the rest of the bag. This is great for when you want to travel light and don’t feel like taking your entire 32-liter bag somewhere.
Finally, the big boys. This group is for the serious heavy lifters: multiple-day backpacking trips, people with extremely long lenses, and hardcore outdoor videographers.
Starting with the biggest and beefiest, the Shimoda Designs Action X70 Starter Kit with X-Large DV Core Unit is designed to carry everything: large professional camera and video gear, tripods, gimbals, drones, and more.
The X70 (also available in a 50-liter version) comes with a roll top that gives the bag an extra seven liters of space. A removable lining separates the compartments, ensuring that your gear doesn’t get jumbled during transit.
The exterior of the bag also just feels very high quality. It’s made of resin-coated nylon that’s water resistant and extremely durable, so you don’t have to carry an extra rain or snow cover for the bag, which adds weight and complexity to your setup.
The X70 comes with dedicated sleeves for a 15-inch laptop, water bladder, and removable helmet holder. Two large side panels can hold a tripod or water bottle, and there are multiple compression straps for skis or other gear, as well as straps on the bottom of the pack for a sleeping bag or pad.
One final feature of the X70 worth mentioning is its customizable harness system, which can conform to a variety of body shapes and genders. It’s important that your bag fit snugly, especially when carrying 77-liters worth of gear over treacherous terrain.
WANDRD has amassed a near-cult following in recent years for its well-designed, thought-out bags. The Fernweh is no exception. It’s made of water-resistant nylon and has an extra waterproof coating applied to the exterior of the bag. For ultimate peace of mind, WANDRD also sells a rain cover separately.
There are four entry points to the main compartment and a front pocket that is designed as a catch-all. The catch-all pocket can hold a water bladder and is specifically designed so that water couldn’t reach the main compartment if there were a leak in the water reservoir.
Within the main compartment, there are two sections separated by removable nylon webbing, ensuring that small objects won’t slip down behind your camera gear.
Like the Shimoda, there is a quick draw on the side that gives you direct access to the camera compartment. There is also a large zip pocket that could be used for a water bottle or tripod and accessory straps for carrying gear externally. This makes the bag capable of carrying anything from skis to tripods.
This bag is surprisingly versatile, good for people who want to go backpacking in the Grand Canyon or take a weeks-long trip through Europe. Thanks to heavy padding and a solid frame, the Fernweh is extremely comfortable, even with a lot of gear aboard. The only downside is that if you’re hoping to take this bag on a plane, give yourself lots of time to remove the waist belt, because it can be a little tricky to get off.
Do you have a bag that follows you on every adventure? Did we miss a crucial bag? Tell us about it in the Comments section, below.