Vanguard Heralder 51T rolling backpack
$299 / £310

Photography backpacks have evolved significantly over time, making it even more difficult to settle on the right model. Optimization for lots of camera gear, travel, accessories or laptops are just a few of the possible categories to focus on when buying a backpack. Despite so many options, it too often seems as though you can't have it all - the smaller day packs skimp on the camera gear storage space, and large strap-equipped packs aren't ideal for holding garments and lunches. I personally have two photo backpacks: one smaller pack for day trips and one large roller for travel, holding strictly camera gear.

While it's convenient to have two bags, I find I have to take them both when I travel, which is not ideal. A design that combines the wheels and telescoping handle of the roller with a backpack offering plenty of storage would be a better fit. That's where the Vanguard Heralder 51T rolling backpack ($299.99) comes into play. It's a hefty backpack that offers a large camera equipment storage tray, four rolling wheels, a telescoping handle, laptop and tripod storage, and more. Although its size puts it on the large end of the spectrum, the Heralder 51T packs in so many pockets and features that it just may be the answer for those who want it all. Read on to find out if the Heralder 51T is your bag.

Main Specifications

  • Inside Dimensions: 11.8×7.7×18.1 in. (30x19.6x46cm.)
  • Outside Dimensions: 14×11.6×22.6 in. (35.6x29.5x57.4cm.)
  • Weight: 9.59 lbs. (4.3 kg)
  • Exterior Fabric: 1000D Polyester
  • Interior Fabric: 150D Polyester + Velvet
  • Comes with rain cover and accessory bag
  • Capacity: One pro DSLR with grip and lens attached (up to 300mm f/2.8), one additional body, 4-6 extra lenses, 2 flash units and accessories (memory cards, cables, battery and charger), plus a laptop up to 14" wide screen size, tablet like iPad and tripod
  • 4 Durable trolley wheels enable smooth horizontal movement
  • Removable interior tray for regular luggage use
  • Stowable shoulder straps
  • Bonus cell phone holder & accessory pouch


The Vanguard Heralder 51T is the company's flagship Heralder model constructed of high quality polyester fabrics inside and out. Smaller iterations of the Heralder are offered as well with virtually identical designs and watered down features. The Heralder 51T is the largest model and the only one to offer wheels and a telescoping handle. So, if you don't need all the pomp and circumstance but like the design, you have the Vanguard Heralder 46, 48, and 49 models to choose from. The Heralder line also offers a slew of over-the-shoulder camera bags of different shapes and sizes. But for our concerns, we'll be focusing on the Big Kahuna in this review.

The rubberized aluminum telescoping handle. Four roller wheels provide a smooth ride.

As is to be expected, the Heralder 51T is fairly large. It weighs nearly 10 lbs. and resides just outside the realm of airline carry-on dimensions, which is unfortunate, given that the bag is designed for travel. If you don't mind checking the Heralder 51T into an airliner's hold, then this will not be a problem. If you're looking for more of an everyday work bag, it will suit you even better. The Heralder 51T is equipped with four caster-based roller wheels so it can be tilted and pulled or set on the ground and pushed like a trolley.

The telescoping handle is made of sturdy aluminum, well concealed via a zipped enclosure and features a rubberized handle for extra grip. It's worth noting that the roller wheels raise the backpack up from the ground approximately two inches, which keep it away from dirt and liquid. If the wheels happen to get wet or dirty, a set of elastic nylon covers are built into the bottom pad that cover the rear wheels in order to keep your clothes from getting dirty.

The Heralder 51T has a fairly complete set of straps. Aside from contoured shoulder straps, the bag has a buckling waist strap for more support. The shoulder straps are quite impressive, featuring tension adjustments to raise or lower them for a more custom fit. The straps have D-rings, a centralized chest buckle that connects them in the middle, and a removable cell phone pouch that can be fastened to either the right or left strap. The shoulder straps are fastened to the bottom of the bag with metal spring clips, allowing them to be disconnected and stuffed into the back cushion for stowing. The grab handle on the top is double reinforced and has a little padding for comfort. It also has a contact tag with name and phone number information attached via a nylon strap.

A look at the intricate shoulder strap system. The interior camera equipment tray can be fully removed and the Heralder 51T can fit up to a 14 inch laptop.

The top of the Vanguard Heralder 51T has a large flap with zippered pouch that buckles to the center of the bag. Inside is a large, zippered main compartment where all the camera gear lives, as well as a squarish zippered pouch. Once unzipped, this pouch reveals a padded tablet computer sleeve that is secured with a velcro strap, as well as a stationary organizer for notes, pens, and other accessories. A zippered sleeve above the tblet compartment holds the rain cover, which is kept in a pouch fastened to the inside of the zippered compartment.

In addition to a zipper, the main compartment of the Heralder 51T is secured by two buckled straps on each side. Once open, a large camera equipment tray is revealed, complete with padded Velcro dividers. This tray can fit a pro DSLR with grip and lens attached (up to 300mm F2.8), one additional body, four to six extra lenses, two flash units and accessories (memory cards, cables, battery and charger). Additionally, the camera equipment tray is entirely removable so that the Heralder 51T can be used as a normal luggage bag. Vanguard also includes a small zippered accessory bag, which can fit a laptop charger and a few other small items. The laptop sleeve is capable of storing a laptop up to 14 inches and features a Velcro strap to keep it in place. The main compartment cover has a nifty safety feature to keep the flap from crashing to the ground when opened while the bag is upright: two adjustable buckled straps.

A look at the right side pouch, with memory card pockets and a mesh pocket. The tablet computer sleeve and rain cover pouch.

The sides of the Heralder 51T boast a few tricks as well. The left side pouch has a sizable neoprene sleeve pocket, but above that is a zippered pocket that holds a tripod carrying sling. The sling rolls out of the pocket and clips to a nylon loop on the bottom of the bag to keep it in place.

A pouch on the right side of the bag contains a pocket that can be accessed from the inside or outside, along with two Velcro memory card sleeves and an elastic mesh pocket. This zippered flap has a nylon strap with a magnetic end that attaches to a magnet in the pouch cover. Vanguard uses the magnetic snap strap on the top flap of the bag as well.

In Use

I took the Vanguard Heralder 51T to a number of photo shoots. My gear consisted of a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with 24-105mm lens, flash, flash diffuser, Phottix Odin transceiver and receivers, external hard drive, filters, and lots of memory cards and power cords. I was also able to attach a fairly large 190 series Manfrotto tripod via the Heralder 51T's tripod sling, and fit a regular sized iPad snugly in the iPad pouch. Unfortunately, my 17-inch Apple MacBook Pro wasn't a good fit.

While the Heralder 51T officially only holds up to a 14-inch laptop, I was still able to fit my 17-inch in, but it was uncomfortably tight and I wouldn't recommend it. Right off the bat, that was my first issue with the Heralder 51T - the fact that larger laptops can't fit. To be fair, Vanguard doesn't pretend that they do. Storage-wise, everything else is dynamite.

Pictured here with a Nikon D800 with 24-70 lens and 13-inch MacBook Pro. The included accessory pouch.

As far as comfort, the Heralder 51T really surprised me. What could I possibly expect from a 10 lb. rolling wheel-clad monstrosity of a backpack? Well, it's apparent that a lot of R&D went into the back pad section of the Heralder 51T. Toward the top reside two thick foam pads covered with a breathable mesh material that align with the shoulder blades. On the bottom there's an even thicker and larger foam pad section that rests on the lower pack. Those three pads are the only points of contact with the body, as the rest of the Heralder 51T's back panel is flat, providing a triangular air channel to allow for better cooling. Despite the bag's large size, I felt like I was wearing a medium-sized backpack. The adjustability and design of the Heralder 51T's back panel and shoulder straps is phenomenal, and definitely one of the best systems I've ever used. I could have walked several miles with the bag and forgotten it was even there.

I was also extremely impressed with the level of storage the bag has to offer. It seemed as though there were numerous types of storage around every corner via pockets, pouches, sleeves, slings, buckled enclosures, magnetic securing straps, and the included cell phone and accessory pouches. The fact that the camera equipment tray can be removed is an excellent feature that not many other camera backpacks offer. Rather than remove all of the dividers, all I had to do was take the tray out and the internal storage was instantly converted to a regular bag. I loved the ability to stow an iPad, and the memory card pockets were a nice touch.

As far as travel performance, the roller wheels on the Heralder 51T performed quite smoothly, and the handle seemed as though it could really withstand a beating. I was impressed with the back wheel covers to protect clothing from getting dirty, and the trolley functionality of the backpack was great for smooth floors where I could use it as a roving gear bag rather than constantly needing to pick it up and schlep it to different parts of the room. The only mark against the Heralder 51T in the travel realm is its inability to qualify as a carry on. If the bag was able to be taken on a plane, I feel as though it would gain more attention from traveling photographers. 

Summing Up

The Vanguard Heralder 51T is a whole lot of backpack. It stows plenty of camera equipment, including a full frame DSLR, large lens, iPad, small laptop, large tripod, memory cards, filters, and more. The bag is exceedingly comfortable, despite its hefty weight and large dimensions, thanks to the back pads and intricate shoulder strap system. The bag is equipped with four rolling wheels that pitch the backpack off the ground and it can be pulled or pushed as a trolley. The telescoping handle completes the package and enables the Heralder 51T to be mobilized much like a rolling suitcase.

While the Vanguard Heralder 51T is replete with excellent features, there were two main areas that the backpack drops the ball. First, the Heralder 51T is not carry-on friendly, so it can't be taken with you on a plane. Also, the bag can only fit up to a 14-inch laptop, which is fairly limiting for those who work on larger laptops. If Vanguard corrected those two things, the Heralder 51T would be unstoppable.

What we like:

  • Fantastic storage
  • Travel-friendly
  • Excellent rugged construction
  • Very comfortable
  • Weather-resistant

What we don't like:

  • Doesn't qualify as a carry-on
  • Only fits laptops up to 14 inches
  • Heavy and bulky