And Serious Travelers, Too

Peak Design’s New Travel Bag Is Perfect for Photographers


October 26, 2018 Tech By Photo by Eric Adams
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Peak Design made its reputation with the brilliantly designed Everyday Backpack, a camera bag filled with smart, practical touches and elegant design work. The company has now branched into more universal travel needs – though still with camera gear front and center — with its 45-liter Travel Backpack ($300). It’s intended to make single-bag travel possible, even with some gear along for the ride.

The Good: The durable and versatile bag packs a lot of punch, with plenty of storage space and a host of accessories, including packing cubes, a tech pouch—cables, adapters, etc. — and a dopp kit, that can help keep you organized. It also got the classic Peak Design details, such as stowable straps, anchor loops and magnetic closures for various flaps.

Who It’s For: Photographers will love it since it caters directly to their needs in terms of strength tolerances and ease of access to critical gear when you need it fast. But it also doesn’t scream “CAMERA BAG” as so many others do, so it’ll appeal to anyone who wants a good travel pack that can hold everything, cuts a clean profile, and maximizes your storage space.

Watch Out For: The stowable shoulder straps and waist belt are perfectly fine for casual use, but tend to feel strained under the heavy load of camera gear. Also, with the large camera cube inserted, there’s precious little space for much in the way of clothing or other gear.

Alternatives: Camera bags are easy enough to find, but ones that are exceptionally well designed and engineered—and also multipurpose enough for non-photographers—are rare. Here are some good alternatives: Mission Workshop Integer Camera and Laptop Backpack ($485), Chrome Industries Niko F-Stop Camera Backpack ($200), Mountain Smith Borealis ($250)

Review: Peak Design could easily be called the Tesla of camera bag companies, or the re-inventor of the camera bag, or the first true camera-bag maker of the 21st century—whatever you want, but in short a company that took a completely fresh approach to functionality and design, asking along the way why everything had to be done the way it always has been. Its Everyday Backpack is — as camera bags go — pretty revolutionary, with clever clasps, strong magnetic closures, brilliant interior dividers and plenty of interior pouches and pockets in a sleek, modern design. Now, the company has applied its aesthetic to a larger multipurpose travel bag, one designed for both cameras and enough clothing to get you through a modest weekend getaway.

The bag is big, meeting the airline carry-on requirement in its standard 40L configuration, but it can be both compressed to a 35L size, by simply collapsing the top to generate a sloping closure, or boosted to its full 45L by unzipping the expansion panel around the front compartment. In any configuration, it retains its clean and streamlined look, without the bulging pockets and garish trim many camera bags deploy. Peak’s is minimalist but still functional. It’s also loaded with conveniences, including several pockets inside the front compartment, a secret sleeve for ID or passport, and pockets attached to the dividers in the camera pouch.

That camera cube, by the way, is extra, costing $50 for the small one, $70 for the medium and $90 for the large. It contains customizable dividers, can be anchored to the interior of the bag, and still retains its accessibility through the main bag’s side panels, thanks to its own zippered side panels. You would be forgiven for being annoyed by that extra pricing, but the truth is that even without the camera pouch, it’s still fully usable for that function – and indeed, roomier. You’d just need to develop your own internal organizational strategy. You can even purchase cheaper camera inserts from a variety of manufacturers, though they won’t be nearly as perfect fits. The other optional accessories—namely the packing cubes (two sizes, $30 and $40), dopp kit (a.k.a, Wash Pouch, $60), Tech Pouch ($60) and rain fly ($60)—are also extra adds, but worth it depending on your anticipated use. They’re smartly designed and reasonably lightweight. The only truly necessary option, though, is the rain fly, which in my view should be a standard feature built into any bag starting at $300.

I’ve now taken three international trips and two cross-country flights with the bag, and it’s proven a valued companion. It’s durable and tough, having been dropped on several occasions and the nylon canvas shell comfortably weather resistant. The zippers are both lockable and weatherproof themselves, so there’s little chance that a sprint through the rain will wreck your gear. Overall, everything inside is quickly accessible. The rear cover, which provides access to the main compartment, also contains a laptop sleeve that’s easily accessed by unzipping just the top of the compartment. A panel behind the cover—right against your back—conceals the shoulder straps and waist belt when you’re not using them, and also serves as a luggage-handle pass-through for rolling upright luggage. With everything tucked away, it has a very clean and tidy look.

Photo: Peak Design

It also wears comfortably when the shoulder straps are out, despite its bulk and the weight it can carry, and everything feels strong and secure. I typically load my camera bags pretty heavily; the handles on the back, sides, and top are strong and robust, with seemingly no chance of failing if you end up slinging a heavily loaded bag around. (The company assures me they’ve tested them with heavy loads, and the handles and straps have never broken.) Once you get up above 25 pounds, however — something that’s pretty hard to do — the waist belt doesn’t feel quite robust enough to successfully transfer weight from your shoulders to your waist, the way it would in a proper hiking backpack. The belt is also a bit too short for heavier users or those wearing thick winter coats, and the buckle isn’t quite perfectly intuitive—instead of a quick release clasp, it’s a metal hook that slips into a loop on the opposite strap. But for the average load, once you get the shoulder straps, sternum strap, and the waist belt adjusted, it feels comfortable and easy to tote around for a day.

Peak Design will soon offer two other models in the same Travel line, a 35L duffel and a 65L duffel pack, the latter complete with shoulder straps. If they’re half as smart and innovative as this bag, they’ll be pretty good gets, as well.

Verdict: A great bag that can legitimately tote both camera gear and travel essentials, as long as you pack it smartly and don’t expect it to haul, say, five lenses, two camera bodies, etc. and a week’s worth of clothing. But dial down your camera kit to the bare essentials, and you can go around the world with just this pack on your back.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The number of features that have been packed into this bag is remarkable, and the material and hardware choices remind you that this is premium product every time you pick it up or open a zipper. I know I’ve mentioned the materials several times already, but it’s rare that they stick out quite so much in my mind when I’m collecting my thoughts about a new bag. They really are a key ingredient in how this bag all comes together. You simply wouldn’t be able to have such a feature-rich bag and keep the weight of the bag so reasonable without employing these kinds of unusual high-end materials.” – Dan Carr, Shuttermuse

• “The 45L Travel is not a cheap backpack – as you can tell not just with price, but also the superb build quality and interesting engineering it offers. Although this is a good bag overall, and ideal for certain uses, the price is high enough that I can’t recommend the 45L outright to typical photographers unless you know that its strengths will fit your needs.” – Spencer Cox, Photography Life

• “My favorite feature of the bag is that it can shrink or grow, depending on your needs. An expansion zipper offers an extra 10 liters of storage, while two snaps at the top let you shrink the bag down to use as a day pack. I just love that — pull out the packing cubes, and everything you don’t need, leave it in your hotel or Airbnb, shrink the bag, and you’re good to go” – David Slotnick, Business Insider

Key specs

Weight: 4.52 pounds
Dimensions: 22″(H) x 33″(W) x 11″(D)
Max laptop size: 15? with 1-inch) maximum thickness, 12 attachment loops for external accessories
Colors: black or sage green

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