Gear Carrying Issues For The Aging Photographer
As we get older, we might have a little less strength, and perhaps minor back, shoulder, or knee issues. For the aging photographer, it becomes increasingly important to choose the best solution for carrying our photo gear, that will accommodate our physical condition and our stamina.
Choosing gear for carrying photographic equipment is largely a matter of taste. Some prefer backpacks, others prefer shoulder bags, still others prefer rolling cases. Our choices are also highly dependent upon how much and what kind of gear we plan to carry, in what locations (e.g. backcountry, local park, city center, airplane), and for what distance or duration.
This article talks about selecting lightweight photo backpacks that can carry your camera, lenses, flash and other accessories, as well as a tripod or monopod.
Choosing A Lightweight Photo Backpack
Back in my younger days, I used to pack most of the gear I owned in a quite large (and heavy) Lowepro Pro Trekker AW bag. The bag could carry 1-2 pro DSLRs with grip and lens attached; 4-6 additional lenses; 2 flash units; tripod or monopod; accessories and my personal gear. The bag measured approximately 15 x 14 x 21 inches and weighed in at approximately 7 pounds empty. It was extremely well padded and had a great harness system but the waist straps were very stiff making it a bit difficult to fit it a crowded vehicle trunk or an airliner’s overhead bin. These days I doubt I could even lift this fully packed bag onto my shoulders, let alone trek with it for any distance.
Although I’ve gotten older, I still like to carry more gear than I probably should on any one outing, typically:
- Nikon D7000 body with Really Right Stuff L-plate attached
- Nikon 18-300 mm VR super zoom lens
- Sigma 10-20 mm ultrawide zoom lens
- Tamron 90mm macro lens
- Nikon SB-800 flash
- Nikon ML-3 remote
- Circular polarizer and neutral density filters
- An Induro CT-214 carbon fiber tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head
- Or, an Adorama Flashpoint F-2560 carbon fiber monopod with an Adorama Flashpoint F-2 ball head
- A CamRanger wireless camera controller (see the upcoming article on Focusing Aids for more detail on this fantastic device)
- Miscellaneous accessories, including a spare batteries, a LensPen, microfiber cloths, and Allen wrenches (hex keys) for the camera plate, tripod, and monopod
Given my relatively large gear load, I needed to find a lightweight photo backpack that wouldn’t add much weight to my load, be comfortable for a guy with a bad back, and be durable and weatherproof. I also wanted a sling type backpack that could be carried on the back or slung around over the shoulder for easy access to camera gear.
My search lead me to several alternatives, listed in descending order by weight.
Tamrac Evolution 9 Photo/Laptop Sling Backpack
This bag measures 19.5 x 11 x 13 inches and weighs in at 5 pounds. It can hold pro DSLR with a grip and up to an 8¾” lens attached, several additional lenses, and a flash. It can also hold a 17.3″ laptops. The Evolution 9 can be carried three different ways – as a backpack or as a sling pack worn over the right shoulder or the left shoulder. A foam-padded top compartment provides storage for a light jacket, lunch, or other photo accessories. It also comes with a tripod attachment system and a rain cover.
Think Tank Sling-O-Matic 30 Sling Camera Bag
This bag measures 12 x 17.25 x 7.5 inches and weighs in at approximately 4.0 pounds with all the dividers and straps attached. The pack can hold a pro size DSLR with a 70-200 f2.8 lens and lens hood attached, plus 3-5 additional lenses. It can also carry up to a 15.4″ laptop. The fully padded shoulder straps can be switched back and forth to either shoulder along a set of rails, to change which shoulder the bag can be worn on. A medium sized tripod can also be carried on one side using the included tripod straps.
Kata Pro Light 3N1 25 Backpack
This bag measures 10.2 x 10.4 x 18.1 inches and weighs in at 3.7 pounds. It is designed to fit a Pro DSLR with battery pack and a mid-range zoom lens attached, plus 3-4 lenses and flash. It can also carry an iPad or a Netbook and a small amount of personal gear. It accommodates three carrying positions: sling, backpack, and “X” position. In sling position, the bag can be swung around from back to front to provide quick access the main compartment. The “X” position combines both a sling and a backpack, allowing you to release one of the straps to swing the bag around. In the full backpack position, the bag cannot be swung, but better long distance support is obtained. No matter over which shoulder the bag is carried, gear access always stays on top when the bag is slung to the front.
Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW Camera Daypack
This bag measures 11.5 x 9.4 x 18.1 inches and weighs in at 3.5 pounds. It can hold a Pro DSLR with grip, with an attached 300mm f/2.8 lens, an extra Pro DSLR body with grip, 2 extra lenses and a flash, a battery charger, filters and other accessories, a tablet or small laptop, a tripod or monopod, and trekking poles, ice axe, other personal gear. It has a side compartment that can hold up to a 1.5 L hydration reservoir, with an outlet for the drinking tube and a convenient elastic band on the upper shoulder strap to keep the tube in place. A protective rain cover is included as well. The pack material is a lightweight, breathable, 210D triple ripstop nylon with polyurethane coating. You can rotate the pack to the front and access your gear from a zippered side pocket. The straps and back panel are perforated to reduce weight and provide breathability (nothing more uncomfortable than a sweaty back on a long trek).
My Choice For A Lightweight Photo Backpack and Experience In Use
After doing extensive research, narrowing my alternatives to the four bags above, and examining and trying on each of the bags in person, my choice was the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW Camera Daypack.
Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, some of the bags were too heavy, some were too cramped for all my gear, some were uncomfortable or awkward for me to wear, and one was just right!
The Flipside Sport 20L AW is light, sturdy, comfortable to wear, and packs a lot of gear. In addition to carrying all the gear I listed above, and a 50 oz. (1.5 L) Camelbak Antidote Reservoir, the tripod carrying system (more like a swaddling system) allowed me to very securely carry my full-size Induro CT-214 tripod. While with my bad back I’ve got to be careful when swinging the pack onto my shoulders, once it’s there, and I’ve clipped on the chest strap and waist straps, I literally don’t know it’s on. It’s easy enough to slip off and back on to access gear, so I don’t use it in “flip” mode. Another nice feature is that the main compartment opens from the back, so that when you’ve set your pack down on the ground to retrieve some equipment, the side of the pack that goes back up against your back is clean.
The pack has enough compartments and pouches (including small mesh pouches on each of the waist straps), to carry some personal and safety gear. The small waist pouches are perfect for energy bars or a small knife sharpener. The three zippered compartments on the front side of the pack are handy for carrying items like a small first aid kit, a Swiss army knife, a small flashlight, and a stuffable rain jacket.
The bag is nicely balanced. On my waterfall treks, I was able to walk relatively steep trails without feeling like I had to lean forward to keep the pack from causing me to tumble backwards. I also found on these treks, that my tripod stayed in place, firmly attached to the side of the pack, and without unbalancing the pack.
The pack comes in both Galaxy Blue and Lowepro Orange. I got mine in Lowepro Orange, which is close enough to Blaze Orange to make me feel comfortable wandering through the woods during hunting season.
I highly recommend the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW lightweight photo backpack
Other Sizes For Other Needs
It should be noted that if you have less gear to carry, or just want a lighter weight pack, each of the packs mentioned above comes in smaller sizes.
You can see more details, read reviews, and purchase these bags at Amazon.com
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."