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A photographer’s camera bag is the unsung hero of the working professional. Without it, photographers simply could not do their jobs. But for as many good bags out there, there are hundreds of bad ones. Let’s sift through that noise.
Backpacks are and will always be a highly contentious and subjective debate. Everyone has their favorite and because there are so many different expectations for what a bag should do, few can agree on the best backpack for every photographer.
What We’re Looking For
Backpacks need to perform a few tasks well, and that list of requirements changes depending on the envisioned use case. For example, while a day-use bag needs to be light and mobile, a travel bag needs to be comfortable to wear for long periods of time and able to hold more than just camera equipment. Adventure backpacks have a whole different set of requirements like the ability to support extremely precise adjustments and must have an internal rigid support system. In all cases, photographers expect their bags to be durable and long-lasting as well as secure.
I have actually argued in the past that it is impossible to make a single backpack that works for everyone, and I stand by that. It’s why in this article, we won’t be naming a best backpack for every photographer. Instead, we’ve broken down our ratings into seven categories that we think cover the most use cases that photographers can expect to run into.
We’ll update this story as needed, but for now, these are our recommendations for the best backpacks and bags photographers can buy.
Update 2/25/2022 by Jaron Schneider: Added the Moment Strohl Mountain Light Backpack as the best backpacking/hiking backpack for photographers.
At a Glance
Best Day-Use Backpack for Photographers: Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2
Price: 20L is $260, 30L is $290
The “day-use” backpack is perhaps the most difficult to sift through as it is the most popular style and therefore the most manufacturers compete to earn your attention. It is also the category where the most concessions are made to appeal to the widest group of photographers, making it very difficult to find one bag that does everything right for every possible use case. Picking Peak Design here might seem like a cop-out, but after years of testing bag after bag after bag from a range of other options, I keep coming back to my Peak Design Everyday Backpack V2.
It certainly isn’t perfect — but it’s also hard to define what perfect would even be in this category. The materials are high quality and thick, but that also means the bag itself is a bit too heavy for my liking and therefore it isn’t great to wear for a long period of time — though that isn’t to say I have not done it and been perfectly ok at the end of the day. I do like the easy access top cover and Peak’s use of magnets all over the bag is always appreciated. It’s a tough task to try and compete in this segment, but Peak Design seems to make the fewest concessions to produce a bag that’s reasonably comfortable, adaptable, and durable. For now, the Everyday Backpack gets the nod.
Not a fan of Peak? Other options we considered include the WANDRD PRVKE or the LowePro ProTactic.
Best Adventure Backpack for Photographers: Shimoda Action X70
Price: $500 (includes the extra-large photo core)
If you aren’t an Adventure photographer, odds are high that you don’t quite understand the hype behind Shimoda’s products. If you are, then you probably appreciate how adaptable, durable, modular, comfortable, and usable Shimoda bags are. That’s really what it comes down to: high utility for an extremely tight use case.
Shimoda makes bags for photographers who plan to take long, multi-mile hikes and need something that can support equipment as well as essentials. Shimoda, therefore, had to create a backpack that could excel at carrying equipment but have all of the other benefits of a true backpacking backpack. The Shimoda Action X70 is lightweight when empty, has an internal rigid frame that distributes weight evenly across the wearer’s back, has adjustable shoulder straps (a must), robust waist straps, and has a removable modular core system that makes it adaptable to the various kinds of adventures a photographer could have.
Shimoda saw a need in the market that was underserved and has truly excelled at making near-perfect bags to fit that specific niche. These bags can take an absolute beating and never tear or fray, and that’s important for something that’s going to be exposed to the elements immediately and for years.
For those looking at alternatives, the Atlas Adventure Pack is a great choice. Comfortable, practical, and filled with pockets, the Adventure Pack is not short on storage. The well-thought-out design allows photographers to carry camera gear, a laptop, and clothing all at the same time. The only issue is actually getting your hands on one, since they are in limited supply.
Best Travel Backpack for Photographers: Shimoda Explore 35 V2
Price: 25L is $372, 30L is $384, and 35L is $400
Shimoda nails adventure so it’s no surprise that they hit another home run for travel. The Explore series is brand new and takes everything right about the Action X70 and slims it down into a more manageable size. The excellent build quality and modularity remain but in a package that is much easier to travel with.
This isn’t the kind of bag that you can bring and carry everything you need for an international journey, that is more a duffel or the adventure category’s game. Instead, this bag is one that you can comfortably wear all day between trips back to a home base, whether that is a tent or a hotel room.
Best Backpacking/Hiking Backpack for Photographers: Moment Strohl Mountain Light Backpack
Price: $200, plus $60 for the camera insert.
Moment isn’t traditionally known for making backpacks or hiking equipment, so it might come as a surprise that the company’s first attempt at a true multi-purpose hiking and camera bag is a real winner. We took a look at the Moment Strohl Mountain Light 45L Backpack and found it to be extremely lightweight, flexible, and of superb construction for what is a really low price of $200.
My only gripe with the Moment Strohl Mountain backpack is that the waist straps aren’t particularly rigid, which means they can’t bear weight without combining with taught pressure. That said, those who wear this backpack are unlikely to do so without tightening down the waist straps firmly, so this complaint is likely not a big deal to most who would be interested in the pack.
Best Rolling Bag for Photographers: Think Tank Airport International V3
Rollers really need to get just a few key things right but few companies nail these fundamentals like Think Tank does with the International: a good handle, smooth wheels, clean access points, and the ability to fit into overhead bins. Think Tank’s collapsible handle is exactly what you want to see in a robust yet lightweight design, the wheels make nary a sound when rolling down an airport hallway, the bag is easy to open and features multiple pockets and pouches, and the International is named such because it complies with overhead bin size restrictions for both domestic and international travel.
Best Duffel-Style Bag for Photographers: Wandrd HEXAD Access Duffel Backpack
Price: $260 for the bag alone and $328, which includes one essentials bag and a camera cube
The HEXAD is a hybrid backpack and duffel bag but is most certainly useful as both. It uses a modular core system that is easy to put in and remove, so the bag can be more than just a way to transport photography equipment. The system is cavernous and spacious without being overly huge, which means there is enough for cameras, lenses, clothes, and essentials. It achieves this by its ability to open and collapse based on how much needs to be stowed inside of it. At its smallest, it’s just a rather large backpack. At its largest, it’s a rather impressively big duffel. Its versatility and functionality are really based on its ability to swap between these two forms and everything in between.
Best Messenger-Style Bag for Photographers: Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2
Messengers aren’t for everyone, but those who use them like them for their ease of use, quick access, and small size. While the Peak Design Everyday Messenger V2 isn’t what most would call “small,” it is smaller than full-size backpacks but doesn’t sacrifice any of the durable, high-end touches that the bigger bags get. It nails the easy, quick access that messengers need and does so with the little Peak touches that are hard to not love — clever design choices, integration of magnets, convertible interior… it’s all here.
It may seem like yet another cop-out to give this pick to Peak Design because they’re popular, but these bags are popular for a reason: the Everyday Messenger was the company’s first foray into bags and has been wildly successful for years because it, like the Everyday Backpack, seems to make the fewest concessions en route to appeal to the widest group of people.
Best Accessory Bag for Photographers: Peak Design Tech Pouch
I cannot overstate how important a good tech pouch is and how having one can be life-changing for a photographer who regularly travels. Before I had a tech pouch, I was cramming cables and adapters and memory card readers into side pockets and constantly losing track of them. The Peak Design Tech Pouch changed all that.
The level of organization that the Tech Pouch affords frees up so much mental energy when I’m on the road. It’s a simple bag, but it’s so well made that it deserves a call out. I’ve seen several other tech pouches from other companies but none nail it like Peak. The exterior of the pouch is a tough material that doesn’t attract pet hair or dust like small bags like this typically do, and the interior is divided into two main sections with a center divider that holds five additional sections. All seven of these compartments are visible from the second you open the pouch.
I am able to store and organize every little piece of tech I need to charge or connect any time, all at my fingertips in an easy-to-see layout. While the Moment Tech Organizer is close (and less expensive at $50), Peak Design right now makes the best one we have tested and for $60, we think it’s well worth the price.