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.
When the pack first arrived the design and colour instantly appealed, but it was the quality of the heavyweight material and unique design features that stood out.
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.
On the rear flap, there’s also a space for a tablet or 13-inch laptop.
The bag’s weight is both a positive and negative; it’s robust and made to last with a decent shoulder, waist and chest straps designed to spread the weight evenly, but then it is in itself heavier than most other bags of this size.
There’s also a slight design niggle with the rear access. The zip doesn’t quite unzip to the base, so the door doesn’t easily lay flat.
However, the negatives are minor when compared with the positives of points of one of the most versatile bags on the market.
The Alta Sky 45D is one of the best-designed backpacks on the market, with plenty of space. Its durability and design make this pack stand out from the competition and a worthwhile purchase for any travelliing photographer.
As a Multi-day pack, the Vanguard Alta Sky 45D offers you a way to transport all of your camera kit in one bag. Then when you reach your destination, you can leave behind what you don’t need for the day and venture off.
It’s entirely different from the majority of other backpacks on the market with the designer at Vanguard thinking about a one package fits all approach.
The bag has a decent weight to it at 2.2kg empty and measures 310 x 230 x 495mm which means that its suitable for most carry on luggage restrictions.
It features multiple carrying solutions. The internal cavities for kit, externally pockets and slots for passports, paperwork and a PSP, and a trolly loop making it easy to wheel around departure lounges.
There’s even a big flap on the back which can be used to hold a tripod, DJI Phantom 4 or bike helmet.
For travelling to your designation, the bags features and size make it an excellent holdall for all your kit and the trolly loop enables it to be hooked onto the rest of your luggage. Once you arrive, it can then be used as a tough daypack.
What does it hold?
The pack is divided into three; top, middle and base.
The top features a sizeable zippable flap with a decent sized handle on top and a large zipped pocket for stashing a passport or paperwork.
Inside the cavity has enough space for all your personal effects or a sandwich or two.
The main section features the usual selection of velcro dividers which can be moved and configured as needed.
This section has room for a CSC or small to medium-sized DSLR with 70-200mm fitted, a spare body along with at least two medium lenses.
On the back of the flap is a slot section which will easily hold a 13-inch laptop.
This main section is accessible through the back or the side for fast access.
On the base, a large zip covers the full width of the bag which again gives you a divided section cavity with space for at least three small to medium-sized CSC lenses.
These sections are all velcro divided, so if you want a more substantial main section, then you can remove the divider extending the cavity into the base.
Across the bag, there are multiple pockets and slots for storing accessories. On the pocket side of the bag is a large neoprene pocket which is ideal for holding a bottle of water.
Overall the bag feels of high quality, and this is reflected in the wide, well-padded shoulder straps and heavyweight waist strap.
Looking over the bag and considering the price the Alta Sky is one for enthusiast and Pro photographers, especially those that need a bag for travel.
In this review, I’m looking at the Alta Sky 45D, but there are several sizes in the collection. There are two D options in the range which have the base section option; these are the 45D and 51D.
Then if you’re not bothered by the base section, then there’s the 49, 53 and 66.
Each of the numbers refers to the length of the back of the bag.
Build Quality and Handling
The quality of the heavyweight material is instantly apparent. This bag is designed to protect your kit and last for years.
The exterior fabric during the test period help to protect kit from dust initially and the heavy downpours of rain prooving it’s weatherproofing.
It does come with a rain jacket, but to be honest, after the first heavy rain storm I felt I had enough faith in the bag to not worry too much about water getting in.
For me, one of the most significant tests for any backpack is a comfort, and I have to say that the 45D with its wide shoulder straps was easily one of the most comfortable bags that I have ever carried.
Saying that the back length did feel a little short, but there’s plenty of adjustability in the shoulder straps to get a decent fit.
Using the bag when travelling put the three-section design to full use, and I have to say I was impressed with the amount that it could store. For me, it’s the little extras that go along way.
The extra pockets and especially the side neoprene one to hold a bottle were invaluable.
Carry a relatively heavy daypack amount; a Sony A73, 70-200mm 12-24mm, 24-70mm and 90mm along with a few filters and a VEO 265CB and the bag was well loaded, but there was still plenty of room for more.
Putting the backpack on those wide straps and waist strap helped to take the weight making it perfectly comfortable to carry around for a good two-hour walk and a lot longer if I’d wanted.
Using the back flap to hold the tripod worked well and although it may seem a little over-engineered, I think it looks great. I also like the fact that a bike helmet will easily fit in the flap instead of a tripod.
Accessing the kit while walking along was comfortable enough with the side access enabling me to get the camera by just taking of one shoulder strap.
If I needed an extra lens, then the rear access meant that the straps and back didn’t get wet in the mud.
One issue that I did come across was that the zips don’t go the full length of the bag. This means that when you hinge back the flap, it doesn’t easily lay flat and leverages the base of the bag forward slightly.
This isn’t a major issue but is a small design flaw that stands out in an otherwise seamless bag.
Configerable inner divides
When setting out the kit initially, the inner dividers are all held in place with velcro so are very easy to configure to your needs.
Both the bag and the divides offer plenty of protection for the kit contained within, and it’s one of those bags that I feel confident with using to it’s fullest extent.
On the large access panel on the back there is a slot for a laptop and checking out a series of sizes it seemed more than large enough for a 13-inch MacBook Pro. You can squeeze in a 15-inch MacBook Pro, but that is pushing it as the slot is designed for a maximum size of 13.3-inches.
From the outset, the Vanguard Alta Sky 45D stands out. The material is heavy weight, and the bag feels built to protect and last.
As a multi-day back, there’s plenty of storage for all your kit and features such as the top pocket, large straps and trolly loop all add to the value of this bag as a travel companion.
Internally there’s plenty of room for plenty of kit, especially if you use CSCs and externally the tripod flap is a great solution.
As ever there are some aspects of the bag that leaves room for improvement.
The zips for the back and for that matter top openings don’t go far enough stopping the flap from fully opening with ease.
Although there are plenty of pockets, the addition of a clear zipped pocket for memory cards would have been a welcome addition.
Otherwise, this is a very well thought out backpack.
When it comes to price the £200 tag might seem a bit high for a bag of this size, but there are no other bags that offer this level of functionality and quality.
The price gives you one of the best backpacks on the market and one that is ideally suited to anyone needing a robust backpack to protect kit in almost any situation.