Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

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Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers
15

Looking for your next hiking + photo backpack (“rucksack” in many countries)? What follows is based on actual experience(s) and might help you. [Reminder: a jaunt to the zoo or a walk to that scenic area a couple miles up from the parking lot is not hiking. Just sayin’...]

BACKGROUND
My yearly walking / running / hiking average is 2,000 miles (about 3200 kilometers.) I also am a lifelong enthusiast photographer who travels extensively for work. Hiking, including Trail Running, and Photography are my favorite activities when it comes to seeking solace from the ever-nastier corporate world (mostly USA, Asia and Europe for me.) Over the years I have met like-minded colleagues around the world and many have become dear friends. We form a fairly large group that stays in touch through a private network. We jump at any opportunity to do small group hikes whenever we are in the same region. Because of the high level of trust we often swap photo and hiking gear. This has allowed me to test all kinds of equipment and I thought I would share here the results of decades of experience with both hiking backpacks and “photo” backpacks (main brands plus many others.) After running my initial draft through that wonderful community, I edited this post with their thoughtful suggestions. For the record we all buy our own equipment.

BOTTOM LINE: PHOTO BACKPACKS (STILL) DO NOT WORK FOR SERIOUS HIKING
While some of us still own dedicated bags (I have a large dresser full of Tamrac, Lowepro, Domke, TTP, Kata, Tenba, etc. bags, plus tons of pouches, ICUs, and other accessories) none of us uses her/his expensive “photo bags” for serious hiking anymore. Why? In a nutshell, while some photo bag manufacturers are inching in the right direction, their bags still have one or more of the following major flaws (not helped by their even more major overpricing):

1 - Contact backpanel = pain + poor-to-horrible back ventilation
Today nearly all photo packs still use a Pressure Panel (PP) which separates you from your precious cargo and puts CONSTANT pressure on all or parts of your back, NOT a good thing as this invariably creates “hot spots” where your pack’s weight creates high pressure, high heat and poor blood circulation. This often results in not just your back (and butt) quickly turning into a sweaty mess, but in pain that radiates out (neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, knees) which turns your hike into anything from an unpleasant experience to a nightmare. Luckily Deuter (born 1898) obliterated this archaic concept 35 years ago by inventing a brilliant system that keeps your pack very close to your back, but not against it. They did this by replacing the full or partial PP with a Tensioned Mesh Panel (TMP, sometimes called a “trampoline” panel) that connects at the top with an internal curved frame made of a special lightweight steel which bends in (towards your center of gravity) as you add weight to the pack. At the bottom the TMP seamlessly connects to a wide, gender-specific, anatomically-shaped, wrap-around-your hips ventilated belt that comfortably rests on your iliac crests. When your TMP pack is properly loaded and adjusted, this system eliminates pressure points (hot spots) altogether, allows for true back ventilation and moisture management (no more of that often-highly-acidic sweat dripping out back and resulting in anal burns or yeast infections,) spreads the load just about perfectly, and keeps the pack contents cool, all of which makes even a long hike a pleasurable experience. This system has since been copied by Osprey, Gregory (I’d avoid Paragon models,) REI, Lafuma, Lowe, and many other brands.

2 - Poor-to-horrible harness
The other critically important part of your bag’s efficacy and structural integrity is the harness. Here’s a pretty good primer on why this matters and on what the outdoors industry has been offering for years:
https://mountainsforeverybody.com/what-is-meant-by-backpack-harness-adjustability Now... you’d think that in 2019 a photo bag that is supposedly designed to hold thousands of your hard-earned dollars of gear would not be digging into your shoulders or hips after a couple hours’ hiking, right? You’d think this bag would also have properly designed shoulder straps (correct ergonomics, sufficient padding) and such basic features as adjustable torso length, load lifters, etc. in a word follow, basic harness standards just like all the good hiking packs do, right? Well, you’d be wrong.

3 - Current photo pack trends: designs that range from idiotic to plain dangerous
The latest fad among photo bag makers has been to push designs that give you “safe” access to your cam gear via a U-shaped zipper on the back of your pack. A total of 15 of our members were gullible enough to fall for the hype on this design (including me, oops!) Here are our stats after using such bags on hikes:
- 1 large “hike-killer” zip tear. On a muddy trail one of our members slipped and had a mild fall. This is common and she wasn’t hurt but when she got up, there was such a big hole on the side of her bag that we could see half her lenses! Turned out the back zipper that covers the ICU inside had ripped. We decided to turn back and our friend spent a painful 8 miles back to camp holding her pack out front, best she could.
- 3 laptop screens (Apple, Dell, Lenovo) that cracked under the thinly-padded PP backpanel pressure.
- 1 laptop (Apple) that burned up - back pressure on the laptop chassis thru the thin PP shorted out the battery, which started the fire, with the entire contents of the pack turning into a nasty smoldering blob. Luckily for our friend, his wife was just behind him and she screamed at him to drop his bag when she saw the smoke.
- 3 flooded bags. On this particular hike 11 of us left base camp and headed out to a high mountain pass rich in flowers and wild animals. Two hours into our journey the skies opened up. We thought it was a typical strong-but-short mountain shower, made a pit stop to put on rain gear and bag covers and pushed on, only to realize that the rain just wouldn’t stop. The trail was getting slippery so we turned back and made a careful descent that ended up lasting over 4 hours in rather dangerous conditions. As we got back to our tents and started changing, we heard a scream followed by a bunch of expletives. We rushed out to our friend Mike’s tent. He has just unzipped his photo backpack and found his 15K of photo gear (2 bodies + top-end lenses) soaking in what looked like a gallon of water which had clearly sneaked in there through the zipper (his rain cover was on, the zipper was intact.) Upon carefully examining all packs, we realized that the two other PP “photo” packs also had taken at least 1 liter of water through the zipper: one with luckily no consequences (sealed Fuji gear), but the third one was also a big financial loss since the photo gear wasn’t sealed. 7 of the 8 TMP hiking packs were bone dry (the rain just runs down the space between your back and the pack) and the last one had minor water ingress at the very bottom, most likely because it had a generic rain cover that wasn’t a very good fit (the Osprey Atmos comes without one.)
Anyhow, this backpanel zipper access is also a truly idiotic idea from an engineering standpoint. At the end of the day, realize that your precious photo gear is only separated from the elements by a thinly-padded panel surrounded by a zipper, in an area (your back/lower back) that constantly sees huge amounts of pressure and friction. Can a zipper handle that for years of hiking? Highly unlikely. Heck, sealed panels barely can!

4 - Hydration: not much better
Many photo packs claim you can hike with them but very few let you carry more than one water bottle in a sensible way. Well, you won’t hike very far with that amount of water, so... another big fail here. But it gets worse! Regardless of the clever marketing words used (“breathable”, “ventilated”, “air channels”, etc.) your body conducts heat quickly into the interior of all PP packs. If you carry water in a hydration pouch/bladder (the good ones do not leak, but they all are a PITA to keep clean and bacteria-free) as in some photo packs (LowePro, Atlas, TTP, etc.) that water becomes tepid, then warm. I’ve done it, it’s just nasty. Contrast that with a TMP pack where the pouch slides in its hydration sleeve, just behind your back but separated from it by the tensioned mesh. The water stays shaded and cold there for a very long time. Same thing with the Nalgene bottles I prefer to use (3+ of them on hikes over 1 day.)

5 - No photo packs made for women
Hiking pack makers recognized decades ago that ladies have breasts and differently-shaped hips and shoulders (duh!) and built packs for them. Photo pack makers still have not. ‘Nuff said.

6 - Easy target for theft
Many cities around the world are plagued by highly-organized teams of thieves who are extraordinarily good at stealing your stuff in crowded areas (it’s especially bad in Paris where gangs from the Balkans use kids and teens.) Just like they are trained to recognize all luxury purse brand names, these gangs know photo bag brands and you become a target the second they see one. Special mention here for Atlas, an otherwise interesting new manufacturer that sadly plasters their brand name in huge size on their photo packs: really tacky, and really dumb (they might as well put on a big sign that says... STEAL ME!)
Tip: if your hiking pack doubles as your main travel pack, you can also become an obvious target in train/bus stations and in all those touristy areas infested by professional thieves. In such cases I always put the raincover on and I only use my pocket cam (hipbelt) and/or my bridge cam clipped to the shoulderstrap. I also keep money and important papers in a hidden pocket.

SO... IS THERE A SOLUTION THAT DOES WORK?
The good news is that such a solution (used now by every single member of my group) does exists: you simply adapt the TMP hiking pack you like best to your specific photo gear. It’s easy and the entire setup is far more comfortable, far more versatile, and far cheaper than a similar-volume photo pack. There are many possible variations but to give you concrete examples, here are the two rigs I currently use the most, as do many others in our group:
A - Pack for 1-2 days hikes (30-40 Liters): Deuter Futura Pro 40 (3.5 lbs) or female version (38SL)
B - Pack for multi-day/multi-week hikes (60+ Liters): Deuter Vario 50+10 (4.5 lbs) or female version (55SL)
Both these packs have a rare feature (long, nearly invisible side zipper bellow pockets with rain flap just above the side mesh pockets) and offer unparalleled flexibility in accessing your photo gear.

On the top-loader Futura you have 7 locations, all of which I’ve used at various times:
#1 Hipbelt pocket: pocket cam. I use the other side for glasses and energy bar.
#2 Bottom compartment and #3 top of bag, below flap: small ICU ("photo cube") or “portable ICU” (see below)
#4 Lid pocket: 2-4 lenses or body + zoom
#5 Stretch mesh pocket: extra lens or light bridge cam (I use the opposite pocket for my Nalgene bottle.) Fast and easy access, just reach back and pull.
#6 Side zipper pockets: 1 lens up to 11 inches long (28cms) and 4 inches diameter (10cms) or 2-3 shorter lenses. Note that I’ve never needed to use both sides but if you have tons of lenses, you can.
#7 The Large front stretch pocket is perfect for us photogs because unlike others, Deuter uses the stretch fabric only on the sides. This means you can slide a cam with a zoom or long lens in there, even with the lens shade on. It will rest against the tough fabric in the center without tearing the mesh.

On the Vario, you have 8 locations:
#6 is bigger: 1 lens up to 12.5 inches long (32cms) and 5 inches diameter (12.5cms) or 2-3 shorter lenses
and you have #8: Big U-shaped two-way zipper with rain flap on front panel of bag: large ICU

- Tripod. Here you have 5 options with both bags: #7 above, the hiking pole attachment loops (small bungee cords with locks), the compression straps on both sides, or #4 loops if you so desire.

- The side zipper bellow pockets in effect give you side-access which is nice for those who prefer not to place a lens in a side mesh pocket, yet prefer side-access for frequent lens changes. With a bit of practice it’s easy. Right-handed description: unbuckle the front straps, remove the right shoulder strap, slide the bag around to your front just a bit, reach around your left arm with your right hand, run the zipper down and swap lenses.

- My own preferred quick-access setup is to clip my bridge cam or ILC with most-used lens to a Cotton Carrier G3 StrapShot secured to a shoulder strap. It fits more strap sizes than my Capture Clip 3 which is a beautiful piece of gear but tends to damage the strap padding. I also find the StrapShot much more comfortable with heavy lenses and the padded hand strap that came with is very good. Others use the Keyhole Harness which keeps your cam centered on your chest. I’ve tried it and it’s works very well too.

- These days, when I bring ILC gear, my preference is to use my old Lowepro Nova 2 belt/shoulder bag as sort of a portable ICU. It’s built extremely well, easily takes 1 body + up to 5 lenses), has a belt loop for use as a side holster and its size (10 inch W X 6 inch D X 10 inch H) means that it easily slips in and out of both Deuters. When I use it with all lenses inside it’s on the heavy side, so I fasten it to the front of my pack which balances the weight nicely and gives me the added bonus of having a “fake tripod” (I set my elbow on top.) I also use it as a shoulder/sling bag to go and explore when we get a chance to set camp early in the day. This gives me the best of both worlds, I have all my cam gear handy when I need it, and I easily put it away when I don’t.

Observations about these particular 4-seasons Deuter packs
- Both have many straps and attachment points for extra kit. Among my favorites are the 4 loops on top of the lids that make it a breeze to attach my solar panel - I use it on any hike that is 2 days or more, I consider this an essential safety feature because my location tech (GPS, Sat) is always charged, along with of course my photo gear.
- The combination TMP + ergonomic “huggy” hipbelt is so good at spreading the load that you literally feel only about half the weight you’re actually carrying. I once compared my Futura Pro 40 with my featherweight, twice-as-expensive UL backpack by loading both with 20 pounds of hiking and photo gear and hitting a technical, 30 mile trail with a buddy of mine. The temp was 80 degrees fahrenheit. We swapped bags at the half-point and compared notes at the end. We both concluded that the Futura still felt like we were only carrying about 10 pounds by mile 15, plus it kept our backs dry. We both were also shocked to discover that the “superlight” UL pack quickly created painful hot spots (by mile 3 for him, mile 5 for me, you could actually tell from these hot spots where the heavier camera gear was) and by mile 15 it felt like we were carrying 25 to 30 pounds of gear, and with drenched backs. This little experiment sure put the 2 lbs “weight advantage” of my UL pack in an entirely different light...
- Like most Deuter bags, these models can reliably take far more weight than their “max. recommended” load.
- They also vastly exceed the minimum harness standards described in the linked article above because they have an advanced version of the TMP that allows the shoulder and hip anchor points to pivot, in essence closely following your movements (as opposed to the “big hard lump” feel of traditional PP packs.) This adds even more comfort as well as safety on steep or tricky trails since you are far less likely to lose your balance. They also give you class-leading back ventilation. Lastly, the torso length adjustment on the Vario is the best and easiest I’ve ever used.

Other observations
- Another great option used by some of us is to place your cam + most frequently used lenses in a belt pack (fanny pack) which you slide around to the front of your body once you’ve fastened it. The locked buckle then sits in the space just behind your lower back, yet another thing you absolutely cannot do with a PP pack. This solution also permits super-quick access to your cam.
- Folks with a large-ish waist/girth (36" and above) can attach more lenses/pouches to their hip belt.
- The latest REI Traverse bags have water bottle pockets placed low, just behind the hipbelt pockets, a feature that can be super useful for us photographers since you can slide a cam with lens/hood straight or an extra lens in there. It’s the easiest cam side access I’ve experienced.
- “Squeakers and flappers.” Even high-end hiking packs can have the type of quirks that will ruin your hike. Osprey makes great packs but they are well-known for sometimes squeaking like a hellish little animal, every step you take, and... sometimes not. This is almost certainly due to their choice of an aluminum frame to save a few ounces but anyhow, I’m here to tell you, this squeaking drives you insane! Do test your Osprey for this as soon as you get it. The “flappers” (strap ends that have no sleeves or plastic ring to slide into and flap against your body all day long) are also a pain and quickly become a safety issue when you are bushwhacking since they snag easily on branches and thorns, so watch out for that. There are workarounds, but all straps on my 20L Quechua bag (8 euros at Decathlon in France) have sleeves so there’s no excuse for a $150+ pack not to.

TIPS & TRICKS
- Must-have #1: small sandwich or ziplock bags in hipbelt pockets (take no space and waterproof the contents when it rains, remember that these pockets sit outside your rain jacket) + 3 garbage bags (take no space either but have countless uses, from giving you a dry spot to sit, to allowing you to harvest that large spread of chanterelles you just came across while bushwhacking... Yum!)
- Must-have #2: small pouch with Tenacious Tape, 4 aluminum mini biners, 2 feet of soft tie, 3 feet of paracord, mini cord locks. Same thing here, the weight is negligible and the usefulness out in the wild is huge.
- If your bag comes with no rain cover, buy anything but those cheap Chinese ones. The fit is very poor and the waterproofing even worse. A cover from your bag manufacturer is money well-spent.
- Always carry some type of good water filtration on hikes over 1 day.
- If, like me, you occasionally cinch your sleeping bag or pad to the bottom of your pack, make sure you use a waterproof compression sack since even your manufacturer-provided rain cover will not do a good job of protecting anything below the bottom compartment in heavy rain.
- Properly loading and adjusting a pack to your morphology can be difficult. Unless you are very experienced, always go to your local outdoors shop to try out that new bag. The good stores have at least one experienced backpacking staffer as well as 10lbs sand bags. Many will also let you bring your old bag, help you transfer the stuff to the new one and even throw in that rain cover for free or at cost. If the bag you want is not in stock, they will order it for you. Do give small shops your hard-earned money, we need to keep them in business!

Questions are welcome (kindly stay on topic.) I’d also be happy to give feedback on a specific pack as long as you give me the following basics: photo gear and other gear you’ll haul, type of terrain/region and length of your hikes (in days and miles or kilometers), temperature range of your hikes, and of course your budget if you don’t yet know which pack might work best for your situation.

Happy trails, friends !

starfly Contributing Member • Posts: 607
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers
1

Great write-up!

Any recommendations for slightly smaller backpacks so they can be carried on to a plane, with otherwise many of the same features (including ideally, side-access to the main compartment)?

 starfly's gear list:starfly's gear list
Nikon Z6 Nikon 35mm F1.8G ED Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 Nikon Z 50mm F1.8
NancyP Veteran Member • Posts: 6,390
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Excellent article!

Do you carry a tripod, and if so, how do you attach it to the pack?

The business about laptop screens cracking and batteries shorting out - I am surprised that I haven't heard more about this, given the many thousands of people who carry laptops and heavy textbooks in poorly constructed mass market "student" backpacks.

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NancyP

 NancyP's gear list:NancyP's gear list
Sigma DP3 Merrill
OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

starfly wrote:

Great write-up!

Thanks.

Any recommendations for slightly smaller backpacks so they can be carried on to a plane, with otherwise many of the same features (including ideally, side-access to the main compartment)?

Makes more sense to follow up on your other thread so I'll do that. FWIW you're not making it easy, I asked you a key question and you ignored it LOL.

starfly Contributing Member • Posts: 607
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Chris 222 wrote:

starfly wrote:

Great write-up!

Thanks.

Any recommendations for slightly smaller backpacks so they can be carried on to a plane, with otherwise many of the same features (including ideally, side-access to the main compartment)?

Makes more sense to follow up on your other thread so I'll do that. FWIW you're not making it easy, I asked you a key question and you ignored it LOL.

Ah, sorry.  Just edited my post in the other thread.  But yeah, it would be my only bag.

 starfly's gear list:starfly's gear list
Nikon Z6 Nikon 35mm F1.8G ED Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 Nikon Z 50mm F1.8
OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

NancyP wrote:

Excellent article!

Thank you.

Do you carry a tripod, and if so, how do you attach it to the pack?

Many in our group do, and they fasten it using any of the 5 options described in my OP. A couple use a different Deuter A pack that has a long bellows pocket on one side that will take the whole tripod in, but only in cold temps (this is not a TMP pack.)

As to me, I've learned from some pros the many alternatives to using a tripod so I no longer bother, except in the rare occasions when I shoot with very heavy lenses. And even then, I tend to favor my monopod.

TheBlackGrouse
TheBlackGrouse Senior Member • Posts: 3,096
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Very good text, you know what you're talking about

For multi-day hikes I don't use camera backpacks, I have several dedicated hiking packs.

Deuter Guide 45+: mountaineering pack with the lightweight 'alpine' suspension system and a flexible hip-belt. This pack has a side zipper that goes from top to bottom and a separated room for the sleeping bag. Faster access than a toploader. Things like shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning solution for contact lenses, wet clothes, extra drinks, everything that may leak go in the bottom compartment. The camera equipment and dry clothes are in the main compartment. Lightweight pack for shorter trips.

Mammut Trion Pro 50: backpanel access gives better organization, especially when shooting landscapes (Lee filters, holders, CPL, lens changes etc.). The large backpanel zipper is risky indeed in heavy rain. Then I take off the pack, put a large rain-cover around it and wait, or I wrap my insert in a waterproof cover. That said, I have carried this pack in 'normal' rain for 1-3 hours and had no problems. The F-Stop ICU, the second line of defense, is water resistant too. Not much but enough to stop some incoming water.

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70: large workhorse with in-built waterproof shell. Top-loader with a lot of options to attach gear. Functions as an expedition/approach pack with a smaller sling inside, used as insert and for day-trips.

No fast access, I use several systems to carry my 7DII with 100-400 II while hiking. None of them is ideal. When in the forest you have 2-3 chances a day to shoot a rare or special bird. It has to be done in a few seconds so fast access is really important. And you never know when it happens.

The Cotton Carrier system is great but adds a lot of weight (for a hiker) and it gets hot since your chest is covered. The Black Rapid Backpack Connection Kit works fine but you have to move slowly. Best used when you are in a bird hot-spot. The Mindshift Multi Mount Holster 50 is a chest-pack but can be attached to the backpack in many ways. However, you need an extra insert for other lenses, filters etc. This one is my favorite when I only have my tele-zoom with me.

In the past I used the Think Tank Harness and connection kit but it is complicated and makes you feel like Spiderman. There may be situations when you need to get rid of you gear as quick as possible. We don't have bears and cougars here but instead our forests are populated with wild cattle (some sort of bred back Aurochs) that can be quite aggressive. I had to run for cover two times and was glad that it was easy to take of my backpack and holster. Of course, these are rare incidents but over the years strange things will happen.

Finding the perfect backpack for a hiking wildlife shooter is the Quest for the Holy Grail. You may get close but it is in fact impossible.

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TheBlackGrouse
Active Outdoor Photographer

OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

TheBlackGrouse wrote:

Very good text, you know what you're talking about

Thank you. But as I said, I'm just one member of a large, incredibly experienced group with sub-groups that can be found hiking somewhere on this beautiful little planet just about every weekend. They made some really useful suggestions!

For multi-day hikes I don't use camera backpacks, I have several dedicated hiking packs.

Deuter Guide 45+: mountaineering pack with the lightweight 'alpine' suspension system and a flexible hip-belt. This pack has a side zipper that goes from top to bottom and a separated room for the sleeping bag. Faster access than a toploader. Things like shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning solution for contact lenses, wet clothes, extra drinks, everything that may leak go in the bottom compartment. The camera equipment and dry clothes are in the main compartment. Lightweight pack for shorter trips.

Mammut Trion Pro 50: backpanel access gives better organization, especially when shooting landscapes (Lee filters, holders, CPL, lens changes etc.). The large backpanel zipper is risky indeed in heavy rain. Then I take off the pack, put a large rain-cover around it and wait, or I wrap my insert in a waterproof cover. That said, I have carried this pack in 'normal' rain for 1-3 hours and had no problems. The F-Stop ICU, the second line of defense, is water resistant too. Not much but enough to stop some incoming water.

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70: large workhorse with in-built waterproof shell. Top-loader with a lot of options to attach gear. Functions as an expedition/approach pack with a smaller sling inside, used as insert and for day-trips.

Sadly no TMP here but for those who do not mind a sweat-drenched back/butt, these are 3 great packs you own! I am a bit surprised at the slant towards ski mountaineering/alpine climbing type of packs though, I had no idea you had such high peaks in the Netherlands!

Jokes aside, I'm not much into straight climbing these days but I have fond memories of my old Mammut, a real workhorse with very high quality (and a sky-high price, no wonder some call them the "Swiss Patagonia"!) That company's Alpine heritage shows in much of their gear, expensive stuff but well worth the money.

No fast access, I use several systems to carry my 7DII with 100-400 II while hiking. None of them is ideal. When in the forest you have 2-3 chances a day to shoot a rare or special bird. It has to be done in a few seconds so fast access is really important. And you never know when it happens.

Agreed, that is a real challenge, but there are solutions. The ones outlined in my OP work very well for many in our large group (and these are picky people!)

The Cotton Carrier system is great but adds a lot of weight (for a hiker) and it gets hot since your chest is covered.

Yup, and on top of that I was never able to make the CC harness work with a backpack (felt like the harnesses fought each other...) For quick access consider trying out the StrapShot, I'm away on assignment right now but here is a pix of a similar setup:

https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1533171

When I use it with a long zoom I add a little bungee that secures the front of the lens to my chest strap, works like a charm.

In the past I used the Think Tank Harness and connection kit but it is complicated and makes you feel like Spiderman. There may be situations when you need to get rid of you gear as quick as possible. We don't have bears and cougars here but instead our forests are populated with wild cattle (some sort of bred back Aurochs) that can be quite aggressive. I had to run for cover two times and was glad that it was easy to take of my backpack and holster. Of course, these are rare incidents but over the years strange things will happen.

Those wouldn't be the Highland breed (originally from Scotland) by any chance?

TheBlackGrouse
TheBlackGrouse Senior Member • Posts: 3,096
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Chris 222 wrote:

TheBlackGrouse wrote:

Very good text, you know what you're talking about

Thank you. But as I said, I'm just one member of a large, incredibly experienced group with sub-groups that can be found hiking somewhere on this beautiful little planet just about every weekend. They made some really useful suggestions!

For multi-day hikes I don't use camera backpacks, I have several dedicated hiking packs.

Deuter Guide 45+: mountaineering pack with the lightweight 'alpine' suspension system and a flexible hip-belt. This pack has a side zipper that goes from top to bottom and a separated room for the sleeping bag. Faster access than a toploader. Things like shampoo, toothpaste, cleaning solution for contact lenses, wet clothes, extra drinks, everything that may leak go in the bottom compartment. The camera equipment and dry clothes are in the main compartment. Lightweight pack for shorter trips.

Mammut Trion Pro 50: backpanel access gives better organization, especially when shooting landscapes (Lee filters, holders, CPL, lens changes etc.). The large backpanel zipper is risky indeed in heavy rain. Then I take off the pack, put a large rain-cover around it and wait, or I wrap my insert in a waterproof cover. That said, I have carried this pack in 'normal' rain for 1-3 hours and had no problems. The F-Stop ICU, the second line of defense, is water resistant too. Not much but enough to stop some incoming water.

Mountain Hardwear South Col 70: large workhorse with in-built waterproof shell. Top-loader with a lot of options to attach gear. Functions as an expedition/approach pack with a smaller sling inside, used as insert and for day-trips.

Sadly no TMP here but for those who do not mind a sweat-drenched back/butt, these are 3 great packs you own!

We don't have many hot days per year although the numbers are increasing due to climate change. In this sea climate TMP is not the first thing you need.

I am a bit surprised at the slant towards ski mountaineering/alpine climbing type of packs though, I had no idea you had such high peaks in the Netherlands!

No we don't

Had to order my Mountain Hardwear Pack in Germany and I found the Mammut by accident in an outdoor shop on the Belgian border. The owner is a fanatic climber.

The reason I use mountaineering packs is that I do a lot of cycling too when I'm on a photo trip. Our nature reserves are small and too far away from each other to do by foot.

The heavy Deuter packs are superb for hiking but have (of course) enormous waist-belts that get in the way when cycling. The second reason is that I'm a wildlife shooter and mountaineering packs give freedom to move. You can easily kneel, crawl etc. with them. The downside is that their waist-belts give less hip support and at 15 kg they are really uncomfortable. I try to keep the weight below 12 kg.

Jokes aside, I'm not much into straight climbing these days but I have fond memories of my old Mammut, a real workhorse with very high quality (and a sky-high price, no wonder some call them the "Swiss Patagonia"!) That company's Alpine heritage shows in much of their gear, expensive stuff but well worth the money.

No fast access, I use several systems to carry my 7DII with 100-400 II while hiking. None of them is ideal. When in the forest you have 2-3 chances a day to shoot a rare or special bird. It has to be done in a few seconds so fast access is really important. And you never know when it happens.

Agreed, that is a real challenge, but there are solutions. The ones outlined in my OP work very well for many in our large group (and these are picky people!)

The Cotton Carrier system is great but adds a lot of weight (for a hiker) and it gets hot since your chest is covered.

Yup, and on top of that I was never able to make the CC harness work with a backpack (felt like the harnesses fought each other...) For quick access consider trying out the StrapShot, I'm away on assignment right now but here is a pix of a similar setup:

https://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1533171

When I use it with a long zoom I add a little bungee that secures the front of the lens to my chest strap, works like a charm.

Yes, it is a good solution but the 7DII and 100-400 II are heavy, they need to be centered on the chest if possible.

In the past I used the Think Tank Harness and connection kit but it is complicated and makes you feel like Spiderman. There may be situations when you need to get rid of you gear as quick as possible. We don't have bears and cougars here but instead our forests are populated with wild cattle (some sort of bred back Aurochs) that can be quite aggressive. I had to run for cover two times and was glad that it was easy to take of my backpack and holster. Of course, these are rare incidents but over the years strange things will happen.

Those wouldn't be the Highland breed (originally from Scotland) by any chance?

Yes many nature reservers have these Highland Cattle and they have attacked me twice. However, this was in the rutting season and their charge is really short. If you retreat quickly they are satisfied and will stop.

I was talking about the Sayaguesa cattle a rare breed from Spain, that looks like an Aurochs and behaves like one sometimes

A strange hiker in early spring in the mist at sunset, no one around for miles, was enough to get one of the bulls to attack.

They look like this and in this case I took off my backpack and ran for cover. Behind a tree you are relatively safe as they have trouble to remember which one when in a forest. The big horns make maneuvering in forests difficult so a tree between some bushes saved my day. This is a rare event though, normally they are peaceful. It was early spring, and not many people had been there in the winter.

Sayaguesa bull, especially impressive in the mist

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N Smith Junior Member • Posts: 26
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Great thread and oh so true!

I spent ages looking for a setup that worked for me and used the Jack Wolfskin ACS photopack for a while as it had a decent harness and trampoline back. Unfortunately the hip belt was not so good, there was not much room for any other gear and the pack was a little too short.

Since then I've witched to an Osprey Stratos with a camera bag insert. The side zipper allows access to my gear without having to open the top flap if I need to.

I still don't know why none of the camera backpack companies or even a company like Peak Design still haven't brought out a backpack with a decent carrying system for photography gear.

 N Smith's gear list:N Smith's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS Canon EOS 60D Tamron AF 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical (IF) MACRO Canon EF 50mm F1.8 II Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM +9 more
starfly Contributing Member • Posts: 607
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

N Smith wrote:

Great thread and oh so true!

I spent ages looking for a setup that worked for me and used the Jack Wolfskin ACS photopack for a while as it had a decent harness and trampoline back. Unfortunately the hip belt was not so good, there was not much room for any other gear and the pack was a little too short.

Since then I've witched to an Osprey Stratos with a camera bag insert. The side zipper allows access to my gear without having to open the top flap if I need to.

I still don't know why none of the camera backpack companies or even a company like Peak Design still haven't brought out a backpack with a decent carrying system for photography gear.

I was just experimenting last week with the Stratos 36 backpack at my local REI, trying to fit in a camera cube (Peak Design Medium Camera Cube) and seeing if I could easily access gear through the side zipper.  I just couldn't get it to work smoothly.  Which ICU are you using?

 starfly's gear list:starfly's gear list
Nikon Z6 Nikon 35mm F1.8G ED Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 Nikon Z 50mm F1.8
Swift One Regular Member • Posts: 432
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Been there done that!  To this day, If I am on the trail or in an abandoned building, my best "camera pack" is a Kelty Redwing 50L with on or two Peak Design Travel Cubes inserted in the pack- depending on what I am taking for gear.

1.  It doesn't look like a camera bag full of expensive gear- especially when I have room to put my tripod inside the pack.

2. It's a true hiking pack with thought and design put into a comfortable strap system.  Most designated camera packs seem to put more though into the gear area and not the shoulder straps.  I will say the the Lowepro Whistler series, seems to have a pretty comfortable strap system.

3.  If packed with some thought, you have plenty of room left over for carrying non camera related gear.

4.  The travel cube system turns my pack modular- configure the pack for the mission at hand.

To the OP, nice write up.

 Swift One's gear list:Swift One's gear list
Nikon D5300 Nikon D7500 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 10-24mm f/3-5-4.5G ED Tokina AT-X Pro 100mm f/2.8 Macro Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G +3 more
OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Ah yes, those cattle are probably the hot-weather brethren of the Highland / Scottish breed which we have all over the US. I've also seen small herds in several mountain areas in Europe: http://animalia.bio/highland-cattle

One of our group members is a Brit with a very dry sense of humor and he swears that this cattle were the inspiration for the Beatles' hair style LOL.

Anyhow, getting OT here and to get back on track, here's what the Keyhole Harness looks like. The review is pretty good except that the Keyhole is designed to work with the cam strap (but with obviously far less weight pressing on the back of your neck than if you had no harness) but the guy forgot to use it...

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/backcountry-solutions/keyhole/

http://backcountrysolutions.com/keyhole-hands-free-camera-harness

robgendreau Veteran Member • Posts: 6,408
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Thank you SO much for this.

We see the question about packs here over and over and over, and while some photographers define "hiking" as walking from the car to the hotel, most would still benefit from a pack that is a good hiking pack first and foremost. I've owned oodles of packs in my life, from old canvas MIllet's and Kelty frame packs to the newer Deuters. Never ever ever have I had a problem stowing camera gear in and on them.

But "camera" packs? ugh. Lowe and Mountainsmith make skiing and climbing packs, so their stuff tends to be OK, but even then some of the compromises they make can be less than useful. Like zippers and access: any access means not only can you get stuff out easier but stuff can get in easier. If I need my camera accessible, it's hanging on me already. If I can climb and ski and get access to gear inside in truly horrible conditions on bad stances, surely it's not too tough for someone to open a pack to get a camera to shoot a picture of a meadow.

So again, thanks! This is the sort of thing DPR should feature on it's landing page.

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TheBlackGrouse
TheBlackGrouse Senior Member • Posts: 3,096
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Chris 222 wrote:

Ah yes, those cattle are probably the hot-weather brethren of the Highland / Scottish breed which we have all over the US. I've also seen small herds in several mountain areas in Europe: http://animalia.bio/highland-cattle

One of our group members is a Brit with a very dry sense of humor and he swears that this cattle were the inspiration for the Beatles' hair style LOL.

Anyhow, getting OT here and to get back on track, here's what the Keyhole Harness looks like. The review is pretty good except that the Keyhole is designed to work with the cam strap (but with obviously far less weight pressing on the back of your neck than if you had no harness) but the guy forgot to use it...

https://www.trailspace.com/gear/backcountry-solutions/keyhole/

http://backcountrysolutions.com/keyhole-hands-free-camera-harness

Interesting, this Keyhole system, my DSLR with large telezoom is probably too much but I'm always looking for better solutions.

In the Netherlands Highland Cattle are slowly replaced by other breeds because they ruin our precious fens with rare shore plants when it's hot. On warm days Highland Cattle stay in the water and we have more and more warm days. Without mountains they can't go to higher ground to cool off

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TheBlackGrouse
TheBlackGrouse Senior Member • Posts: 3,096
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers
1

Just like to add something to the thread.

The OP is of course right that a Pressure Panel makes your back sweat and when it's hot your clothes get soaked. When using a pack with a Tensioned  Mesh Panel you don't have this problem as it allows back ventilation. And for some this panel eliminates pain.

Since I'm living in a sea climate with at most 10-15 days a year with a temperature above 30 degrees Celsius, I can live with a Pressure Panel. However, these few hot days are terrible and I have to put an extra layer on my back to protect the pack.

The big advantage of a Pressure Panel is that it keeps the gear as close to your body as possible. It saves a lot of energy because the weight won't pull you backwards.

Besides, it improves balance. For me, when hiking in the mountains that's extremely important. Maybe it's because I'm a flatlander that I'm too careful in the mountains 

And I have no choice when I choose for freedom of movement, needed for wildlife photography. Skiing and mountaineering packs make this possible and they are all glued to your back.

As always, it's a trade-off. Soaked clothes, better weight distribution and balance, vs constant ventilation and less back pain.

Something to consider when choosing a pack.

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OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

N Smith wrote:

Great thread and oh so true!

Thanks N.

I spent ages looking for a setup that worked for me and used the Jack Wolfskin ACS photopack for a while as it had a decent harness and trampoline back. Unfortunately the hip belt was not so good, there was not much room for any other gear and the pack was a little too short.

Well, good on JW to at least make an attempt at a photo TMP pack (AFAIK they are the only ones so far) but according to one of our members who owned that pack as well as the smaller brother, execution is indeed quite poor. Outside of the uncomfortable belt he also found that the location of the tripod mount blocks rear-access to his gear and he questions the decision to place that weirdly angled top handle above not just one but two zippers. If you have all your equipment in there, pick up your bag, and one zippper rips everything comes crashing out...

Again, you won't see this kind of dumb design on a good hiking pack. There's a reason they saw the top handle to the frame of the pack.

Since then I've witched to an Osprey Stratos with a camera bag insert. The side zipper allows access to my gear without having to open the top flap if I need to.

I still don't know why none of the camera backpack companies or even a company like Peak Design still haven't brought out a backpack with a decent carrying system for photography gear.

Yup, it's mystifying. As I posted elsewhere, AFAIK there aren't major patent issues or high licensing fees on the TMP. They all seem to make bags targeted to geeks and to ignore both Global Warming and the outdoors/hiking market which is exploding worldwide. Doesn't make much business sense, does it?.

TheBlackGrouse
TheBlackGrouse Senior Member • Posts: 3,096
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Chris 222 wrote:

N Smith wrote:

Great thread and oh so true!

Thanks N.

I spent ages looking for a setup that worked for me and used the Jack Wolfskin ACS photopack for a while as it had a decent harness and trampoline back. Unfortunately the hip belt was not so good, there was not much room for any other gear and the pack was a little too short.

Well, good on JW to at least make an attempt at a photo TMP pack (AFAIK they are the only ones so far) but according to one of our members who owned that pack as well as the smaller brother, execution is indeed quite poor. Outside of the uncomfortable belt he also found that the location of the tripod mount blocks rear-access to his gear and he questions the decision to place that weirdly angled top handle above not just one but two zippers. If you have all your equipment in there, pick up your bag, and one zippper rips everything comes crashing out...

Again, you won't see this kind of dumb design on a good hiking pack. There's a reason they saw the top handle to the frame of the pack.

Since then I've witched to an Osprey Stratos with a camera bag insert. The side zipper allows access to my gear without having to open the top flap if I need to.

I still don't know why none of the camera backpack companies or even a company like Peak Design still haven't brought out a backpack with a decent carrying system for photography gear.

Yup, it's mystifying. As I posted elsewhere, AFAIK there aren't major patent issues or high licensing fees on the TMP. They all seem to make bags targeted to geeks and to ignore both Global Warming and the outdoors/hiking market which is exploding worldwide. Doesn't make much business sense, does it?.

True, for instance look at F-Stop, most of their packs are built for a torso length of 18.5 inches. Their hip belts are chest straps for me.

For years I wanted to buy the Tilopa but since all the weight was on my shoulders this was no option. A good hip belt takes at least 80 percent of the load.

Look at videos of camera backpacks. They proudly present the load-lifters but with these short packs the load-lifters are hanging far below the shoulders where they are not effective.

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OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers

Swift One wrote:

Been there done that! To this day, If I am on the trail or in an abandoned building, my best "camera pack" is a Kelty Redwing 50L with on or two Peak Design Travel Cubes inserted in the pack- depending on what I am taking for gear.

1. It doesn't look like a camera bag full of expensive gear- especially when I have room to put my tripod inside the pack.

Indeed, and that's what I alluded to in my post. So many people out there hanker for a pack that "keeps their gear safe" (read: rear panel access with its huge pitfalls) and yet buy a super expensive bag whose branding states or even screams EXPENSIVE GEAR INSIDE. Makes no sense when a less expensive and far more comfortable bag really keeps your gear safe.

2. It's a true hiking pack with thought and design put into a comfortable strap system. Most designated camera packs seem to put more though into the gear area and not the shoulder straps. I will say the the Lowepro Whistler series, seems to have a pretty comfortable strap system.

3. If packed with some thought, you have plenty of room left over for carrying non camera related gear.

4. The travel cube system turns my pack modular- configure the pack for the mission at hand.

To the OP, nice write up.

Thanks, and I'm glad your brought up Kelty, a brand that always has solid and sometimes original products. This Summer I had an opportunity to test their new Zyp 48, the only bag I know with a back panel that is sort of half PP, half TMP. There's a roughly 7 inch open gap in the middle of the panel (but shoulders and lower back still get sweat-soaked in hot weather) and a clever length adjustment that works easy and quick just like the Deuter Vario. That big space in the middle of your back area also makes it super easy to use the nanny pack zip-around option I described in the OP.

Unfortunately the hip/lumbar belt design and padding are nowhere near the quality and comfort of a Vario or an Osprey Atmos. There is a side zipper on the back but it's short so I think getting an ICU in and out might be tough. I don't recall seeing a rain cover but maybe Kelty sells it separately.

OP Chris 222 Contributing Member • Posts: 916
Re: Best backpack / rucksack for hiking photographers
1

robgendreau wrote:

Thank you SO much for this.

We see the question about packs here over and over and over, and while some photographers define "hiking" as walking from the car to the hotel, most would still benefit from a pack that is a good hiking pack first and foremost. I've owned oodles of packs in my life, from old canvas MIllet's

Do you mean Millet?

and Kelty frame packs to the newer Deuters. Never ever ever have I had a problem stowing camera gear in and on them.

But "camera" packs? ugh. Lowe and Mountainsmith make skiing and climbing packs, so their stuff tends to be OK, but even then some of the compromises they make can be less than useful. Like zippers and access: any access means not only can you get stuff out easier but stuff can get in easier. If I need my camera accessible, it's hanging on me already. If I can climb and ski and get access to gear inside in truly horrible conditions on bad stances, surely it's not too tough for someone to open a pack to get a camera to shoot a picture of a meadow.

...especially with the many easy methods for having your main gear ready to shoot, several of which were discussed above and just plain work. But I get a sense that photo packs makers don't really like to see this discussed... They'd rather brag about "innovations" that are often simply not practical.

So again, thanks! This is the sort of thing DPR should feature on it's landing page.

Thanks for the compliment Rob. I've myself seen and appreciated your posts here and there (I have limited time and most of the time I just read, I rarely participate given the incredible amount of thread-crapping that pollutes these forums - what this site badly needs is a simple "thumb down for OT post" option, methink.)

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