The Ultimate Travel Photo Bag System

The quest for the ultimate camera bag is an ongoing quest for most photographers. The compromises between space, size, weight and accessibility are always a battle. Do I go with a top loading shoulder bag? Backpack? Sling bag? What about carry on rules for flights? The permutations are endless and most of us end up with a closet full of bags trying to solve the problem of compromise.

I think I’ve cracked it. After years of searching and expense, I’ve got the solution for travel photography. OK, so that claim is grandiose, but I do feel that I have a solution that fits my needs and may be a solution for others, or at least adaptable for their needs.

More after the jump…

Let examine the needs. I need a system that will carry all of my stuff D700, 24-70, 80-200, 50, at least 1 SB800, filters, holders, batteries, and sundries. I need to occasionally carry a tripod. I’m going to fly with it, so it needs to meet international carry on regulations. I want to be able to carry my gear around a crowded market without interfering with people around me. If I’m out all day, I want to attach a tripod. It needs to be comfortable enough to drag all over a city. I want to access the lenses quickly for swaps. So I need a backpack/shoulderbag/slingbag all in one…..well, not so fast. A back pack is great for carrying stuff all day and attaching a tripod, but horrible in crowds and accessibility is lousy. A sling bag isn’t big enough and a shoulder bag isn’t comfortable. I need features of all three, without the downsides. ThinkTank to the rescue!!!

I’ve been a fan of ThinkTank stuff for a while. I have the Urban Disguise 60 and the Speed Freak. Each have their uses, with the UD 60 for business travel with camera and the Speed Freak for shooting sports. Because I’ve liked their products so much, I recommended the Streetwalker Harddrive backpack to my wife for a trip. She wanted to carry her equipment and a laptop in one package and that seemed perfect.

By the end of the trip I was sold, but realized the bag wasn’t perfect for everything I wanted to do. It needed some “modifications” and I quickly realized that the stock bag has some unique features that I could exploit. Out of the box, the bag comes with a lightweight waist belt. ThinkTank recommend switching this out with their pro speed belt from their waist belt system. Not bad, but I think this can be taken to the next level and a Steroid speed belt fitted. Swapping the belt is so simple it’s embarrassing. Just undo the Velcro flap on the bottom of the pack and lift the belt out. Insert new belt and close Velcro. Now the beauty of this is that if I use the speed belt, I can attach various lens pouches and sundry bags. And remove the belt and leave the bag behind. So what I have is the lightweight system for fast lens changing and street photography, which converts to a backpack system for longer journeys.

Putting this all together. I’m packing for a dedicated photo trip. I put my lenses and flash in dedicated pouches inside the body of the pack. The 24-70 fits in an Lens changer 35, the 80-200 in a LC 75 popdown. The SB800 in a lightning fast. I pack filters in to a trim changer and that, along with anything I don’t need is packed in checked baggage, along with the tripod.

This pack is nicely sized for carry on with space for the laptop and documents, Ipad and book. Yomping through airports is easy and i know my gear is secure.

Aircraft Ready

Once the location is reached, I usually ditch the laptop out of the bag, move the lens changers onto the belt and strap the tripod on if needed during the day. I have the option of adding the lightning fast and the trim changer, either with or without contents. Now comes the really cool part of this system. I can take the belt of the bag and leave the bag in the car / hotel to do some walk about shooting. This is much easier than trying to drag the full pack around a crowded market or street. It has what I need in that environment. Yes, I have to trip back and get anything that I need and haven’t brought, but I usually have a good handle on what I need. Street shooting I need the 24-70 and the 80-200, occasionally the flash or the 50mm. Rarely a polarizer. This all fits into the pouches on the belt. If I know I’m getting some cityscape or landscape shots, then I take the pack. Often, if I’m working out of a car, I’ll leave the pack and grab the belt for some quick work, hand carrying the tripod.



The ability to change from airline carry-on, to field pack, to street shooting belt is the crux of my solution. This flexibility just works. It’s easy to reconfigure and provides me what I need when I need it, which is what a camera carrying system needs to do.

Comfort personified

There is one flaw, one turd in the rose garden. What were they thinking when they added the top tripod straps to the body of the pack? With the top straps in place – which is a necessity, you cannot access the body of the pack. I understand why they are there. If you are dragging a big tripod around then you need strong attachment points. I would have liked the option of some secondary points for small, lightweight tripods that would have allowed me access to the pack without disassembling it. Saying that, when you want to deploy the tripod, it’s damn fast. Two snap clips and it’s out. I’m just lazy and don’t want to take it off the bag to grab something.



Top Tripod Attachment

OK, so one small gripe, but that doesn’t overshadow the sheer ability of this bag to perform. I have the accessory straps to attach the camera to the shoulder harness for walking and shooting, just haven’t got the strap to use it with yet as it’ll be hard to give up my Upstrap (I think I can engineer my way around that). This system really does out perform anything else I seen, used, tried and spent cash on. I wish I’d had it on a trip to McNeil River in Alaska a few years ago, it would have been the perfect combination. I could have squeezed a 200-400mm into the backpack with the other lenses on the belt and the camera hanging from the harness. That would have been a very efficient combo.

This backpack on it’s own deserves a very close look if you are in the market for a travel pack. Add the belt and various pouches and it becomes the holy grail for travel photography, a flexible, comprehensive system that meets needs like no other. Of course, quality like this costs. Expect to pay somewhere in region of $179 for this piece of goodness. Then add the cost of the belt and lens changers and it’s…errr…well actually, its fantastic value. It’s rare to find something on the photo world that’s real value for money, but this system is just that, really, really good value for money. Go. Buy one. Today.


Oh, and I’m not affiliated with ThinkTank in any way except as a very, very satisfied customer. I don’t get free stuff from them, or anyone else, so all you get it my jaded and jaundiced, but honest opinion.

Walkabout kit

More to come………

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  1. Muscat_Moose

    Wife and I have something similar to this made by Lowepro I think… it has all sort of bungee webbing on the front and rubberized, weatherproof zippers and a place to tie a modest sized tripod or monopod. I like it because the compartments are velcro shiftable, so you can completely customize the inside. My wife doesn't like to get too complex with her camera, but she likes her Lumix SLR so the big camera compartment usually fits that camera and my Pentax SLR fits in it's own compartment with the lenses removed. The problem is access. As my wife's camera needs are simple, she ends up becoming my equipment mule…

  2. Dynamicmoment

    Every modern pack has Velcro adjustable compartments. For weather protection the ThinkTank pack uses a rain cover that stretches over the bag, which I prefer over trying to weatherproof the bag itself. The issue of equipment accessibility is totally addressed by having lens bags hanging off the belt. Totally reduces the time to switch lenses and greatly improves functionality. As always, your milage may vary………

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