Photo: Tim Barribeau

The Tenba Axis V2 18L ($200) is a well-made, quietly competent but otherwise uninteresting backpack. Tenba has been in this industry long enough to know the basics of building a functional bag, but this simple black rectangle struggles to stand out against a field packed with more interesting, stylish, or specialized options like Peak Design's exceedingly versatile Everyday Bag or LowePro's hiking bag that happens to hold cameras well too.


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Key features and specifications

  • MOLLE straps for extra accessories
  • Large side access openings
  • Useful pockets for organizing small extras (notably an Airtag or Bluetooth tracker)
  • Size: 27x43x20 cm (10.5”x16.75”x8”)
  • Weight: 1.36 kg (3lbs)
  • Laptop size: 14”
  • Capacity: 18L
  • Example max loadout: 1-2 Mirrorless or DSLR cameras with 4-6 lenses (up to attached 70-200mm F2.8)

Pockets and construction

Photo: Tim Barribeau

The Tenba Axis V2 18L has two side access panels that are very well designed and one on the top, which is less so. When you swing the bag around to get in via either of the side panels, it’s easy to grab what you need. The panels are suitably large – they don’t run the whole length of the bag like Peak Design’s, but they’re not so small that it would be hard to grab a camera with a full zoom lens out of the bag. The openings use two zippers, which I found to slide easily and which feel rugged enough to handle considerable use.

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Each panel has zippered internal pockets for stashing small items. I used them for batteries and spare lens caps. There are also expandable pockets on the outside for water bottles and travel tripods. As per usual, you set up the interior of the bag with velcro walls that you can mix and match to your heart’s delight, establishing a good layout for your own gear. Unfortunately, unlike Tenba's larger models, the Axis V2 18L doesn’t clamshell open all the way. This makes it harder to place all the velcro walls quickly and make sure everything fits because you can't view the whole space all at once. You're stuck reaching through access panels, doing it by feel. This is a common issue with camera bags, but it’s always a pain.

There’s also the de rigueur large back pocket with lots of internal organization for stashing pens, small notebooks, lens wipes, and all the other miscellanea you need often but not that often. There’s even a dedicated little neoprene pouch for tucking in an Apple Airtag, Tile Tracker, or other similarly sized tracking device, so you can always find your bag.

The zipper and flap are an annoying combination.

Photo: Tim Barribeau

The issue comes with the top access panel, which has both a flap and a zipper. The flap stays shut with a hook that clips into the MOLLE (modular, lightweight load-carrying equipment) webbing on the outside the bag. And then it’s held down again by a zipper. When the zipper was shut, I couldn't lift the flap enough to easily unzip it. Either of these fasteners would have been fine on their own, but doubling up caused me trouble and didn't give me any additional functionality. It could help prevent theft by making it hard to quickly dive into the bag, but it frustrated me every time I encountered it because it made it hard to quickly dive into the bag.

Design and style

Photo: Tim Barribeau

The Axis wears its military influence on its sleeve. The layers of MOLLE straps on the exterior of a bulky plain black bag show the clear lineage of milspec style and design, similar to the Wotancraft New Pilot. Tenba wears this influence proudly, “Tenba’s tactical Axis bags were inspired by the ultra-durable bags we’ve made for the military throughout our 40+ year history.”

The MOLLE webbing is a series of nylon straps that go around the bag horizontally and vertically and gave me useful places to place modular add-ons. Since many manufacturers make MOLLE accessories, you can mix and match anything from a first aid kit and trauma shears to a baby bottle holder. Tenba makes a number of its own addons that work with the MOLLE system, such as small pouches, battery holders, even space for an extra lens.

"The Axis wears its military influence on its sleeve."

In shape, the bag is very simple and rectangular. This meant I was able to squeeze more than I expected into its remarkably reasonable external dimensions; Tenba’s estimate of two small cameras and 4-6 lenses is right on the buzzer from my experience, which is impressive for something that’s less than 30cm tall.

But that comes with downsides. There’s functionally no tapering to the bag, and there’s no give to the body. It’s exactly the same size and shape, full or empty. If you can’t fit this under the seat in front of you on the airplane or into a jampacked car trunk, no amount of finagling or moving lenses around will change that.

Fortunately, I found the back padding did a good enough job at cushioning my back from the bag itself, making it reasonably comfortable to wear, but it got hot very quickly.

Photo: Tim Barribeau

Conclusion

The Tenba Axis V2 18L is certainly a functional bag. The components feel tough, the material is rugged, and the attachment system is practical and open-source enough to use with almost anything, including any gear you might already have. It has (mostly) smartly arranged access and pockets.

But without any standout features or compelling aspects to its design, it's hard to recommend. It’s an uninspired black box of a bag, and while that anonymity has its upsides, the boxiness has its downsides. It’s competent in almost every facet, but it's not especially ergonomic, nor are there any flashes of genius in its design.

I think any photographer would be totally fine using this bag, but for $200, odds are you can find something that suits your needs more directly.

What we like What we don't
  • Tough build quality
  • Large and easy-to-use access points
  • MOLLE for lots of extras
  • Fits a lot in a small space
  • Chunky shape
  • Workaday design
  • Irritating top flap

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