Finding a perfect camera bag sometimes seems like an exercise in futility. I’ve owned and also tried out tons of bags over the years, and very few seem to check all the boxes. For hiking and photography, I’ve always been on the lookout for a bag that strikes the balance between durability, weight, and functionality. As a traveling photographer, I’m often going to wet, humid, sandy, snowy or dusty environments where having a durable bag is a great asset to protect sensitive electronics and keep stuff dry.
Some photographers swear by bags specifically designed for camera users, while others prefer a more general use backpacking bag. I generally fall in the latter category. What I’ve found, is that bags made for cameras often have too many compromises and are often not all that comfortable.
Here are some of the common drawbacks of such bags:
- They are either too big or too small to carry necessary gear
- They are too heavy
- They are not flexible in their use, i.e. they only work good for carrying cameras and not as a normal hiking/traveling bag
- They are not comfortable or adjustable
- They are not durable enough for the long haul
- They don’t allow you to carry the tripod in the middle of the pack where the weight is distributed evenly
- They “look” like a camera bag, ruining any sense of discreetness
- They don’t effectively protect your gear from the elements
Ortlieb Atrack 35 Liter Backpack
After searching endlessly for a bag that would work well in a rainy environment, I found the Ortlieb Atrack. Ortlieb is probably best known for their high durability bike packing/commuting rack panniers. I knew from my experience as a cyclist that their paneers have a strong reputation of being field-tested bags ready to take a beating from spending months on the open road. When I found out the Atrack existed, I knew I had to give it a try.
The Ortlieb Atrack is made of the same wear and tear resistant nylon fabric that they use for their paneers. While at first it seems like it’s just a dry bag with straps, it’s actually more sophisticated. The camera has thin metal frame which in practice makes the bag feel just like a normal, high quality hiking rucksack. I find the padding firm but comfortable, with plenty of air space for ventilation. The back straps are cleverly adjustable for torso length, and so dialing in the perfect fit is easy with this bag. The bag also comes in special model with slightly different proportions designed for women.
One of the most ingenious parts of this bag are the internal zipper pockets which make it easy to store and quickly find things like lens filters, keys and a wallet, or even a small lens. The 35L model is a nice size and capable of housing a DSLR with professional lenses (e.g., Nikon 500 PF and 70-200 2.8) with room to spare. My Shimoda cube divider fit perfectly in this bag. The bag comes in three sizes, a 25L, 35L, and 45L.
I love that this bag has several attachment points/daisy chains on the front. This makes its super simple to pick up a couple buckles and attach a tripod to the middle of the bag. That is exactly what I plan to do with it.
Of course, no bag is perfect, and this bag does have some areas for improvement. A weird omission is that the bag is missing a handle to carry it from the top. This makes it more difficult to pull the bag in and out of a car, for example. The straps that are used to cinch the bag down are also quite long, and don’t pack as neatly as I’d like. The bag is not the lightest in the world @ 3.24 lbs, but I will gladly accept that, because the frame makes carrying a heavy load much easier. The waterproof ruggedness also means you can forgo a rainfly (although I’d always recommend using a dry bag for the camera if it is going to be rainy). This is also not a cheap bag, starting at $200 at the time of writing. Time will tell if it lives up to the durability promise. The bag comes with a 5 year replacement warranty.
I’m very impressed with this bag. I doubt Ortlieb set out to make a great camera bag when they designed the Atrack, but I think that’s exactly what they have done. Of course no bag is perfect, but for my uses this one comes close as I have found thus far.
I’m still in my early days with the bag, so it will take time to see whether it stands up to abuse. As for waterproofing, I did do a leak test. I sprayed it down with a hose for several minutes and then checked inside and it was bone dry. The bag is like a balloon when fully zipped (unless you let the air out of course) which inspires confidence of its water tightness. This is the only bag I’ve found, other than maybe a Sea to Summit dry bag backpack that actually advertises being fully waterproof. I still don’t recommend take any chances in heavy downpours – and recommend using dry bags internally as a precaution . (Updated 9/10/19)
- German engineering, has an overbuilt and quality feel to it
- Interior zipper pockets are ingenious and useful
- Rear access means you can get to your gear while wearing it, and this design also prevents theft while wearing the bag
- The bag is completely water sealed (like a dry bag) and doesn’t require a rainfly
- Adjustable torso length
- Super well padded and comfortable to wear, with a simple but effective frame design
- Side pockets for water bottle and also compatible with an internal water reservoir
- The back of the bag has loop holes which make attaching a tripod or skis simple
- I wish they’d install a carry handle at the top of the bag
- Cinch straps are a little long and unwieldy, and not particularly neat when the bag is compressed
- A little pricey, but maybe not when compared to “camera bags”
- Some might call it heavy at 3.24 lbs, but this is the price you pay for rugged waterproofing
- If you’re a photographer, you’re probably going to have to buy an internal divider for your gear