I will be spending three weeks in Ecuador soon and realized that the flimsy daypacks I’ve been using weren’t ideal. I have really specific requirements for this trip and wanted to find a pack that would meet all of these. I researched for many hours trying to find the right pack for my needs and thought I would share my thought process along with what bags I considered and where I ended up.
I should start by saying what equipment I plan to bring with me as it will dictate how much dedicated camera space I’ll need. My main camera is a Canon 6D and my walkabout lens is the 24-105 F4/L. I’m also bringing a 50mm F1.8 and a 70-300 F4-5.6. My wife will bring a Canon Rebel T5i and two lenses of her own, but she will be carrying those. I’ve considered bringing my tripod/ballhead or picking up a dedicated wide angle lens, but will probably pass because of space/weight concerns.
My three weeks in Ecuador will start with a week hiking in the mountains and spending a bit of time in cities. After that I’ll spend 8 days on a cruise touring the northern and western Galapagos islands. The last portion of the trip will be spent relaxing in a beach town. So, what do I need in a pack?
Smaller is better (as long as it holds my stuff) – I’m only bringing the 6D body and three lenses. Lots of the bags I looked at would be great for many times more gear than I’m bringing, but this kind of storage would be lost on me. I’m going to try to travel light so there isn’t a need for a bag that goes big.
I’ll be carrying more than camera equipment – A few of the hikes will be full day hikes. In addition to this at least one of the side trips will leave me without my larger pack for a few days. I need space for a change of clothing, a light jacket, and some toiletries.
Comfort is key and accessibility would be nice – I expect to be wearing this pack for at least a few hours a day while hiking every day for a few weeks. I love the tiny light packs I usually wear on day hikes, but I get tired of things jammed into my back eventually. I also like the idea of being able to remove my camera without taking the pack off.
I don’t like ugly bags – I know this should be minor but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t take it into account. Big puffy black boxes you wear on your back are ugly and scream CAMERA BAG. What I really wanted was a daypack that can act as a camera bag, not the other way around.
So, I’m looking for a bag somewhere around 20L that is maybe 30% dedicated to camera equipment with the rest of the space for other things. If I could get access via the side would be great and it can’t look like a giant CD wallet from 1997.
The Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW
Lowepro makes tons of camera bags at reasonable prices. They seem well padded and well thought out. This bag checked a few of the boxes that were important to me, but ultimately wasn’t right. The overall size was appropriate for my needs and it had all of the bells and whistles you would want in a camera daypack (hydration reservoir, space for a tripod, easy access to the camera). It wasn’t obvious to me how i could divide space between the camera section and space for other items. This is personal preference, but I found this bag to be the kind of unattractive box I was looking to avoid.
The Lowepro Photo Sport 200 AW
This bag was probably my second favorite choice overall. The bag looks more like a daypack and appears to dedicate more space to other gear/food than the Flipside Sport. If anything it’s possible this bag doesn’t dedicate enough space to camera equipment, which was certainly the exception in my searching. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a pretty unattractive bag. I suspect if I had gone with this bag i would have been happy with it overall.
The Kata Bumblebee 210 DL/Manfrotto Pro Light Bumblebee-220 PL
This was one of the more unique bags i looked at. This bag is the right size, has easy access to the camera, and looks great. It’s pretty pricey, but if it was actually perfect I could deal with that. Unfortunately this is a bag that is totally dedicated to camera equipment and therefore wasn’t right for me.
The Kata Bug-205PL/Manfrotto Pro Light Bug-203 PL
This is essentially smaller version of the Bumblebee and suffered from the same flaw. That said the design is pretty clever and if my needs were different I think this is a bag I could get excited about.
The National Geographic Medium Rucksack
This interesting bag divides a bottom camera compartment from a top storage compartment. It doesn’t look like most of the other bags and could be quite attractive. It’s a bit tough to see from the photos online and I couldn’t find it locally. In the end I suspect that this bag is a little too small.
The Mindshift Rotation 180 Panorama
This is a 22L bag that is extremely well designed. It’s gimick is that it has a belt pack that isn’t really attached to the frame, but still helps to support the full weight of the pack. With a quick motion you can rotate the pack around your body and open it for full access to your camera gear without needing to take it off your back. At 2.9lbs it’s among the lighter bags listed. I plan to carry three lenses and the belt pack really only holds two so I picked up another small bag to clip to the belt. It has clever pockets that allow you to attach a tripod easily and has space for a water reservoir. It looks a little more like a camera bag than the Lowepro Photo Sport 200, but it’s still acceptable. I wish there was a bit more space in the top compartment or that it could be expanded up a bit, but overall it’s a small bag and the compartments are divided in the ratio i’d like to see.
I’ll post an update after the trip with my experience.