Best 8 Photo Backpacks for the Money

I have long been a sucker for camera bags.  As much as I try not to waste money, I had gone through a handful of camera bags trying to find the perfect bag.  I tried a lot of budget bags with moderate success, but at the beginning of this year (2016), I decided to find the perfect all around bag, one that would fit all my needs, hopefully without costing a fortune.  I hope many are like me and are looking for the following qualities in a camera bag because each of the below bags (with a couple minor exceptions) come equipped with the same.

  1. The backpack must have room for a decent amount of camera gear, but also some separate personal items as well. I am your average hobbyist photographer, I don't need a bag that will carry a bunch of professional equipment.  It just has to carry a body or two and a few lenses.  I also rarely can dedicate a whole bag to camera gear as I need to pack other things in there too.
  2. The bag must have room for my 15.6 inch laptop. This is a serious necessity for me as I always travel with my computer.
  3. The bag must be able to fit as a personal item on domestic (U.S.) airlines. I fly a lot and I usually try to only take a backpack and a carryon. For this reason, my camera bag can't be my main carry on.
  4. The bag has to be able to carry a tripod comfortably.  I mostly shoot landscapes so having a bag that can't carry a tripod would leave me carrying the tripod by hand (has happened many times before).
  5. The bag has to be comfortable and durable enough for hiking, but still be nice for everyday use.  I don't need it to be comfortable enough for a backpacking trip, I just don't want my shoulders or back hurting after an hour hike.  I also want it to be convenient to use in all kinds of situations so I am not switching bags all the time.

After much testing, I found that every bag offers some unique advantages and has some disadvantages as well.  Some may not have been perfect for me, but may be perfect for you.  I enjoyed each bag and would be comfortable recommending it if it fits what you are looking for.  Let's get to it:

  1. Case Logic Kontrast Pro

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I think this is a sleek looking bag. You can see the ridged bottom.

Case Logic may not be the first name you think of when you are looking for a new camera bag, but they have some quality options.  If you follow the podcast, you know that a couple different case logic backpacks have been doodads of the week for good budget backpacks.  The Kontrast Pro is a higher end model from Case Logic and it comes with some pretty cool features.

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You can see how convenient loading the camera is, but look at all that wasted space too.

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I loved the laptop compartment on this bag. Notice the tripod holder as well.

The bag has a nice sleek look to it.  I like the solid black with a few neon green accents.  It is not a very large bag, think normal backpack size, with a pretty ridged shape.  The first thing I came across was the spot for the camera.  Instead of opening the main zipper or a side zipper like most bags, this bag features a zipper around the top so you can place your camera directly in from the top, lens down.  This pairs really well with the hard-shell bottom.  It makes it really nice for putting your bag on the ground and getting the camera out from the top.  It is very convenient and you don't have to worry about your bag falling over or getting dirty.  I really liked the convenience factor for this, but the downside is the whole top of your bag is dedicated to your camera.  Even with a big body and lens,  there is going to be some wasted space up top.  As you would imagine, it means there also isn't a lot of space in the main compartment.  I had to rearrange the dividers to open up a spot big enough for a speedlite.  I was able to fit a Fuji X-T1 with three lenses, one speedlite, a trigger, three filters and some miscellaneous things.  If you are consitently using more than that, this bag is probably too small for you.  In addition to the main pocket, there is a small pocket up top and a good sized pouch up front that could hold a lot of smaller items.  I used it to hold a light jacket while I was hiking.  There are also pouches on each side with a strap on each side so you can put a tripod on either side.  Given that there is only one strap and the size of the bag, this will work well with a small to medium tripod.  Finally, there is a really nice laptop compartment on the inside of the bag.  It is a good size and easily fit my 15.6 inch laptop.  It had plenty of padding so I would have no concerns putting an expensive computer in there.

I liked the feel of the bag.  The size felt really good on my back and the straps fit nicely.  My biggest issues were the chest strap was pretty flimsy and did not provide much support and there was no waist strap at all, which surprised me for this level of bag.  It was fine for everyday use and small hikes, but I wouldn't like it on a long hike.

I liked the construction of this bag.  It felt solidly made and had really nice zippers that were easy to use.  The zipper around the top is more basic, but the zippers on the made body were bigger and smoother than your average zipper.

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Overall, there is a lot to like about this bag, but I would not recommend it to everyone.  It really depends how you use your camera bag.  If you are the type to set your bag down a lot and want quick access to your camera, this could be a really appealing bag.  I wouldn't recommend it if you have a lot of gear or large professional gear.  I think it is perfect for a hobbyist photographer who wants a bag they can easily carry around town, take on short hikes and use as a personal bag on planes.

You can currently pick this bag up on Amazon or check it out at the Case Logic website.  As of the time of this article, you can get it for under $100.  I think it is a steal at that price and think anyone would feel it is a great pick up if it fits what you are looking for.

  1. Barber Shop Mop Top Backpack

I wanted to include some bags in this review that many of you have probably never heard of.  This bag fits the bill.  The Mop Top Backpack from Barber Shop is a high-end backpack handcrafted of leather and canvas in Italy.  This bag has a stylish look you are not going to find in many camera bags.  I got the brown and tan version, but it also comes in blue and brown or all black.

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I thought this bag would be perfect for some street photography so I took it down to the strip for a long evening of shooting.

To me, the most surprising thing about this bag is that it is insanely comfortable.  I tried to figure it out and couldn't see anything too special beyond the padded leather straps, but the way they fit is very comfortable.  There was no waist strap and the chest strap was annoying enough to attach that I would never use it.  Normally, that would be disappointing to me, but this is not a bag you are going to take on a hiking trip so the belt strap would probably just be in the way for normal use.

The bag is separated into two main compartments.  The top half is mostly just an open area with a couple small pouches and access to the laptop compartment.  My 15.6 inch laptop fit nicely, but I could see it being a pain to get in and out of a full bag when you are going through an airport.  You access this portion of the bag by pressing two levers to open the top flap and then using the zipper.  The zippers are average, nothing special, but also not cheap.  This bag is perfect for carrying anything larger like extra clothes, lunch or whatever you need.

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I thought the blue and brown option was pretty cool looking too.

The lower portion of the bag has a half-circle zipper, which then kind of pulls out for access to your camera gear.  You are not going to fit a lot of camera gear in here.  I fit my X-T1 with two lenses, 3 filters and some miscellaneous items.  Anything more or bigger than that and it is going to have to go in the top of the bag.  It was not difficult to get the gear out, but it also was not the most convenient.  The camera fit nicely, but my camera strap was in the way as there was no extra room.  There is also no clear place to put a tripod.  Each side has a fairly deep pocket that you can stick one leg of a small tripod down, but without straps, it isn't very secure.  I tried putting a tripod on the top of the bag under the flap.  It seemed to work pretty well until the tripod fell out.

Overall, this is a really nice bag for someone that is not necessarily a serious photographer, but likes to have a camera and some basic gear with them.  I am not going to be taking this bag hiking or on a photography trip, but I think it is great for going around town or doing things where you have a decent amount of non-photography items you have to be carrying and you also want your camera.  If that is what you need in a camera bag and you want some high-quality Italian materials and a more sophisticated look, this is the one for you.

The Mop Top can be picked up at the Barbershop Bags website for 450 Euros ($480 as of Nov. 2016).  You can also check out some of their other bags on Amazon.

  1. Think Tank Streetwalker Harddrive

Think Tank is probably one the most well-known bag companies for photographers, and for good reason–they make a quality product.  They also have a lot of bags and are coming out with new things all the time.  So, whatever your streetwalker-harddrive-1needs are, they probably have something for you.  For my needs, the Streetwalker Harddrive sounded like the perfect bag.

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Look at all that room!

The first thing I really liked about this bag was the size.  It has the width and depth of a regular bag, but adds a few inches in height.  I am 6'2″ and I felt this added a lot of extra room, while still keeping the bag very comfortable.  I put this bag through the ringer on an international trip that included a lot of airports and some intense hiking.  It held up remarkably well.  I took all the camera gear I wanted (including a lot I didn't need) and still had room for plenty of other items (for which my wife was thankful).  The bag was a little deep for my mirrorless body, so it would have no issue with larger gear.  In fact, I have met many photographers using this bag with much larger systems.  Each of them have told me they love the bag.  The laptop compartment was great.  It fits a 17 inch laptop so size was not an issue for me.  It was very easy to access and had space for the cord and some extra folders and similar items, which was really convenient.  It was one of the only bags where I actually was able to test out the rain cover and it was a really good one.  It covered the whole bag and my attached tripod and everything came out nice and dry after a pretty intense downpour.

The quality of this bag is great and, as I have said many times, Think Tank makes the best zippers out there.  For the most part, the bag was really comfortable.  The only thing I would have appreciated was a little more cushion on the waist strap.  Given the height of the bag, the waist strap hit my waist really nicely though, as opposed to some bags that like to creep up my stomach.

I had a few other minor complaints about the bag.  I do wish the outside pockets were a little larger since there is swwmore room to make them bigger.  That being said, there are plenty of pockets for all your small miscellaneous gear, but anything bigger will need to go in the main compartment.  The biggest complaint for me was the tripod holder.  I liked that the tripod straps could all be folded under and out of the way when not being used, and I liked that the tripod sat on the front of the bag so it wasn't lopsided when carrying it, but the big annoying issue for me was that the top strap to hold the tripod down comes over the main zipper.  This makes it tough to access the main compartment when you have a tripod attached.  It usually meant unbuckling that strap, which wasn't a big deal, but I would have preferred it to not be in the way.  On the plus side, you shouldn't have a problem securing even a big tripod with this bag.

Overall, this is a really high-quality bag that would be perfect from a hobbyist to a professional.  I would highly recommend it for anyone that is taller.  This is great if you have a lot of gear or if you just want some extra space to carry non-camera things with you.  It was great for hiking and travelling and really fit the bill for an all-purpose backpack as long as you want the extra length (maybe not for those vertically challenged).

The bag is currently available on Amazon or at Think Tank for $229.  Think Tank has also offered Improve Photography readers a free gift with any purchase.

  1. Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II

Lowepro is another popular backpack manufacturer for photographers.  This is another bag with two compartments, separating a spot for camera gear and an open compartment for whatever else you may need.  This bag is about thelp size you would expect from a normal backpack.  The open compartment is pretty big and can fit larger items.  The camera compartment is also a pretty good size. I had no problem fitting my X-T1 with 3 lenses, 5 filters, a headlamp and smaller assorted things.  The tripod fits in the side pocket.  Like most bags, you aren't going to get a big tripod on here that doesn't stick up above the top of the bag.  I took off my ball head and the tripod fit very nicely.  The tripod did bounce a bit more than I would like no matter how much I tightened the strap.

This bag was pretty comfortable.  I thought the straps fit very nicely and were very easy to use.   It also has a nice padded waist strap.  I took this bag through the airport, including some sprinting, and it felt nice for most of it.  The bag has small straps that come out so you can attach it lp2to your luggage as well.  The bag has lots of small pockets that are good for storing items.  There is also easy access to a side pocket to get your camera, but to access the rest of your gear, you have to unstrap the flap and unzip the compartment, which can be kind of annoying.  It also fit my laptop quite well, but I would have preferred the zipper for the laptop go all the way down so it was easier to put the laptop in.

Overall, this is a really good bag at a great price for a hobbyist photographer that has a decent amount of gear, but wants plenty of room to carry other items.  It is a comfortable bag that is going to work really well for someone that enjoys taking their camera outdoors and hiking.  It also makes a great bag for travelling as it fits a laptop well, carries the camera gear you would want to travel with and has extra room for travel necessities.  I got this bag for my teenage nephew who is just getting started in photography and loves hiking.  Given the price point, the quality and the uses of this bag, I thought it was a great fit for him.

You can currently pick this bag up on Amazon for under $100!

  1. MindShift UltraLite Dual 25L

MindShift Gear is a Think Tank company so you know I like their bags.  You probably also know by now that they make Jim Harmer's favorite bag.  This bag, however, was not my favorite bag.  Not because there was anything wrong with it, it just was not ideal for how I use a bag.  That being said, I think it would be a perfect fit for some people and it is definitely a high-quality backpack.

I opted for the smaller 25L bag in bright blue.  I really liked the color and I think it matched the sporty outdoor best msuses for the bag.  The 25L size was a little small, but good for most people.  It really is ultra light, which would make it great for hiking.  The laptop compartment was good and my 15.6 inch laptop fit fine, although it was a little tough to pull in and out at the airport.  Like all the bags from MindShift and Think Tank, this bag has great zippers and  high-quality materials and construction.

The bag has a large top compartment that is great for hiking or traveling as it can fit quite a lot.  There is no zipper on the top part; rather, it has a cover with straps that you undue to reveal a cinch top.  There is a small pocket on top with a zipper for easy access.  I put filters in it and it worked great.

The second part of the bag (the bottom) is for your camera.  Inside this second pocket is actually a separate bag.  The separate bag comes out and can act as a holster bag so you can use it separately if you want.  You would also then have a full backpack you could use for anything else.  The holster bag was very nice, but I found it a little too deep for most effective use.  I ended up mainly just stacking an extra lens and gear I wouldn't need often underneath my camera so I could get that out most quickly.  The holster did have an extra zipper pocket on top that I used for batteries, memory cars and a pancake lens.

I really liked the tripod attachment on this bag.  Although it would not be great with a large tripod, it worked great with my smaller Oben.  It was on the front of the bag, but did not cover up any of the zippers.  There was a great sidems2pocket that was perfect for a water bottle.  There was not a lot of other pockets so I had to put some gear, like my rain cover and L bracket in the big top compartment.  I really liked the small pocket on the waist strap that was perfect for a spare battery.

Overall, I thought this bag was very comfortable and would be great for a day full of hiking.  The straps were more heavy duty and helped keep it comfortable, even with a lot of weight.  In the end, this bag wasn't ideal for me because I didn't like having to use the holster bag in the camera bag and I wanted more space for camera gear, but this is a really nice bag that would be perfect for someone who really likes to hike and doesn't want to carry a lot of camera gear.  it is also perfect for someone that wants to be able to use a holster bag when they don't want to carry a full backpack (and doesn't want to have to buy a separate high-quality holster bag).  If you are an outdoor junky that wants a light bag and only want to take one body, a couple lenses and a tripod, you will likely love this bag.

You can currently get yourself this bag at Amazon or MindShift Gear for $169.  Like Think Tank, they are offering our readers a free gift with any purchase.

  1. Tamrac Anvil Slim 15

I was really excited for this bag from Tamrac.  As soon as I got it, I knew it would be the perfect bag for the Improve Photography workshop in Glacier National Park.  The bag performed well through four flights and lots and lots of tamrachiking through Glacier.

This bag was very comfortable.  Even  on the day where I hiked close to fifteen miles, I did not have issues carrying everything in this bag.  I really liked the thick waste strap that added a lot of comfort for hiking. The bag is not exceptionally large, but had a lot of room for its size.

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I really liked the laptop compartment in this bag.

The laptop pocket was actually in the middle of the bag so it had padding on both sides.  I had no issue fitting my 15.6 inch laptop plus extras.  There were additional straps in the main compartment to hold things tight, like your camera, which was nice for times I ran down the hills.  There is space everywhere on this bag for extra storage.  The outside pockets were nice, as were the straps all over to hook things.  I loved the front straps for hooking my jacket while hiking in Glacier.  I would have, however, preferred a pocket on one of the sides instead of straps.  The tripod can be held on either side or in the middle, which was a really nice feature.  I felt like the tripod was a little loose on the middle, but it was passable if that is where you want to store it.  You can also use the front bottom pocket if you want more stability.tamrac-4

I think the only real issue I had with the bag during my trip to Glacier was on the planes.  Getting to the Glacier airport means flying on some small planes.  I wasn't able to get the entire loaded bag under the seat in front of me or in the overhead compartment on the small planes.  This meant I had to put my feet on the bag, which was not comfortable at all in the cramped plane.  Of course, this would probably be an issue with most bags on such a tiny plane, but it was the only negative experience I had with this bag.

Overall, this is a killer bag for someone who wants to be able to carry a lot of gear without having a massive bag.  It is perfect for someone that is going to do a lot of hiking and outdoor activities.

You can currently pick it up at Amazon for $179 or grab a different size for a different price.

  1. Tekniq

I broke one of my major rules for this bag.  It does not have a laptop compartment.  Normally, I wouldn't even look at a bag that won't fit my laptop, but this a unique bag with some pretty cool features I had to try out.  Plus, I am a tekniqsucker for kickstarter projects!

This is a modular design bag that combines a backpack, sling bag and shoulder bag into a single system.  To really understand this bag, you have to check out this video.

 

Once you get the bag, you are going to have to watch some more videos, provided on the website, to figure out how to put the whole thing together.  It definitely took some time and practice to get the hang of how all the different straps are used with the different bags.  It is nice the extra buckles tuck into the bag so you don't notice them, but you do have to store some of the straps when they aren't in use.  I am still a little scared to lose some of the straps, but it has not been an issue to this point.

tekniq1The tripod attachment works really well and was great for my travel tripod.  There is also a pouch to use with a larger tripod, but using the pouch means the tripod will hang below the bottom of the bag.  I prefer not to use the pouch if I can avoid it because I like having the freedom to stand my bag up.  Luckily, my Oben tripod folds up real small so I never have to use the pouch.

The bag seemed mostly durable and high quality.  The buckles especially were very nice, but I was a little disappointed in the zippers, not that I had any issues, I just expected a little more.  My biggest concern getting this bag (other than no laptop) was its comfort and I was surprised that the bag is actually quite comfortable as a backpack and its other forms as well.  The chest and waist straps were also comfortable and easy to use.  I probably wouldn't use it for a major backpacking trip, but would be comfortable with it other than that.  The bag has a lot of space packed into its relatively small dimensions.  I was able to fit most of my basic camera gear in the top compartment of the bag, freeing up the larger bottom bag for flash equipment and personal gear.

I have had a lot of fun using this bag.  Its draw is really all about the modular use and getting 3 bags in 1.  On tevshoulder_bag_grandevacation where I wasn't going to be using a tripod, I detached the top portion and used it to walk around, carrying my X-T1 with 3 lenses, extra batteries, memory cards and other items.  It was really  great for organization due to the little pockets all over.  This was a great use for family travel as I could use the other portion for personal items and carry it only when needed.   I never did use the larger sling bag on its own, but it works great for holding flash gear or other equipment that you don't always want to keep with you, but can easily attach when you want to take it along.

teknThe big pocket for the large compartment is on the inside of the bag.  I am still undecided on whether I like this.  I have seen it on a lot of new bags.  It makes sense for keeping your gear better protected from rain, dust, thieves and so forth.  At first I thought it would make it more difficult to access, but I realized I would have to take the bag off anywhere to access things in the main compartment so it really did not have a huge impact for ease of use.

 

Overall, this is a good option for someone seeking versatility in wanting different carrying options or the ability to separate their gear without needing to carry a laptop.

This bag is currently available for $250 from Tekniq Photo.

  1. Ruggard Thunderhead 55

The final bag I tested was the Ruggard backpack.  This is a large backpack.  It felt really big to me, but it was a really nice bag and I was surprised actually at how much I liked it.  It reminded me a lot of the  Harddrive bag from Think Tank in construction and features except the harddrive is much taller while this bag is much deeper.  This bag has ruggardsimilar really nice, protected interior pockets as the Harddrive and it is the only other bag that had zippers I felt were comparable to those from Think Tank and Mindshift.

This bag is going to fit all your gear, even if you have big professional bodies.  In fact, I felt like my mirrorless body was too small for this bag.  I used this bag to shoot college basketball games and carried two camera bodies and five lenses plus a mess of other gear and did not even fill the main compartment.  One of those lenses was the Canon 70-200 as well, which is a big lens.  In addition to the main pocket there is a large laptop pocket that easily fit my 15.6 inch laptop and other folders and items.  There is also a smaller front pouch good for storing other items.  There are other little pockets everywhere on this bag and in each of the compartments that really assist in storing all those small objects.  Something I loved was the three velcro battery pockets at the very top of the inside of the main compartment.  This made it so easy to access spare batteries whenever I needed them, which is bound to happen when shooting a multiple day college basketball tournement.  I also like that the inside pockets are clear plastic so that you can see what gear is in them without having to unzip them.

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You can see how incredibly deep this bag is and how nice the tripod holder is.

This bag was actually really comfortable once I got it in the right position.  I am going to be honest, I started with it too high on my back and I felt like I was going to tip backwards.  Once I got all the straps adjusted to where it fit perfectly, I had no complaints about the comfort of the bag.

The tripod attached to the side of the bag.  There is a nice pocket that cinches and then three straps to securely hold even a large tripod without any swinging.  Given the bag is not that long, I probably would not want a huge tripod hanging over the top.  All three of the tripod straps are outside of the zipper so your tripod won't interfere at all with your access to the inside of the bag

Overall, I would recommend this bag to someone with larger ruggaprofessional gear who wants a lot of high quality features that make shooting easier.  It would work fine for day hikes, but I wouldn't take it backpacking.  It probably is not going to fit under most airplane seats given how deep it is so this would have to be your carry-on bag on most flights.  It would work great for an easy weekend trip if you didn't have a lot to take with you as there would be plenty of room for the essentials along with some camera gear.

This bag retails for $260, but you can currently pick it up at Amazon for only $110.  That is seriously an amazing value.  If this bag fits your needs, I would jump on it.

 


About the Author

Brent Huntley

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Brent Huntley is a 32 year old partner at a litigation-focused law firm. He is a hobbyist photographer focused primarily on landscape and travel photography. He also writes articles and shares his work at photographyandtravel.com and is active on instragram @brentdhuntley.

Comments

  1. Hey Brent, nice article!

    I did notice you missed the Peak Design backpacks, do you think you’d be able to get your hands on one and review it?

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