I'm constantly saying, “A photo equipment backpack, first and foremost, must be designed as a great backpack, with a well designed harness, and must fit its user properly.”
In Part I of my “Photo Equipment Backpacks” series I discussed the importance of having a backpack fit well to ensure one's photo gear can be carried in it comfortably.
How it's used, is equally important. The two major uses of photo gear backpacks, are in-transit and shooting.
In-transit backpacks are designed to maximize the amount of photo and related gear they can carry, often including laptop computers and tablets. In-transit backpacks need to carry the photographer's total kit chosen for each journey. When out shooting, the in-transit backpack provides safe storage for gear not needed that day.
Shooting backpacks are designed to carry the photo gear needed for a day's shooting, while simultaneously carrying the non-photo gear needed for the day, including food, drink, clothing and emergency items. Photographers' daily shooting needs can change substantially, as one visits different venues with divergent shooting opportunities.
Let's look at the competing needs of in-transit and shooting backpack designs.
In-transit backpacks are purposed to safely carry a photographer's equipment while in-transit, to and from airports, train stations, hotels, etc. In-transit backpacks need almost all their storage capacity configured solely for photo gear and related equipment, which may include laptop computers and/or tablets. Those devices can be generally be accommodated either by a separate padded area in the backpack, or via a padded sleeve laid on top of the photo equipment. If the backpack has an auxiliary storage area, it should be no larger than needed for a book and some documents, so it doesn't markedly reduce the main storage area's capacity.
In-transit backpacks have little need to provide equipment protection when partially open, but they must be able to be fully opened to give the photographer a full view of the equipment for easy access to it.
As in-transit backpacks will be used on buses, trains, and planes, they must conform to the size/weight rules of these conveyances. For example, for air travel in the US, the typical maximum size a photo gear backpack carry-on can be is 45 total linear inches (115 cm), and on some airlines, no more than 14x9x22 in (36x23x56 cm) for each dimension. A number of airlines outside the US have more restrictive size/weight limits. These dimensions include the harness for backpacks.
In my opinion, no photographer should choose an in-transit backpack, which can't fit, bottom end in first, in the overhead bin of any standard narrow-body, or wide-body aircraft.Shooting backpacks, in a sense are dual purposed. They not only need enough capacity to carry the photo gear necessary for a day's shooting, such as a few lenses, spare batteries, some filters, memory cards, perhaps a strobe, and other odds and ends, but also need space to carry the day's non-photo gear, etc., including clothing, food, and drink. Some might want to carry more equipment, but when you're on your feet all day, you have to consider how much weight you want to haul around.
I also keep pens, a notepad, a business card wallet, medication, an emergency flashlight, small first aid kit, and matches in mine. If you're going to use your shooting backpack on an overnight or several night hike, and according to what season it is, you many need significant room for non-photo equipment items. For example, in the spring and fall, when temperatures change considerably during the day, clothing may have to be put on, and taken off at different times of the day.
Unlike in-transit backpacks, shooting backpacks must provide equipment protection when partially open, as they are are often opened and closed “in the field” for both photo and non-photo gear during a day's shooting. In fact, most well designed shooting backpacks, should provide separate access for the different types of gear.
It would seem, shooting backpacks need a significantly different configuration than in-transit backpacks, because the shooting backpacks' storage is configured to carry distinctly different kinds of gear; photo, and non-photo.
Over the years, photographers have sought the perfect “cross-over” purposed backpack. To date, the competing needs of in-transit and shooting backpacks has prevented “cross-over” backpack design success.
There is a photo backpack manufacturer which is producing gear with the promise for a well crafted “cross-over” backpack in the future. In Part IV of the series, I'll discuss some of my favorite backpacks, and the potential for a “cross-over” backpack.
In Part III, next week, I'll discuss sizing photo equipment backpacks and feature set requirements.