The Minefield that is Back, Shoulder and Waist Bag Purchase

One thing that 30+ years of photography has taught me is that there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. During this time I have used, abused, collected and disposed of so many different types of bag that I no longer easily remember them all. I think I must have a weakness for them as when I attend a camera show, or visit a shop, I find I gravitate towards the bag section in search of the perfect item. The worrying thing is that I still do this in the feint hope that I have missed something over the decades, or that a manufacturer has introduced the holy grail of bags that will end my (and others) search.

But the truth of the matter is that there can be no perfect bag. And even if there were, it would not be perfect for everyone.

For almost two decades I used shoulder bags, and purchased several during this time. The only one to survive through to today is my Billingham 335 which, after 20 years is still perfectly usable. I guess this is testament to the quality or materials and workmanship used at Billingham. But over the years, and as I have got older, I found shoulder bags to be incumbent and, when filled with lots of gear, downright heavy. Disillusionment sent me down the backpack route, which lead to further costly experiments.

But backpacks do seem to suit me more, and they are what I use today. My first backpack purchase was a full sized model that I could cram most of my gear into. It wasn’t long before buyer’s remorse set in as I found the weight bothered me almost as much as a shoulder bag. And then I had an epiphany; when I analysed what I used, I found that I never used everything contained within. In fact I hardly used much beyond a single camera body and one or two lenses – the rest was there ‘just in case’.

After rationalising what I took out in the field, I found that I was carrying a bag that was almost empty, so I started looking for smaller packs that could also hold a flask, food, maps etc. and it is this design that I use today. In fact we use three; one Tamrac Adventure 7, a Tamrac Speed Pack 75 for overseas travel and one Vanguard Arlen 59 for daily use. None hold more than a two bodies and a couple of lenses, but they are what work best for us.

Somewhere along my journey of bag enlightenment, I also acquired a couple of waist packs that were OK but somewhat movement limiting when scrambling up and down scree slopes or steep hills. And then there are several ever ready cases lying around, some in use and some not. 

My latest fascination is with Kata products; I really like the look and handling of their rucksacks and the smaller DR-466i is particularly appealing. My Son and co-founder of PhotoArk has also expressed an interest in this model but in the end stayed loyal to Tamrac!

Many manufactures now seem to be manufacturing rucksacks with far too many entry/exit points for my liking. I fully understand that it allows easy access to gear, but my worry is that my own carelessness would see me leaving one or more zippers open, resulting in something falling out and being lost or damaged.

My bag journey has been a long and costly one. But for the moment I am content, although if a DR-466i came my way at a reasonable price then I might just be tempted!