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The best camera backpack in 2020: carry camera gear, lenses, laptops, and more

best camera backpacks
(Image credit: PhotoPlus)

Shoulder bags may be fine for smaller cameras or shorter distances, but for bigger kits and bigger journeys, a backpack is what you need.

The increased capacity and comfort of the best camera backpacks makes these some of the best camera bags you can buy. The best backpacks will usually contain enough space for a full-frame body mounted to a sizeable telephoto lens, along with a complete complement of extra optics and accessories. Expect at least one tripod mounting point, plus a separate space for a full-size laptop. A good backpack will also typically carry not only camera gear, but also essentials like an extra layer of clothing, more camera accessories, or even a drone.

Before you select a camera backpack, consider your own specific needs. If you’re after the best landscape shots you’re probably going to be hiking to get them, so choose a bag with comfortable straps, a waterproof cover, and a water bottle holder. For those driving between landscape locations, those features are much less important. If you’re after urban landscapes, go for as slim a bag as possible, and avoid dangly straps and hip belts, which are a pain on public transport.

You should also think about versatility, since many backpacks can be transformed into regular bags of the kind you might take to work, or on an overnight trip. If you travel light, some can double as carry-on luggage when flying and are a great alternative to even the best roller bag.

Whatever your needs, a backpack needs to protect your camera. Its inner movable dividers should suit your camera and lenses. A 30cm interior width is ideal for three rows of full-frame lenses, while around 25cm is better suited to the same arrangement of smaller-diameter mirrorless optics.

Here’s our pick of the best camera backpacks you can buy right now…

The best camera backpacks in 2020

1. Lowepro ProTactic BP 350 AW II backpack

A modular backpack that’s perfect for airline cabins too

Dimensions: 30x18x47cm | Weight: 2.2kg | Lenses: 4 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 13in | Tablet compartment: No

Modular design
Loads of accessories
Accepts a drone
Accessories can look messy
Accessories are expensive

Have you never got the right bag for the job? Although this unusual and rather pricey modular system will likely have niche appeal, it’s actually great value for money because it can be easily modified for all kinds of scenarios. The Velcro dividers inside can be moved to accommodate specific gear (including a drone) or dumped in favour of open space, while the rear-opening lid contains a zipped compartment for a 13-inch laptop. However, the real genius is the front’s succession of loops that can be used to attach accessories such as a neoprene flash holder, a tripod toe-cup and straps, and a phone case, making this a truly versatile camera backpack.

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2. Vanguard Alta SKY 51D

Comfy but heavy-duty backpack that leaves no stone unturned

Dimensions: 37x26x56.5 cm | Weight: 2.9kg | Lenses: 5 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: Yes

Excellent build quality
Top, front and side access
Heavy when empty
Shoulder straps obstruct rear access

The Vanguard Alta Sky 51D is designed to carry camera gear, a drone, or a combination of both. The main compartment has room for a pro DSLR with attached 70-200mm lens, and up to four lenses around it. Padding is good, and there’s a hatch on one side for mobile access, although openings on both sides would be better. Primary access to this area is via a large rear panel that contains a slot for a 15-inch laptop. The flap opens wide, but you’ll need to bend the shoulder straps out of the way for unobstructed camera access. Comfort is assured by good-sized hip pads, thick back padding and generous shoulder straps.

3. Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L

Stylish urban-optimized transport for mirrorless and smaller DSLR kits

Weight: 1400g | Number of lenses: 4 | Tripod connection: Yes (travel tripod) | Personal items storage: Yes | Laptop storage: Yes (13in) | Material: Nylon, Canvas | Dimensions: 46x30x54cm

Easy access side flaps
Internal divider design
Waist belt lacks hip pads
No front or rear opening

It’s hard not to like this bag’s chic style, tactile materials and beautifully crafted hardware. At 46 x 30 x 17cm, it’s pretty compact for a camera backpack, but can still transport an ungripped DSLR with up to five lenses. There’s no front or rear opening, but rather large side flaps which afford very good mobile access. Inside are internal dividers that form shelves attached to the front and back. These are a clever design that can snap into thirds to allow a long lens to pass down one side, or can be instantly segmented so multiple small lenses can share one shelf. Up top is a large multi-use area that can expand by up to 8L thanks to a top flap with four latching positions. A travel tripod will stow on the side, there’s space for a 13” laptop and tablet in the back, and you can even lash a small drone on the front. A basic waist belt helps support heavier loads, and though it lacks hip pads, it can be completely trucked away.

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4. Thule Aspect DSLR Backpack

Squeezes in a DSLR, laptop, tablet and even a small drone

Dimensions: 30x22x52 cm | Weight: 1.4kg | Lenses: 2 | Raincover: No | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15.6in | Tablet compartment: Yes

Hip belt
Room for a drone
Only stores one DSLR
Velcro dividers are poor

Thule has thought of everything on the hiking-ready Aspect camera backpack. A side-opening area is big enough for a DSLR and a few lenses, with a stretch pocket in the lid for SD card pockets and accessories. Almost hidden from view within the cushioned back panel is a large laptop pocket, which also stows a tablet, while a top compartment is roomy enough for lunch or even a small drone, such as the DJI Mavic Pro. It's even got comfy straps and a supportive hip belt that's removable. The only thing we're not so keen on is that the main DSLR area could be easier to access and customise. Overall, this is a brilliant backpack that deserves its spot in our list.

5. Gitzo Adventury 30L camera backpack

Aimed at wildlife, nature and landscapes, it even takes a drone

Dimensions: 23x16x38 cm | Weight: 2kg | Lenses: 4 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 13in | Tablet compartment: Yes

Holds telephoto lenses
Can hold a large tripod
Roll-top wet bag on the top
Very heavy when packed
Fiddly inner compartment

Incredible images of wildlife are everywhere, but it’s rare to find a backpack that address the needs of those who need to get themselves and their equipment into remote places for long periods. Cue the Manfrotto Gitzo Adventury 30-litre backpack – also available as a 45-litre version – that can carry a couple of pro DSLR cameras, one fitted with a 200mm telephoto lens. Now that’s unusual, though this rugged bag and its interchangeable dividers can also take four more lenses (one of them up to 400mm in size), mirrorless cameras, a DJI Phantom drone, a 15-inch laptop and a 12.9-inch tablet.

6. Manfrotto Pro Light 3N1-36

A versatile backpack for a modest outlay, but feels less rugged than some

Weight: 2000g | Number of lenses: 7 | Tripod connection: yes | Personal items storage: yes | Laptop storage: Yes (15in) | Material: Nylon, RipStop, Synthetic Fabric | Dimensions: 49x35x28cm

Multi-use design
Secure tripod connection
Top access restrictive
Shoulder straps lack quality

The versatile Manfrotto Pro Light pack is designed for a DSLR kit, video set-up, or a small drone. In DSLR mode the lower two thirds of the bag will house a body with attached lens, surrounded by up to five extra lenses. Flaps on either side let you easily access your camera on the go, but the main front panel can slightly restrict access to lenses stored at the top. Comfort is acceptable, but the shoulder straps feel a bit cheap and aren’t the widest. They can turn the bag into a sling, however, and will tuck behind the back panel when you need them out of the way. We also like this camera backpack's simple, secure tripod attachment.

7. Think Tank StreetWalker Pro V2.0

An urban backpack great for maintaining a low profile with full-frame DSLR gear

Weight: 1600g | Number of lenses: 4-6 | Tripod connection: Yes | Personal items storage: Yes | Laptop storage: Yes (10in) | Material: Nylon, Polyester, Polyurethane | Dimensions: 25x47x21cm

Compact and portable
Comfortable with good padding
No side opening access
Lacks a waist belt

The StreetWalker from Think Tank lines is a compact, city-friendly option. Its narrow 25cm external width keeps you streamlined; while this restricts the internal layout to two columns rather than three, these are wide and deep, and will neatly house a pair of full-frame cameras with large-diameter attached lenses; one facing down, the other up. Depending on your lens choice, extra dividers can fit around additional optics. You can also strap a tripod to the front, and there’s room for a 10-inch tablet in a pouch at the rear. Access is via a single no-nonsense front flap. You don’t get a waist belt but the shoulder straps and back padding are excellent.

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8. Lowepro Fastpack 250 AW II Backpack

This big boy accommodates a handful of lenses and a large laptop too

Dimensions: 50x31x26cm | Weight: 1.8kg | Lenses: 3 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: Yes

Easy access to all gear
Space for big zoom plus three lenses
Large size
Only room for water bottle or tripod – not both

Another side-opener, the Fastpack 250's main camera zone can be opened up all the way across the front, so it's easy to organise. It takes a DSLR with a big zoom lens attached, and there's room enough for at least three other lenses. The back panel has a side-zipped pocket for a 15in laptop and tablet, and there are two other zones for storing accessories and clothes. It's designed to be worn for long periods out on a shoot, so the ergonomically padded shoulder straps and hip belt are useful. There's even a strap that attaches the Fastpack 250 to the handles of rolling luggage at the airport. Too big? A smaller Fastpack 150 is also available.

9. Chrome Niko camera backpack

Tough all-purpose option with plenty of storage

Dimensions: 51x25x18cm | Weight: 1.5kg | Lenses: 3 | Raincover: No | Padded hip belt: No | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: No

Stealth style
15-inch laptop compartment
Reflective strips for night safety
No hipbelt
No tablet sleeve

If you’re traveling with a lot of expensive camera gear, it’s best not to be obvious about it. A mostly watertight and toughly made backpack, the beauty of the 23-litre Niko is that it doesn’t look like a camera backpack. With a rear-opening allowing easy access to all gear simultaneously, the Niko’s main compartment has six areas for lenses and gear, though it’s all totally customizable thanks to Velcro dividers. Three pockets store SD cards while a zip on the side of the bag opens-up a slip pocket for a 13-inch laptop. However, although a pocket on the side is designed to take a foot of a tripod, the front has two very large, heavy-duty (and reflective) Velcro straps that can secure virtually anything.

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10. Vanguard Alta SKY 66

Great for wildlife photographers with a very long lens

Dimensions: 29x29x62 cm | Weight: 2.85kg | Lenses: 3 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 17in | Tablet compartment: Yes

Takes a 600mm zoom lens
Adjustable back system and hip belt
Large size so needs to be full
Heavy when empty

There's now a lot of choice of DSLR backpacks, but it dramatically narrows when it comes to backpacks built for carrying a long lens. Designed to carry cameras sporting 500-600mm super-telephoto lenses, the Alta SKY 66 is built like a proper hiking backpack. There's an adjustable back system to get the backpack at exactly the right height, together with side and back access to all gear, as well as a zipped zone for a large laptop and tablet, and multiple pockets for SD cards and a smartphone (with pass-through for wired earphones, water bottles and flasks). Multiple tripods can be attached – a stunning three in total – though the lower horizontal straps can also be used to secure a small hiking tent, or a rolled-up jacket. The only trouble is that the Alta SKY 66 is heavy; this is one really only for nature photographers setting out for long sessions in the wild.

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