For the past couple of months I’ve been trying out a different way of carrying my camera gear. I’d become increasingly frustrated with not being able to take anything other than my camera gear with me when I go for a walk. Even worse, when I went camping on the moors I was having to strap my camping gear to my camera bag and had to carry food and water separately. The camping issue was sorted out by buying a decent hiking rucksack, an Osprey Atmos 65 AG, which was by no means cheap and it seemed a pity to have it sat at home not being used for anything other than trips to Cornwall to take my clothes in.
My old camera bag is a Tamrac Evolution 8 slingback. As a camera bag it was perfect for me when I bought it. I could carry all my gear in it and had a bit of space for other things in the top. As normally happens though, I got more gear and the Tamrac ended up with just about enough room. It was comfortable for short walks but got a bit weary on longer trips and there’s no space for air to circulate around the back so I got a bit (ahem) sweaty. Needless to say I carried on as the access to my gear is quick and easy and I didn’t even have to put it down to get things out.
So there I was with a very expensive but incredibly comfortable and roomy hiking sack and a camera bag I was growing out of. All I had to do was work out a way of combining the 2.
The answer came in the form of an old Lowepro bag that was buried in the bottom of my cupboard. I could fit all of my gear in it and it was compact enough to fit in the Osprey bag with loads of room. I cut the straps off the Lowepro as they got in the way and took it out for a trial.
The Osprey Atmos is quite simply the most comfortable rucksack I’ve ever worn. It’s like being hugged, The waist straps are semi-solid and take the weight on your hips while being adjustable in more ways than you can imagine. The shoulder straps are fully adjustable for height so you can set them to suit yourself and because of the design they don’t really sit on your shoulders but just above them. The straps at the top of the bag pull the whole thing up so it virtually becomes weightless. There’s more pockets than a dodgy watch sellers overcoat so plenty of space for extras. The waist straps have pockets on them too – perfect for keys, phone, wallet, head torch, compass…the small things you need to hand without taking the bag off. The rain cover is huge too – big enough to cover the bag with a tripod strapped to the side (more of that later). There’s a pocket on the top section that can be removed if not needed but is plenty big enough to put a fleece in. My hat, gloves and scarf live in one of the massive front pockets and the maps live in the other one with room for a small child if you desire. In the main section there’s a flap to separate the top from bottom and a zip open flap so you can get things out of the bottom without taking everything out of the top. Everything you expect from a 65 litre bag but with all the bells and whistles too. This bag has been designed by someone who knows what they’re doing.
Worth every penny. (And there’s a women’s version too with a different fitting)
So converting to a camera bag…
As I said, the old Lowepro bag sits inside (minus shoulder straps). I find access through the top is better (although I tried the bottom when I have my coat inside and it’s just as easy) by unclipping the top flap and pulling the one touch pull string thingy. The bag stands up on it’s own due to the design making it simple to pull the camera gear bag out in one swift motion. The tripod is strapped to the side of the bag using one of the tensioner straps at the top and the bottom is held by an elasticated plastic covered loop, which is for walking poles. Removal is quick and easy; simply unclip the strap from the top and lift the tripod out from the bottom loop. There are 2 elasticated pockets just behind the waist for water bottles. I use one of those to keep my filter pouch in for quick access if the light changes. Once the camera gear is set up I slide the inner bag inside and do the main bag up again.
The main issue I had was speed of access but we have to remember this isn’t a proper camera bag, it’s a hiking rucksack. I almost gave up on trying this system out but persevered and it’s not that much of an issue as long as I know I’m not going to get every shot due to having the wrong lens on… much like before really. It just means I have to plan ahead and be quicker with changes. Sure, it’s a big bag and I may look a bit silly walking around with it on my back but it’s so comfortable it’s like not wearing a bag at all and I can carry food, water, extra layers, a coat, sleep mat, tent and sleeping bag as well as all my camera gear, which means I can stay out longer. (Obviously I don’t carry all of that all the time – that would be silly!)
There are other ways to convert a rucksack to be able to carry camera gear. You can buy internal camera units, which essentially are the internals of a camera bag without the straps etc. You could also buy an F-Stop bag, which is purpose made with ICU’s, but highly expensive. I’m a cheapskate so the F-Stop wasn’t an option.
I’m more than happy with the setup I use now. I may revert to the Tamrac every now and then (It’s getting a bit tired; the bottom is well worn, the zips have had to be re-sewn a few times… it’s passed it’s best but is still usable.) but I think for now I’ll carry on using the sofa-like lighter-than-air Osprey Atmos.