In Part II of the series, I discussed the competing needs of in-transit and shooting backpacks, and why those needs have prevented “cross-over” backpack design success, to date.
This week I'll discuss how to ensure your photo backpack will have the capacity you need, and what features are essential in quality photo backpacks.
In order to size your backpack, make a list of potential destination types and locations you wish to photograph: cities, seashores, seas, mountains, rural areas, national parks, historic sites, religious buildings, wildlife, architecture, sporting events, family get-togethers, etc. Then determine what equipment you would use for each. Finally determine what combination of destinations, locations and photo shoots, you'd likely visit in one journey. Once you've completed those lists you'll know what equipment your backpack(s) will need to carry, and therefore the size backpack you'll need.
Consider both the photo equipment you own now and gear you would seriously consider purchasing in the future, into the mix, so you won't have to purchase new backpacks with each new equipment purchase.
These are the top features your backpack should have:
- The security of your equipment is important. Don't get a backpack which announces, “Expensive photo equipment here!” Stay away from backpacks with well known photography names or logos printed on their exterior.
Hint: If your chosen backpack has any printed name/logo on it, you can use a permanent marker to cover it up, which makes it difficult to see.
- Foul weather can happen and often does occur while traveling, and out shooting. Any backpack you purchase must be truly weatherproof or come with a protective seam-sealed rain cover. The cover should be easily accessible.
- Photographers carry many small items in addition to cameras, lenses, and strobes: cleaning cloths, lens pens, spare batteries, memory cards/cases, etc. Make sure your backpack also has organized storage for those important small items.
- It's essential that none of your photo equipment can move inside your backpack while you're putting it on, wearing it, and carrying it. Any equipment which is allowed to move can be damaged through the movement itself or contact with other equipment in the backpack. Your backpack needs a quality photo equipment compartmentalized area.
The compartmentalized section of your backpack must have moveable padded dividers, using a Velcro system to configure the area as desired. If you're like me, you'll find you rearrange the compartments often, for different journeys and photo shoots according to the equipment used.
In an in-transit backpack, the compartmentalized area should comprise most of the backpack's capacity, while in the shooting backpack, it should be considerably smaller to allow you to carry your non-equipment needs of food, clothing, emergency items, etc.
- The build quality of photo equipment backpacks is critical. Equipment is expensive, and aggregately isn't particularly lightweight. The seams and other sewing of the bag and straps should be double stitched. Theack with flimsy buckles which can too easily break under tough use.
- Your backpack should use YKK heavy duty zippers made from the highest quality materials. Don't purchase a backpack which uses inexpensive plastic zippers. Some like lockable zipper sliders for additional security. While these are alright for in-transit backpacks, I don't like them on shooting backpacks because they add weight, and slow access to your equipment.
- Your backpack should have at least one heavy duty handle at the top of the bag to permit you to carry it for short distances without wearing it.
- The backpack's integrated hip belt should be adjustable to permit a great fit, regardless of what you're wearing. It's buckle should be substantial as it will be holding much of the weight of the backpack. The buckle's straps should be adjustable on both sides to ensure it can be well positioned. The belt should be well padded where it fits on your hips.
- The adjustable shoulder straps should be well padded where they come in contact with your body. The straps themselves should end 2–3 in. (5–7.5 cm.) below your armpits, with their extended webbing not touching your body below the padding. The attached adjustable chest (sternum) straps should be located about 2 in. (5 cm.) below your collar bone. The shoulder straps should also be equipped with load lifter straps to draw the loaded backpack against your back, taking pressure off the shoulder straps.