Started May 14, 2021 | Discussions
Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

This is a significantly updated and re-organized version of my 2019 article.

Please note::

- While I’ve made every effort to clarify and simplify, these articles are not a quick read and are best viewed on a tablet or larger screen. So, if your life revolves around a small phone screen and/or you have the attention span of a gnat, there’s just way too much information for you below! To all others, grab your favorite drink, read as much as you can (chronological order is best) and come back for more later.

- I have used and tested too many brands to have any sort of allegiance to a single one. I am not an “influencer” who tested a backpack for a few hours (or miles) either and I am paid by no one. I have been made aware that my initial article, which as always strived to respectfully but honestly report our findings, irritated a number of manufacturers, most of whom, by the strangest coincidence, made all sorts of misleading or false claims. Those who still do, should not be surprised if I keep “telling it like it is.” Those who might be tempted to seriously improve their products, not to mention their image and branding, by perhaps being more thruthful and showing a little more respect for their potential customers, are welcome to send me prototypes or revised products. They will be thoroughly and fairly tested (please contact me via PM, see FAQ 1 for our testing protocols.)


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 ponds (mostly USA, Asia and Europe for me.) Over the years I have met like-minded colleagues all around the world and many have become dear friends. We form a fairly large entity (over one thousand hikers) 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. Thanks to our high level of mutual 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 offered by most brands. 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. I/we do not accept any monetary compensation. Any reviewed equipment that has been provided by a manufacturer will always noted as such near the top of the article.

Looking for your next hiking + photo backpack (called “rucksack” in many countries)? What follows is based on a considerable amount of actual experience(s) and might help you.

For clarity:

1) A jaunt to the zoo or a walk to that scenic area a couple miles up from the parking lot is not “hiking.” The good news is that all packs follow the same principles and these articles contains info that will also help occasional hikers and folks who do city strolls with their photo gear and need a truly comfortable, ventilated photo pack.

2) Hiking is used here as a general term. Others might call it hill-walking, backpacking, trekking, mountaineering, etc., for us it’s all semantics. We’d much rather focus on the joy of using our (quite agile, thank you!) feet and (beautifully sculpted, thank you very much!) legs to capture what’s left of our beautiful wild world via photos or videos.


Post 1 (this one): Fundamental flaws of “dedicated” photo backpacks Post 2: Our multi-days TMP “reference” photo hiking backpacks

Post 3: Photohiker 44, a TMP backpack with photo inserts: Cosyspeed revolutionizes the industry

Post 4: Review of 9 TMP daypacks for hiking photographers

Post 5: Solutions that work for quick FRONT access to your photo gear

Post 6: Backpacks for hiking and general use: quick FAQs and tips

Fundamental flaws of “dedicated” photo backpacks

While some of us still own dedicated bags (I have a room full of Domke, Kata, Lowepro, Tamrac, Tenba, Think Tank, etc. bags, plus tons of pouches, ICUs, and other accessories) none of us uses their expensive “photo packs” for hiking (or much else) anymore. Why? Because, while some of these manufacturers do offer clever features, their bags still have one or more of the following major flaws:

1 - Contact (pressure) backpanel = pain + horrible back ventilation

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 technology as it 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 outing to a nightmare (there are countless reports of photographers and hikers equating this experience to ‘carrying a brick”, “hauling a big hard lump” etc. after sometimes just 20 minutes.)

2 - Poor to pathetic harness

The other critically important part of your bag’s load transfer 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: . Now, you’d think that in 2021, a photo bag that is 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 (good ergonomics, sufficient padding) and such basic features as a wide hipbelt with pockets for our small photo gear, in others words, follow basic harness standards used by all the good hiking packs for decades? Well, you’d be wrong.

3 - Current photo pack fads: designs that range from absurd to plain dangerous

Fad #1: “Rear” access

The latest fad among photo bag makers has been to push designs that play on some customers’ theft paranoia and claim to give you “safe” access to your cam gear via a U-shaped zipper on the backpanel of your pack. They also claim that you can open your backpack “even if the rain cover is on,” neglecting to tell you what we have experienced, which is that after sometimes just a few minutes of pouring rain the backpanel is soaked like a wet rat and there is already water ingress where the two zips meet (see Post 2.) Besides, opening the pack to switch lenses and such in the rain is something most photographers never do.

A total of 15 of our members were gullible enough to fall for the hype (including me, oops!) and here are our stats after using such bags:

- 1 large “hike-killer” zip tear. On a muddy trail one of our members slipped and had a mild fall that resulted in such a big tear on the side of her bag that we could see half her lenses. Turned out one edge of the back zipper had completely ripped.. We decided to turn around and our friend spent a painful 8 miles back to camp holding her pack out front, best she could.

- 3 laptop screens that cracked under the thinly-padded PP backpanel pressure (Apple, Dell, Lenovo.) This was of course inside photo packs that place the laptop compartment in the dumbest possible place, just behind your spine and therefore constantly exposed to its 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 pack 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 wouldn’t stop. The trail was getting slippery so we turned back and made a careful descent that ended up lasting 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 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 in significant 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 and the last one had minor water ingress at the very bottom, most likely because it had a generic rain cover that had no drain hole.

Anyhow, this backpanel zipper access is an absurd concept from a gear protection standpoint. Understand that your precious photo gear is only separated from the elements by a thinly-padded panel surrounded by a zipper (one dirty little secret about “strong and waterproof” zippers is that they are always tested without pressure exerted in any direction) and in an area (your back/lower back) that constantly sees large amounts of pressure and friction. Can an inherently fragile zipper handle such forces for long? Highly unlikely. Heck, standard backpanels on some hiking packs barely can!

Fad #2: “rolltop” access

So far this trend is less common, but it’s a real doozy too. It reminds me of the hype around of all those “tactical” products, like the “tactical” underwear my neighbor recently bought (FAQ 14.)

4 - Hydration: what hydration?

Many photo packs claim you can hike with them but very few let you carry more than one (small) water bottle in a sensible way. Well, you won’t hike very far with that amount of water, so we have another big fail here. But it gets worse… Regardless of the clever marketing words used (“breathable”, “ventilated”, “air channels”, etc. More on this below) your body conducts heat quickly into the interior of all PP packs. Whether you carry water in a hydration pouch/bladder (the good ones do not leak, but they all are a pain to keep clean and bacteria-free) or in bottles inside your photo pack, that water becomes tepid, then warm. It’s just plain nasty to drink.

5 - “Breathable”: a big fat lie

We live in a world where industries routinely make false advertising claims with zero consequences (at least in the USA.) Most brands of photo packs, hiking packs, running shoes, sports apparel, etc. use the term “breathable” for their stuff. Any English major or any astute person will have noticed that they do not use the term “BREATHING” or ‘VENTILATED”. Why, huh? Because they would then have to prove and quantify the actual ventilation! Don’t let their lies fool you, their products “breathe” very little and most of the time, not at all. PP packs, for example, have zero “breathability” on all their pressure points, which is to say, most of their contact surface with your back.

6 - No photo backpacks 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. Most photo pack makers still have not. ‘Nuff said.

7 - Easy targets for theft

Many cities around the world, along with certain busy trail heads, are plagued by highly-organized teams of thieves who are extraordinarily good at stealing your stuff in crowded areas (in Paris, gangs from the Balkans use kids and teens!) Just like they are trained to recognize luxury purse and luggage brand names, these gangs know photo bag brands and you become a target the second they see yours (Atlas makes things worse by plastering its brand name in huge sizes: really tacky and really unwise.) In my large community we have never experienced a single successful “slash and run” or “rip and run” attempt on a TMP pack (it’s impossible to do as long as the strong hip belt is buckled, so the thief moves to an easier target.) The exact opposite is true for photo packs, we’ve had too many incidents to count, which is not very surprising given that some do not even have a hip belt.

8 – Sky-high prices

Finally, keep in mind that none of these packs have the sophisticated TMP technology, which makes their high (nearly all brands) to astronomical (Fstop) pricing, even more baffling.

Bottom line: photo backpacks do not work for serious hiking and still have too many downsides, even for casual use. The good news? There are far better (and often cheaper!) alternatives.

Happy hikes!


PS: – Please stay on topic. I will have this thread removed if it falls prey to OT or trolling.

– If you found these articles valuable, just use the thumbs up thingy.

- You have read all 6 articles and you still have a question about a specific sentence? PM me or post with quoting that sentence only.

OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Post 2: Our multi-days TMP “reference” photo hiking backpacks

Luckily for us, in 1984 Deuter (born 1898) obliterated this archaic PP concept by inventing a game-changing system that keeps your pack very close to your back, but not right against it. They replaced the full or partial Pressure Panel (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, anatomically-shaped, wrap-around-your-hips ventilated belt that comfortably rests on your iliac crests.

Note: some in the industry call this system “suspended mesh panel.” This is both incorrect – “suspension” is not synonym of “tension” (even less in Engineering circles) and unfortunate as it needlessly confuses potential customers.

Here is a quick overview of the advantages of the Tensioned Mesh Panel system (when and if your pack is properly loaded and adjusted):
1) It eliminates constant pressure points (hot spots, pain spots.)
2) It allows for true back ventilation and moisture management. While the difference is obvious even for people who are “light sweaters” like me, it is absolutely huge for “heavy sweaters”, many of whom rediscovered the joys of walking and hiking thanks to TMP packs. And no more of that often-highly-acidic sweat dripping down your back and resulting in anal burns or yeast infections, another big bonus!
3) It spreads the load evenly and in a far more forgiving manner (PP packs are notorious for requiring a perfectly balanced load, which is why adding for example just a small tripod on one side often throws your balance off) and transfers the load effortlessly between your hip and shoulders. This in turn gives you a vastly more stable ride on the trail both uphill, where up to 90% of the load transfers to your hips (the rest is obviously handled by the shoulder straps) and downhill, where up to 40% of the load transfers to your shoulders.

4) It keeps the pack’s contents cooler and for much longer: nice for your photo gear but an even bigger deal when it comes to water; whether you use a pouch that slides in its hydration sleeve, just behind your back but separated from it by the tensioned mesh, or the Nalgene-type bottles I prefer to use (3+ of those on hikes over 1 day) which you simply place in the same spot. Your water stays shaded and cold for much longer.

5) It saves you lots of money because it is a true all-seasons solution. You don’t need to own different packs for cold, mid-season and hot weather conditions anymore. Plus, getting ready for that outing is much quicker since you no longer have to reconfigure your gear organization for different types of packs.

6) It is incredibly versatile. Except for highly-specialized activities like spelunking or pure climbing, we use our TMP packs for pretty much everything: hiking, straight mountain biking, road biking (we use mountain or road bikes to access trail heads with jammed parking lots,) trail-running, skiing, casual outings, beach walks, etc.

7) It is the only system that inherently allows the rain cover to do a fully protective job. The rain runs down the space between your back and the pack and just falls off. With a PP pack (hiking or photo) the water that runs down behind your shoulders quickly starts “pressure soaking” between your back and the backpanel. The latter gets water-packed and so does the zipper (yes, even those that claim to be waterproof) which your walking motion submits to constant push/pull pressure.

8) Far less tipping over when you put the pack down as the pack bottom and strong hip belt form a tripod-like triangle.

9) It is the only system that allows you to place a custom-made “Humbrella” (hiking umbrella) in the spot that is best for optimum shade (FAQ 17.)
All of the above turns even a long hike into a truly pleasurable experience. It is no surprise that more and more people find it so difficult to go back to PP packs.

This TMP system has since been imitated by Decathlon, Fjallraven, Gregory Mountain, Jack Wolfskin, Lafuma, Lowe Alpine, Osprey, REI, Vaude, among others.

So, what actual options do we have, you ask…

Option #1: the solution that has been used extensively by every single member of my community

You simply adapt the TMP hiking pack you like best to your specific photo gear by using it as-is or with one or more ICUs (Internal Camera Unit.) It’s easy and the entire setup is far more comfortable, far more versatile, and often far cheaper than the average high-quality, similar-volume photo pack. There are many variations but to give you concrete examples, here are the two “reference” multi-days packs we currently use:

A - Best pack for 1-2 days hikes (30-40 Liters): 2019 Deuter Futura Pro 40 (3.5 lbs) aka DFP40 (MSRP $180) or female version (Pro 38SL) or extended back version for people with long torsos (Pro 44 EL.)

B - Best pack for multi-days/multi-weeks hikes (60+ Liters): 2018 Deuter Futura Vario 50+10 (4.5 lbs) aka DFV60 (MSRP $230) or female version (55SL), a product that is considered by many hikers around the world to be the industry’s very best 60L backpack (one of our members, a BMW owner, rightfully calls our reference Deuter packs “the ultimate hiking machines.”)

Build quality

Deuter has long implemented stringent manufacturing and Quality Control standards at their Vietnam flagship factory, resulting in super-high quality products that last far longer than expected – some of us have been hiking for over 20 years with the same pack. Like most Deuters, these two models can also reliably take far more weight than their maximum recommended load (FAQ 19.)

Suspension / harness comfort and efficiency

Let’s have a closer look at the highly efficient, often unique technologies Deuter developed for their Futura packs, which vastly exceed the minimum TMP harness standards described in the mountainsforeverybody article above:

1) They have an advanced version of the TMP that allows the shoulder and hip anchor points to slightly pivot, in essence closely following your movements (no “big hard lump” here.) This adds even more comfort as well as safety on steep or tricky trails since you are less likely to lose your balance.

2) The soft wide mesh used for the hip area seamlessly transitions up the sides of the mesh panel into a super comfy double layer. These “air columns” are a unique feature that adds even more ventilation in hot weather and give you that precious extra lateral stability on tricky trails.

3) The wide hip belt has highly ergonomic pads in just the right places, made with foams of various densities, covered by the soft wide mesh described above. This is an engineering choice that works for more people than the one used by, for example, other fine packs like the Gregory Katmai or Osprey Atmos, where the mesh panel extends from the back all the way to the front of the hips (this “super huggy” system puts a lot of pressure on your hips and tends to “cut into the flesh” in warm weather if you are not very fit and lean.)

4) Over the last 4 years, Deuter upgraded the Futura shoulder straps to the technology now also used by competitors, which is comprised of thickly padded foam covered with moisture-wicking mesh that comes around the edges and is then stitched to the top (structural) layer of fabric or high-load mesh. Comfort-wise, these “soft edges” are a big plus when you hike bare chest or with just a thin layer. They also allow the straps to dry much quicker when you drop your pack.

5) The torso length adjustment system on the Vario is by far the industry’s best and easiest to use – you simply slide the frame anywhere you like on that huge range (it accommodates torsos from 15 to 22 inches long) up or down the central webbing strap and secure the buckle – at the opposite end of the spectrum, other manufacturers use Velcro-based adjustment systems which we have found too weak for heavy loads and too unreliable in extreme weather conditions (high dust/sand or super wet with freeze/thaw cycles.)

The combination TMP + ergonomic hip belt is so good at spreading the load on these Deuters that you literally feel only about half the weight you’re actually carrying (some say even less.) I once compared my DFP40 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 packs 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 surely put the “2 pounds weight advantage” of my UL pack in an entirely different light…

Note: like on too many other packs, the load lifter straps are actually simplistic load adjusters. Deuter did make the end of each strap into the required loop but it is only about one inch long and you can barely slide a finger inside. This truly baffling design makes it impossible to use standard load lifting techniques on the trail (FAQ 20.) The loop simply needs to be 5 inches long, which would hardly cost more at the factory.

Gear access and organization

Both packs have two long, nearly invisible side bellows pockets with their zipper covered by a rain flap, just above the side mesh pockets, a rare feature that offer additional flexibility for accessing your photo gear. This quick side access is nice for those who prefer not to place a lens in a side mesh pocket. With a bit of practice lens changes are easy and quick. Right-handed description: unbuckle the front straps, remove right shoulder strap, slide pack around to your front just a bit, reach around or under left arm with right hand, run zipper down and swap lenses.

On the top-loader DFP40 you have 7 access points, all of which I’ve used at times for photo gear:

#1 Hipbelt pocket: pocket cam (maximum size: Pana ZS80.) I use the other side for sunglasses, energy bars, knife, etc.

#2 Bottom compartment and/or

#3 inside top of bag, just below lid: small ICU ("photo cube") and/or “portable ICU” (see below.)

#4 Lid pocket: 2-4 lenses depending on system, or body + zoom, or drone.

#5 Side stretch mesh pocket: extra lens or light bridge cam (I use the opposite pocket for a water bottle.) Fast and easy access, just reach back and pull.

#6 Side zipper bellows pockets: 1 lens up to 11 inches long (28cms) and 4 inches diameter (10cms) or 2-3 shorter lenses. You can use both sides if you have tons of lenses.

#7 The Large front stretch pocket is perfect for us photographers because unlike others, Deuter uses the stretch fabric only on the sides, allowing for a tripod or a cam with a long lens, even with the lens shade on. It rests against the tough fabric in the center without tearing the mesh.

On the top and front-loader DV60, you have 8 access points:

#6 is bigger: 1 lens up to 12.5 inches long (32cms) and 5 inches diameter (12.7cms) or 2-3 shorter lenses

and you have one more option:

#8: Big U-shaped two-way zipper with rain flap on front panel: mid-large ICU. Note that this U design is the sensible one, it makes accessing your bottom gear way easier than the inverted U variety.

You have 5 tripod options with both packs: #7 above, the hiking pole attachment (small bungee cords with locks), the compression straps on both sides, or the 4 corner loops atop the lid.

Using (very) long lenses: see FAQ 7.

Using the TMP’s “awesome space”

As you now know, the TMP is engineered to leave an open space behind your spine, between roughly your shoulders and your waist, for true ventilation. Well, we have come to call that area the awesome space because it is also so incredibly useful to quickly stash or pull out all sorts of items (unless of course the pack is at maximum load, in which case the frame flattens to leave about half an inch of space, but this only really happens during “mule work” or test mode as in FAQ 19) without dropping the pack and sometimes without even losing a step: fleece vest, mid-layer, hiking poles, face covering, dog leash, gloves (ideal shoot in cold weather shoots) lens or cam rain cover, ski poles, monopod, etc. Of course we rarely “leave stuff in there” but that space is, in a word, just awesome.

Lash points

Both have many straps and attachment points (we call these lash points) for extra kit. Among our favorites are the 4 loops on top of the lid that make it a breeze to attach a jacket, a tripod, a sleeping pad, a tent, or a solar panel - I use one 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 my photo gear of course. Shockingly, there are no bottom lash points.

“Danglers and Flappers” (Straps Management)

Those loose strap ends that have no sleeve or tab to slide into, tend to catch on things and flap against your body or the pack all day long. These problems are sadly ignored by most backpack brands (many actually cheat on their product pictures by using hidden, double-sided tape between straps, making you believe those are neatly under control…) Here are their downsides in decreasing order of importance:

1 – They can quickly become a serious safety issue since they snag easily on whatever Mother Nature surrounds you with. Here are just two examples among the many we’ve experienced:

a) On the last leg of a solo hike, one of our members felt a strong tug as he was slowly negotiating a turn along a very tricky and narrow ledge. That made him lose his footing and he found himself hanging above a 300 foot, holding on by only one hand and one foot. The loose end of his pack’s upper left compression strap had gotten wedged into a rock crack. Realizing that unbuckling from the pack could result in a fall to his death, he did the wise thing and yelled out for help. Luckily, a couple that was returning from summiting a nearby peak heard him. But the husband could get no solid grip on our friend so his wife climbed back up and then rappelled down a good 50 feet to land in front of him. Once she had him secured, her husband cut off the stuck strap. Our friend was then able to unbuckle, reset and head down to his chalet.

b) After dropping off the kids for a birthday party at a mountain lake, I decided to go and hike for a couple of hours on a beautiful, hot day, with a new daypack and a minimal load. As I was circling my way after losing the trail, a dangling side strap got caught on a branch and I slipped, lightly spraining my right knee. But the pain got worse, I could no longer hike uphill, and I had zero phone reception. My first-aid kit was no help but luckily (or so I thought) I spotted a roof about a mile down. But the tall ferns I was bushwhacking through gave way to brambles that were tearing up my legs and arms. By then the pain was excruciating and it took me nearly 2 hours to reach the house. There was a car with a warm hood so I knew they were home, which got my hopes up. I knocked on the door, no response. I explained that I was hurt, that all this blood was caused by thorns, that I meant no harm… still no response. So I limped down their endless driveway and reached a road. Finally, a super nice guy picked me up and drove me to the lake. That one little loose strap had turned a 2 hour hike into a 5 hour ordeal…

2 – Some wildlife gets scared away by the noise “danglers” make.

3 – In cold weather you wear layers so you may not notice those two front straps flapping against your thighs or the bottom of the shoulder straps hitting your sides, but in warm weather, you will. They are a total pain (FAQ 16.)

4 – Some folks feel that dangling straps make their pack look messy and unsightly.

There are workarounds (FAQ 4) but given that all straps on my old 20L Quechua bag (8 euros at Decathlon in 2016) have sleeves, there’s absolutely no excuse for a $100 to $500 pack to fail to provide them.

2021 Deuter Futura models: a worrisome evolution

For Deuter’s 2021 updates we were only hoping for minor usability upgrades that would have made our reference Futura packs simply perfect: larger hip pockets, real load lifters, sleeves on all straps, bottom lash points, and fitting the 25-40L Futuras with the Vario’s awesome back length adjustment system. Well, we got none of the above but we did get the following blunders:

1) All have now the same type of shoulder straps as older Deuters like the Airzone or other outdated packs. The awesome soft strap edges are gone, reverting to hard edges, the padding is thinner, and on all 2021 Futuras above 30L, the top of the pad is made of fabric that lets no air though, meaning that once your straps are sweat-soaked (pretty quick in warm weather) that moisture will be trapped. A Deuter Exec tells me that “the new design deforms less with extra weight” but this argument makes no sense; one, their huge Aircontact 85 (a PP pack) still uses the proven, comfortable design and two, that “old” design holds up very well to super heavy loads (FAQ 19.)

2) The 4 top corner lash points are now gone on all new Futuras with top lids, from the 30L (now called Futura 32) all the way to the large Air Trek, which replaces the Vario.

3) The composition of the excellent front panel has been reversed with most of the surface now made of mesh. The reason, per the Exec? “saving a few grams and improving breathability (think stowing a damp rain jacket.)” Except that drainage was just fine on the previous design (we simply flipped the pack on its side and whatever water drained through the mesh, some added a drain hole.)

More importantly, 2 of the 5 tripod options (lid loops and front panel, the 2 we use the most!) have vanished.

4) The Futura 26, one of the world’s best top and panel loader daypacks (Post 4) is discontinued…

Our takeaway? We will not downgrade to the new designs since they are a large step backwards in usability. The “previous generation” Futura packs (2017-2020) are a significantly better choice than the new ones for hiking photographers. Given the worrisome direction Deuter seems to be taking, we have been stockpiling these outstanding packs, which for now can still be found in some countries (PM me with a product link if you’re not sure about a particular model, please do not waste forum space on such personal requests.)

Option #2: the new (and very good) Cosyspeed Photohiker 44. See post 3 for a full evaluation.

Happy hikes!


OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Post 3: Photohiker 44, a TMP backpack with integrated photo inserts: Cosyspeed revolutionizes the industry

Disclosure: Cosyspeed sent me this pack for review.

Well, It took 37 years (and a few failed attempts) but you finally can buy a good TMP backpack designed for hiking photographers. First, a bit of history: if you’ve hiked in Europe, you’ve probably seen people using Vaude packs. While smaller than world number one Deuter, Vaude (born 1974) is another German company that makes excellent products and they are even more advanced about using nontoxic materials that are good for our little planet. Well, they were engaged by another, very small but innovative German called Cosyspeed (born 2013) to manufacture a new pack specifically made for photographers who also like hiking: the Cosyspeed Photohiker 44 (aka CP44 - MSRP: $290):

Frame-wise, Cosyspeed didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, a smart move. The CP44 is based on Vaude’s Brenta 50L wich has a solid, easily adjustable TMP. But similarities end here as much of this mid-size pack is entirely designed for photographers. Here are the main features and how they stack up:

The bottom compartment opens via a long, U-shaped zipper and accommodates a large, removable ICU called Photocube XL (10W x 14.5L x 5H measured inside.)

The opening of the top compartment (7 inches tall) is standard, with expansion collar of up to 5 inches and closure via draw-cord. It accommodates the Photocube M (7”W x 10L x 5H measured inside) perfectly with the pack in “compressed” mode, with about 2 inches of extra vertical space.

These cubes come with 2 D-rings, a shoulder strap and zipped lid pockets. Owning both with this highly-modular pack gives you these four tested options:

1. Pack + Photocube XL: we tested the spacious XL with anything from MFT (2 bodies + 8 lenses, also with EM1.3 + 150-400) to APSC (1 body + 1TC + 10 lenses with room to spare), FF (1 body + 6 lenses) and MF (Fujifilm GFX 100S, Hasselblad X1D with several lenses.) You have quick access via the front panel once you drop the pack (FAQ 12.)

2. Pack with both cubes. Same as above plus another kit in cube M (FAQ 12.) Note that the M also fits on the side or vertically when the collar is expanded, which is how I mostly used it (I had my food box and various clothing items next to it) in which case it is actually easier to grab the handle and pull it out. On the other hand, when it is in horizontal position, just below the lid you get direct access to your gear by just unzipping the top.

3. Pack + Cube M. We really liked this setup because Cosyspeed smartly made the divider that sits at the top of the main compartment partly or completely removable (zipper around the pack, velcro at the back.) This gives you tons of options such as leaving the cube up top, placing it above clothing and such at the top of the big compartment, or at its very bottom. The latter was just perfect for a hike with two cams: one WA kit (I removed that cam and placed it in a side pocket for quick access) and a long zoom combo which sat on top of the cube when I was not shooting. By just unzipping the divider and expanding the collar you have 22 inches of space, sufficient for most long rigs.

4. Pack only. The CP44 is excellent as a pure hiking TMP pack. It also performed well for trail running with a light load and high side compression that turned it into a roughly 18 liters pack.

Note: the ICU dividers worked okay but providing wider, 1 inch "hook" tabs (the prickly side) would be considerably more secure when using heavier gear (long pro lenses, MF cams and lenses, etc.)

Gear protection
Both cubes have sides that are were originally not made of the usual cardboard or PE (plastic) but of strong, lightweight wood, a feature we had never seen on an ICU. I didn’t pay much attention to it until the following incident happened: I was in the lead of a small group, on a winter hike at altitude, stepping from a wooded area into a clearing. Strong winds had scattered debris everywhere and as I engaged into a slightly downhill clearing (unaware that the entire field had iced up) my front foot went straight up in the air, promptly followed by my back foot, my body went horizontal and I crashed super hard, flat on my back. Other than a nasty neck ache due to the whiplash (and my pride taking a good hit, LOL) I was okay, but we were quite worried about damage to the photo gear inside. When we got down to the hut after a large detour (that whole field was actually too dangerous to cross) we unpacked everything and found zero damage to the gear inside the cube: not a crack, not a tear, nothing. We were quite certain that the sides of any other ICU would have been crushed by such a violent impact. Unfortunately, Cosyspeed unwisely decided to forgo these awesome wooden sides for the usual PE stuff on the current revision of their cubes; not a deal breaker but definitely a loss of competitive ICU advantage.

Large and sturdy side pockets

The CP44 has some of the best side pockets we’ve used on any backpack. They are made not of fragile mesh but of strong fabric with a good elastic at the top (but without the usual drainage hole(s), requiring you to throw the rain cover on at the slight raindrop.) The top is slightly slanted and they have good depth (10” front, 9” at TMP) which means that pulling your bottle out requires shoulder agility but whatever gear you drop in there will be quite secure (even a Nikon P1000.) As you can see on the FAQ 19 picture, they accommodate as much as two bottles (one 3.5” wide Nalgene, Camelback or Simple HH plus one 3” wide 40oz) or one big bottle plus a tripod, etc.

Best side compression on a TMP pack

Here we have yet another example of how big an impact a small design decision can have for a hiker or photographer. From a basic engineering standpoint, compression straps on anything from a big truck’s trailer to a backpack must be at or close to a 90 degree angle to the carry platform (in this case the back panel) to do their job correctly – a few degrees off 90 is okay, but compression is severely hampered beyond that. While the two Deuters do a very good job (the DFV60 also has that nice cutout for over or under the pocket option), the CP44 does the job perfectly. How? Cosyspeed vastly improved on the Vaude Brenta by adding a third side compression strap, which turned the CP44 into… the best backpack we’ve ever used for snow photography, simply because it is far easier to lash your skis onto this pack than any other, including most “ski” packs. We tested it successfully with:

– 2 pairs of downhill skis with poles (1 pair on each side) lashed under the side straps

– 2 pairs of off-piste skis with poles (1 pair on each side) lashed under the side straps plus a snowboard lashed to the front with 2 custom straps connecting to top and bottom side straps

– 4 (four!) pairs of cross-country skis with poles (2 pairs on each side) lashed under the side straps

Quick and easy! We just tied the skis at the top with a bungee cord for extra stability up the slopes on approach, and enjoyed some of the most fun snow photo shoots in recent memory.

Perfectly placed laptop compartment

Open the long side zipper (14”) and your laptop or tablet slides into a large padded compartment (15”L X 9.5”W X 1”D) that sits behind the TMP and provides excellent protection (miles away from these absurd “rear opening” designs, no risk of ending up with a cracked screen or worse here!) Better yet, the top of the sleeve is open and there is a velcro strip above so you could easily slip a big hydration pouch in. Note that your hydration tube can only be routed to the left side as Cosyspeed failed to provide the usual loop on the right shoulder strap.


– The adjustable harness mechanism is topnotch (same as DFV60, i.e. industry best) but astonishingly, neither Cosyspeed nor Vaude bother to tell the customer what torso length range this pack fits.

– The bright orange rain cover is in the right place (bottom of pack) but it sits inside a super tight pocket that will not accommodate a larger cover, which you will need if you carry a tripod. The drainage at the bottom is poor due to the location of those 2 little metal grommets (placed near the front of the pack, which results in water pooling in the center.) Deuter does this perfectly: one large hole with a non-rusting grommet about 2 inches from the TMP.

– The lid has 4 corner loops that make excellent top lash points.

– The load adjustment straps do not end with a loop, making them completely unusable as load lifters.

– The front panel is made of soft mesh, it works great for backup shoes, a rain jacket, etc.

– This pack has no strap sleeves.

– The hip belt pockets could be larger but they do accommodate a Pana ZS70, for example.

– We like those rubberized, tab-style zipper pulls. They work better than other types used on most packs, especially with gloves on. We are however puzzled that the ones on the Photocubes are twice the size of the ones on the CP44 front panel (the reverse would make more sense.)

– Inside the lid’s main pocket are a key ring, a zipped pocket for valuables and a nice soft-lined pocket for a phone or glasses. Under the lid is a spacious mesh pocket that is very useful for small items.

– And finally, to answer previously asked questions not yet covered, the PHOTOHIKER 44 logo is not conspicuous (only 1/4” tall, you can blacken it easily if theft is a concern), the pack stands up right on its own fairly OK when loaded (but just like all other packs, resting it against your knee works way better!) and there are no bottom lash points for a tripod and such.


Back in 1984, Deuter revolutionized the outdoor industry by pioneering their brilliant Tensioned Mesh Panel harness and frame, an efficient, back-cooling system that also spread the load evenly, which made hiking considerably more comfortable and enjoyable. Looking at any industry’s history (I’ve been involved in several, I also used to run a successful company) it is very difficult to find examples of an enterprise whose very first product vaults to the very top of its category Fast forward to 2021 and Cosyspeed did just that by bringing us another example of that superb German Engineering with its innovative Photohiker 44, a high-quality hiking pack that is cleverly designed with up to two removable photo inserts, a comfortable and adjustable TMP harness, the industry’s best side pockets and side compression straps, among other outstanding features. It is hard indeed not to be impressed by this versatile and excellent model, especially considering that it was Cosyspeed’s first attempt at a backpack. At this time, there simply is no photo backpack that comes remotely close to the Cosyspeed Photohiker 44.

Happy hikes!


OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Post 4: Review of 9 TMP daypacks for hiking photographers

Some of you have asked me about “smaller” packs. Here is a review of nine TMP models, tested within my community.


2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L: (MSRP: $65)

2018 Deuter Futura 30 : (MSRP: $150)

2019 Deuter Futura 26 (MSRP: $130)

2018 Fjällräven Abisko Friluft 35: (MSRP: $185)

2019 Gregory Mountain Zulu 30: (MSRP: $150, note: the Zulu 35 is the same pack with a top lid)

2020 Lowe Alpine AirZone Trail 30 : (MSRP: $145)

2018 Osprey Stratos 34: (MSRP: $160)

2020 REI Traverse 35: (MSRP: $145)

2019 Vaude Brenta 30: (MSRP: $165)

General notes:

1) I will occasionally compare these packs to the reference in TMP packs up to 40 liters which is the Deuter Futura Pro 40, aka DFP40, reviewed in detail in Post 2 (read that first for best understanding.)

2) Like many other outdoor product (or car) manufacturers, many of these still have the very bad habit of using the same name for a product that may have considerably evolved (the Decathlon Quechua is the perfect example with a 2020 version that is massively improved over the previous one.) I have provided official links to product pages above but be aware that these links may not work or may direct you to newer products.

3) Packs were extensively tested (FAQ 1) in various terrains and weather over multiple day hikes, including some that were full-out trail running with, what else, numerous stops for photo shoots.


– These are high-caliber products with a build quality that equals or surpasses most photo packs.

- All packs have good to excellent harness ergonomics that work great even with fairly heavy photo/video equipment, anything from MFT and Fuji gear to enormous DSLR or FF + telephoto rigs. Even big rigs slid inside the packs just fine and the weight was spread so perfectly onto our shoulders and hips that we could sometimes barely tell they were in there, even while hiking up and down some pretty steep slopes.

- Back ventilation: unlike PP packs that quickly turn your back into a sweaty mess and therefore are best used in cold weather or on short walks, all but one (Gregory) of these TMP models are year-round packs (no need to buy different daypacks for different seasons which saves you serious money.) The combination TMP + great harness truly does make an enormous difference in comfort (article/post 1.)

- All have rain covers, an absolute must on the Zulu because unlike the others, it has no lid and rain seeps in very quickly. On the Stratos the flap over the main zipper slightly delays rain ingress (you can keep hiking through a short shower with all packs but these two.) The provided rain covers work fine but are fairly tight-fitting and they do not cover whatever large item you have on the side or back, such as a tripod. The REI has the best rain cover of the bunch with its mid-section strap that adds much protection against high winds, thorns (bushwhacking) or thieves (FAQ 15.)

- All can hold a hydration pouch. I personally prefer Nalgene-type bottles but either way all packs work generally great for trail-running. Just cinch all the straps nice and tight and run.

- Like the DFP40, all easily accommodate an ICU via the top opening (small to mid-size, you need to try this yourself with your own loaded ICU (FAQ 10.)


Build quality

While all packs feel the same super light weight on your back while empty, the Gregory, Lowe Alpine and Vaude weigh significantly less than the others (up to 400 grams) mostly due to the lighter-weight fabrics they use. This is a regrettable trend that earns them a bottom ranking here. Our consensus is that the Deuters (basically slightly smaller DFP40 without the bellows pockets) are the clear winners in terms of overall build quality and life expectancy (they’ve often been put through hell in our community) followed by the rest, but keep in mind that all are quality packs.
Note for tactile people: much of the Fjällräven is made of organic cotton and recycled polyester, which gives it a wonderful feel of… high-end clothing.


All are plenty big for a day hike with a serious amount of photo gear plus essentials. Those of you who are comfortable with ULH (Ultra Light Hiking) can also use them for two days or more by using minimalist equipment and packing techniques. Strangely, we could not fit more gear in the 34 liters Stratos than in several other 30 liters packs. This is something we’ve noticed with other Osprey backpacks, but oddly enough not with their luggage (my Osprey Shuttle, for example, is within 1 liter of its listed volume.)

Back ventilation

All but the Gregory Mountain perform superbly here. The Zulu boasts of having a “3D Foam Breathable Backpanel” but everybody agreed that the other packs kept our backs way cooler (the Zulu is not a true TMP.)

Gear access and organization

The Decathlon, Deuter Futura 26, Fjällräven and Vaude give you both top and front access, a major plus especially if you prefer to place your ICU at the bottom of the pack. The Gregory claims to have a front U-zip opening but it’s an inverted U that only opens up the top third of the pack.

Note: the Deuter Futura 26 is basically a slightly smaller Futura 30 (same width, just 2.3 inches shorter and 1.6 inch shallower, but no separate bottom compartment) that also makes an awesome front pack for quick access and stable wildlife shots (I love it for BIF photography, see Post 4.) One of our members also uses it extensively as a medical supplies pack for Mountain Rescues.

The Futura 30 and Stratos 34 have a bottom compartment, too small for most sleeping bags but great for organizing your load with for example a small ICU. Unfortunately the Osprey has zero lash point at the top. The Lowe Alpine has “side access” via two short zipped side pockets but they are too low, just behind the side mesh pockets, which means that if you put stuff in the former it becomes very difficult to use the latter, a poor design choice. Trailing here is the Gregory with just one smallish inside pocket in addition to the main space: no bottom compartment, no top lid for extra lenses, bodies or accessories, i.e. no way to lash anything to the (absent) top lid.

Front “stash” pocket

First place here goes to the REI with its large, all-fabric front pocket (complete with a drain hole, well done REI!) followed by the Deuters and the Vaude, simply because the center part of their front pocket is also made of fabric strong enough to hold a small-medium tripod. The Gregory has a weaker but spacious mesh front pocket. Same type of mesh for the Quechua, although we wonder why Decathlon made that pocket a good 4 inches shorter than it should have been (first of this pack’s only two flaws.) The Fjällräven’s front pocket is reasonably sized but non-expendable since it closes with a zipper, which thankfully is on the side. Far behind the others is the Osprey with its antiquated, nearly useless front pocket, a very shallow, center-zippered space that you can barely fit anything in.

The Decathlon has the best hip belt pockets: large, deep, and with the zipper closer to the top than to the side, which we prefer. They accommodate large phones and large-ish pocket cams. The REI is a close second followed by the Gregory and Lowe. The Deuters, Fjällräven and Osprey have smaller pockets, just big enough for, say, a Nikon AW120, although on the Futura those are made of mesh which drains very well. The Osprey’s zippers are far more difficult to open and close with one hand than the others (a common problem on that brand, even on $300 packs.) The Brenta is just terrible with only one small pocket. Who did Vaude design these for exactly… Captain Hook?

Side compression straps

The Deuters have efficient, well placed side compression straps with the lower one about one inch below the top seam of the mesh pocket, which allows you to truly secure a water bottle or an extra lens. Next is the Fjällräven which also offers very good compressibility. Acceptable performance from the Osprey and the Vaude (but its lower strap would work far better if it were 2 inches higher.)

Poor compressibility with the Lowe Alpine (only one strap at the top), the Decathlon and REI (the top strap works OK but the bottom strap is at such a terrible angle that it hardly compresses anything, especially on the REI) and the Gregory with its bizarre design (straps at near 45 degrees angle which means that if you place your tripod leg up top, closest to your center of gravity, it slides down after a just few steps, ditto with the bottom strap which you first need to pull out of the mesh pocket and re-clip on top, after which said pocket becomes completely useless.)

Tripod options

Testers preferred the Deuters and the Vaude with their 4 options: slide the tripod into the front stash pocket (as on the DFP40), cinch it to the top of the lid with straps or bungees, use side straps or clip it to the trekking pole holders.

Next comes the REI with that strong, large front pocket which you can use for a medium to heavy tripod (with some of the others the tripod legs will tear through the mesh fabric.) Third are the Osprey (bottom lash straps or one hiking poles lash point) and Lowe Alpine (you can tie your tripod on both sides of the pack via hiking poles lash points.)

The others offer far less options, essentially just hiking poles lash points on one side.

You can also stash your tripod horizontally under the lid on those packs that have one, but it’s cumbersome.

Side pockets and quick access to extra lenses

REI’s “on-the go bottle pockets” are more than the industry’s best water bottle pockets, they are a great option for quick and easy lens changes. Not only are they much lower than the standard side pocket and therefore much easier to access, but they have a fabric base and they are deep enough to fit an entire 1L Nalgene-type bottle (3.5 inches diameter), both of which means that you can safely use them to stash anything up to a mid-size FF zoom lens or MFT telephoto. Those in our community who live in bear country also love these pockets for super-quick access to their bear spray.

The Decathlon comes second with angled mesh pockets that are a breeze to access. Next is the Fjällräven with its nice fabric pockets that are stronger than mesh (but would gain from being about one inch taller.) All the others performed about the same but clearly a notch below.

Bottom lash points

Kudos to Osprey for fitting the Stratos 34 with bottom buckles and removable straps, a feature which we strongly believe should be standard on all hiking backpacks. It costs peanuts to add at the factory, yet is hugely useful on the trail. Who doesn’t want the ability to quickly tie a pad, a tent, a sleeping bag, or a jacket below their pack?!

Note to Osprey: the supplied straps are too short; they should be at least 7 inches longer.

“Flappers and danglers”: straps management

Un grand bravo à Decathlon for fitting all straps on the MH500 with little elastic sleeves to keep those pesky, noisy and sometimes dangerous loose strap ends (Post 2) under control, and on a pack that costs as little as one third of others!) And shame on the competition for not doing so (in fairness, Deuter does have strap keepers but only on the waist belt.)

Decathlon’s implementation is classy and perfect with tiny sleeves made of a stretch material that gives you great adjustability (they are way better than a plastic tab that typically allows space for only one “pass” for the end of the strap, insufficient for longer strap ends.)

Size options

Here the Vaude shines with its topnotch adjustable torso system (essentially identical to the Deuter Vario and Cosyspeed Photohiker 44.) Next come the Gregory and Osprey that are also adjustable but unfortunately via cheap hook and loop systems, the worst kind. While the others do not have that feature, they should fit most folks up to medium torso length (FAQ 2.) All but the Lowe Alpine, come in two sizes – on the Gregory they overlap by a couple inches, which is nice but on the REI they differ by only 1 inch, which is weird.

Gender-specific options

While the Decathlon is not gender-specific, it comes in two sizes that are highly-rated by both men and women in our community. Most of the others also come in “female” versions but their offerings are in a state of flux at the moment so check with your retailer (PM me with a URL if you have questions about a specific model.)

Environmental impact

Here the Fjällräven and Vaude lead the pack (pun intended) with their long-standing leadership in eco-friendly manufacturing, closely followed by Deuter. For the others, using non-toxic and/or recycled materials still seem more akin to lip-service than to a true commitment.

Online product information

As we all know, a company’s web site is its “shopping window to the world.” Yes, some potential customers start on “social” media but sooner or later they require more info and visit the web site. It is therefore rather astonishing that in our internet-based age, any company would work very hard at designing, manufacturing, shipping, etc. a great product, and then fail miserably to give a remotely fair online representation of that product.

The following minimal information is what we expect on a product page (Think Tank does this pretty well): name, SKU, price, a short description, main features and options if any, a complete spec. sheet with both metric and Imperial values, maximum suggested load, country of design, country of manufacture, warranty and returns policies, detailed pictures and videos, a FAQ, and customers’ reviews. Professional translations in the 5 main languages (English, Spanish, French, German, and Chinese) are another obvious way to both increase sales and show respect for customers worldwide.

Yet, none of the manufacturers reviewed in these articles offers all these simple things on their product page. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve had to explain very basic features about a pack, either on the trail or on forums, simply because its maker was too unprofessional to provide the needed info to the public (amazingly, they often also leave their own retailers in the dark!) Lastly, I am confident that there are hundreds of amateur photographers on this site alone who would take better pictures of many of the packs tested above. Our online product information ranking for all these companies (including Cosyspeed): poor to pathetic.


Depending on your budget and personal preferences, you can’t go wrong with any of these packs for a day or two of hiking and photography. Such a purchase is always a compromise but truth be told, there simply is not a single photo pack in the 30-35 liter range that comes even close when it comes to comfort, keeping your back cool and dry, affordability and overall versatility (many of us also use these packs as our main carry-on, FAQ 18.) But… Is there a “winner”? Here are the results of a little community poll I just ran (your own ranking might differ, which is just fine by me):

The clear standout for us as hiking photographers is the 2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L, a quality TMP pack with outstanding features, a 10-year warranty, dual gear access, good comfort and plenty of nice touches such as strap sleeves, real load lifters, large belt pockets , etc. for a measly 55 euros (roughly $65, less than you spend right now on a car fill-up or a restaurant outing in many countries. I am told that this outstanding value is possible because Decathlon allows no middleman, controls their own manufacturing and distribution, and practices fair profit margins.) Bottom line? The outstanding Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L outperforms all others and is currently the world’s best value in daypacks (closely followed by the MH500 40L, same pack, just a little more spacious at 15 euros more.) If you live in any of the 50+ countries where Decathlon has stores, getting this pack is a total no-brainer.

In second position come the “old” Deuter Futura 26 and Futura 30, two superb packs that have been our reference daypacks for years (as noted above, the 2021 models are a significant downgrade, grab a 2020 while you still can!)

In third position we have the REI Traverse 35, a pack with both quirks and outstanding qualities.

While the others scored okay, last place went to the Fjällräven, a decent but grossly overpriced daypack.

I hope you found this comparative review helpful. Happy hikes!


OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Post 5: Solutions that work for quick FRONT access to your photo gear


I see many posts here and elsewhere by people who agonize over how to quickly access their gear while on the trail or just walking around. They often end up buying expensive photo packs that promise all sorts of magically quick features, only to discover that, well, in the real world things are not as quick and easy as they looked on that cool advertisement. This article describes solutions that we have extensively tested, sometimes going back decades. These are not in any preferential order, just try them out and use what works best for you.

Note: we’ve used these a lot and we do not recommend them for hiking (keeping reasons super short here): sling and messenger bags (bouncy, bulky, off-center, create pain/injuries), camera harnesses and slingbelts (bulky, interfere with pack harness, often run hot), waist belts (interfere with pack belt and gait.)

Solution 1: Smart use of your pack’s pockets

This is not purely “front” access, but it certainly is quick access. Yes, using side pockets for bridge cams, MFT rigs, compact cams, extra lenses, etc. works just fine! Among all the packs tested above, the CP44 has the best side pockets for such use, next is the REI Traverse but most of the others work okay. Worried about your cam falling off (unlikely on most terrains anyway)? Just rig a small bungee cord across the pocket’s top.
Hipbelt pockets, obviously, work fantastic with many compacts.

Solution 2: Smart use of your waist pack

Some of us simply place our cam + preferred lenses in a belt pack (aka fanny pack, butt pack, “sac banane”, lumbar pack, tummy pack, etc.) which you place to the front of your body (the locked buckle then sits in the TMP space, just behind your lower back, yet another thing you cannot do with a PP pack.)

Those who do not already own a fanny pack might consider the Osprey Talon 6 which we find to be the best current such pack for hiking, walking, biking and cross-country skiing. The two water bottle pockets are perfectly placed for a wide range of lenses (especially MFT) and the two side zip pockets are great for accessories, a phone, or snacks (the smaller Osprey Savu 5 works well too.) The Mountainsmith 2020 Tour Small is another fine choice, although it has only one side pocket and those two upper buckles are annoying, they flap against your belly when you don’t use the top neck strap in warm weather (not advisable anyway since you quickly get chafing on the back of your neck.)
Note: Using a fanny or shoulder pack as a sling bag is messy for many (it interferes with your arm swings) and tends to create shoulder or back pain, plus neck chafing.

Solution 3: Camera clips

Here is our experience with the three main contenders:

– Like others I stopped using my Peak Design Capture Clip 3 after it ruined the shoulder strap of two of my packs. It’s a nice piece of gear but we found that it has one main design flaw: the height of the surface of contact with the strap is way too short and we had to use the Allen key to compress the heck out of the strap for anything but very light cams (hence the damage.) Yes, they sell a “pad” but it’s a simplistic thing that brings your total cost to nearly $100 with tax, which is simply outrageous. The CC3 does work fine with waist belts.

- The Cotton Carrier G3 StrapShot secured to a shoulder strap used to be my preferred quick-access setup for clipping a bridge cam or ILC with most-used lens. It does fit more strap sizes than the PD, it is much more comfortable with heavy lenses, the included padded hand strap is quite good, and it has the best and quickest locking system is but it would work just as well and fit more packs if it were 2 inches shorter. Plus, the carried weight is, of course, not centered.

– These days many of us prefer to use the Universal Keyhole, a simple, no-nonsense design that keeps your cam centered on your chest:

Tip 1: Slide your (now unneeded) sternum strap way up and set the Keyhole horizontal webbing wraps as high as possible on your shoulder straps.

Tip 2: Properly adjusting the cap lens velcro prevents lens creep plus the cam from potentially “popping off the heyhole” on steep ascents.

Tip 3: Running an elastic cord across your belly (using the lower parts of your shoulder straps) prevents excessive bouncing for long lenses (go to your hiking shop if you don’t know how to make one.)

Solution 4: Use your small camera bag or “portable ICU” out front

With ILC gear, my preference is still to use my old Lowepro Nova 2 belt/shoulder bag as a “portable ICU.” It’s built extremely well, 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 the DFP40, DFV60 and CP44. 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” as I set my elbow on top (see solution 5.) I also use it as a shoulder/sling bag to go and explore when we set camp early in the day. This gives me the best of both worlds, I have all my cam gear at hand when I need it, and I easily put it away when I don’t.

Solution 5: Use a small TMP daypack on your chest

Most photographers are unaware of this great option, long used by globe-trotters and hikers alike. It is based on common-sense, ancient load-carrying traditions that can still be found in remote parts of Africa or the Himalayas. Bottom line? The human spine works best when you balance the load by aligning it as close as possible to your main spinal axis. Here the undisputed champions were those strong, elegant African women who used to carry incredibly large water jugs on their heads over many miles back to their village (as we hikers know oh-so-well, water is very heavy!) Other cultures balanced heavy loads through a variety of either sideways or front/back systems. What my photo/hiking community often uses is simply a modern version of the latter.

How it works

It’s actually very simple and efficient, but only if you use the right TMP pack (see brands/models below.) Basically you use two packs: a medium to large one on your back and a smaller daypack on your front. This comfortable carrying system permits immediate, easy front access to one body+lens (or two) and super-quick lens swaps with room for a minimum of 3 extra lenses: 2 in the side mesh pockets and 1 in the larger front mesh pocket. Of course you can also keep a couple more in the main compartment. Or, as one of our members often does, put 2 more lenses in the low “bottle pockets” of his large REI Traverse pack which he carries on his back (we nicknamed this guy “Lens Nut”, I’ve never seen him hike with less than 5 lenses at hand, good thing he shoots MFT !) Note that the daypack’s hipbelt pockets are also perfectly placed for super-quick front access to small items such as lens caps, optical paper, LensPen, filters, etc. Here is what you do:

1 - Load and clip the rear pack as usual.

2 - Lift the daypack by its top carry handle, place the shoulder straps on top of the rear pack’s shoulder straps, then place the bottom part of its TMP low on your stomach, right on top of the rear pack’s hipbelt. Wrap your right hand around the front to hold it there. Now you have two options:

“Standard” option (use the pack as it is): simply grab one end of the daypack’s sternum strap with your left hand, bring it around the C7 vertebra in the back of your neck, hold it there, move your right hand up and clip the other side of the sternum strap. You then grab the left end of the hip belt strap, slide it behind the rear pack TMP’s lower part of your back, grab the right end and clip it. Done!

This always works BUT some people, including me, find that after a while the upper strap can chafe the lower neck when it’s really hot and you only wear a tank top or T-shirt. This is of course entirely a matter of personal preferences, body shape, etc.

Practical tip: it helps a lot if you first lengthen that left sternum strap side to the max, and likewise reduce the other side, this way your left hand will lead the buckle almost all the way behind the TMP, which then makes clipping the buckle much easier. Of course, reverse the process if you are left-handed.

“Custom” option: what we do is build a little rig that directly connects the tops of both packs. There are tons of possible combinations but here are the two we use the most:

a) Super simple, non-adjustable DYI connectors. Grab your roll of Paracord (or similar thin, super-strong rope,) slip one end behind the right top load lifter anchor spot of your rear pack (where the load lifter connects to the top of the frame) make a knot there, tie the other end to a small carabineer that will easily clip to the front pack’s top grab handle. Ditto for the left side. You know have a super-quick “Y attach” system, just slip it over your head and clip it..

Tip: it’s best to have a helper who holds the pack while you determine the correct cord length and make the final cuts/knots. Also, you always want to do this with a fully loaded front pack (with whatever photo and other gear you typically have in there.)

b) Adjustable custom straps: this Y system allows you to fine-tune the distance between the top of your front pack and your upper-chest as needed. It is the same principle as above except that you replace the paracord with two adjustable 3/4 inch (2 cms) straps that connect via plastic buckles, the exact same system you have on your pack’s sternum strap or belt strap.


- You can make this rig yourself by buying the straps and buckles online but knots made with these kinds of straps are ugly, catch stuff and can get loose. Find instead the nearest quality hiking shop and give them a bit of your hard-earned money (they sure could use it right now.) This type of rig does not involve high tension on the straps but the last thing you want on the trail is having the upper part of your front pack take a nose dive because of a bad stitch.

- Most ladies prefer this option. One of our members is heavy-chested and she just loves it.

- Some had their straps installed so as to directly connect the tops of both packs’ load lifters on each side (both systems work great) which is also the system I personally like best when I hike with just my main pack on my back and my old Nova 2 in the front. The side straps then go from the same strap/buckle in the back to the top anchors of the Nova (the ones the top shoulder strap goes to.) If I am in tough terrain such as a steep ascent I pull out a simple adjustable 1 meter strap with buckles that I always keep in there, run it around the TMP back to the front bottom of the Nova and clip it (takes under 30 seconds)

– All the techniques above take way more time to type than to actually do.

Spinal health benefits

- Unlike the Aarn system (discussed below) this one has no “flopping”, is perfectly centered when properly loaded and never interferes with your gait (it actually improves my own stride.)

- Another, even more important benefit of spreading your load between the rear and the front is how good that is for your spine. This is hugely important for aging hikers, like our dear old friend who was told by his back “specialist” that he had bulging discs, should never hike again, should get surgery to fuse his vertebras, etc. We love this guy and the group suggested instead that he first try spending a year with daily sessions just resting on an inversion table, doing targeted (core) exercises, and then progressively get back to hiking but always with two packs to spread his load front and rear. Well, he did just that, his spine is back to normal and he now hikes as much as he wants with, he says, “pretty much zero back pain.”

Trail visibility

Having that small pack in front is only ever a visibility issue on very steep slopes, where safety requires that you see exactly where you put each foot, which is to say roughly 5% of our hikes. What we do in these sections is move the front pack to the back. The Deuters (Vario, Futura Pro) are easiest for that because they have those great little sewn-in loops at the top corners of the lid. We just tie the top of the “baby” pack to those with carabineers, run their waist belt around and clip it underneath the main TMP for extra stability (takes a couple of minutes, tops.)

Front packs that work best

Most of us use a TMP pack in the 15-30 liters range that has a rain cover such as: Vaude (Wizard, Brenta), Osprey (Stratos/Sirrus), Gregory (Salvo, Zulu/Jade), or Deuter (Airlite, Futura.) Consider also using “hydration” TMP packs from the main manufacturers. They tend to be more expensive but if you remove the water bladder (those resell quite well in hiking circles) you often find that the pack is deeper, which may serve you well if you use larger gear or a mid-size ICU.

We have found that a pack that is 2 inches (5 centimeters) less than your torso length works very well (i.e if you torso length is 19 inches, pick a model that fits, or adjusts to, 17 inch torsos.) This brings the top edge of the pack roughly up to your chin level, although that is a highly personal decision - one of our members uses a daypack that comes up to his nose because that allows him to comfortably rest his cam closer to eye level when his shoots subjects like BIF (and he often does get better pics than the rest of us!)

Front daypack internal organization

This is a highly personal thing with lots of variations but the bottom line is that we typically set that up to have the ability to:

1) Quickly pull the main body+lens rig out of the pack. To do this, about 75% of us use whatever camera insert or small bag we favor (one with top opening works best) and set the partitions so as to having a nice “niche” for the body to rest, lens down. The rest use DIY inserts they carved out of foam blocks. Most of us have a wrist strap attached, although we don’t always use it.

2) Perform quick lens swaps. Again, we do this by moving those most-used lenses from inside the pack into any or all the 3 outside pockets.

Tripod… What tripod?!

Whether you use your front pack as a load balancer or by itself, we discovered long ago that it automatically becomes an “attached tripod.” The consensus is that we actually compose better by simply resting the cam on the top of the pack. We routinely gain 3 to 5 stops this way, especially when we loosen the adjustable custom straps by 4 to 6 inches because that makes it easier to get super-steady shots by resting the left hand or the bottom of the lens on the top frame of the pack. Since a majority of us shoot MFT (Olympus is the favorite but we have some Panasonic WR gear too) the fantastic Oly IBIS gives us another roughly 5 stops which means no more fussing with tripods, a big plus on hikes. I personally rarely even grab my monopod anymore, unless I will be using a long and heavy lens for long periods of time.

“Sitting shots”

Yet another really cool thing about this setup is how surprisingly comfortable it is when sitting on the ground. The packs’ weights are no longer felt but you still have that neat “pack tripod” out front so you can rest your legs while getting great shots of all that wildlife down in the canyon or across the estuary. Getting up can be a little tricky with heavy packs if you’re alone, but in our group we always have someone to “give a little tug” if needed.

Airport bliss

It turns out that most of the above packs can also be used as “personal item” on major airlines. They are also great at the airport when you have just heard that your flight has been delayed for another few hours... Just flip the pack on its side, slide your favorite carry-on’s (mine is still the Granite Gear Trailster, reviewed here) extended handle through the open TMP space and you now have all your precious belongings right next to your seat. Zip the top down and you have easy, safe access to your laptop, cam, business files, etc.

Safety advantage

Carrying your daypack front-style in gang-infested touristy cities is a nightmare for thieves, even the slash-and-run type, as long as you make sure to throw some clothing over your shoulders and back so that they cannot see where the straps are.

Solution 6: Aarn packs

Aarn is a small New Zealand company (named after founder Aarn Tate) that makes some of the most innovative packs out there: . We do have a few Aarn owners so I will first give their general feedback and then a bit of my own:

- Aarn packs are well built, with a high level of attention to detail and the science behind their “balance” systems is sound - their main working principle is to add two “Balance Pockets” in front of your chest to bring more weight to the front of the pack. How they go about it is, however, a mixed bag (pun intended.)

- It may take a few hikes to “tune” your Aarn pack to your body. Just be patient, these babies were designed by a perfectionist and they have more options than most to find your own perfect adjustments.

- No rain cover, Aarn instead uses an original system basically made of a removable waterproof liner for the main compartment (think of it as a big dry sack) that is very practical for those who hate stopping to put on the rain cover. The downside? Anything that’s not completely dry creates condensation inside the pack.

-We love the two large mesh pockets sewn into the lower part of the shoulder straps on the 28L Back Favour. They are perfect for an additional lens or two (great for quick lens swaps.) However, the only good option for a tripod is the bottom (the pack does have nice lash points,) it has no side compression straps and the top section (under the lid) closes via an absurd rolltop instead of a classic collar with lock cord that would have made the pack more expansible (i.e. 28+5L.)

- Weight distribution. Per volume unit, water is usually the heaviest thing we hikers carry and in theory, keeping our water bottles out front in the Balance Pockets should be perfect (even better for those of us who don’t use hydration pouches.) In practice, we found that between the sun that always hits your chest area at some angle at the front and your body heat at the back, water warms up quickly and we could only keep one bottle in there. But we often keep extra lenses or an extra rig in the other pocket so that balances things out nicely.

- If you are a woman, forget about using those Balance Pockets unless you are fairly flat-chested (Aarn suggests “bending the Balance Bags frames” but that produces even more sideways flopping.)

- The shoulder straps use a stretchy material that breathes well. It feels quite comfortable but it’s not as well cushioned as top brands and frankly it’s very hard to see how durable such a design truly will be over time with heavy loads. We do not know if their warranty would cover this.

- Now for my own impressions: while in Asia, I borrowed an Aarn pack+pockets combo from a friend. I loved the concept and I found the pack very comfortable but I ran into a major snag. You see, I am a “standard” walker/runner, i.e. my arms naturally swing at a front angle of roughly 30 degrees and no matter how much I tried to adjust my gait and style, they kept hitting those front balance pockets. On top of that, those pockets flop around a lot as soon as you pick up the pace, which I found really annoying. Now, if you have one of those “straight” arm swings or if you walk really slowly you will be fine but for me, Aarn’s clever front load mini-packs just didn’t work out. I quickly went back to the same trusty old balancing system, also used by many others in our community, which consists of carrying a daypack “in reverse” in front of the body (see solution 5.)

Anyhow, would we recommend you try a pack from Aarn? Given how innovative, thoughtful and high-quality their products are, definitely! For most small companies, setting up international distribution channels is quite hard and it’s great to see that Aarn now has a USA distributor. They (smartly) give you a 30 days window for returns so there’s no reason not to try their products.

I hope these front-carry tips and techniques help some of you. Happy hikes!


OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

6 – Backpacks for hiking and general use: quick FAQs and tips

This is a compendium of the many questions I’ve had on forums, PMs, etc. I’ve tried to be as short and concise as I could.

1 - How exactly do you experienced hikers test a new backpack? How often do you return or exchange it?

a) We buy from a local hiking shop whenever possible. We first try the pack empty, then loaded - we typically bring a current pack with all our gear inside and transfer the stuff. When that’s not possible we use the store’s sand bags, keeping in mind that those small 10 pound bags that sits at the bottom of the pack are too compact to represent a real load. If the store has stairs we do multiple passes up and down those stairs.

b) For all packs referenced in my articles, we spend a minimum of 100 miles (~161 kms) and 10,000 feet (~3000 meters) elevation (up and down mountains) testing a pack with varying loads, terrains and weather. Those who live in flat areas have to be a bit creative to mimic going up and down mountains (a pack feels and behaves very differently on slopes) but there are always buildings or parking garages with lots of stairways so that’s not a problem (never, ever test a backpack on flat terrain only!)

c) I asked our Stats guy to post a survey with your second question. Our community returns or exchanges a little over 20% of purchased packs. This percentage should logically be much higher for folks with less experience.

2 - How do I measure my torso length?

You can’t do that correctly by yourself but it’s easy with a friend. Lean against a wall and have your helper make two horizontal marks with chalk or masking tape: one at your iliac crest (the top of your hip bone) and one at your C7 vertebrae (that’s the big protrusion at the base of your neck, easy to find when you lean forward a bit.) The distance between these two is your torso length.
Or, ask your hiking shop to measure this for you.
Or, do both to be on the safe side (some hiking shop staffers are poorly trained for this.)

Reminder! It is your torso length that actually matters for backpacks, not how tall or short you are. My own torso length, for example, is the same as that of many friends who are several inches taller than me (yes, this means that the short-legged creature with an ugly mug you saw out there could well be me!)

3 - What would be a simple way to describe the difference between a Pressure Panel pack and a Tensioned Mesh Panel pack?

The best analogy I’ve ever heard came from one of our members, a witty guy who says to newbies:

“You have 2 vehicles in front of you: my new Volkswagen ID4 SUV with its modern suspension and Air Conditioning, which would be any topnotch TMP pack, and then you have my old Yugo with its horrible seats, back-breaking suspension and of course no AC, which would be pretty much any PP photo pack. Now, which vehicle do you think would be best for your backside?”

This analogy is a bit simplistic, I know, but it’s accurate. Now, take into account that photo pack makers often make you pay 2-3 times more for the Yugo than for the VW and you understand why more and more people buy TMP packs, even for short city walks or zoo strolls. And with temperatures rising quickly just about everywhere, more and more folks in places like Alaska or Norway also use TMP packs. It’s simply a smart buying decision based on solid, common sense.

4 - One of my favorite things about hiking is listening to the many sounds of nature as I explore woods and mountains. I just bought a great big TMP backpack which I love but the loose straps constantly make those flapping sounds that drive me crazy. Is there any way I can mitigate that?

Better yet, you can completely eliminate the problem. Here are the two main solutions we use:

1) Buy a couple spools of high-quality sewing elastic band (3/4” for shoulder and side straps, 1” to 1 1/4” for belt strap) and stitch/sew short sleeves out of those. You want the sleeve to wrap around its strap loosely enough that you can slip at least 2 layers under it when you have to double or triple fold the strap end (common with hikers who have a small waist.)

2) Buy high-quality rolls of double-sided hook-and-loop (these have dozens of uses, buy Velcro Onewrap or similar, don’t waste your money on the cheap stuff) and make your own strap bands. Here are the directions for a standard belt strap: grab the end of your roll and wrap it around the strap with the hook (prickly) side against the belt (this will ensure a better hold), cut the sleeve with sharp scissors. Done!

Note to all manufacturers (except Decathlon, see Post 4): these DYI solutions are not an excuse for you to be so unprofessional as to “forget” to fit all strap ends on your packs with sleeves (an industry expert told us that the mass-production cost of a strap sleeve is under one penny…)

5 - Pack A is lighter than pack B, will it work better for me?

Not necessarily. In fact the opposite is often true. The pack’s own “dry” weight is not important and you can’t really tell it anyway, as we have verified countless times through blind tests. We actually make a game out of it and it’s quite revealing to see that even very experienced hikers “guess wrong” more than half the time about which pack a friend has strapped them in, while fitted with blinders (eyes covered with a neck warmer or a scarf.) What actually matters is a pack’s weight distribution abilities (just like actual back ventilation.)

6 - Should a man never purchase a woman backpack model or vice versa?

While it’s important for the customer to be offered a wide diversity of packs, we would not recommend that you exclusively base your purchase on “gender” models. The most important thing is that you actually try the pack on, loaded with all your gear (FAQ 10.) For example, two of my own daypacks are “female” versions and they work great even though I have fairly broad shoulders. We also have many ladies in the group who love hiking with “men” models that are a good fit for them.

7 – I shoot a lot of skiddish wildlife. What packs do you folks use for long and heavy rigs and how do you get those in and out of the bag?

Here are the inside measurements (collar raised and then slightly cinched for obvious reasons) for the packs we use the most with long combos:

DFP40: 18" to the bottom divider, 24" to the actual bottom with divider unzipped (the DFP44EL is about 3” longer)

DFV60: 22" to the bottom divider, 29" to the actual bottom with divider unzipped

The new CP44 works well too with up to 27" to the actual bottom with divider unzipped.

Method 1: some of us place our long rigs facing up inside the pack. This makes it easier to keep the lens hood on and results in less chances of damaging the rig if you ever drop the pack hard or fall backwards. Access is through the top for very long rigs or via the front panel for shorter ones.

Method 2: others prefer their rig facing down, slide the lens inside a plastic or cardboard tube that is a bit wider than the lens and/or hood (look for such tubes at your hardware or art supplies store.) The cam body rests on the top rim of the tube (some add a foam or rubber gasket,) making the rig super easy to pull and drop in. They fill the pack around the tube with clothes or food which are still easy to access if needed via the front panel. Filling the side bellows pockets with gear also helps to keep the tube centered. Here cam access is through the top only.

8 - Won’t a TMP pack “pull me backward” or make me more tired?

Such concerns are more misconceptions and internet lore than anything. Why? A well-fitted and correctly loaded TMP pack spreads your load evenly and close to your spine by design - the heavier the load, the closest it actually gets to your CG (Center of Gravity.) How certain are we? My community has logged countless thousands of hours hiking, trail running and mountain biking with TMP packs for over two decades, so you’d think we would have noticed by now if this was a problem, wouldn’t you?

Ironically we have found that the opposite is often true. First, given that a great many PP packs are deeper than TMP packs, they “pull you back” more because their own CG is further away from yours - except of course for highly-specialized climbing packs that are narrow, shallow and tight against the spine. And second, all good TMP panels spread the pack’s weight evenly which is absolutely not the case with PP packs (hence the heat, pain and discomfort they generate.)

9 - Do all of you guys always use an ICU with the TMP backpacks?

No, the majority uses the DFP40 or the Vario, both of which have many practical options to stash bodies and lenses, which makes an ICU unnecessary (those side bellow pockets are awesome!) Some just wrap their gear in socks, clothing layers, neoprene pouches, etc. Some use a shoulder or holster bag as a portable ICU. Some of us occasionally add an ICU when we need more than 4-5 MFT lenses (or 2-3 DSLR lenses) on specific shoots, in which case the bottom compartments are great for quick access.

10 - I have an ICU model X by brand Y, will it fit pack Z? How? Can you post photos of your setups?

Our community now comprises well over one thousand hikers, out of which around 300 own one or more packs and ICUs, which means hundreds of possible combinations. If I posted pics of one, I would have to share pics of the others or many readers would immediately jump to the conclusion that brand/model A is better than brand/model B, etc. Not helpful, plus I would not get permission to post others’ pictures anyway since we have a very strict covenant about sharing our photos, which we only do within a strictly private network.

But back to your core question, it’s not a complicated problem if you go about it in a sensible way.
If you start from scratch, always buy the pack first since it is by far the more important part of the hike/photo/video equation. Once you find a pack that fits your needs, get one or more ICUs that fit it, keeping in mind that bringing too much gear, such as a laptop, tablet or too many lenses on a short hike, is a very common mistake. Do not fall into that trap!

Getting the right ICU in-store is easy, just bring your pack and all your gear (photo and else) and check what fits inside what. When you order an ICU online, measure its outside dimensions and compare them to the inside dimensions of the pack (be aware that manufacturers don’t always publish correct dimensions.) In fairness, that is of course a bit more difficult with TMP packs since they tend to use fairly sophisticated, “non-square” designs, as opposed to PP photo packs that often are a simple rectangular box (basically a large, quality ICU with shoulder straps and pockets.)

– What we usually prefer for top-loading packs is an ICU with side opening that is about 3/4 inch (2cms) smaller than the smallest dimension of the pack at the top opening (under the lid) which means that this side opening now faces up – you should be able to run your index finger around the insert. Since good TMP packs have by design a slightly curved frame, it’s good practice to first load “the other stuff” that will sit below the ICU: food, clothes, stove, water, extra shoes, etc. Then insert the ICU. It may get a little squeezed halfway down if things are on the tight side, but that’s okay because that is exactly where we want it (remember that the pack’s curve flattens as the load increases which makes the contents slide down a little): you now have quick top pack access via the side opening of the ICU for an easy grab of your most-used cam+lens combo.

Tip: just like testing an empty pack is close to useless, never test an ICU by just sliding it into the top of an empty bag since that is not representative at all of what you will experience on the trail.

– With packs that are also panel loaders, those of us who prefer to place their photo gear at the bottom of the pack use of course “standard” ICUs with the top panel that unzips for gear access.

If you buy online, make sure the vendor has a free or fair return policy and don’t hesitate to try more than one ICU. Fitting a load inside a backpack always involves trial and error, so don’t behave like an armchair hiker! Buy the stuff, get out there and test it yourself. How? See FAQ #1.

Tip: check your old camcorder or film shoulder bags (or buy on CL or ebay) as some of those fit just great inside backpacks and are far better built than most ICUs.

11 - I figure that my photo and other gear (without water) occupy a volume of about 28 liters for my 1-2 day hikes during the warm season. I hesitate between a 30L and a 40L TMP backpacks. The 40L is about one pound heavier. Which one would you recommend?

The 40 liters is your only sensible choice. Think this through… With a 30 liters plus water for just one day, you are already maxed out. With the right pack you could lash extra stuff to the outside of the pack, but it’s not always practical, or even safe if you bushwhack. In reality, the 40L may well be too small for a 2 day hike in winter since cold season clothing and gear take up far more volume.

What about that extra pound for the larger empty bag? As we have verified countless times, blind tests with empty TMP packs reveal that it is not possible, even for experienced hikers like us, to know for certain if we have a 45-60L or a 25L pack on our back. Bottom line? When in doubt the wise thing to do is always to buy the larger model. Remember that reducing a large TMP pack down to half its volume or even less is incredibly simple and easy (just grab those compression straps and give them a good little tug!) Conversely, expanding the volume of a small pack is anywhere from difficult to downright impossible since most of them have few or no lash points.

12 – How do I avoid getting dirt on my pack when setting it down in some deep muddy mess?

Use any of these old hiking tricks:

1) With a top-loading pack, simply wrap the bottom of the pack in the rain cover, set it down in the mud, open the top and access whatever you need.

2) With a front panel loader, place the rain cover on the harness side and set the pack down. You now have clean and dry access to the contents.
3) Unfold half of your sleeping bag pad (super easy with Z-types, my favorites) and sit the pack on it.
4) Same with that extra trash bag you always carry (you do, don’t you?)

5) Or simply unfold about half of your ground sheet (Polycryo or Tyvek 1443R are great, avoid standard tarps or plastic sheets.)

Note: Still agonizing over getting some dirt on any of the above? Consider dirtless activities such as knitting or crossword puzzles.

13 – My TMP backpack is super comfy but it squeaks like hell and that drives me nuts! Can I fix that noise with WD40?

We are all-too-familiar with this issue. One of our members tried WD40, it didn’t solve the problem and made his pack stink so bad that he had to trash it. Powders such as talcum or graphite need to be reapplied frequently and only work on simplistic, very visible frames such as the ones found on some UL packs.

Here is what works and how. Get a syringe with a strong needle which you fill with either liquid silicone or castor oil. Now examine your pack closely to find where the frame is. This can be quite difficult since that TMP frame is often tightly encased in fabric (and rubs against it, which creates the “squeaking like a hellish little animal” noise you hear on every step.) Now poke a small hole into the fabric and inject some lubricant every inch or so. Be aware that silicone is highly “runny” so you’ll want to use very small amounts of it. Finally, gently “massage” the frame with the pack upside down for optimal spread. This method completely eliminates the squeaks. Those of us who hike a lot with their Osprey packs need to do this 2 to 3 times a year, but it brings your joy of hiking back and it’s totally worth the time.

14 – Lately I’ve seen more “roll-top” photo backpacks on the market. What do you think about those?

Well, this is yet another idiotic fad exploited by unscrupulous manufacturers who take advantage of inexperienced, geeky, gullible customers.

But first, a bit of history;.many thru-hikers - aka long distance hikers, those who set challenges for themselves such as hiking thru the entire AT (Appalachian Trail) or the PCT (Pacific Coast Trail) in the USA, or shorter but often more challenging trails in Europe such as the glorious GTA (Grande Traversée des Alpes) - rejoiced when the outdoors industry came up with super strong, super light tarp-like, theoretically waterproof fabrics such as Dyneema or Xpac. These were first used for roll-top dry sacks but a few clever people realized that hey, if you just added straps to one side of that big pouch, you had a backpack! That started a whole cottage industry of highly-specialized, small UL (Ultra Light) pack makers who cater to the needs of thru-hikers ( is a good source.) Personally, I think that’s just great. However, what works for a thru-hiker is not what works for many hikers or photographers, far from it:

1) These light and tough fabrics are hard to piece together, requiring highly-specialized stitching and/or taping techniques, which is why these packs almost never use zippers. This is the real reason for the rolltop system, a mechanism that is fairly waterproof when new. But after a while the thin fabric tends to break down at the top where it is constantly folded and unfolded, letting water in.

2) Even on smaller packs, the lid (aka “brain” in some hiking circles) is a critical feature since it gives you quick, convenient access to all sorts of essentials: first aid kit, keys, wallet, sunglasses, compact cam, binoculars, sunscreen, etc. (add rain gear, gloves, extra lenses etc. on larger packs.) Where do you put all that stuff in a rolltop bag? Well, you have no lid, so you ain’t got no choice but to just dump them in the main compartment, which becomes a big messy affair, which explains why many of these roll-tops have very large front and side pockets usually made of some wide netting type of material, which in turn totally defeats the stated claim of using waterproof material for the pack since all the stuff stashed in those outside pockets gets soaked when it rains.

3) Those large outside mesh pockets, even the ones made of “tough” netting, simply are too weak off-trail – thru-hikers often bushwhack, either by choice or because they got lost - which results in mesh torn from branches, rocks or thorns. Such had happened to a good friend of mine whom I had joined for a few days on his thru-hike. He also owns a DFP60 but he had decided to use his Osprey Exos 58 for that adventure, on the count that it is a couple of pounds lighter. When I caught up with him, 25 days into his thru-hike, he was still happy with the Exos’ very good TMP, harness and numerous lash points, but he was starting to get really frustrated with the lack of hip belt pockets and rain cover, the flimsy side compression straps with their bad zigzag routing (one strap has already failed) and the large tears in the mesh outer pocket which had become almost unusable, forcing him to restock foods twice as often. I had brought strong tape which allowed him to make temporary repairs, but just a week later he arranged for his wife to meet at a crossroads where she brought his Vario. He later told me that this pack swap had made the rest of his journey far more enjoyable.

4) On a standard pack with an extensible collar 100% of the added height is usable. For example, the DFV60 truly adds 10 liters of capacity. With rolltops you often loose at least half of the height and capacity once the top has been rolled down and clipped in. Worse, packing is more difficult because the upper part of the remaining space is slanted. Opening/closing rolltops is also much slower than lids.

15 – Do you guys have tips about rain covers? I’d like to get a good one!

a) Look for one that has a loose fit (for example, a 50 liter cover for your 30 liter pack, this way you can leave things like water bottles, tripods or extra cams/lenses in the outside pockets) and that is of the far superior variety that has a strap and buckle at mid-back – amazingly, no main manufacturer, except REI on a few packs (Post 4) offers this common-sense feature. Just slide the strap behind the TMP and buckle it. This ensures that the cover cannot rip out in strong winds or while bushwhacking. It also makes it impossible for a thief to snatch it off.
Tip: If your cover doesn’t come with a drain hole, always punch one (1/4 or 3/8 inch) about 2 inches from the back edge of the cover’s bottom as it’s normal for rain water to sneak down there. Make sure to add a brass or aluminum grommet (revolving hole cutters are junk, look instead for a quality grommet kit, the good ones usually come with a hardwood block.)

b) I personally have 2 covers of different colors for each of my main packs: a bright color when visibility is key to survival (hunting season, way off-trail hikes) and a black or dark gray one when I want to be as inconspicuous as possible, be it in nature (wildlife approach, BIF, etc.) or in crowded areas such as risky cities, train stations, etc. (in those places I only use my pocket cam in a hipbelt pocket and/or my bridge cam clipped to my chest, covered by my mesh vest when I’m not shooting. I also keep money and important documents in a hidden pocket underneath my shirt.)

16 - I’m a female hiker and I absolutely hate how the ends of those long belt straps flap against my bare thighs in the Summer. Can I just cut them off? The store told me to tie them into knots but I hate those even more because they rub against my stomach.

I understand your frustration but the problem with this idea is that hiking with extra layers in colder weather easily adds 6 to 8 inches to your waist. So if you cut off the loose straps, your pack will be unusable in cold season. Make your own strap sleeves instead (see how in FAQ 4.)

17 – I bought an expensive hiking umbrella but it just doesn’t do the job. The way it ties onto a shoulder strap in front and a pole loop in back gives it an angle that gives me some protection from the rain, but almost never enough from the sun. Help!

A few of our members have skin conditions that require a high level of UV protection and these types of umbrellas were of no help. So, one of them invented a brilliant “Humbrella” system that actually works far better for sun and rain/wind protection. This works with all Deuter Futuras and many other TMP packs. Here is the DIY he said I could share here:
1 – slide a piece of PVC tubing (1/2 or 5/8 inch usually works) behind your TMP, just outside one of the shoulder strap anchors, all the way to the bottom.

2 – cut it about 2” above where the load adjuster strap is stitched into the frame.

3 – add a strong hose clamp (to prevent it from ever sliding down) near the top and cinch the area just below the clamp to the base of the load adjuster with paracord of a zip tie.

4 – cinch the bottom of the tube to the lower part of the TMP or frame with paracord of a zip tie (on the Futura 26 you can just wedge it in there.)

5 – buy whatever quality umbrella you like and remove the handle to expose the entire shaft, then cut the J section (end of shaft) off.

6 – just slide the umbrella’s shaft into the tube and you have a Humbrella! Our friends also wrapped the shaft with grip tape in order to have just enough friction for up/down adjustments depending on the sun’s angle.

18 - Could I use a TMP pack as a carry-on? Any other travel tips?

We do this all the time. We also often use some of the smaller TMP daypacks (Post 5) as “personal item.”

Tip 1: when compressed vertically and with the lid empty, the DFP40 and CP44 are only 22” tall and the DFV60 24”, which many airlines accept in-cabin. They rarely measure anyway and the trick is to make them perceive your pack as not-too-big. To do this (after security and before I enter the check-in line) I put my pack down and I fold the hip belt against the TMP. I then compress the entire pack tightly using a 2 inch luggage strap centered vertically (I run it inside the top carry handle.) Now I still have use of the shoulder straps and I still have the same (reasonable) amount of stuff inside my pack, but it looks much smaller.
Note: by tightening the luggage strap even more you can easily make the pack 2” shorter.

Tip 2: I never go to an airport without a lightweight, zillion-pockets vest. Whenever an overzealous airline staffer makes me check my carry-on, I open it up and transfer all my valuable gear, including cams, lenses or a laptop, into those pockets – taking my Texas time which makes the jerk look like even more of a fool than he already is.

Tip 3: Never ever simply check a large backpack if you care about what’s inside. Wrap it inside a large trash bag and secure with straps, or place it inside a cheap-looking, large roller.

Tip 4: The TMP Osprey Farpoint Trek packs are currently best-in-class as multi-purpose travel packs.

Tip 5: Never believe such meaningless claims as “meets FAA (or IATA) size regulations.” The check-in supervisor, or sometimes the Captain, actually decides what is allowed inside the cabin.

19 - Some manufacturers show a “maximum recommended load” on their web site, others don’t. Does this mean that they have not even tested their own backpacks?!

It very well could. Or, that they are simply too lazy and sloppy to provide the info to their potential customers (very common in the outdoors industry.) You don’t say what models you are looking at, but we have found is that packs from the main brands can often handle far more than what they list. Here are concrete examples:

a) A few years ago, on a steep hike with a few friends toward a staffed "refuge" (also called hut, shelter, etc.) in the Alps, we heard a jovial warning and two young guys zoomed by us at what seemed like supersonic speed, in spite of carrying obviously huge loads. One was using one of those big packs used by sherpas around the world, and the other one had a DFV60 with additional bags strapped to the top, bottom and sides (the whole assemblage was so huge that we could barely see his knees!)

A couple of hours later we arrived at the refuge, exhausted, and we got to meet these guys. They were super friendly and we learned that they were making money on the side hauling up supplies twice a week from the village in the valley, deep below. We asked them how much weight they were hauling and they told us usually around 50 kilos each (about 110 pounds, well over twice what Deuter suggests.) Since their packs had been emptied we asked if we could have a look at the DFV60 (my buddy had just bought one.) We looked for ripped straps, busted threads, fabric tears, etc. and found... none. The next morning we watched our two compadres reload their packs with non-compostable stuff and take off running down the steep trail, a simply stunning sight. The refuge staffer explained to us that they in fact used those hauling trips as additional training sessions as... members of their national ski team (these incredibly humble athletes hadn't said a word about that.) Anyhow, this encounters remains a fond hiking memory.

b) The CP44 recently handled a 58 pounds load (~26 kilos) with ease in test mode: large ICU with 1 body (APSC), 10 lenses and 1 TC, small ICU (1 APSC body + 4 lenses), food (inside orange dry box), one water bottle plus tripod in right pocket, two water bottles in left pocket (134 oz water total), jacket plus second tripod lashed to lid, alternate shoes in front pocket, monopod lashed to poles loops. Not visible on this quick snapshot are the big laptop inside its sleeve, a compact cam in a hip pocket, some clothing in the upper compartment, a G1X3, first-aid kit and small items in the lid, etc.

Cosyspeed Photohiker 44 in testing: 58 pounds load

20 – I hiked a lot in my youth but I am currently recovering from a life-threatening medical condition. Could I use hiking to get healthy again? Do you have any advice that could help?

I have been in a very similar situation myself and hiking was indeed a huge part of my own recovery, welcome to the club! Here are a few awesome tips I was given at the time (I have used them ever since):
1) Always “ramp up” very incrementally. Start by walking around your neighborhood for half an hour and add 5 minutes a day until you are comfortable with a 3 hour walk. Then you can gently hit the trail (but always listen to what your body tells you.)

2) Develop your own set of gentle stretches and use those every couple of hours, or every time you take a break (food, pics, nap, etc.) and definitely at the end of your hike.

3) Unless you go on a very short hike, always use at least two pairs of shoes. Personally I swap shoes after roughly 5 hours. I also systematically vary between zero-drop (Altra) and low-drop (Topo, Hoka) shoes. This actually changes your stance and gait and it makes a surprisingly big difference for the rest of the day.

4) For about 5 minutes every hour, grab your load lifters, bring them up and push forward hard at a 45 degree angle (the top of the shoulder straps should lift by about 1 inch) while thrusting your pelvis forward by engaging your core muscles, and keep walking, just a bit slower. This actually changes your posture and also makes a big difference. This is why packs should have real load lifters, such as the ones offered by Decathlon (Post 4.).

5) Keep your hydration level high, even in wet or cold weather.

6) If you do not already own an Inversion Table, buy one (PM me for best current model) and use it every time you come home from a hike, and for that matter, every day. These things last for life and have a myriad of health benefits.

Happy walks, hikes, runs and travels!


travelertom New Member • Posts: 11

The hiking photographer's reference guide for backpacks. Monumental.

Thx for the tidbit!

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Bing Chow Senior Member • Posts: 2,594

As you know, I'm not a hiker, so I like camera backpacks. But massive kudos to you for putting this together. Respect!

mujana Veteran Member • Posts: 8,153

Thank you for your posts. Very informative. I don' t hike for the sole purpose of hiking alone. I (did?) travel though, and sometimes it is necessary to hike, if you really want to see some places (like in Nepal/Himalayas). In those cases I always brought my larger Macpac backpack with me. And then a separate small pack for my camera gear.

At the moment (at home and not travelling), I use a Billingham shoulder bag (like it very much, but not for hiking ofcourse).

I read about the Bevis Gear Top Shelf pack, and I wonder if you know this or have any experience with this system. Looks pretty good.

Thank you!

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starfly Senior Member • Posts: 1,134

Thanks for the extensive review, Chris.

A few questions on the Photohiker 44:

  • Is this bag small enough for carry-on luggage on an airplane? Will it fit under an average airplane seat?
  • Their website lists the bag as being 32cm wide. Do you think an ICU that's 32cm wide will fit inside? I already have a peak design medium camera cube, which is 32x32x17cm.
  • Are there any other organizational pockets in the main compartment, or does one need to use the brain (or top part) of the bag for further organization?

I also took a look at that Quechua bag and that also looks like a very interesting bag. Did you use that yourself, or only by others in your group? How well can things be organized in there? Assuming an ICU will fit inside (do you suspect 32x32x17cm will fit?). How about a laptop? And other odds and ends?


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boogisha Senior Member • Posts: 2,708

Chris 222 wrote:

2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L: (MSRP: $65)


The clear standout for us as hiking photographers is the 2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L, a quality TMP pack with outstanding features, a 10-year warranty, dual gear access, good comfort and plenty of nice touches such as strap sleeves, real load lifters, large belt pockets , etc. for a measly 55 euros (roughly $65, less than you spend right now on a car fill-up or a restaurant outing in many countries. I am told that this outstanding value is possible because Decathlon allows no middleman, controls their own manufacturing and distribution, and practices fair profit margins.) Bottom line? The outstanding Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L outperforms all others and is currently the world’s best value in daypacks (closely followed by the MH500 40L, same pack, just a little more spacious at 15 euros more.) If you live in any of the 50+ countries where Decathlon has stores, getting this pack is a total no-brainer.

I have to admit I`m rather surprised to see the cheapest/budget backpack (or at least one of) come on top, and that not by value for the price (alone?) but simply doing a vast majority of things just right... But that`s some great news!

I`ve visited local Decathlon yesterday (two stores, actually, spending some 2-3 hours in total for sure ), and I`ve seen and (somewhat extensively) tested all Quechua MH500 packs - being sizes of 20L, 30L and 40L, also trying both S and L lengths - and I must say I will most probably get one (at least For the price of some/many photo backpacks, some of which I already own, I could get three Quechua backpacks in all the different sizes and still end up with one third of the amount to spare, lol).

Actually, the mean reason I didn`t already buy one right away is that I`m not yet sure whether I should go with 30L or 40L one... and which color to choose from

I don`t have much time at my hands at the moment so I`ll come back with some details and observations of my own, but I just wanted to say one huge THANKS once more, as this is exactly why posts like this are invaluable, coming from seasoned/experienced people and merely pointing the unaware in the right direction, where we might have never thought of even looking at otherwise (and probably ending up with a much more expensive, yet more or less inferior solution).

Thanks, Chris, for everything!

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starfly Senior Member • Posts: 1,134

boogisha wrote:

Chris 222 wrote:

2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L: (MSRP: $65)


The clear standout for us as hiking photographers is the 2020 Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L, a quality TMP pack with outstanding features, a 10-year warranty, dual gear access, good comfort and plenty of nice touches such as strap sleeves, real load lifters, large belt pockets , etc. for a measly 55 euros (roughly $65, less than you spend right now on a car fill-up or a restaurant outing in many countries. I am told that this outstanding value is possible because Decathlon allows no middleman, controls their own manufacturing and distribution, and practices fair profit margins.) Bottom line? The outstanding Decathlon Quechua MH500 30L outperforms all others and is currently the world’s best value in daypacks (closely followed by the MH500 40L, same pack, just a little more spacious at 15 euros more.) If you live in any of the 50+ countries where Decathlon has stores, getting this pack is a total no-brainer.

I have to admit I`m rather surprised to see the cheapest/budget backpack (or at least one of) come on top, and that not by value for the price (alone?) but simply doing a vast majority of things just right... But that`s some great news!

I`ve visited local Decathlon yesterday (two stores, actually, spending some 2-3 hours in total for sure ), and I`ve seen and (somewhat extensively) tested all Quechua MH500 packs - being sizes of 20L, 30L and 40L, also trying both S and L lengths - and I must say I will most probably get one (at least For the price of some/many photo backpacks, some of which I already own, I could get three Quechua backpacks in all the different sizes and still end up with one third of the amount to spare, lol).

Actually, the mean reason I didn`t already buy one right away is that I`m not yet sure whether I should go with 30L or 40L one... and which color to choose from

I don`t have much time at my hands at the moment so I`ll come back with some details and observations of my own, but I just wanted to say one huge THANKS once more, as this is exactly why posts like this are invaluable, coming from seasoned/experienced people and merely pointing the unaware in the right direction, where we might have never thought of even looking at otherwise (and probably ending up with a much more expensive, yet more or less inferior solution).

Thanks, Chris, for everything!

Ah, very curious about your impressions of the Quechua bags. I don't have any stores locally that carry them, so would need to order. Particularly interested in knowing what size ICU you think would fit, as well as how a laptop can be carried (up to 15") and any other organizational features. I'm leaning towards the 40L bag myself.

 starfly's gear list:starfly's gear list
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boogisha Senior Member • Posts: 2,708

starfly wrote:

I also took a look at that Quechua bag and that also looks like a very interesting bag. Did you use that yourself, or only by others in your group? How well can things be organized in there? Assuming an ICU will fit inside (do you suspect 32x32x17cm will fit?). How about a laptop? And other odds and ends?

I tried all Quechua MH500 backpacks - 20L, 30L and 40L - with my aging and definitely not small (by today`s standards) Dell Inspiron N5010 15.6" laptop (bought some ten years ago), specced at 37.6 x 26.2 x 3.1 cm (2.7 kg), and it fitted inside (supposedly?) water bladder section nicely in all of them - even the smaller S versions (for shorter torso length), which is not that suprising, actually, as the width is the same for all of them (30cm), being height and depth that changes (of the back itself, but height of the frame between S and L versions as well).

For some more reference, I`ve tried putting my (fully stuffed!) Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L (specced at 31 x 19 x 11cm, being 12.2" x 7.48" x 4.33") horizontally at the bottom of all of them and it was a snug fit in 30L, with some space to spare in 40L (for a travel tripod, for example), yet in 20L it couldn`t fit horizontally but vertically only (which would be useful orientation in any of them, actually, allowing easy access through side/U zipper).

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Chris_2017 Forum Member • Posts: 78

Gregory Z40 (old version, have to find second hand or NOS on eBay - You can tell the old ones apart by the different colourways). Proper hiking bag. More organisation / adjustments. Comes with rain cover. 2 different lengths to fit your body size. Use with padded camera insert.

Ortlieb Atrack (or CR 25, without the waist padding). Completely waterproof. Less organisation / adjustments. Less capacity than Gregory. Use with padded camera insert.

I have the G Z40 and want the Ortlieb.

Sorry for the non-English videos but they're the best ones that showcase each bag. You can a good idea without knowing what they are saying anyway.

Personally I would either prefer a fully-waterproof bag (there aren't many) like the Ortlieb, or something more technical and comfort focused, like the Gregory. I don't really believe in "weather resistant" etc for backpacks.

Pinqponq Blok (medium or large) is another very comfy and well-organised option. More "urban" / city style and not a hiking bag. Needs a rain cover. Would work well as a camera bag with an insert.

F-stop stuff looks meh AND they don't mention the dimensions or, crucially, the weight, of their bags on the website! Big no just for that -_-

Not a fan of Osprey. Worked at an outdoor shop and their zips always sucked.

Suggestion: As TMP is mentioned 73 times on this page, maybe define it at the start of the article. I found the definition twice.

starfly Senior Member • Posts: 1,134

boogisha wrote:

starfly wrote:

I also took a look at that Quechua bag and that also looks like a very interesting bag. Did you use that yourself, or only by others in your group? How well can things be organized in there? Assuming an ICU will fit inside (do you suspect 32x32x17cm will fit?). How about a laptop? And other odds and ends?

I tried all Quechua MH500 backpacks - 20L, 30L and 40L - with my aging and definitely not small (by today`s standards) Dell Inspiron N5010 15.6" laptop (bought some ten years ago), specced at 37.6 x 26.2 x 3.1 cm (2.7 kg), and it fitted inside (supposedly?) water bladder section nicely in all of them - even the smaller S versions (for shorter torso length), which is not that suprising, actually, as the width is the same for all of them (30cm), being height and depth that changes (of the back itself, but height of the frame between S and L versions as well).

For some more reference, I`ve tried putting my (fully stuffed!) Peak Design Everyday Sling 5L (specced at 31 x 19 x 11cm, being 12.2" x 7.48" x 4.33") horizontally at the bottom of all of them and it was a snug fit in 30L, with some space to spare in 40L (for a travel tripod, for example), yet in 20L it couldn`t fit horizontally but vertically only (which would be useful orientation in any of them, actually, allowing easy access through side/U zipper).

That's great info, thanks. Sounds like a 32x32x17 ICU would fit (or my PD Sling 6L [v2]) in the 40L just fine.

I'll try to order it, though the L version, which is the one I'd probably need, is out of stock on their website in both colors for the 40L version. Hopefully it will not be out of stock for too long. Hard to beat $80 for a backpack.

And if it doesn't work I'll probably order the Photohiker 44.

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Malling Senior Member • Posts: 1,107

starfly wrote:

Thanks for the extensive review, Chris.

A few questions on the Photohiker 44:

  • Is this bag small enough for carry-on luggage on an airplane? Will it fit under an average airplane seat?
  • Their website lists the bag as being 32cm wide. Do you think an ICU that's 32cm wide will fit inside? I already have a peak design medium camera cube, which is 32x32x17cm.
  • Are there any other organizational pockets in the main compartment, or does one need to use the brain (or top part) of the bag for further organization?

I also took a look at that Quechua bag and that also looks like a very interesting bag. Did you use that yourself, or only by others in your group? How well can things be organized in there? Assuming an ICU will fit inside (do you suspect 32x32x17cm will fit?). How about a laptop? And other odds and ends?


According to the infos and what I heard it can be pinched down to 55cm in height (probably by removing the floating lid). so should be able to take with you on most planes, well except perhaps Ryanair.  Whether or not you can use it as a personal item depends on the airline and local regulations. In Europe personal items tend to be 2/3 the seize of the Carry on, unless you fly business class.  If that is not the case then a bag the seize of the photogiker would be impossible to count as a personal item, well in Europe at least. In Europe the personal item is a small camera sling bag, computer bag etc. often no higher then 30-40cm and a total dimensions of 70-80cm, as it is required that it fit under the seat. So no camera backpacks can in reality be used as personal item, unless of course you can afford flying on business class.

A 32cm ICU cannot typically fit inside  a bag that is 32cm in width, I tried enough bags that it’s practically impossible in most bags, as the room inside looses a couple of centimetres in the narrowest places more. The 32cm typically is also measured the broadest place on the outside and backpacks is not a square box, some places it narrows in, and it should be no bigger then the narrowest place inside the main compartment. My trick is to buy the bag measured  it and buy a ICU that fit, yes that means you unavoidable have to accept several ICU, as it more the rule then the exception that what fit inside one won’t fit inside another.

OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Guys, remember that DPR still only allows 149 posts per thread (and it's highly unlikely I would ever go through the ordeal of re-posting my articles on this site) so please, do not turn this one into a bunch of questions that already have replies in my OP.

One good alternative is to start a new thread and link this one's URL at the top, plus of course using whatever quote is relevant. For example, does my ICU fit pack X, etc. (do see FAQ 10 first.)

I'm combining replies to the questions above in this post, again because of that ridiculous limitation.

boog' and starfly, your Q is covered in FAQ 11 but I will add this. We limited capacity at 35L for the daypacks comparative tests because that is the upper limit in the industry. But if that limit had been 40L, we would have picked the Decathlon MH500 40L, hands down. It's the same great pack, only about 100 grams heavier. Quite a few of us own it, the added capacity always comes in handy.

starfly, same here, your Q is already answered in FAQ 18. The CP44 does compress down to 20" as explained, but I highly doubt it would fit under an "average airplane seat" (there's no such thing anyway, it's always a crap shoot except in 1st class.) 
I believe the CP44 already comes with the cube XL but I'd advise contacting them to make sure, I think there's a form for that on their site. Any ICU that is the same or smaller size as theirs (see site) would, obviously, fit.
Like 99% of backpacks, the CP44 does not have "additional" pockets inside (that would eat into the space), what folks who need additional organization do is simply place their gear inside different compression sacks (I have a set of cheap ones by Gonex, they work just fine.) I would have covered extra pockets in the review anyway.
But you already have a (removable) divider, i.e. a large compartment at the bottom and a smaller one at the top (exactly the reverse of the DFV60 or DFP40.)
If one gets really picky, the space between the laptop sleeve and the TMP is open (it's only stitched to the frame on the zipper side) so I suppose that could qualify as a large pocket for something long, wide and flat-ish.

Have a great Sunday!

Ken Gosden Senior Member • Posts: 2,996

A quick note that $290 MSRP for the Cosyspeed Photohiker 44 is the intro/preorder price.  Their website lists it as $380 MSRP.

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OP Chris 222 Senior Member • Posts: 1,865

Ken Gosden wrote:

A quick note that $290 MSRP for the Cosyspeed Photohiker 44 is the intro/preorder price. Their website lists it as $380 MSRP.


Not arguing with you as our community's assessment is that their site info is one of the worst of the bunch (see post 4) but I do believe that what I listed is currently correct (go to the products page and then find the "Preooder" price for the CP44):

OTOH, I did find that other page that lists $380... but if you click "buy now" nothing happens... GOOD GRIEF!

FWIW, one of the things I did among the conversations I had with their CEO over many months was make some very basic suggestions to him about their site's shortcomings. Sadly, none was heeded, including improving their spec sheets which are basically non-existant... Someone also told me recently that they still have some 404s, a problem that was already reported... 6 months ago! When I was a CEO, I was very much aware of how negatively a 404 is perceived and so was my webmaster. IF he ever missed one, typically after a major site update, it would take him at most a couple of minutes to fix the problem...

Anyhow, to anyone who orders the CP44: kindly PM me what Cosyspeed is actually charging you right now so that we may get to the bottom of this. Thanks.

HRC2016 Veteran Member • Posts: 6,874

A backpack for photographers is all about compromise.

I recommend a dedicated hiking backpack to carry hiking-only essentials,  and a waistpack to carry your bodies/lenses. You'll have faster access to your gear.

That also provides you with better versatility if you decide you don't want to combine both. Have you ever used a camera bag when you're not carrying gear? It sucks.

I also advise avoiding slings/messenger bags unless you want to injure your body. Have you ever tried to shoot when you don't have feeling in one of your hands?

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Satan loves the shadows - and the highlights.

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