Vanguard Up-Rise 33
$170 / £85 www.vanguardworld.com

Not really expecting much, I walked into the camera store knowing I needed a different way to carry both cameras and computers. I’d been living in a semi-rural area, carrying both computer and cameras in a large backpack that could accommodate several large SLRs. Now I’d need a smaller bag, as my commute would include long walks and even longer rides on public transit. 

Set on a satchel-style bag, I checked out the usual suspects, including Tenba, Lowepro, and ThinkTank, and all seemed reasonable choices. Then I came upon an unusual bag with a style all its own: The Vanguard Up-Rise 33. It was made with black nylon fabric with orange accents, and had a design I hadn’t seen before, including the ability to expand and contract depending on the size of its contents. After verifying with the clerk that it could carry a 13-inch MacBook Pro, I made my purchase. Though I still use other bags depending on what I’m testing, I usually carry the Up-Rise 33, so I haven’t regretted the purchase at all. Let me tell you a little bit more about this well-made bag.

 A smart look and tight build make the Vanguard Up-Rise 33 a pretty good commuter companion.

Key Features

  • Expandable design
  • Good weight distribution
  • Top zipper for quick access
  • Secure latch mechanism
  • Good mix of large and small pockets
  • Holds 13-inch laptop
  • Removable inner sleeve
  • Sleeve for rolling luggage
  • Inside Dimensions: 13 x 4.1 x 11 inches (330 x 105 x 280mm)
  • Outside Dimensions: 15.3 x 8.8 x 14.2 inches (390 x 225 x 360mm)
  • 3.4 pounds (1.54Kg)

Expansion

I always carry a camera, but don’t always need my MacBook, so the ability to collapse the bag by as much as an inch and a half in thickness comes in handy when walking or riding on public transit. Less thickness means greater maneuverability. I can fit a medium SLR and two or three lenses in the Up-Rise 33, or two lenses and a flash. Switching to small mirrorless designs allows up to three cameras with two lenses each if I stack them right. 

Expanding the Up-Rise 33 requires the simple action of pulling a zipper down one side, across the bottom and up the other side. The hard plastic feet have protected the bag very well, and add to the bag's stability when on hard surfaces. The vinyl bottom resists water incursion, and is continuous whether expanded or not.

Strap design

While I’m mostly indifferent about the strap itself, I do admire the way Vanguard designed the strap-to-bag interface: It’s a single strap that connects to the bag in two places, left and right of the expansion joint. Not only does it allow the bag to expand in the middle, it distributes the weight evenly, whether the bag is expanded or contracted. That gives the bag a greater feel of stability overall. Another benefit of this loop is I can reach back and grab hold of it when I’m transitioning from rear carry (where it rests as I walk) to side carry (where I can access the contents of the bag, or else sit down with it). As for the strap, it includes a good shoulder pad, but it's tough to adjust, and doesn't absorb the bounce as well as some of my Think Tank and Lowepro bags do.

The unique lashing system allows the bag to expand in the middle, and distributes the weight evenly as well. Bringing the bag forward from the back is as easy as grabbing this divided lashing point and swinging the bag around.

Access

I mostly use the top flap to get cameras and other items in and out of the Up-Rise 33, but when I'm moving and shooting I like the top zipper, as it keeps the flap out of the way and allows me to easily return the camera to the bag between shots. 

A magnetic safety flap (the piece with the orange accent above) prevents the zipper from opening accidentally. Note also the zipper for the slim, concealed front-flap pocket. (It's concealed so well I forget what I've put in there, so I don't use it.) Note also the high quality of the fabric, chosen both to accent and provide durability. The top zipper gives quick access and serves as a good working platform while on the move. The orange color alerts you that the bag is open as well.
Getting the camera in and out through the top zipper is easy, without allowing gear to fall out. Elastic gussets on the left and right of the flap further secure small lenses and accessories.

Opening up the main flap offers full access to most of the Up-Rise 33's storage areas. Storage is comprised of both large open spaces, large pockets, and a few tight pockets for slimmer items. It's a good mix.

Opening the clip lock on the main flap is difficult until you get used to it. This is by design. The hard plastic shroud over the clip is what makes it difficult. The shroud prevents accidental opening or breakage when when the bag rubs against hard objects in the surrounding environment, a common occurrence as the scuff marks illustrate. Viewed from the top, the variety of storage options is plain. The MacBook is nestled on one side in its own compartment toward the body. Three large compartments hold cameras, lenses, and accessories. Two large pockets in the front are perfect for books, small tablets, pens, and other medium-sized objects.
Smaller pockets hold slimmer items close to the bag. A zippered pocket is good for badges, cards, and passports, while the velcro-flapped memory card holder and cell phone pocket are handy. A wide pocket between these large and small pockets is good for checkbooks, papers, and other slim items. Though it's a good snug fit left to right, a 13-inch MacBook fits just right in the Up-Rise 33, and thicker computers also have plenty of room when the bag is expanded. I have to expand the bag when carrying a larger SLR and the MacBook, but when I go mirrorless, expansion is usually not necessary.

Removable sleeve and other details

The camera sleeve is removable, converting the Up-Rise 33 to a general-purpose bag that still has some pretty good padding. A large zippered pocket in the back of the Up-Rise 33 is a great place to put my iPad for quick access while commuting. There's even a pass-thru sleeve for securing the bag to a rolling luggage handle.
Nice details like the waterproof zipper silo and extra stitching on the luggage sleeve show Vanguard's attention to detail. The ventilated back fabric on the Up-Rise 33 is a nice feature, but apparently the rivets on my jeans were too much for the fabric to handle. This is after eight months of almost daily use, however.

The Up-Rise 33 includes a rain cover in a little pouch. In mine, it wasn't attached to a key hook, but others have reported a key hook in their bags. I put it on once then set it aside, as it seemed more trouble than it was worth. Walking in persistent rain, water has not penetrated the bag, but a solid downpour might be a different story. Too much rain generally makes me walk faster or seek shelter, so I'll likely get out of the rain before it's a problem.

While the Up-Rise 33 is surprisingly good for commuters and travelers, there are a few things missing. A dedicated business card pocket would be helpful, as would a few more pockets to help organize the wide, slim pocket. The soft side of the velcro that holds one side of the flap down wore out after about five months, while the other side still works fine. I could also use a water bottle or thermos holder when commuting or walking around at an event, but I have to sacrifice space inside the bag instead. The expansion feature makes adding a bottle holder more difficult, though, so it's a necessary compromise.

Vanguard makes two other shoulder bags in this series, a smaller one for 11-inch notebooks and a larger for 15-inch, called Up-Rise 28 and 38, respectively. There's also an Up-Rise II series with a few different features, and compatibility with their rather comprehensive ICS line of suspension and lens bags.

Summing Up

The Vanguard Up-Rise 33 is a very good camera bag that's excellent for holding a small to mid-size DSLR with a 70-200mm lens (with the lens hood stowed), two or three more lenses and accessories, a notebook computer, and other elements a commuter is likely to need. It makes a good camera bag for travel as well, packing a lot of stuff into a small space that easily slides under a seat. Depending on your needs it also shrinks down to serve as a good walk-around camera bag for family outings, when you might not want to bring the notebook, but want to tote a flash and an extra lens or two.

What we like: Quality fabrics, smart design, useful and innovative expansion system, easy customization, fast access, and it holds a lot in a neat and clean package.

What we don't like: Tends to bounce a bit if not positioned properly, velcro is weaker than it should be, lacks water bottle holder.