The One Blatant Fail Point of All Camera-Specific Backpacks

I am vehemently against poor design – this specific design flaw I have taken upon the task to fix; is my crusade. I have obsessed over this issue for quite some time in regards to photo packs. You see, all of the photo-packs out there share a single negative trait. Simply put: they all suck. Some manufacturers who just make products to fill spots in a product line are not as much to blame as companies like Lowepro and Mountainsmith who have a strong history designing technical hiking and camping backpacks. What is the design flaw? Read more and find out after the jump.

For a long time I was reluctant to be vocal about this because I had hoped to design and market a certain type of camera bag myself. But, with the faltering economy and a shifting of my own priorities, I now offer this patent and royalty-free design to the world; in return I politely ask only for a bag once someone designs one. There isn’t really anything unique about my idea, it follows simple principles that have been in use for decades. For some reason, the photo-pack makers seem to ignore the preexisting model.

So what is the deadly defect I speak? Incorrect weight distribution. Anyone who has ever been properly taught the methods of packing a backpack via the scouts, military boot camp, or similar training knows that there is a very standard way to pack a bag.  Heavy and light items are supposed to be positioned inside and outside a loaded pack in a specific arrangement in order to minimize strain and injury while maximizing mobility.


As this image (part of a great FAQ) from Kelty’s website illustrates, the heavier items are supposed to be as close to the upper back and neck as possible. Mid-weight items surround it above, below and horizontally going outwards, and the lightest items like sleeping bags and clothing are to be positioned at the very bottom.

For most photographers and filmmakers packing for more than one day in the wilderness, the heaviest gear is generally their photo or video tools. Examining photo packs, some have a full compartment for photo gear have no capacity for food, water, shelter, or other backcountry necessities. Other “multi-use” packs with divided designs always seem to have the camera compartment on the bottom half, leaving the top half for “casual” items. As is often the case while hiking, when placing your bag on the ground, the bottom compartment doesn’t always find itself on the driest or softest terrain. This is not where you want delicate camera gear. There are a few bottom bags that have waterproofed or reinforced bottoms that only add weight and tackle a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. As far as I’m concerned, there is not one camera-specific backpack on the market that is capable of being used in the backcountry.

Beyond the weight distribution issue, the packs themselves are overwhelmingly heavy and the harness and suspension systems are nowhere near as customizable, versatile, rugged or stable as their hiking counterparts even though for these heavy weight applications, they really ought to be.

So where does my food and shelter go?

So where do my food and shelter go?

Every camera backpack I am aware of ignores the need for good design – every single one. Lowered Asian manufacturing costs and cookie-cutter, status-quo design culture are to blame. I have an added bit of scorn for those who should know better. Companies like Lowepro/Lowe Alpine or Mountainsmith have been creating bags for decades, so they are inherently very familiar with packing methodologies. Somehow they feel that no outdoor photographer has any need for tools beyond a Powerbar and a raincoat. To go for more than a day-hike with any of the existing photo packs, a Sherpa or pack-mule is required carry the other necessary camping supplies.

Frankly, using a standard hiking/camping pack with a Domke insert or a Crumpler Bucket, as I am fond of doing, is a far superior carrying method compared to everything offered in the photo-backpack marketplace. This is why I never

Just what I need on my latest backcountry "Adventure" - my laptop...

Just what I need on my backcountry "Adventure" - my 17" laptop..

delved further into designing one on my own. You can position an insert around your other camping tools, with access through top-load ports or front/outer hatches. Using a camping pack yields a far superior transport device than 90% of photo bags that are barely able to withstand the abuse of carry-on luggage. Using a camp pack has one glaring caveat:  a hydration bladder may leak onto your electronic delicates, so I advise storing water in bottles fixed into the outer/side pockets. The convenience of hands-free drinking is a small benefit to sacrifice for the added ability to capture and express some of the stunning views one sees when they escape “civilization.”

I have tried taking advantage of my connections within the photo industry to broach the topic with representatives of the bag manufacturers and even some designers. Up until this point, as far as I am aware of, no one who I have communicated with has taken this idea into production. So if you are reading this, you have my full blessings if you want to strike out and make one of your own. Clearly the current bag designers have dropped the ball on this one. Hopefully someone else shares my dream of a Packworthy backpack and will provide all of us with a integral tool for our photographic endeavors.

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2 Responses to The One Blatant Fail Point of All Camera-Specific Backpacks

  1. David says:

    Thanks for the heads-up. The photobackpacker bags are certainly a huge improvement over the current camera pack offerings, but not quite there as of yet. The photobackpackers are re-purposed Kelty bags with custom padded inserts. I’m awfully pleased with the company’s attention to large format shooters.

    In my article I mentioned my own method of using standard camping packs to carry camera loads protected in inserts. Perhaps I’ll follow-up this piece with another that shows exactly how I do it…

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