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 tempting 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 20-40L 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 light, a 20L or smaller 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.
- Flat base: it sounds like a simple thing, but some 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: Split-compartment camera backpacks are becoming an increasingly popular choice among photographers. These tend to offer less space, but many people like having their photo gear in one space and personal items, such as lunch and a change of clothes, in the other.
- Modular backpacks: Some backpacks are now designed to be used with core units or camera cubes that fit within the bag to hold your camera gear or other items. These add additional cost but they can be more versatile backpacks.
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 high-density, 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 choice of the best camera backpacks
Lowepro Flipside BP 400 AW III
- Product type: Backpack
- Exterior materials: 600D polyester, 600D polyester ripstop
- External dimension: 33 x 24 x 48cm
- Internal dimensions: 28 x 14 x 41cm
- Camera compartment dimensions: 28 x 14 x 41cm
- Accessory pouch internal dimensions: 27 x 11 x 9cm
- Volume: 20L
- Capacity: Pro DSLR with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens plus 4-5 additional lenses
- Laptop compartment: Yes up to 15-inch
- Weight: 1.7Kg
The Lowepro Flipside BP 400 AW III is a fairly traditional-style camera backpack with clean lines and some neat features.
With a capacity of 20L, it has room to hold a double-gripped DSLR or large mirrorless camera with a 20-70mm f/2.8 lens mounted, plus four our five other lenses and a few accessories.
There’s also a dedicated laptop pocket that can hold a 15-inch or smaller laptop and a tablet. Lowepro’s CradleFit design holds the laptop above the base of the backpack so it’s kept nice and safe.
On the right side of the backpack (as you carry it) there’s a pocket that can be used to carry a drinks bottle or to support a tripod that’s held tight to the pack by the snap-closed strap.
As the main compartment is accessed from the back, you have to take the Lowepro Flipside BP 400 AW III off your back to opening it fully, but there’s a small side entrance that gives a quick route to some of your gear without putting the bag down.
Moulded EVA bumpers on the front of the Lowepro Flipside BP 400 AW III give the contents some protection when the bag is laid down for opening.
Lowepro has used durable fabric for the exterior and the front has a wipe-clean water-repellant PU coating, for the worst weather however, there’s a shower-cap style All Weather (AW) cover.
The Lowepro Flipside BP 400 AW III is also available from Amazon UK
- Robust and durable
- Back access keeps camera gear secure
- Removable accessory pouch included
- Not many external pockets
- No 'load-lifter' straps on the main straps
Wandrd Prvke Lite
- Bag type: Backpack
- Materials: Waterproof Tarpaulin and Robic 1680D Ballistic Nylon
- Volume: 11 L to 16 L (roll top fully extended)
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 40 x 28 x 14 cm / 16 x 11 x 5.5-inch
- Laptop sleeve dimensions (HxWxD): 33 x 24 x 2.5cm
- Camera cube dimensions (HxWxD): 24 x 28 x 11cm
- Weight: 1.1 kg (2.5 lbs)
The Wandrd Prvke Lite is a rugged-feeling backpack with a roll-up opening at the top, zipped access around the back and a small side entrance. It has an integrated camera cube and a minimum capacity of 11L, but that can be increased to 16L by unrolling the top section.
It’s a great backpack for smaller camera kits and days out when you want to take your camera with you but maybe not every accessory. Nevertheless, there’s still space for a 70-200mm f/2.8 and another lens or two.
It also has a dedicated laptop sleeve and thanks to Wandrd’s design and choice of materials, it looks smart enough for work. You can even wipe it down if it picks up a bit of mud when you lay it on the ground to open the main compartment fully.
- Rugged design
- Side access to camera gear
- Roll-top design for the expandable top section
- Top handles sometimes get in the way
- No strap supplied to secure the top of a tripod
Wandrd All-New Prvke 31
- Capacity Volume: 31 L to 36 L (roll top fully extended)
- Weatherproof: Yes
- Dimensions: 48 X 32 X 19 cm
- Weight: 1.5 kg
- Laptop Sleeve Dimensions: 34 X 25 X 2.5 cm
- Tablet Sleeve Dimensions: 33 X 25 X 1.25 cm
Refreshed for 2021, the latest Wandrd Prvke 31 is a rugged backpack with a roll-up opening at the top and zipped access around the back. It has a capacity of 31-36L depending upon how far you roll down the top section and it’s designed to be used with Wandrd’s Camera Cube inserts.
Wandrd sells the Prvke 31 separately but it’s also sold in a Photography Bundle which includes the Essential+ camera cube, a waist strap and accessory straps. This makes the best option for photographers.
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 can withstand a downpour.
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 Essential+ 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 hidden zip-closing pocket in the back section that’s perfect for hiding your passport or cash.
We love the Wandrd Prvke 31, but if you fancy a smaller backpack take a look at the Wandrd Prvke 21 which has all the same features but the capacity is 21-25L. Alternatively, check out the Wandrd Prvke Lite which has an integrated camera cube and a capacity of 11-16L, which doesn’t sound like much but can hold a surprising amount of kit.
£189$189 / £279 / $299
- Stylish and wipe-clean
- Plenty of room for kit and extras
- A good array of pockets
- Top securing hook strap needs to be pulled tight to stay in place
- The top tote-style handles sometimes get in the way
- The camera cubes are extra - buy the Photography Bundle
MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 36L
- Bag type: Backpack
- Capacity: 36L
- Exterior Dimensions (W x H x D): 28 x 53.5 x 22cm / 11 x 21 x 8.7-inches
- Camera Compartment Dimensions (W x H x D): 25 x 25 x 16.5cm / 9.8 x 9.8 x 6.5-inches
- Weight: 1.5Kg / 3.3lbs
The MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 36L may be 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.
- Two-bags in one
- Lightweight for its capacity
- Doesn't look like a camera bag
- Camera compartment only opens on one side
- Waist strap needs to go shorter
- Back padding could be thicker
MindShift Gear UltraLight Dual 25L
- Exterior Dimensions: 26 x 49.5 x 17cm / 10.2 x 19.5 x 6.7-inches
- Camera Compartment Dimensions: 23 x 19 x 13cm / 9.1 x 7.5 x 5.1-inches
- Weight: 1.3Kg / 2.8Lbs
- Volume: 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.
It’s a 25L backpack with a removable insert that can be worn as a shoulder bag or belt pack. This insert is padded and fits at the bottom of the backpack. It’s accessed via a zip in the left side of the pack and has dividers that can be arranged to accommodate your camera gear.
- Versatile two-bags-in-one design
- Lightweight and comfortable
- Doesn't look like a camera bag
- Camera compartment only opens on one side
- Lightweight fabric doesn't feel especially robust
- Wasit strap needs to go shorter
Lowepro FreeLine BP 350 AW
- External diamensions: 29.3 x 20.8 x 48.7cm
- Internal dimensions: 25.5 x 18 x 47cm
- Camera compartment dimensions: 25 x 16 x 32cm
- Top compartment dimensions: 25 x 15 x 15cm
- Weight: 2Kg
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 that can be configured in a variety of ways to organise your kit. The inclusion of the removable containers is a bonus that is especially useful if you have a selection of cables and batteries. It stops them roaming around the bag or unravelling.
Peak Design Everyday Backpack Zip
Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack Zip has a unique design in the form of a zipper that wraps 270 degrees around the the bag. What’s more, there are four zipper pulls along this track, meaning one is usually within reach.
This wrap-around zipper effectively gives you both side and top access to your gear.
Inside the Everyday Backpack Zip’s interior are three levels, which are created by Peak Design’s origami-inspired FlexFold dividers. These can be bent and folded to accommodate the shape of your gear.
The Zip also has a novel take on the laptop compartment. If you are carrying a 13-inch laptop, fine. If you need to pack a 15-inch notebook, you can lift a flap at the top of the compartment, adjust the panel and your laptop will sit deeper in the bag. Note, this is only a feature in the 20L version.
You’ll also find three internal slip pockets, waterproof internal side and top pockets and stretch pockets on the external sides of the Zip where you can stash a tripod if you wish.
There are two external carry straps, a sternum strap and the material is all weatherproof and 100% recycled.
- Superb build quality
- Side and top access
- Customisable interior
Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
- Product: Backpack
- Capacity: 30-45L
- External dimensions: Standard: 56 x 33 x 24cm / 22 x 13 x 9.5inches, Compressed: 56 x 33 x 24cm / 22 x 13 x 9.5inches, Expanded: 56 x 33 x 29cm / 22 x 13 x 11inches
- Internal dimensions: Standard: 53.3 x 33 x 16.5cm / 21 x 13 x 6.5inches, Expanded: 53.3 x 33 x 19cm / 21 x 13x 7.5inches, Compressed: 53.3 x 33 x 14cm / 21 x 13 x 5.5inches
- Weight: 2.05Kg / 4.5lb
- Materials: Weatherproof 400D Nylon and poly melange. Nylon and polyester fabrics, woven nylon webbing, EVA foam, hypalon, anodized aluminum, and stainless steel components. Leather logo badges.
Peak Design’s Travel BackPack has a very clean-looking exterior with a shell made from weatherproof 100% recycled 400D nylon canvas and weatherproof, lockable zips. The bottom section is made from 900D nylon to make it tougher.
The interior is DWR- impregnated (Durable Water Repellent) and PU-coated to keep rainwater away from your gear, but there’s an optional cover called the Rainfly.
In its standard configuration, the Travel BackPack has a volume of 35L and its dimensions meet international maximum carry-on requirements. However, dual expansion zips enable the capacity to be increased to 45L.
Along with comfortable backpack-style shoulder straps, every side of the backpack has a carry handle, which comes in handy when you’re lugging your gear on and off buses or planes.
There are also a couple of magnetic flaps that enable the main straps and the waist belt to be concealed for a tidier outer.
Peak Design offers a range of camera cubes and packing cube that can be used to configure the inside of the Travel Backpack. If you want, it can be entirely turned over to carrying camera gear, but can also be used for more general travel items – or a combination of the two.
Take a look at our Peak Design Travel Backpack review to read more about it and the packing cubes and pouches designed to be used with it.
- Smart but tough and weatherproof
- Quick access to your kit from either side
- Broad, comfortable straps
- Camera cubes and packing cubes are extra
- Awkward access to the waistbelt pocket
F-Stop Kashmir UL 30L
- Product type: Modular backpack
- Capacity: 30L
- Fabric: 210D nylon shell with polyurethane and water resistant coating, Hypalon reinforced base
- Dimensions (H x W x D): 52 x 31.8 x 27.9cm / 20.5 x 12.5 x 11-inches
- Weight: 1.1Kg / 2.5Lbs
The F-Stop Kashmir UL 30L is a modular backpack from F-Stop’s Ultra Light range. It’s suitable for use by any photographer but it was designed with female photographers in mind.
It’s a modular pack and can accept a range of F-stop’s Internal Camera Units (ICUs) to accommodate your kit. We tested it with the Slope ICU – Medium which retails for £92/$89. This fits inside the main compartment of the Kashmir UL 30L to hold your camera gear and protect it from bumps.
The F-Stop Slope ICU – Medium has a configurable interior with padded dividers. It can house a double-gripped camera like the Nikon D6 or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III plus 3 or 4 lenses including a 70-200mm f/2.8. It can also be customised to hold smaller camera systems such as a Nikon Z6 II or the Fuji X-T4.
After carrying the fully-loaded F-Stop Kashmir UL 30L on several long walks, I’ve concluded that it is one of the most comfortable backpacks that I’ve ever put my camera gear in.
- Extremely comfortable to carry
- Compatible with F-Stop's Internal Camera Units and accessories for customisation
- Water-resistant outer fabric, durable base
- The Internal Camera Units and accessories add extra cost - look for kits and bundles
- Items in the top can get lost behind the ICU
Shimoda Explore 40
- Product: Backpack
- External dimensions (W X H X D): 29 x 57 x 26cm / 11.4 x 22.4 x 10.2inches
- Internal dimensions: 29 x 44 x 17cm / 11.4 x 17.3 x 6.7inches
- Weight: 1.3kg / 2.94lb
The Shimoda 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 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. Shimoda even makes a range of optional straps that are specifically designed for women to use with the Explore 40.
Shimoda sells a range of Core Units, the inserts that house your camera gear.
In our tests, we packed the bag with a couple of Sony A7 III’s and three lenses, plus a Benro Travel Angel tripod 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.
Shimoda even makes a range of optional straps that are specifically designed for women to use with the Explore 40.
- Excellent build quality and durable construction
- Very comfortable
- Alternative straps are available as optional extras
- No small outer pockets
- The Core Unit inserts are an additional cost