Special packs tote camera gearBy Tim Ryan
With even the least expensive 35mm single lens reflex cameras costing upwards of $300 -- not counting additional lenses, flash and filters -- these electronic wonders need better protection than being pushed into a car's glove compartment, a purse, or at the bottom of a packed day pack.
For the one-camera person who only needs an extra lens to carry around, a well-padded, well-balanced waist pack -- like that made by OutPack, about $30 -- can be the perfect choice for protecting your gear and making it instantly accessible.
The Waist Pack's main compartment is roomy, and cushioned and has two movable and removable padded dividers to fit the design and size of your gear. There's enough carrying capacity for a full-size professional SLR and a couple of lenses, including a short zoom. The wide, adjustable belt is easy to take on and off with a side-release buckle.
In addition, the two waist pads have attachments to hold smaller items such as a pager, scanner or battery pack. Two open pockets on the front hold note pads, pens, maps, whatever.
The exterior zipper-closure pocket in front can hold several rolls of film; an inner-lid mesh pocket with its zipper closure protects more valuables.
Now, if you're an outdoors person and a serious photographer who needs to carry lots of gear -- like 40-plus pounds worth -- Lowepro continues to design camera backpacks for just about every need, especially with its Trekking Series. This eclectic group of photo backpacks and belt packs uses high-tech, tough, water-resistant materials.
I tried Lowepro's Pro Trekker AW -- about $295 -- a large, well-padded, functional, modular backpack. I filled this with three Nikons, several lenses including a 600mm f/5.6, two flashes, a monopod, Sony digital video camera and accessories, and 30 rolls of film. There are so many pockets on the Pro Trekker AW that you can pack everything you need for an extended photo safari.
Inside the pack is high-density, closed-cell foam that provides extra protection from impact. There are also special features like the all-weather cover, the Paralux Frame, the Drawer, lumbar pads and CollarCut shoulder straps.
How do you comfortably carry a pack filled with so much weight? One of the great features of the Pro Trekker AW is its fully adjustable harness system of "CollarCut Shoulder Straps" which have a three-dimensional curve that arcs perfectly around the neck to prevent fatigue and strain on neck and shoulder muscles. There's also DryFlo mesh, wedge torso length adjustment, internal frame, load adjustment straps, compression straps, sternum straps, padded waistbelt.
(There's a travel cover that can be pulled out to cover the entire pack, and a nicely designed tripod holder secured by three quick-release elastic tie-down cords. All the inside pockets and panels are removable and adjustable.)
The Trekker Reflector, which lies over the camera gear when the pack is closed, can be removed and used as a sun reflector to put light on those dark subjects. Laminated mesh pockets protect accessories and camera surfaces. A large mesh pocket holds jackets or other personal items. A padded lens pouch holds telephoto or shorter lenses and attaches to the center or sides of the pack.
Make no mistake. This is a serious camera pack for serious photographers who have to carry lots of expensive, heavy gear to isolated areas. But perhaps the really cool design of this pack is that it's the correct size as carry-on luggage for airplane trips.
Smaller, more modest and ideal for easy day hikes when a couple of cameras and a few lenses are necessary is Lowepro's Photo Trekker AW, about $207.
I used the pack for a weekend hike into Kauai's Kalalau Valley and (besides a change of clothes) I tucked two small Nikons, five lenses, a flash and a Sony digital still camera. Like the Pro Trekker AW, every compartment and section can be arranged to fit equipment exactly.
The Photo Trekker AW also uses Lowepro's Backpack Harness System. The frame is designed to transfer the weight of the pack onto your hips through the waistbelt, which is padded with a double layer of foam to prevent hip abrasion and provide support.
The laminated see-through mesh interior pockets provide organized storage space for accessories. The mesh makes the pockets strong and durable and the laminate protects camera and lens surfaces from scratches. And all accessories like filters, and cable releases are easily visible and accessible.
And the Photo Trekker AW is small enough to carry on airlines.
Products are available at Snapshot and Francis Camera.
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