As you fine tune your craft as a photographer and begin to accumulate a collection of lenses and accessories, you’ll soon find that a camera backpack is absolutely essential for you to achieve the shots you want when on location. In this buyer’s guide we’ll draw from our experience of having used many different camera bags and offer advice on how to choose the best camera backpack for your needs.
Which size camera backpack to buy?
As we said in our guide on how to choose the right type of camera bag, it’s always the temptation to buy the bag that holds ALL of your, but with camera backpacks remember that you will be carrying this gear for long periods of time. Your neck and shoulders risk strain.
In our experience, the best camera backpack is one that is about 30-40L in volume, but has the flexibility to allow you to pack it more efficiently. Changeable dividers, plenty of pockets, upper and lower tiers and quick access. These are all things to look for when considering the size of camera backpack you buy. If you want to travel a bit lighter, a 20L backpack is often enough if you pack carefully.
Also consider whether your kit is complete. Do you plan to add a new lens to your collection in the near future? You’ll want a camera backpack you can grow with.
What features should the best camera backpack have?
The ‘best features’ of anything are, of course, subjective. That said, there are some elements of functionality that are so fundamental they will appear on nearly everyone’s list of needs.
Tripod holder: a good camera backpack will have some method of securing your tripod to the outer side. It may be bungee loops or straps with clips. If you can try before you buy, take your tripod into the shop with you and see how it feels with it fastened.
Square base: it sounds like a simple thing, but so many camera backpacks fail to sit upright on their own. If you’re shooting outdoors, the last thing you want is for it to topple over and spill your lenses and accessories.
Quick access: this is relatively new to camera backpack design, but has become a must-have feature. Rather than taking the bag off your shoulder every 30 steps as you lumber down the trail, an easy side-access panel lets you grab your camera and shoot with minimal disruption.
Waist belt: a waist belt is very practical, as it helps dilute the weight on your shoulders. Walking long distances, it’s better to transfer some of this weight to your hips.
Weatherproofing: the best camera backpacks are thoroughly protected from the elements. They’ll be made of non-porous material and have some kind of sealing around the zippers. Some will also include a rain cover that you can fit over your bag in a downpour.
Dual compartments: With the rise of roll-top camera backpacks, split compartments are becoming an increasingly popular choice among photographers. These tend to offer less space, but many people like the separation of having their photo gear in one space and personal items, such as lunch and a change of clothes, in the other.
How to pack a camera backpack for travel
The answer may sound obvious when asking how to pack a camera backpack, but there are some common-sense tips you can use that are often overlooked. Follow these steps and you will provide your gear with extra security and prevent any accidental damage.
- Dissemble your gear. Remove your camera’s attached lens and fit the body cap. Remove the memory cards, the battery, strap and any other accessories. Why do this? Removing the battery, for a start, prevents the camera accidentally turning on. And removing other components reduces the risk of something getting tangled or caught.
- Wrap up your camera and glass. A good backpack like those below in our list of the best camera backpacks will have a padded interior with thick, soft dividers. But wrapping your camera and lenses, in particular, in an extra layer just provides that extra bit of security.
- Place your heaviest gear at the bottom. Accidents tend to happen when a bag topples over, so packing your heaviest gear at the bottom of the backpack will ensure it has a low centre of gravity and stands upright when set on the ground.
- Place small accessories in the backpack’s pockets. Throwing memory cards, batteries, chargers and mics loose into your camera backpack means they will likely float around the bag when transported, as well as with your body’s movements. This will inevitably lead to damage. Place these items in the smaller pockets in and around the exterior of your backpack to prevent damage.
- Get a tracking device. A small app-powered tracking device, such as the Tile Sticker, can help you potentially find your bag should the worst happen. Imagine you’re on holiday and set your backpack down briefly to take a photo. In that moment your bag is snatched. Devices such as the Tile Sticker don’t have a huge range (about 200m) but in those moments you’ll know your backpack can’t be too far away. This is where a tracking device can really save the day.
Our picks for the best camera backpacks
Wandrd Prvke 31 Photography Bundle
- Roll-close top compartment allows for expansion and compression
- Wipe-clean tarpaulin construction
Wandrd sells the Prvke 31 by itself or bundled with useful accessories. The Prvke 31 Photography Bundle includes a waist belt and accessory straps plus a Medium Camera Cube insert that’s designed to hold your camera gear. It makes it a versatile option.
The Wandrd Prvke 31 is a great choice if you always seem to need to squeeze one more thing in as the roll-close top compartment can take the capacity from 31L to 36L. It’s perfect for adding an extra accessory or another layer on chilly days.
There are also two versions of the Prvke, the Prvke 31 and the Prke 21. The 21L-capacity Prvk 21 a nice everyday choice while the 31L Prvke 31 is ideal for more serious photography days.
We love that the bag is made from waterproof tarpaulin and Robic 1680D ballistic nylon with weather-resistant zips. It means it’s wipe-clean and although a rain cover is included it withstood a serious downpour or two in our testing without it.
Your gear is kept nice and safe in the rear-opening main compartment, but the side opening lines up with the side opening of the Medium Camera Cube, you don’t necessarily have to put your pack down on the ground to get your camera or lens.
There’s also a fleece-lined laptop compartment, a large zip-closing front pocket and a small zip-closing pocket the back section that’s perfect for hiding your passport or cash.
MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 36L
- Versatile, two-bags in one design
- Lightweight for 36L capacity
The MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 36L maybe an ‘outdoorsy-looking’ backpack but it has a laptop compartment that can carry a 15-inch computer or a 3L hydration bladder.
As the name suggests, at 1.5Kg / 3.3lbs it’s also lightweight and it has a removable insert in its base that can be attached to the supplied strap and worn as a shoulder bag or belt pack. Hence ‘Dual’ in its name.
The insert can be removed and the internal trap door opened to use the full capacity of the backpack if you wish.
The padded insert can hold a camera like the Canon 5D Mark IV or even a doubled-gripped model like the Canon EOS-1DX II with a 24-70mm f/2.8 mounted along with a 70-200mm f/2.8 and another small lens or a flashgun. Or even a medium format kit.
A stretchy side pocket also comes in handy for carrying a water bottle or small tripod. However, there are attachments to carry a standard tripod on the front of the backpack.
MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 25L
If you like the sound of the MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 36L but you’re looking for something a little smaller, take a look at the MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 25L which is identical apart from the size. We were able to use it to carry a Sony A7 III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens mounted along with a 24-70mm f/2.8. Alternatively, it can house a large DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850 with a 24-70mm f/2.8 mounted and a second smaller lens.
Vanguard Alta Sky 45D Camera Backpack
- Very comfortable
- Plenty of storage space
For a camera backpack to stand out in a market that’s packed is difficult, but with a reworked product range, Vanguard is managing to do just this.
The Alta Sky 45D is a smart, feature-heavy, multi-day pack that provides plenty of storage and protection for your kit. It’s also one of the most comfortable backpacks around, due to its wide well-padded shoulder straps, even when fully loaded.
Although relatively compact, the three-section design means that you have a base section for lens or filter storage, a main side and back accessible section for quick sling-like camera access and a top section for food, dog treats and of course more food.
In real terms the storage enables three small to medium lenses in the base, two CSC bodies one with a lens and another two lenses in the main section and accessories or food stored in the top, and externally the tripod flap is a great solution.
On the rear flap, there’s also a space for a tablet or 13-inch laptop.
Tenba Axis Tactical 32L Camera Backpack
- 32cm (w) x 54cm (h) x 17cm (D)
- Weight 2.5kg
Aimed at professional photographers and videographers, Tenba’s Axis Backpacks are available in 20L, 24L and 32L sizes. The largest capacity can house up to two mirrorless or DSLR cameras with seven to nine lenses at up to 400mm f2.8. That’s quite a lot!
Tenba’s Axis bags are also made of thick material featuring a specially coated hydrophobic exterior that repels water. There’s also reinforced stitching, YKK zippers and clips and an adjustable airflow harness to fit any torso size.
There’s also reflective MOLLE webbing, a front organising pocket, padded laptop sleeve, tripod straps and three points of access (side, top and back) via which you can access your gear quickly. Really, this camera backpack range ticks so many boxes.
Manfrotto Advanced Befree Camera Backpack
- Dual compartment design
- High-density padding
The main camera compartment of the Manfrotto Advanced Befree Backpack is in the lower half of the pack and it opens from the rear. This means that your kit is nice and safe from prying hands. Also, when you take the pack off your back, you have to lie it on its front to access your gear. That means you won’t get covered in mud when you put it on again.
As you’d expect, the dividers inside the camera compartment have Velcro tabs so they can be repositioned. It might not look that big, but you can fit a DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850 in there with a 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted. A mirrorless camera like the Sony A7 III will as fit in nicely with a 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted.
While the red dividers are nice and thick, the grey ones seem a bit thin. However, pinch them with your fingers and you’ll find they have high-density padding, so you kit stays well protected.
At the top of the backpack, there’s a good sized compartment for stashing your wallet and other essentials. You can even squeeze in a thin fleece. Helpfully, this section has a zip-closing mesh pocket and a couple of organiser pockets to keep small accessories err… organised.
The Manfrotto Advanced Befree Backpack is also the right size to be carried as hand luggage on a flight. It’s also smart and has space to carry the stuff you need for business as well as a decent amount of camera gear. Frankly, we love this bag!
Gitzo Adventury 45L Camera Backpack
- Can hold a huge amount of gear
- Robust, water-resistant build
Gitzo is best known for its high-quality tripods which are a firm favourite with professional landscape and wildlife photographers. The Adventury Backpacks were announced in April 2018 to appeal to a similar audience – photographers who need to take a lot of kit out in all weather.
Inside each bag there’s a collection of thickly padded dividers. These are adjustable to enable you to configure the interior to suit your camera gear.
The 45L version is a whopper of a bag and can hold a twin-grip DSLR like the Nikon D5 or Canon EOS-1DX II with a 600mm f/4 lens mounted as well a second camera body and three or four other lenses and accessories.
One of the outer side pockets of the 45L Adventury Backpack can also be opened at the top and bottom to allow a large tripod to pass through for easier carrying. This means it can be used to transport a Gitzo Systematic 3, 4 or 5 Series tripod.
As well as water-resistant material, the Adventury Backpack also has a waterproof base and there’s a pocket with a ‘shower cap’ style waterproof cover in case of a major downpour.
Naturally, if you fill a 45L backpack with photographic gear it’s going to be heavy. But the Gitzo Adventury 45L Backpack makes that weight about as comfortable to carry as it’s possible to imagine it could be.
Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW Camera Backpack
Although the main compartment of the Lowepro FreeLine 350 AW Backpack looks quite narrow, it has enough space to accommodate a large DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached plus a couple of additional lenses. Its padded dividers can also be removed if you want to transform it from a camera bag to a regular one.
Lowepro also provides a couple of extra dividers that fold and can divide the main compartment further. A neat design trick means these dividers can be folded in half to make them easier to install and remove.
At the back of the bag, there’s laptop section that’s big enough to hold a 15-inch laptop.
If you rummage around the bag you’ll find a few extra small pockets. There are zip closing pockets and hidey-holes inside both of the side openings, for example. And inside the upper compartment, there’s a weather-resistant zip-up pocket that’s a safer place to stash your passport than the outside pocket I mentioned earlier.
The Lowepro FreeLine 350 AW Backpack looks smart enough for business use yet has tough fabric and weatherproofing for more rugged terrain. There are plenty of dividers which can be configured in a variety of ways to organise your kit. The inclusion of the removable containers is a bonus that especially useful if you have a selection of cables and batteries. It stops them roaming around the bag or unravelling.
HEX DSLR Backpack
- Holds 2 DSLRs with lenses, four additional lenses + 2 flashguns
- 17-inch MacBook Pro pocket, plus tablet pocket
The aptly named DSLR Backpack is the flagship bag in HEX’s camera backpack range, and promises the perfect balance of space and ruggedness one needs to carry a complete set of gear on one’s back for a long period of time.
The HEX DSLR Backpack is constructed of Nylon with a water-resistant coating, along with water-repellant zippers to keep your gear safe during long shoots in inclement weather.
Inside the back is a fleece-lined main compartment with adjustable partitions for your gear, as well as three mesh and Velcro pockets on the facing side for additional accessories.
HEX’s DSLR Backpack holds up to two pro DSLR cameras with attached lenses, plus up to four additional lenses and two flash units. You can also store up to a 17-inch MacBook Pro, plus there’s a tablet pocket.
The HEX DSLR Backpack measures 20″L x 12″w x 8”H. Other features include a quick access flap to the main compartment on the top of the backpack, a sternum strap, tripod holder, side lens cap and memory card pockets, ID pocket and a non-skid, solid base so that the bag can sit upright.
Overall, the HEX DSLR Backpack fulfils all of your needs: plenty of storage space that’s easily accessible, comfortable, nicely designed. It’s incredibly versatile in terms of what you can pack and where you can take it.
At a price tag of $240, it’s by no means cheap, but it might very well be the only camera backpack you’ll ever have to buy.
Best Camera Backpack for Travel
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
- 35L expandable to 45L
- Modular interior design
Unlike some backpacks, Peak Design’s Travel BackPack has a very clean-looking exterior. The backpack’s shell is made from weatherproof 100% recycled 400D nylon canvas and the zips are weatherproof (and lockable). The bottom section is made from 900D nylon to make it tougher.
Meanwhile, the interior is durable water repellent (DWR) impregnated and PU-coated to help keep rainwater at bay. If you want even more protection, Peak Design offers the Rainfly as an optional extra cover.
In its default configuration, the Travel BackPack has a volume of 35L and meets international maximum carry-on dimensions. However, dual expansion zips enable the capacity to be increased to 45L if required.
In addition to the usual backpack-style shoulder straps, every side has a carry handle. These are especially useful when you’re lugging your gear on and off buses or planes. There are also a couple of magnetic flaps that can be used to hide-away the main straps if you need. These flaps also conceal the waist belt, which is padded and has a useful pocket.
You can buy the Travel Backpack on its own, but you’ll really want to make use of its interesting modular design, which is based around a range of camera cubes and pouches the company collectively calls Packing Tools.
Setting yourself up with a full travel kit based around the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L isn’t cheap but with the right combination of Tools you’ll have a hugely versatile bag.
Best camera backpack for hiking
Shimoda Explore 40 Backpack
- Adjustable fit to your body
- Modular interior
The Explore 40L is a backpack for adventurers and explorers who need a no-fuss high-quality pack. Its design is simple, but there are two unique features you should be aware of: it has a fully modular design and you can customise the fit to your body shape.
On the outside it may look minimalist, but everything you need is contained within. And the way you configure its modules completely changes how the bag works. Once you start to experiment with its slots, cavities and internal mesh, you’ll quickly realise its versatility.
We packed the bag in our tests with a couple of Sony A7 III’s and three lenses, plus a Benro Travel Angel and a few clothes. This was for a flight. Once we arrived, we then quickly switched around the dividers and configured the inside as a large daypack with quick access to kit ready for use out on the trail.