The Vanguard Alta Sky 45D is a heavy-duty camera backpack that offers the holy trinity for the modern hiking photographer; plenty of room for 22 litres of camera gear, space for a laptop and a drone, and decent shoulder straps to make carrying all that weight down a trail just about bearable.
Why hike alone when you can go with a drone? Landscape photographers often now take their mechanical mates on shoots in the wilderness, but rarely do we see camera backpacks that properly cater for overloaded shutterbugs.
Although we have the Vanguard Alta Sky 45D on test here, the step-up Vanguard Alta Sky 51D in our guide to the best camera backpacks is almost identical, but adds a further 10 litres of capacity and upsizes laptop support from 13-inch to a 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro.
Weight (empty): 2.2kg
Payload: 9kg (est.)
Compartments: top, middle, lower
Laptop section: 13-inch
Rain cover: yes
A solid-looking backpack weighing a not inconsiderable 2.2kg when empty (the Vanguard Alta Sky 51D weighs 2.9kg), the Vanguard Alta Sky 45D offers top, front and side access. It carries about 9kg of gear in total spread across three zones; a top section for a drone or general daypack-type stuff (a jumper, coat or some food), a middle section for a Pro DSLR with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8) and a 13-inch laptop, and a bottom section for at least three more lenses and plenty of accessories. The well-padded interior is a distinctive yellow, as are all the customisable dividers, which looks great and makes it easy to find things when in low light.
Made from dense nylon with lots of padding, the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D is easily shower-proof, but there’s a rain cover supplied in case of downpours.
Overall it’s an impressive though slightly fussy design, with zipped areas also having double security buckles to add security and a few side-pockets that are flat-profile and have no real use.
Too many camera backpacks have flimsy straps and aren’t built for the wilderness. That’s not the case here, with the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D sporting not only some comfortable and adjustable shoulder straps, but also an ‘Air System’. In practice, it’s merely a couple of raised pads that create a little airflow, but at least it’s more ergonomic than most. Arguably more useful on long hikes with lots of gear is the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D’s waist belt, which adds stability.
Despite it being good for hiking, it’s the incredible storage offered by the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D that makes it a standout. In a main compartment of customisable Velcro dividers, it’s possible to fit all kinds of kit, with a quick-access door revealing a deep section capable of storing a DSLR or mirrorless camera sporting a long lens. At the rear of this section is where you’ll store a 13-inch laptop, though to access it means opening the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D from the rear. Doing so also reveals the camera, which is handy. In a separate section at the bottom, which opens like a mouth, is a third section for storing a whopping four lenses and a couple of accessories.
Build, usability, performance
In use, the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D’s padding and anti-sweat design really stand out. If you’re packing-in a couple of cameras, lenses and a drone – and hiking into the wild – its ultra-padded backpack straps are worth their weight. Although the dense nylon weave is fine for most weather, the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D is packing a rain cover in a section on its undercarriage that’s easy enough to unfurl and fit.
On the front of the bag there’s a flap that drops down to reveal a couple of tripod clasps, with the inside of that flap hosting an area to stuff tripod legs. It’s a rather heavy-duty solution, but it works well.
That belly is useful for storing lenses that you want to take on a shoot but perhaps won’t use, though don’t fill it just for the sake of it because doing so can make the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D bottom-heavy.
Is the smart-looking Vanguard Alta SKY 45D the ultimate gear-carrying and working backpack? We love its rear opening, side and top access, its bright yellow customisable dividers and its space for extra lenses, a laptop and a drone. Although it’s designed for landscape photographers heading for the hills – most likely on multi-day expeditions – a focus on comfort and capacity on the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D and step-up Vanguard Alta SKY 51D also make them ideal for solo event photographers with a long day ahead.