Over the past several years I have been on a quest to find the perfect camera backpack, one that I could store my gear in at home, take on an airplane as a carry on when traveling and use in a boat without fear of it getting soaked and ruining my gear. I originally started with a North Face backpack with an insulated water bladder sleeve that kept my Macbook Pro padded and secure. It worked great as a carry on, but I quickly ran out of space with all of the junk I typically needed to carry (camera, lenses, laptop, hard drive, iPod, etc.). As for storage of equipment when at home and worry-free use in a boat it left a lot to be desired. So my search began by talking with a few friends who also like to shoot photos of their adventures.
I started with a post on Itinerant Angler inquiring on the “perfect” bag that would satisfy the above needs and quickly found out two things: there is no “perfect” bag for all occasions; and, there were more opinions on this than “which five-weight fly rod casts the best” or “which is better – Canon or Nikon?”. With several people recommending the Patagoina Great Divider as a great boat bag, and a scheduled trip to Baja in my near future, I picked one up from the local fly shop. The bag had plenty of room for my camera, an extra lens, fly boxes, extra reels, a rain jacket and the clear zippered pouch proved excellent for holding fishing permits, leaders, sunblock, etc.
While the bag has turned out to be a phenomenal boat bag it does not fill that all-around category supporting the “experts” who said there is no one “perfect” bag. Back to the drawing board for a bag that will store all of my gear and work well for traveling.
With the boat camera bag settled, I turned to fly fishing photographer extraordinaire John Sherman for suggestions on bags to carry gear around salt water as I had just begun guiding along the beaches of San Diego. John suggested the Sagebrush Dry Goods Hip & Deck Pack for my beach needs. I got mine with the “camera insert” that provides dividers with some padding between your expensive toys. It is waterproof, holds my 50d and a couple of lenses (or a flash) and is easy to carry either as a waist pack or sling style over the shoulder.
This pack has proven to be a great beach and boat bag, but was still lacking in the carry-on and gear storage department. So my search continued.
On a trip to Utah last year, and through Adam Barker’s excellent photography blog, I was introduced to Clik Elite who makes performance backpacks for adventure photographers. After doing a little research, I had settled on the Pro Elite pack but was a little worried that it might be too big. I sent an email off to Clik describing what I was looking for which was quickly returned with a suggestion for a pack called the Pro Express and a copy of the upcoming catalog showing this pack (although it would not be available for a few months). This was typical of the impeccable customer service that I received from Clik throughout this purchase. I decided to wait a few months for the Pro Express and continued to use my existing packs until it arrived. When the Pro Express arrived it seemed smaller that what I had imagined. I loaded it with all of my gear and it was comfortable, albeit heavy. I was concerned that all of the extras that I usually carry on road trips would not fit and that it did not come with a rain cover (after emailing Michael Blosser at Clik he offered to replace the pack with another model or give me a new one when the model with the rain cover was released) so I decided to order the Pro Elite pack and compare them side by side. Both packs are very well made and look like they will take more abuse than I will ever deliver.
As you can see, the Pro Elite is a bit bigger and offers additional storage space, but that additional space allows you to carry more which means more weight. The both have comfortable backpack straps, waist belts and sternum straps – with the Pro Elite being a bit more adjustable for different sized torsos.
I loaded both packs with a couple of Canon bodies, a variety of lenses and my laptop to get a feel for how they felt on my back.
The size difference was definitely noticeable, but in the end I decided to keep the Pro Elite and returned the Pro Express to Clik. I have used the pack for several trips now and consider this pack among the best. It is comfortable, holds everything, is water resistant, has a rain cover and easily fits into the overhead bin on airplanes. Loaded with all of my gear, it is heavy, but that is the price you pay with this line of hobby/work.
After having dealt with Clik, I can honestly say they provide some of the best packs and their customer service is second to none. I will definitely be buying additional packs from them in the future.
So, I think what I have learned is this – there is no such thing as the perfect camera pack for all situations. However, I think I have discovered some of the best packs for each of the intended uses. Next up will be a Pelican case for using in boats.
Until I have time to prepare a proper post, here is another sneak peak.
Remember Rusty is 6’7″ tall.
First light at Pyramid. The real crowd has not arrived yet.
Mark finds some love.
A sweet double.
Revenge of the Cutthroat