Gura Gear's Kiboko 30L weighs in at only 4 pounds but can accommodate two pro level DSLR bodies and a wide range of lenses and accessories.

User Review: Gura Gear Kiboko 30L Backpack

Outside of a camera and lens, I'd argue that few things can have as much impact on your photographic travels as your camera bag. And over the years, I've come up with a wish list for the perfect bag. For starters, it needs to be compact and light, yet able to hold a multitude of items in a way that makes each one accessible at a moment's notice. And because I'm often hiking to my destination, it should be comfortable to carry over long distances and be water-resistant.

In my quest for the perfect bag, I've tried most of the big name brands. And while they all touted different features and strengths, I've found many of them to be too bulky and uncomfortable to carry. Another big issue for the locales in which I typically shoot is the amount of dust, dirt and sand that ends up in the bag itself, no matter how careful I am.

Recently though, I had the opportunity to test a bag from a small company you may not be familiar with. The company is Gura Gear. Its founder, Andy Biggs, is himself a wildlife photographer. His background as a seasoned professional shows through in the designs of the Gura Gear bags. They're simple, practical and even ingenious in some respects.

Currently Gura Gear has just three products in its lineup, a shoulder bag and two backpacks. I tested its largest bag the Kiboko 30L backpack. As the name implies, it has a 30 liter volume capacity, which is sufficient to hold just about anything I'd reasonably want to bring on a professional photo expedition.

Upon receiving the Kiboko 30L, I had two conflicting impressions. Its unique design -  two separate flaps that open in a butterfly style - immediately won me over (more on their significance in a bit). Yet I must admit that the bag looks quite small and well, cheap.

The Kiboko 30L features an innovative two-compartment 'butterfly' design so that you can access only the gear you need, while the rest remains protected from the elements. The waist belt is removable and the entire harness system retracts into built-in zippered sleeves, giving the bag a slimmer profile for convenient hand carrying or stowage.

Fortunately, the Kiboko 30L only looks small. After spending a few weeks using the bag, the word 'compact' seems to be a more suitable description. Indeed, nearly all of the gear I usually pack into my LowePro Trekker 600 – whose footprint is more than twice that of the Kiboko – fits comfortably in the Gura Gear backpack. I can carry two DSLR bodies, 6-8 lenses, filters and the usual bits and pieces. The only point where the bag's two compartment design struggled even a bit was with my Canon 1Ds Mark III with an attached custom L-bracket. It’s a tight fit, but it does go in.

The 'cheap' look that caused initial concern comes down to the use of a highly unusual material for camera bags: sailcloth. High end sailcloth is very light, extremely durable and anything but inexpensive. In my time using the bag it had to endure mud, sand, rock and other unpleasant and sharp surfaces. And the external fabric has come through no worse for the wear. The weight savings you get with this material is an added bonus. The unpacked weight of the Kiboko 30L is only 4 pounds/1.8 kilos which is about half the weight of some competitors' comparably sized offerings. And one actual benefit to a 'cheap-looking' bag is that it doesn't cry out, 'Camera bag! Expensive equipment inside!'.

There are several innovative ideas built into that bag that make a big difference. The rain cover can be retrieved from its compartment and fitted over the bag in seconds (doesn’t sound very sexy, I know, but very important when the need for it suddenly arises). The entire harness can be stowed away, which turns the Kiboko into a handbag with grips on the top and one side. The most ingenious idea however is the butterfly style front flap. The bag is basically divided into two main compartments, each accessible separately.

With two separate side-by-side compartments you can reach the gear you need while keeping one compartment completely zipped. And unlike traditional single flap designs, these flaps, when open don't sit on the mud or dirt surface, minimizing the chance of debris being transferred to your stowed gear.

This means less exposure to the elements for your gear and less dirt, dust and sand in the bag. And the customizable layout of the bag (which comes with a generous supply of Velcro dividers) makes it easy to access any piece of equipment in an instant.

For me, however, all of these features take a back seat to my comfort. Can I carry my gear for hours without ending up with a broken back? The Kiboko 30L is without question the most comfortable backpack I ever used. The bag's compact design coupled with its high quality adjustable harness makes for a great fit and feel.

A bag with great features means little if its literally a pain to carry. Yet even after a three-hour hike the Kiboko still felt pleasantly comfortable on my back. In addition to the Kiboko 30L, Gura Gear offers a smaller 22 liter capacity backpack (left) as well as a 24 liter capacity shoulder bag (center).

One glaring omission for me though is the lack of a means to carry a pro level tripod. You can attach a small travel/holiday oriented tripod, but not the more substantial ones a dedicated landscape photographer like me needs to use. At this price - and for the user at which its aimed - I would also like to see security straps (like the ones below) included. It would also be nice to have waterproof seams along the zippers.

Security straps like the ones shown here are probably not high on most photographers' must-haves lists. But if a zip fails these straps can prevent a major loss of equipment. As such, I would have liked to have seen them included with the Kiboko 30L.

At a retail price of US$429, the Kiboko 30L is one of the more expensive photo backpacks on the market, but the use of top-grade materials and a five year warranty do help soften the blow. Overall I find the Kiboko 30L to be a fabulous backpack and I highly recommend it to any serious landscape, wildlife or outdoor photographer who travels regularly with a large amount of equipment. 

What I like

  • Very lightweight
  • Comfortable to carry
  • Unique 'butterfly' compartment design
  • Easy access to equipment
  • Compact appearance with impressive capacity
  • Retractable harness
  • Removable waist belt

What I don't like

  • Very expensive
  • No harness for pro level tripods
  • Lacks waterproofing along zipper seams
  • No security straps

Carsten Krieger is a professional landscape and wildlife photographer based in the West of Ireland and author of several books on the Irish landscape and nature. To find out more about his work please visit his website: www.carstenkrieger.com.