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.
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 will be thorough 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.
Our picks for the best all-rounder camera backpacks
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, pluas 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.