October 2, 2023

Best camera bag and backpack for 2021

Cameras are expensive and fragile, so it’s important to find the best photography bag that’ll…

Best camera bag and backpack for 2021

Cameras are expensive and fragile, so it’s important to find the best photography bag that’ll protect it well while also providing you with comfort and convenience when you’re on the move. And hey, maybe you also want it to look pretty cool when you’re out taking photos around town. With so many options available from numerous different brands it’s difficult to know exactly what’s good and what’s best avoided.

Luckily for you, we’ve done the legwork, hand-picking and thoroughly testing a range of great examples from messenger-style bags, to adventure backpacks and rolling cases.

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LowePro is known for its affordable, reliable backpacks and its new Freeline is a worthy addition to the range. Its compact size makes it great for day trips or photography excursions around the city, but it’s easily big enough to handle a DSLR and two lenses. Access is via side pockets on both sides, which makes it convenient for whipping out your camera when inspiration strikes. 

I like the look too; it’s clearly a photography backpack, but it’s more subtle and sophisticated than most, rather than looking like something designed to go up a mountain. It’s made of weather-resistant materials that feel more than robust enough to put up with a lot of scuffs when out in the real world. 

It’ll house a 15-inch laptop and there are straps on the outside to help carry a tripod. With no waist straps, it’s not the most comfortable bag for long hikes (at least not when fully loaded), but it’s perfectly comfortable as an everyday bag around town. 

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The BackLight 26L is a compact backpack made for day hikes into the hills, but thanks to the camera storage section, which takes up the entire main section, it can house a lot of gear. I had no trouble getting my Canon 5D MkIV DSLR plus an extra two lenses in. Those of you with more portable mirrorless cameras will have more than enough room for any photography situation.

There are additional pockets for accessories, along with an expandable front section which has enough room to stuff in a packable waterproof coat, just in case the weather takes a turn. The shoulder straps are generously padded, which along with the waist and chest straps makes the BackLight exceptionally comfortable for extended wearing. 

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LowePro has been a staple of the photography bag world for years and with the ProTactic 450 it’s easy to see why. This rugged backpack opens fully from the back, although there are side and top quick-access points too. It provides a wealth of storage slots for a DSLR, multiple lenses, filters, batteries and other accessories — I even stuffed a small drone in amongst my gear. 

If you can’t quite fit everything inside, you can get additional accessory pouches that attach to the outside of the case, where you can also attach your tripod. It’s comfortable to carry thanks to both chest and hip straps, it’s made of durable materials and it has a zipped compartment for laptops up to 15 inches.

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F-Stop’s Kashmir 30L backpack is a superb choice for more active photographers. Whether that’s fast hiking, cycling or trail running, the bag’s exceptional light weight makes it great for always having a proper camera setup with you. Its chest and waist straps are comfortable and supportive while the outer materials feel robust and are weather resistant. 

Inside you have the option of what sort of camera storage unit you need. My review model came with the “Essentials bundle,” which includes a medium internal camera unit and a rain cover. The medium unit has plenty of space for a camera and at least one lens, plus accessories, but if you shoot on smaller mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm XT-20 you could comfortably pack a lot more in. 

The medium unit also keeps more of the rest of the bag available for other items (a jacket, some snacks) that you might want on your journey. You can opt for one of the larger internal units, along with a variety of other straps and accessories, but they do add quite a lot on to the price. 

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Manfrotto is well-known in the photography world for its tripods, but its backpacks are pretty good too. The Advanced 2 BeFree is a no-nonsense affair, with an inoffensive all-black design that hides a wealth of storage options.

The main camera storage space is accessed from the back and comfortably has room for a DSLR with at least a couple of extra lenses while still offering additional accessory storage on the top of the bag, as well as expanding front pockets and laptop storage. Side pockets and straps provide storage for tripods or water bottles and the camera storage unit can be removed to use the bag as a regular backpack. 

The chest straps aren’t comfortable enough for long day hikes when the bag is laden with heavy gear, which isn’t helped by the lack of waist strap support. That said, for everyday use and day trips with a reasonable amount of equipment on board, it’s well-suited for the job. 

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Swedish brand Thule might be better known for its range of car roof-top boxes but it turns out it knows how to make an excellent photography bag, too. The Covert is a superb all-round backpack for a day out exploring the city, with a rear-access camera compartment that’s big enough for a DSLR and an extra lens, or a smaller mirrorless and maybe two lenses. 

Above it is a generous storage area for jackets or whatnot which can be expanded thanks to the roll-top closing. The camera storage cube can also be removed if you want to turn it into a regular day pack. It’s comfortable to wear for extended periods. There’s also a laptop sleeve and plenty of internal pockets for batteries, memory cards, filters and so on. 

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The Lotus isn’t quite as light and nimble as the Kashmir, but with a more stable frame and additional straps and pockets, it’s well-suited for adventure photographers who need to pack everything in. The outer materials feel exceptionally hard-wearing and I had no worries about throwing it in and out of my car or casually laying it down on rocky pathways while I rummaged for my gear. All of the zips, straps and stitching feel reassuringly robust. 

Like the Kashmir, you have the option of what size of internal unit to opt for and I again had the medium size in my test model. There’s plenty of room for my essentials (a Canon 5DMkIV with 24-70mm lens, plus a 70-200 zoom and filters and spare batteries) with straps on the outside for a tripod. If you’re leaving for a longer photography expedition, look further up the range. The 70-liter version will accommodate the larger internal unit for more lenses while leaving ample room for clothing or even camping equipment. 

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Thanks in part to its stylish design that doesn’t look anything like your average photography bag, Peak Design’s first-gen Everyday backpack was a hit, with models adorning the shoulders of urban photographers the world over. The second-gen model keeps the modern aesthetic and quick-access side zips of the original but makes subtle tweaks to the magnetic clasps (among other things) to make this backpack better than ever.

It’s my favorite everyday bag to use and my original has clocked up hundreds of hours of use on some extremely rough-and-tumble photoshoots. The hard-wearing, water-resistant materials put up with serious abuse which will come as peace of mind to professionals and amateurs alike. 

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Action by name, action by nature; Shimoda’s Action X30 is ready for anything the mountain can throw at it. With rugged, weatherproof outer materials, a lightweight frame and comfortable, adjustable shoulder straps, it’s a superb backpack for multiday adventurers who don’t want to be limited by gear. 

The interior camera storage is modular and you can opt for different sized units depending on your needs. Mine came with a medium storage unit which was big enough for a DSLR and a couple of lenses, with plenty of room in the main compartment for additional clothing, food or even things like a DJI Mavic drone. The top section has a roll top so can expand upwards if you need to store a heavier coat for cold conditions. You can also remove the camera storage section altogether if you just want to use the bag as a regular backpack.

The outside straps are built with holding skis in mind, but are equally suited to tripods, and further function as compression straps to keep loose material tucked in when not in use. The padded waist strap makes long hikes comfortable but it can also be removed if you’re making shorter trips where the additional support isn’t required. 

It doesn’t come cheap, but the Action X30’s blend of lightweight, robust materials, excellent storage options and great comfort makes it one of my favorite adventure photography packs around.

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As a messenger style bag, the Tenba DNA will already be carried in a position that provides quick camera access, but this bag takes it further with a hidden top zip that provides instant access to the main compartment. I’ve found this bag to be extremely convenient for street photography, where pulling the camera out quickly makes all the difference in getting the shot. 

It’s made from robust-feeling materials, has space for a 13-inch laptop or iPad and it’s got enough room for a mirrorless camera and extra lens, as well as accessories like spare batteries and even some snacks. You won’t want to take it hiking into the hills but for city shooting, this bag is a great choice.

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On its product page, Tenba boasts of the Shootout series’ superior comfort and it’s a boast I can safely say is justified. With its wide shoulder straps and deep padding, the Shootout 16L that I tested is comfortable and well-suited for hikes into the hills as well as shorter trips around town. 

Camera storage dominates the entire inside of the bag, giving plenty of room for camera bodies and multiple lenses, although it’s available in up to 32-liter versions if you’re travelling with more equipment. There are additional interior pockets, as well as expanding pockets on the front for accessories or other necessities while side pockets and straps let you carry water bottles and tripods with ease.

It’s made from weather and abrasion-resistant nylon and certainly feels like it’s up to the demands of any rough-and-tumble road trip. The waist strap on my 16-liter model adds stability, but it’s not padded, so if you want additional all-day comfort from a fully loaded hiking pack, look to the 24-liter model, which has padded waist straps.

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Sharing many design cues of the backpack version, the Totepack can be worn as either a backpack, with side-access zips to get at your camera, or carried as a more traditional tote bag using the handles on top. The materials are just as hard-wearing and water-resistant as the standard backpack, so don’t be afraid you’re sacrificing performance for this different form. 

The Totepack’s design makes it very versatile, acting as a camera pack when you’re out on a shoot, but also able to function as a handy shopping carrier on those days when getting your groceries home safely is more important than getting beautiful photos. 

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Wandrd’s Duo Daypack is one of the more unusual backpacks I’ve tested: Its main zipper can travel all of the way around the backpack, allowing it to open up and lie flat. Quite honestly, it’s not a feature I love as I almost never want to fully open a bag in case something falls out that shouldn’t. But it doesn’t put me off the bag as a whole.

The Daypack looks great. It looks absolutely nothing like a traditional camera backpack and wouldn’t look out of place on the back of the coolest Instagram street photographers in New York or Berlin. It’s made from hard-wearing, weather-resistant materials and provides quick side access for those moments when you don’t want to miss the shot. 

There’s a laptop compartment too, plus expandable side pockets for water bottles or tripods. The camera divider provides room for a mirrorless camera and lens and can be folded down when not needed to turn the Duo into a regular backpack

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If you tend to only shoot with just the one lens then taking a big kit bag with endless space for equipment is overkill. The Tenba Skyline 10 shoulder bag provides enough room for a DSLR with one lens attached, or a small mirrorless camera (such as a Fujifilm XT-20) with one additional small lens. 

Its compact size makes it great for short trips around town, to the park or to the beach where you don’t want to be weighed down by a full-sized backpack. Zippered access from the top makes it easy to pull your camera out quickly, making it well-suited to street photographers who want to capture a split-second moment with ease. 

There are two mesh pouches on the inside of the lid for batteries, along with an extra zip pocket on the front for your phone, passport, or other similar necessities. While it doesn’t have room for everything you’ll need on a weekend away, it’s a great option to pack in your suitcase for those occasions on holiday where you want to carry only the bare essentials while exploring a new location. 

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ThinkTank’s Airport Advantage rolling case is, as its name suggests, aimed at the travelling photographer that hops between cities on planes and trains and needs a rolling case that won’t slow them down. It’s big enough to house a full-size DSLR with plenty of space for multiple lenses, batteries, chargers and other accessories, with movable dividers for you to spread things out just as you want. 

It’s lightweight too, despite having wheels and a retractable handle and it’s designed to comply with all airlines’ size requirements for carry-on luggage, meaning you won’t have the horror of having to send your valuable (and delicate) photography equipment down the conveyor belt for the baggage handlers to throw around. 

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Whether you’re a fan of photographer Pete McKinnon’s YouTube channel or not, this Nomatic backpack that bears his name is excellent. It’s a large pack that zips open from the back, has quick side access points and uses chunky zips that feel satisfyingly rugged — and don’t seem to mind when it’s crammed full of gear. The pack has a rubberized outer material that feels just as robust and can be wiped clean when it inevitably gets caked in mud upon being placed on the ground. 

The Nomatic pack has removable inserts to organise your gear, as well as optional modules for storing your camera batteries, filters and SD cards — which I had but found I didn’t use. There’s also a cube pack module which is itself a smaller backpack which compresses down to fit in the main pack. Nomatic says this is a great choice for travellers who want to take their camera gear with them, but may not want to carry all of it with them every day.

If you’re after a large-capacity, burly backpack for comfortably taking a lot of your gear into the mountains, this is a solid option to consider.

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The Hadley Pro 2020 messenger bag eschews the urban, technical designs of many of today’s photography bags, instead leaning towards a more classic aesthetic that’ll go just as well with a shirt and tie as it will a mountaineering jacket. It’s made in England from real leather, brass and waterproof-treated canvas and feels robust enough to tackle a jungle expedition. 

It holds my Canon 5D MkIV with 24-70mm lens, while comfortably leaving space for an additional lens with two generous pockets on the front for other accessories. The padded inserts that protect the camera can also be removed, allowing you to use the Hadley Pro as a regular shoulder bag. 

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