This section could quite literally take me days to write. Not because I’m a slow writer, but because I have so many dang bags. And NONE of them do exactly what I want. I’m a photographer, filmmaker and traveller. Those three combined make for one very unhappy traveller. Basically, I like to have a lot of gear when I travel and that tends to mean a lot of bags. I’ve worked really hard getting only the bare bones camera gear to travel with but unfortunately, bags tend not to accommodate what I want more often than not.
My very last trip I did something I’ve never, ever done to date. I only took carry on. No check in luggage at all. Take a look at that pic above of another recent trip to see how big of a deal that is to me! That photo is from a trip to the U.S. and Spain for more than 5 weeks so trekking across the world with lots of gear isn’t uncommon for me, but I hate it as much as anyone else. I take my gear, and my bags very seriously.
This is as close to the perfect bag designs as I’ve found so far. They’re not perfect, to be clear, but it’s getting very very close for what I need it for. My selection is the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 30Litre version and it’s fantastic. I wish it was about an inch wider, with slightly more comfortable shoulder straps and a couple of other really minor things but the pros far outweigh those slight cons. It’s got dual side access, space for a laptop, configurable dividers that really are the best I’ve come across in any bag so far. It expands at the top as well as the two side pockets which means I can fit large water bottles in the side or my rain jacket. It’s got some extra pockets near the laptop and on each side that make storing all the small stuff like extra batteries and cables a breeze. It’s obviously carry on size as well which made my last trip much easier. There are those few things that annoy me a little and to be honest, the fact that it’s slightly too small on the width makes it a bag that came so close but I’m still looking for the perfect bag. You can tell by the photo bellow that, for me at least, it could be larger and it wouldn’t make a difference.
For carry-on use, you can also carry a smaller bag for laptops etc.. I chose to also purchase the Peak Design Everyday Sling and while I love so much about it, it’s just too small for me to recommend or use all the time. I need something that can hold a laptop and this is only tablet sized so doesn’t work for me. A lot of the time I won’t carry my laptop with me, but I’ve found something that can hold a laptop can also hold my DSLR, a couple of lenses and extra gear. I’m not a minimalist, obviously, but I think there are bags that are too small and this is one of those. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger may be what I’m looking for in that second bag, but I’m hesitant to invest another few hundred dollars to test this one out now. I may bite the bullet sometime soon but for now I’ll keep looking.
I have got a Think Tank Retrospective 30 that I use much more often than the Peak Design Sling bag. I’ve had it for a long time now and it just seems to fit more what I’m after. I don’t particularly like the old style of these bags but the newer ones look nicer. In an ideal world, I’d find something with the functionality of the Peak Design Sling but slightly larger and maybe a more comfortable strap.
These are my go-to bags but for different trips, I do have a huge range of other bags to choose from as well. Some of those are below. I don’t use these that often but they do have their uses. I have around another 30-40 bags still sitting in my house I refuse to get rid of. I don’t know why but I love them all for different reasons. I’m yet to find one that does it all but I will I promise!
Kathmandu supplied us with a bag to take on a recent trip to Vietnam and I cannot say more good things about it. It’s the LiteHaul 38Litre Convertible Shoulder Strap Laptop Backpack. Quite a mouthful but sums it up really! I still can’t believe how much I can fit inside this thing and how small it ends up being on the outside. A cool feature I made use of a lot was the ability to zip up the bag straps so it becomes nice and streamlined with handles on each side to carry. Straps don’t go flying everywhere and it just makes carrying a breeze. My only reason it hasn’t become an everyday bag is because of the lack of side access that lots of bags have, and it doesn’t have the dividers like camera bags. If I can somehow shove some inside then this may become my go-to bag.
Years ago I purchased a lightweight Samsonite ’72 Hours’ bag that I do still like. For trips where I need to fit a lot of clothing or non-breakables in this tends to be my bag of choice. It’s a basic, lightweight bag with some extra pockets and the wheels are good. Not much more to it than that!
If I ever need to check in something that’s breakable or expensive this is the case for me. I travelled to the U.S. and Spain back to back over 5 weeks with one of these carrying some really fragile camera and audio gear and I never had any break or even get scratched. They’re packed full of foam and you can shape it however you’d like so that things are nice and snug inside. They’re waterproof, dustproof and crushproof so you can generally sleep easy knowing your gear is inside. It isn’t fool proof though, and I’ve heard way too many stories of things still going wrong. If I need to take more than I can comfortably carry on a plane then this is where I start. They’re also not light coming in at nearly 13 kilograms just for the case. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for gear sometimes so be careful!
This could be my greatest disappointment concerning camera bags. It’s the National Geographic NG5738 bag and it promised so much and didn’t deliver. It’s really big but doesn’t fit anywhere near enough in it. It has a LOT of padding that sometimes seems really overkill and not needed. It just means a lot less can be put in and in the end, it doesn’t add any safety over most other bags. It looks amazing and I want to love it but it’s just too big and cumbersome to be useful and fits far too little inside.
I got my hands on a couple of North Face Duffel Bags and they’re excellent for certain trips. If I need something large, water resistant and has lots of straps this is what I’ll lean towards. To be honest, if I don’t need a roller bag and want something big then I’ll take this over the Samsonite. There are different sizes and I have three and all serve different purposes. I really like them but they’re a niche product that only come out on rare occasions. I like having them, but they sit in my cupboard for far longer than they should.
The Lowepro ProTactic 450AW was my main bag for a few years and I loved it. It had side access, which I’ve come to need not like. It’s got a very cool system where you can add on small items around the bag using their strap system. Think of this like little carabiner points you can attach different things. There are small bags, tripod straps and lots more. It comes in very handy! It’s got a harder outer shell that makes the stuff inside feel a lot safer. It’s not like the Pelican cases but saves gear from accidental kicks or bumps. I’ve since put this bag away over the Peak Designs bag but given how much I liked it and the shortcomings of the other, I may get it out again now.
For the first few years of my photographic life, I was a huge fan of Think Tank bags. I still am I guess but the thing that makes me hesitate is their form, not function. I have an Airport Accelerator that I still use to this day to carry a strobe light and accessories to shoots. It’s the perfect size in a lot of ways but I like my bags looking good too and in the end it’s just a big black bag. That may be perfect for a trip to dodgy parts of the world where gear security is essential but for every day use I like it to look good. Vanity still remains strong in this one.
I also have a Streetwalker Hard Drive that does come out every now and then. Not much any more I have to admit but this was one of my first bags I ever bought and it’s still going strong. These days it’s a pretty standard camera bag with very few bells and whistles and if that’s what you’re after this thing is a beast and will last forever.
I have around 20 more bags that I use from time to time but the ones listed above get used at least once or twice every year so they get a special mention. I have visions of creating my own bag that covers everything I ever want but until that day comes I’ll keep using what’s available. I know there are lots more out there, and to be honest I’ve tried a lot more of them than I’d like to think. Kickstarter has been kind for finding new and wonderful bags to help my addiction but in the end they all tend to disappoint me. One day I’ll create the best bag in the history of bags. Until then, let me know your favourite!