Camera gear is heavy. Even a sparing system consisting of a camera body and two lenses can approach ten pounds. Add in more lenses, batteries, a flash, external hard drive, filters and other accessories, or perhaps even a second camera body, and the heft factor multiplies fast. If you're toting around this much photography gear, a dedicated camera backpack can be indispensable.
For a long time, though, camera backpacks have been a bit, for lack of a better word, dorky. They've been bulky and conspicuous, neither of which are great traits for a bag meant to carry thousands of dollars worth of heavy equipment.
Thankfully, product designers have caught on. They've taken advantage of the same materials and features that make bags capable of withstanding harsh weather and hundred-mile backpacking trips. The result is that today's camera backpacks are more protective, more organized and more comfortable than ever before.
Simply put, Wandrd gave the Prvke everything you want in a camera backpack: convenient access equipment via back and side panels, organizing pockets for cables and other accessories, a padded laptop sleeve and space for extra layers, snacks or any other gear you might need to bring on a shoot (just how much depends on which size bag you opt for).
These are prerequisites, though; the Prvke stands out because it's made of a rugged, weatherproof material that makes it functional for various scenarios, because its roll-top design gives it packing flexibility and because it's discreet and doesn't necessarily look like it's full of expensive camera gear. One downside is that you have to purchase Wandrd's padded camera insert separately (the 41-liter Prvke comes with one), but we do like that these are removable, which means you can use it with other bags too.
Peak Design's Everyday Backpack is unique among camera bags. Instead of using a removable insert for equipment organization as most do, the bag has three of Peak Design's FlexFold dividers, which act like shelves and have folding ends for a remarkably customizable storage system. You can take them out if you don't need them, and you can access them from zippered panels on both sides of the bag.
The list of the Everyday Backpack's other features is long and impressive — it includes a size-adjustable laptop sleeve that's separate from the main compartment, tons of stretchy, sleeve-style pockets for small items (we count 12), exterior sleeve pockets for a water bottle or tripod and an expandable lid with a fast-opening magnetic latch. Speaking of magnets, there are a bunch in the bag — they keep some zipperless pockets closed, and a set also secures the shoulder straps to the pack's back panel when not in use. It's a small detail but keeps everything nice and compact.
We could go on because Peak Design left no detail untouched (okay, here's one more: you can attach the zipper pulls to loops for a bit of light theft prevention). The pack is pretty structured, which is good for protection but means it's not as sleek as others, especially in the larger 30-liter size. For a similar set of features in a slimmer package, check out Peak Design's smaller Everyday Backpack Zip.
If you don't have a ton of camera gear (or simply don't want to lug it around on your back) and aren't looking for as many special features, you can save some cash by opting for a more straightforward pack like F-Stop's Dalston. The bag is set up for side access to your camera via a removable padded insert — it's not as versatile as others we tested but does the job here — and its roll-top design offers expandable storage for other items on top of that. There's also a separate laptop/tablet sleeve. There's one more small exterior pocket on the backpack's face, but not much else in terms of organization. For photographers with less gear, the design is still ideal.
Best for Action Sports
While many of the backpacks here use some version of a removable camera insert for organization and protection. Atlas's Athlete has one built-in. The brand calls it the Origami Camera Core, and the compartment is separate from the rest of the bag, where there's room for gear for camping, skiing, climbing and so on. There is an element of customization, though — you can adjust a semi-rigid panel so that there's either more room in the photo section of the pack or more in the gear section, depending on what you need. Without inserts, you also save on weight and can better manage how the load sits inside the bag.
Atlas also packed the Atlas with features for adventuring. We've tested the bag on hiking trips and ski trips and have appreciated how efficiently the Origami Camera Core system divides up the pack's space and how similarly it functions like a bag not oriented toward photography.
Atlas is currently updating the Athlete — you can preorder the 2021 version here.
Best for Hiking
All of the backpacks on this list can accompany you on short trips down a trail, but for full-day or multi-day adventures, you might want to consider something more substantial. Wandrd's Fernweh takes many features from hiking backpacks — a supportive hipbelt and shoulder harness, breathable back panel, load adjustment straps — and adds camera accessibility. The Fernweh has the same side panel access as the Prvke, and its back panel zips open for a total view of the bag's contents (this is nice for unpacking when you get to camp, too). The front panel also opens for a total of four entrances to the bag's insides.
Wandrd's camera protection and organization system relies on its removable cubes. It's a bummer that the Fernweh doesn't come with one, but it's nice that you can always remove that element and use it just as a hiking pack if you aren't taking photos.
Best Durable Design
Mission Workshop's Integer calls to mind a bike messenger bag, but it has a full set of features for hefting photography gear around urban environments (it works well for shorter outdoor adventures too). Beneath the oversized buckle on its face is a zippered access point to the main compartment. Inside, there's a removable padded camera insert for your photo gear. You can also reach this section from a side access point for on-the-go shooting and from the top, which helps for packing (we also like that you can zipper shut a separator to create two distinct compartments for photo and non-photo gear).
In addition to access, the Integer excels with lots of organization for smaller items, plus a nifty tripod sling on the side. But a major reason to love this backpack is its construction, which consists of weatherproof two-layer fabric that lends structural support as well as protection. A former Gear Patrol photographer praised its durability and its low-key looks. "I like the idea of people not knowing there's camera gear inside," he says.
The Best Camera Inserts
In putting together this guide, we surveyed bag recommendations from Gear Patrol's former and current staff photographers and the freelance photographers we work with too. Many of them shared a similar insight: the perfect camera backpack doesn't exist. Many aren't suitable for specific activities — "I have yet to find anything close to sufficient for distance running," says Gear Patrol contributor Andy Cochrane — or are made for carrying more photo gear than you need.
The solution: camera inserts. Many of the brands that make our favorite camera backpacks also make stand-alone camera inserts, sometimes called camera cubes, that fit into any bag you already own. "They make anything usable," says former Gear Patrol staff photographer Chase Pellerin. "It's not as run-and-gun, but it allows you to turn any bag into a camera bag." Here are our three favorites.
Tenba's BYOB line of inserts comes in sizes ranging from single-camera carry up to a complete kit with multiple lenses. They have modular padding, and each one has additional exterior and interior pockets for things like cables, memory cards, etc.
Peak Design made its Camera Cube to fit seamlessly into its travel bags, but they function equally well in other bags and backpacks too. It comes in three sizes, and each one comes with full padding and flexible dividers you can move around to create your ideal configuration.
F-Stop also made its camera inserts with its backpacks in mind, but they can work well with others. They come in different sizes and depths, the biggest of which can support full movie-making kits. These, too, have customizable pad inserts that can adapt to any setup.