A hands-on, real-world review of bags made for combined hiking and photography in 2015.

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Hiking Bags Reviewed

I am a hobbyist landscape and family portrait photographer who lives in Utah, and I took 5 bags out on the trails to test them the summer of 2015. This wasn’t just a test where I tried each on and took them for a walk around the block. I took these bags on half day hikes in the beautiful and rugged Wasatch Mountains of the Rocky Mountain range here in Utah. I took them on Boy Scout camps. I took them on trips to Southern Utah and Oregon. I put them through the paces in numerous real-world tests and having heavily used them all and will tell you which is the best day trip photography hiking bag in 2015. Read the details of what I liked and disliked about each bag, or skip to the last section of this article if all you care about is which I give the Author’s Choice award. But first, here are the bags I reviewed in alphabetical order (manufacturer):

I have to thank the companies that we’re willing to participate by sending me bags. I asked companies to send me their best day-long hiking bags that would carry one to two camera bodies with multiple lenses. Another important thing to understand is the gear that I took with me as I tested the bags:

  • Canon 7DM2 body
  • Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Canon 55-250mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Canon 50mm f/1.8
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8

Before getting into the details of each bag, let me say that I was impressed with the build quality of all these bags. I put each of these bags through some pretty serious testing and all of them still look pretty much like the day I took them out of the boxes they came in. I also need to say that the pictures included in this review were the result of me quickly taking a few shots just before taking them out. Go check out the bags at the manufacturers site or at Amazon to see good product photos, but these are real-world shots taken with an iPhone for the purposes of illustrating this review.

Manfrotto Off Roader Hiking Backpack 30L

The Manfrotto Off Roader is a hiking bag first and a camera bag second. At 30L it has a lot of room inside the bag and most of that space is left for the non-photography gear you may be taking with you on a hike. It is more well suited to multi-day hiking trips than the single day trip I was looking to evaluate, so it didn’t exactly fit what I was looking for. This ended up being my least favorite bag of the group because it wasn’t quite the fit I had hoped, but also because I really didn’t like how you mounted the tripod. Still, here are the Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Soft bag that compresses down a lot when not in use (including the dividing walls for camera gear)
  • Very light weight
  • Comfortable on the shoulders with good waist straps to help put the weight that may be in the bag if you fill it on your hips and not just on your back
  • Good rain fly that is easy to put over the bag
  • Good water resistance overall
  • Nice mesh pockets on the side to store a granola bar and water bottle
  • Tied for lowest cost at $200

Cons:

  • No holder at the bottom for a tripod, only a couple of bungee loops that made it wiggle a lot as I hiked
  • No place to store a water bladder (only a water bottle in the side mesh pockets)
  • Could only hold my camera body and two smaller type lenses
  • Really need to take the bag off entirely to get the camera gear
  • No access to gear through the back (to help with not having to take the waist strap off)
  • No padded spot for a computer/tablet

Who Is It For?

This is the only bag of the group reviewed here that I would recommend for a hiking trip longer than 1 day because it has a lot of room in it for gear besides your camera equipment. I don’t recommend this bag for hikes shorter than that.

MindShift Rotation 180 Professional (Deluxe)

The folks over at MindShift have things really going! These are some excellent hiking bags and the Rotation 180 Pro may be the very top of that list. It was clear very early on as I tested the bag that it was going to be in competition for the Author’s Choice award in this article. It has an obviously unique feature with the waist pack that swivels around out of the bottom of the bag around to the front of you making it so that you don’t have to take it off in order to get to your camera gear. It also has a not-so-obvious feature in that it has a spot to hold a water bladder! You wouldn’t think that would be a feature that would be unique, but this ended up being the only bag I reviewed that actually had a place to hang a bladder and a whole to put a hose through so that you could drink from it while hiking.

Pros:

  • Swivel waist pack large enough to hold a body and two medium to small sized lenses accessible without undoing anything on the bag
  • Holder for water bladder (still can’t believe this was the only bag with this)
  • Really good tripod mounts to hold it on the bag without it bouncing around
  • Plenty of room to hold gear
  • Very comfortable shoulder and waist straps to distribute the weight
  • Water resistant and includes a good rain fly
  • Back access to get to the gear in the top portion of the bag without taking off the waist straps

Cons:

  • Most expensive of the bags reviewed at $500
  • No padded spot for a computer/tablet

Who Is It For?

This bag is for the photographer with a little bigger budget, wants to go on longer day hikes, yet shoot along the trail.

MindShift Backlight 26 Greenfield

Another really good bag from MindShift here. This one wasn’t actually included in the set of bags I got from manufacturers initially because it came out about a month into my testing. I am so glad I got to use it though as it was one I preferred over many of the others on numerous occasions. It isn’t really all that unique in features, but it is just a well-built and very functional hiking bag.

Pros:

  • Not the usual black or blue color, has a little personality
  • Back access to the main gear compartment and a bungee that goes around the neck to support the bag
  • Excellent tripod mounts
  • Good side pockets for snacks/water bottle
  • Water resistant and good rain fly
  • Plenty of room for camera gear
  • Very comfortable shoulder and waist straps
  • Padded place for a 13? laptop or tablet
  • Padded place for a smartphone

Cons:

  • Camera gear only somewhat accessible without undoing the straps (compared with the MindShift Rotation 180)
  • Not much room for anything but camera gear

Who Is It For?

The day hiking photographer with a somewhat limited budget who wants some accessibility to the gear without undoing the straps and to carry a laptop or tablet with them.

Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter

I have to give credit to Think Tank with this bag. It is a pretty difference concept from the other bags I reviewed, and I liked it a lot. I was actually surprised at how much I ended up liking the bag. The thing that is so different about it is how the gear inside the bag is stored. Rather than having the more traditional padded, velcro attached dividers you are so used to in camera bags, there are pouches with draw-strings that can completely close around your precious gear. I just happened to take this bag with me on my trip to the Oregon coast where I stayed on the beach for a week and was so glad I could put the gear inside the pouches to protect everything from the sand that literally went everywhere as I hiked around with it.

Pros:

  • Unique storage pouches for camera gear
  • Small, light weight bag
  • Can be compacted down very small with none of those traditional dividers
  • Padded place for 15? laptop or tablet
  • Really good zippers that held up well to sand

Cons:

  • No side pockets for snacks or water bottle
  • Non-padded waist strap
  • Mediocre tripod straps, really needs a tripod pouch at the bottom of the bag
  • Seems slightly over priced at $260

Who Is It For?

The photographer who may not be upright all the time when hiking. The unique storage pouches in this bag would keep your gear nice and safe even if you were upside down for a while or bouncing the bag around pretty violently. Also good for the photographer who may be around a ton of sand on a regular basis.

Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Pro

This bag is the one that probably came to mind when you first thought about camera hiking bags. It is the very traditional kind with lots of padding and stiffness to the bag to protect the gear inside. When I set out to do this review, this was the kind of bag I had envisioned in my head, and as you will see it has it’s place.

Pros:

  • Plenty of room for camera gear
  • Really good protection of your gear
  • Excellent tripod mounts, including a pouch for the bottom of the tripod that makes a huge difference
  • Buttery smooth zippers (like all Think Tank bags)

Cons:

  • Seems less water resistant, although has a rain fly
  • Doesn’t compact down much, the size is really constant
  • Not any room for anything but camera gear
  • Non-padded waist strap
  • Felt really small on me, like it was an elementary school bag
  • Screams “photography gear” to others looking at the bag

Who Is It For?

This bag is for the photographer who needs more room than an even more traditional over-the-shoulder camera bag can provide. Or the photographer who has plenty of room in the single strap over-the-shoulder bag but would rather have two straps. A good back to go and do family portraits out at a farm or other natural setting for example.

Author’s Choice

420Again, I have to reiterate here that all of the bags I reviewed were surprisingly good. Not a single one of them made me worry that the bag would fall apart as I was using them. Still, as I used them in the real-world, I definitely had was able to find my favorite. Well, really my two favorites. The MindShift Rotation 180 Pro is the bag I found myself choosing the most when it came time to hike. I love the waist pack that rotates out without having to undo a single strap and get to the gear, but really the place to put a water bladder and hose made it the clear choice for me. I just can’t believe that wasn’t something any of the other bags included as a feature. I would like to see that added to more hiking bags.

A fairly close second was the MindShift Backlight. The somewhat unique design with back accessibility meant I could leave the waist straps connected, swing the entire bag around to the front of me, then put the bungee loop over my head (around my neck) and get to the gear really easily while on the trail. The gear isn’t as accessible as the Rotation 180 Pro, but then again that gear is limited to what you can fit in the waist pack. I am not taking a laptop with me while hiking on the trail, but if I were that would be another huge plus. I wish it had the spot for the water bladder and then I would have a really hard time choosing between the two bags. Both are excellent.


About the Author

Jeff Harmon is a hobbyist photographer located in Herriman, Utah. He and his wife can’t help but do landscape photography with all of the beauty around him in the Salt Lake Valley. They also do family portraits. You can check out their work at http://jsharmonphotos.com or like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jsharmonphotos/

Original Content provided by Improve Photography

8 Comments

  1. Alexander Jemeljanov

    Hi, thank you for the review, Im looking for a shoulder bag to carry one DSLR with a lens + 3 lenses. Will put my speedlights and a backup body into the photo bag that I own now.

  2. Scott willard

    I think this is slightly slanted, you have reviewed 4 bags from thinktank (mind shift gear). No sign of fstop bags, or even lowepros new line.
    I think you needed more brand variance.

  3. Kurt Heimbuch

    Agree. I was also hoping to see fstop reviews.

  4. FStop and several other manufacturers chose not to participate in this evaluation.

  5. John Sabatier

    Thanks for the review, I’m looking for a bag I can take on flights to include clothing and the Mindshift Rotation Pro is looking like a winner. Can you tell me if I can use the E-bag packing cubes will fit inside the top part of the pack?

  6. John Ferguson

    just purchased athe Manfrotto bag wih this review had came in yesterday. On the upside I paid £89 (sterling) on line they are selling it in the shop today at £150

  7. Jens Erik Ebbesen

    I think you totally have overseen some highly competitive bag packs from eg. F-stop just to mention one. I do not share your view . You need to do more research before picking bags to compare.

  8. Some of you need to READ the WHOLE article . The author clearly states that he requested other manufactures to participate and they refused! “FStop and several other manufacturers chose not to participate in this evaluation.” and ” I have to thank the companies that we’re willing to participate by sending me bags. “

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