We love Lowepro and Manfrotto backpacks. They're often big, well-padded and offer tons of support for your aching back and shoulders. If you've invested in a mirrorless system, however, they can also feel like overkill.
Many photographers (ourselves included) are searching for knapsacks that are smaller, stealthier or just plain stylish. Something that can blend in with urbanites and doesn't scream, "Hello, I'm a photographer with a bag full of seriously expensive kit!" Here, we run down a few of our favorites for both casual and professional shoots. They're also fashionable enough that you can use them as everyday backpacks.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack (20L)
Peak Design bags are massively popular with photographers, backpackers and urban commuters alike, and with good reason: They're designed and built to near perfection. The 20-liter "Everyday Backpack" has large side-access zippers on both the left and right of the bag. These make it easy to swing the backpack onto your chest and pick out specific camera and lenses. The main compartment is separated by "FlexFold" dividers that are simple to install and, crucially, change for different load-outs. The expandable side pockets, each of which has a "tuck-away" strap, can safely stow a tripod or bottle, too.
The Everyday Backpack has a canvas shell with DWR coating for basic protection in the elements. It ships in four different colors -- charcoal, ash, tan and black -- and has a style that feels low-key and versatile. It's an expensive bag, but one that we feel is money well spent.
If you want to stay light on your feet, check out the F-Stop Dalston. It's an eye-catching bag (especially if you choose the Nasturtium Orange version) that weighs less than a kilogram on your shoulders. The backpack has two side zippers that provide access to the main compartment and a removable organizer which contains various Velcro dividers. Style-conscious photographers will appreciate the rolltop, which snaps together with two poppers and is secured in place with a plastic clip. There's also a laptop pouch and a tall, shallow front pocket that hides a simple keychain attachment and two smaller nooks.
The straps are quite thin, however, and there isn't much padding on the sides. Engadget recommends it for smaller setups -- a mirrorless camera, two lenses and some accessories including a light ultrabook or tablet for photo editing. We also love its simple and sleek shape, which feels equally at home on the streets of London or a scorching-hot safari trip.
Wandrd Prvke (21L)
Want a bag that both looks the part and can take a beating? Then add the Wandrd Prvke to your list. We love the chunky shoulder straps and expandable roll top, which is secured with a chunky metal clip on the front. It also comes with two magnetic handles that make it easy to pick up and carry short distances by your side. You do, however, have to separate the handles to access all of your gear through the zipper on the back. Most of the time you'll be accessing your gear through the side pocket, though, which connects to an optional camera cube inside.
The construction and materials, which include a water-resistant tarpaulin, are fantastic. There's also a bunch of smaller pockets dotted around the Prvke, including a sneaky passport pouch on the rear side, just behind your lower back. It all culminates in a rock-solid bag that can carry plenty of camera goodies.
Chrome Niko Camera Backpack
The Chrome Niko Camera Backpack is a beast. It's one of the larger bags on our list and can handle both mirrorless and DSLR camera setups. The main pouch is accessible via a zip on the back, and it comes with plenty of padding and customizable dividers. It's complemented by two smaller pockets at the top of the bag and a long, shallow front area that's perfect for large laptops. The Niko F-Stop also comes with two wide straps on the front that are designed for tripods (not skateboards) and a narrow side pocket for smaller water bottles and accessories.
If you want to carry absolutely everything in your photographic arsenal, this is a great choice. We would take this on longer trips and professional shoots that require plenty of lenses and lighting equipment. The subtle all-black design also doesn't telegraph the fact that you may be carrying thousands of dollars on your shoulders.
Tenba Cooper Slim Backpack
The Tenba Cooper Slim backpack is for people who have stripped their camera gear to the absolute essentials. Let's say you have a Fujifilm XT-3 and a couple of smaller lenses like the XF 35mm f2.0 and the XF 60mm f2.4 R. You don't need a massive bag with tons of velcro inserts that won't be used and, therefore, take up space unnecessarily. You want a smaller backpack like the Tenba Cooper Slim, which has space for a body and just a couple of lenses in its lower compartment. And if you need extra space for essentials, zip open the top or smaller front pocket instead.
It won't handle a MacBook Pro or a Manfrotto tripod. But that's OK-- there are plenty of bags that can house literally everything you own. The Tenba Cooper Slim is built instead for hobbyist photographers who want to stay quiet, light-footed and ultimately stress-free while shooting candids on the street.
ThinkTank Urban Approach 15
The ThinkTank Urban Approach 15 isn't the most beautiful or feature-packed bag we've ever tested. It is, however, a no-nonsense backpack that carries a truly remarkable amount of gear in a surprisingly small footprint. The main compartment, for instance, can hold two mirrorless bodies with lenses attached and, depending on your kit, another eight pieces of glass. Opposite this area are two zippered pouches that are perfect for batteries, memory cards and filters. There's also a dedicated zipper pocket on the back for a 15-inch laptop and regular-size tablet.
We only have two nitpicks: the zippered front pouch, which can handle only a couple of small objects, and the stretchable side pockets, which are too small for a tripod and most large water bottles. Otherwise, the Urban Approach 15 is a wonderful piece of gear for people who want a small bag without sacrificing space and, by extension, the freedom that comes with carrying multiple lenses.
Thule Aspect DSLR Backpack
As its name implies, the Thule Aspect DSLR backpack was designed with larger, traditional glass-prism cameras in mind. We've found, however, that the bag is a solid choice for full-frame mirrorless users too. Thule is a big name but the design doesn't scream "camera backpack" quite like a Lowepro or Manfrotto normally does. We love the textured exterior and bright blue zippers, which are easy to find and yank with your index finger. The main compartment, accessible from a side pocket, is also well-protected and packed with customizable dividers.
The top pouch is deep and the pocket at the back is large enough for a 15-inch laptop and 10-inch tablet. We're also big fans of the shoulder straps, which are nicely padded, and the stretchy side pocket, which can easily carry a water bottle or tripod. It's a large backpack, admittedly, but one that looks smart enough to blend in with both commuters and mountain climbers.