Is the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 and its ARC Swing technology the best photo backpack for photographers on the go? We spent our Christmas break putting it to the test…

There are a lot of photo backpacks on the market, and once you get over a certain price point, let’s face it: they’re all pretty good.

When it comes down to it, all we really want from a photo backpack is a water resistant exterior, enough room to pack our essential gear, solid support inside to keep it secure (with the option to reorganise the compartments) and, of course, quick access.

Quick access is the windmill many manufacturers have chased, offering all sorts of new zipper technologies and hidey holes promising instant access to your gear. But ultimately they can only go so far, falling short due to the one inevitability even the best zipper design in the world cannot suppress: having to stop and take your backpack off.

Paxis claims to have solved this conundrum with its new Mt Pickett 20 photo backpack, which employs what’s called ARC Swing Technolgoy.

In short, the technology works like this: a compartment that forms the bottom third of the backpack releases and swings around to the front of you, offering that all-important instant access to your most-used gear.

The Paxis Mt Picket 20 is 20in high and consists of a main compartment that occupies two-thirds of the length of the pack, and a bottom compartment. To swing this bottom compartment to the front of you, simply pull a ripcord-like release toggle that is fixed to the right shoulder strap.

As you can see in our video review above, when you pull the toggle the bottom compartment is released from the backpack’s frame. You then simply reach around and pull it towards you via a conveniently placed textile handle on the side of the compartment.

To move it back into place once you’ve retrieved your gear, simply push it back behind you and you’ll hear it lock back into place.

This all sounds great and easy in theory, but how does it fare in real world tests?

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Paxis Mt Pickett 20 photo backpack performance

I took the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 out to a local woodland. You might not be able to tell in the video review above, but there was a steady drizzle that afternoon.

Not only did the water-resistant Nylar exterior keep my Fuji X-Pro1 and lenses dry inside the bag, but the Mt Pickett 20 was also dry to the touch. Water beads and rolls off the bag, kind of like when you use RainX on your car’s windscreen.

In my tests I kept my X-Pro1, a spare lens and a Panasonic LX15 that I was also testing at the time, in the bottom compartment, and my tripod clipped to the side of the bag (you can clip tripods to the opposite side from where the bottom compartment swings around).

In use, the ARC Swing Technology works flawlessly every time. Pull the handle, reach for the bag, retrieve your camera in seconds.

On a separate outing with the same gear in the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 I happened upon a field full of cows and a very inquisitive bull who stopped to study me.

Having had some interesting run-ins with cows in the past, I wanted to take advantage of the portrait opportunity here but not startle him and start a race to the stile.

In this instance, I don’t think I would have risked the process of taking off my backpack, setting it on the ground and retrieving my camera. I didn’t feel in danger, but I think the process could have startled the bull – or it may have persuaded him I wasn’t all that interesting and urged him to move on.

With the Mt Pickett 20 I was able to maintain eye contact and swing the compartment around and get my camera. With one hand I pushed the bottom compartment back into place, took a few shots and was on my way.

In less tense situations, I found the bag was very conducive to meandering through the woods and feeling free to shoot whatever strikes your fancy without having to stop and unpack your gear every several yards.

There were a few occasions where I pushed the compartment back into place and it didn’t lock on the first try, but these were rare.

While ARC Swing is the highlight of this backpack, what I also like about it is its rigidity. The internal frame feels firm, and that solid spine and flat bottom means the Mt Pickett 20 sits perfectly upright for deep rummaging when you do decide to take it off.

The Mt Pickett 20 connects securely around your chest and waist, and the weight feels well centred, never a burden on your back. And the padded shoulder straps are comfortable in the sense that you hardly notice they’re there.

Inside the bag, the main and bottom compartments are both free of dividers, but for $20 you can buy Paxis’s Pod Armor, which includes three dividers:

  • 1 Large Divider Dimensions: 8in x 4in
  • 2 Small Divider Dimensions: 4.5in x 4in

The Pod Armor attaches to the interior of the bag wherever you choose to place them, giving you a customised fit to your gear.

It’s also worth noting that inside the main compartment are slots for a laptop and tablet, and inside the bottom compartment is another pocket for smaller camera accessories like filters, spare batteries and cables.

Paxis Mt Pickett 20 photo backpack verdict

The Paxis Mt Pickett 20 price tag of $249 is probably at the top end of what I would pay for a photo backpack, but what a backpack it is.

The build quality is fantastic and shows a lot of attention to detail. It’s a bag you can take anywhere, for pursuits beyond photography.

But what really impressed me about the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 is how it changed my workflow. I’m prone to taking a lot of shots and being merciless in the digital darkroom later, weeding out the bad ones.

Because a lot of my photography happens on days out with the family, I’m fully aware of how my tendency to shoot everything and really work a scene can be boring to impatient five-year-olds.

So sometimes I skip a scene because the process of taking off my pack and getting everything out draws sighs from those I’m with.

With the Paxis Mt Picket 20 I didn’t feel like I was slowing anyone down. I could keep walking and change my lenses. I could swap cameras without any hassle.

So while the price tag may seem a little steep for a backpack, I don’t think I would ever need another photo backpack. It feels built to last, helps me work quickly and is customisable via the Pod Armor to adapt to my collection of gear as it changes and grows.

Buy the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 in the UK
Buy the Paxis Mt Pickett 20 in the US

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Paxis Mt Pickett 20 specifications

  • Full Pack Exterior Dimensions: 20’’ x 12’’ x 7’’
  • Shuttle Pod Interior Dimensions: 11’’ W x 5’’ H x 5.5’’ D
  • Weight: 5.5 lbs.
  • Shuttle Pod Capacity: 5 lbs.
  • NYLAR™ Ballistic Fabric Technology [Hydrophobic, Highly Water-Resistant Fabric]
  • Limited Lifetime Warranty
  • Adjustable Shuttle Pod Release Handle
  • ARC Swing Technology
  • Waterproof Zippers
  • Waterproof Base
  • Free-Standing Design
  • Padded Shoulder Straps and Hip Belt
  • Ergonomically Designed, Padded and Vented Back
  • Interior Tablet Pocket
  • Hydration Port
  • Two Interior Zippered Pockets
  • Soft Interior Pocket
  • High-Visibility Lining
  • Tripod / Ski / Fishing Pole Pocket
  • Exterior Accessory Pocket
  • Shuttle Pod
  • Exterior Mesh Pocket
  • Interior Zippered Pocket
  • Built-in Wallet