Backpacks : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am wondering how others approach the problem of carrying their gear. When I go out to shoot it is not unusual for me to cover several miles and carry upto 55 lbs of gear (4x5 field camera, lenses, 35mm camera, lenses, tripod, film, ect...) I currently have the Tenba Aw backpack, which is large enough but the suspension system sucks and my back really pays.

-- John Gregor (, August 22, 2000


I use the extra-large F-64 backpack to carry an 8x10, two lenses, and two film holders. Everything fits nicely, but it hurts to carry this for more than 10 minutes.

-- William Marderness (, August 22, 2000.

I use a LowePro Photo Trekker AW. I carry the old Toyo 5X7 field camera (factory configured to 4X5), five lenses, 12 sheet film holders and the usual suspects of focusing cloths, filters, meters, and so forth. I think the farthest that i've ever carried it was about two km with no problems. I'm sure that I could carry it much farther if necessary.

I do have to carry my tripod in my hand since this must have been one of the slightly older models with no built in tripod sling.

I'm pretty happy with this bag and it easily fits under the seat on commercial aircraft.

-- David Grandy (, August 22, 2000.

I use several Kelty external frame packs. They are lighter than "photo" backpacks, maintain separation between my back and the load to maximize cooling/minimize sweat buildup in warm weather and, most importantly, transfer the weight to my hips where it belongs. Hanging a load on your shoulders is the worst thing you can do to your back. The larger of my two Keltys (which was only $175) swallows a Phillips 8x10, four holders, three mounted lenses, meter, dark cloth, extra clothing, water and lunch, with room left over, at a total of around 25 pounds. The under-six-pound Gitzo 1325/Arca B-1 combination rides in my hands, switching from side to side as necessary. Hiking packs offer the option of setting up your gear however you like; just use a little foam padding where necessary to keep things in place.

-- Sal Santamaura (, August 22, 2000.

John, I'll second a vote for a conventional backpack vs a photo specific pack if your going long distances with a lot of weight. I use a large Gregory day pack and loaded with my normal gear I'm in the 30-35 pound range. I've never used a photo-dedicated pack, but it seems fairly plain from their appearance that they typically lack the quality of hip and shoulder suspension of traditional high quality outdoor packs. What you will loose in this trade off is the convenience the compartmentalized photo packs have to access your gear. I would also suggest that 55 pounds would justify an external or internal frame overnighter size pack. Most of these packs will have plenty of lash on loops to secure your tripod, and I would look for panel loading (vs top loading) with plenty of external pockets.

-- Roger Rouch (, August 22, 2000.

Well, I share your opinion of the Tembra's suspension. Rather that buy a new setup, I bought an external frame at a camping store for about $70. I can attach my pack to the frame if I need to go far from the car, or leave it off for working out of the trunk.

-- Jeff Thompson (, August 22, 2000.

BACK-PACKS I have used several Lowe Pro backpacks of the old foam-filled design and the new compartmented design consisting of Velcro attached dividers. The latter is a Super Trekker for 4X5 gear. I typically carry a weight of 25-30 lbs not including tripod. I gave up carrying 35mm equipment + 4X5 to lessen weight. The harness of the Super Trekker is excellent and probably would solve your problem. I can't imagine any pack being better in that regard. The interior is another matter. The compartmented design results in a floppy, shapeless body within which the components jingle about without adequate restrain even when the compartments are set as tight as possible to the equipment. On occasion, lenses end up elsewhere but where they were placed. This was never a problem with the foam- filled designs. The cover, which is removable, supposedly to be used as a reflector when wrapped up by a reflector accessory, (a silly idea) is an awkward encumbrance that fails to act as a lid to the compartmented body and is difficult to put back in place as it bends out of shape when the bag is laid down on its bottom. Dividers are designed with 35mm gear in mind, (Camera +600mm lens). Space is more than ample, thats OK, but I do not think that the weight of each component was taken into consideration. The waterproof cover is permanently attached which is a pity, as it feels like it weighs about 1 pound that you have to carry, need it or not, and adds unnecessarily to the already heavy pack. Summarily, the harness is great, it would solve your problem, but the bag is detestable. In future I hope to modify it by filling at least half the space with foam, appropriately cut out for the photo gear, and modifying the idiotic cover. As worthy of the most expensive photo back-pack, construction is of first class materials, pity that this and the great harness are spoiled by mindless interior design.

-- Julio Fernandez (, August 22, 2000.

Can't say enough good things about the Kelty Redwing. The Kelty Redwing (large) is a superb panel loading technical pack that is wide and large enough to hold a 4x5 kit. It is available from REI for about $100. I use this with my 4x5 Arca and find its suspension system makes my load feel amazingly light.

-- VNC (, August 23, 2000.

I also vote for standard backpacks. I have a Lowe Alpine internal frame backpack with 6000 Cubic inches of storage. This is made by the same company who makes the LowePro photo packs. I added my own foam (free) and can carry all of my 8x10 gear plus a 4x5 back and 10 holders of each film size and can still dance. Shame on LowePro for charging such ridiculous prices for small "vertical market" backpacks. I paid $150 for my pack and for something that would have carried much less from LowePro I would have paid aound $400.

-- David N. VanMeter (, August 23, 2000.

another vote for the kelty redwing. I carry my hassy kit in it, including a small gitzo tripod that fits inside (I sewed in a velcro strap to hold it over on one side), and it works well for my small 4x5 outfit (wood field, 2 lenses and 6 holders), with much space to spare. the suspension system is comfortable for substantial distances (several miles).

-- sharon gervasoni (, August 23, 2000.

John: My sympathies-- backpacks are a surprisingly complicated problem for the LF photographer. (A. Adams had his Travelall and his self- appointed successors use Llamas, groupies and such; the rest of us have to carry it ourselves.) I use two different setups depending upon the situation. Situation #1: for when I fly somewhere, and/or am shooting out of a rental car, I use a Tenba 264 with the LF dividers. This works well because I can carry it on the airplane. The Tenba's tripod system works well, even for a Ries Tripod. The 264 is newer, and I am very happy with both the suspension system and the ventilation-- you can cinch it so the weight is on your hips and it has a very substantial padded belt. This is a good setup for day hikes, and you're probably smarter than I am and have a lighter tripod. But there is little room for anything else after the camera, three lenses, holders, cloth, loupe, tripod, film, and a quart or two of water. Situation #2: Backpacking for more than a day requires the Kelty-- a big frame pack, to carry your 55 lbs plus bag clothes food and water and you're pretty close to a maximum weight. Frame packs are superior for photog work because you can tuck the tripod horizontally between the storm flap and the main compartment on top of the pack, thus keeping the heavy stuff high. Don't get an internal frame pack for photo stuff. The big backpack does not work as well for airline travel since you can't carry a pack that size on board with you.

Photo backpacks are ludicrously overpriced. A final idea would be to get a Jansport SUper Sack ($70 and indestructible), which is designed for x-country skiers. As long as all your gear is in padded cases (such as the Canham) you would have enough room in there for the LF stuff, if not the 35mm. Good luck. I bought and returned two backpacks before hitting on the right system. Burke

-- Burke Griggs (, August 23, 2000.

You might want to look at the BP1420 Backpack from Lightware.

-- Ellis Vener (, August 23, 2000.

Well, I guess I have the most unconventional way. I am new to LF, but certainbly not new to photography and carrying camera gear. I am also not new to backpacking. It is true that hiking backpacks will give you far more support that you need to make your gear 'carryable'. I use a US Army 'ALICE' pack which is the standard external frame backpack for the US army. It has a very small frame (aircraft aluminum) and a pretty new pack only costs around $60-70 from the surplus stores. Sometimes you can find almost new ones there. The pack is basically just a huge open sack with a bunch of compartment pockets on the outside. I also bought one of those aluminum cases from Lowes for $25 which looks just like a more expensive hard camera case. It is actually quite well built and a superb value. I pack my camera and lens and delicate gear into the case and then slide the case into the ALICE pack. It fits nicely and would protect it against a Mack truck! When I am not hiking, I can just carry the case. This is definitely not the lightest way to do this, but it's cheap, protects well, and the pack is surprizingly good at suspension and comfort for a cheap backpack. It will stand up MUCH better than a cheap external frame pack. The pockets on the outside hold rain pncho (also surplus!) film holders, lunch, water, etc. BTW-these packs are outstanding cheap backpacks for hiking. They also work exceptionally well for canoe camping (ala Boundry Waters, MN) as they are shorter and more compact than a regular hiking pack (like my Gregory Dru) and fit into canoes better. They also come with 'quick release' straps so you can drop your pack instantly and hit the ground with your M16 just in case you are hit with enemy fire while you're out doing landscape photography. Bonus.

-- Jeff Green (, August 23, 2000.

I just came across this forum and thought that I would put in my 2 cents worth. I carry an 8X10 with an 8X20 back, holders for both formats, lens and other accessories. Total weight 80lbs. I put all this in the largest North Face back pack. I hike up to 10 miles daily with this setup. I just put my clothes and food in Outdoor Research bags and attach them to the exterior of the pack along with the tent and sleeping bag.

david distefano

-- david distefano (, September 05, 2000.

I got a Tenba AW pack for my MF camera outfit, and trying it on, it didn't seem very comfortable. However, after taking it apart, I noticed a number of adjustments that could be made. For example, changing the relative position of the top straps to the bottom straps, or bending the metal rods that are inserted in the spine. (Not mine, the pack's.) Etc.

The MEI backpack for my LF stuff is nothing more than a big rectangle, and when I purchased it, the knowledgeable store clerk made a number of adjustments, bending the rods to the shape of my back, etc. After she was finished, it fit beautifully. I've never had a problem with this pack.

You might consider taking your pack into a mountaineer's store, and seeing what they can do.

-- neil poulsen (, September 06, 2000.

For day hikes, I've been using a laptop computer knapsack from EMS for my 8x10 Gowland Pocket View, 3 lenses (one mounted), usually 3 holders (but it holds 5), meter, cloth, filters, etc. Probably about 25 pounds all told. It has a light waist strap (not what you would find on a backpack designed for backcountry hiking, but it takes some of the load off the shoulders) and a sternum strap, and I've carried it comfortably for one to two hours at a stretch. I carry my tripod separately with a strap.

-- David Goldfarb (, September 06, 2000.

After reading some of these responses (which are really very good) i.e. hiking 10 miles a day with 80ibs of gear. Sounds like if I had to do this for a living I would look for better work.

I think the best solution is hire someone to carry my gear and when I arrive at the destination I will have enough energy left to set up and shoot

I currently use a Pro Treker and carry around 40-45ibs up to 4 miles or so.

-- Larry Gaskill (, December 08, 2000.

I bought a Domke Photo Backpacker from B&H Photo in NYC. It is very tough and can be used as a case with built in strap or a backpack by unzipping the back cover. Has many compartments for accessories and lenses. Comes with a waterproof cover that can be installed if needed. Price was $169.00 plus freight. I like it very much after having it for a year. (-:

-- Gary Ross (, February 12, 2001.

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