There was a time when even the best camera backpacks were way too obvious. Mostly, the best camera bags were a photography accessory made by one brand – Lowepro – and they were so clearly full of camera gear that photographers might as well have written 'rob me' on their foreheads.
Nobody wants to advertise the fact that they’re carrying a lot of expensive camera gear, though until recently the best camera backpacks didn’t try hard enough to hide their contents.
Mostly, the best camera bags were made almost exclusively by one brand, Lowepro, to such an extent that it was so easy to spot a photographer a mile away. Times have moved on, with numerous brands offering designs that both disguise expensive photography gear and carry more of it. The best camera backpacks will also typically offer to carry not only camera gear like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and a couple of lenses, but also have room for essentials like an extra layer of clothing, more camera accessories, or a drone.
More specialised bags that are designed to carry an optional drone (usually behind a hardshell) are becoming common, though almost all of the best camera backpacks take a DSLR or two, at least a couple of lenses, and also a laptop and/or a tablet.
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.
How about a messenger or shoulder bag, or a sling bag that can be swung around for fast access? Such designs are smaller, lighter and make it easier to get to your camera super-quick, but they’re less comfortable when you have to travel long distances with a lot of equipment.
You should also think about how versatile a camera backpack is since many 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.
However, never lose sight of what the best cameras backpacks are really designed for. The DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate hinges on the smaller size of mirrorless bodies, but the lenses are just as big in both cases, so it makes little difference when choosing a camera backpack. Don’t forget you’ll need space for all those essential accessories, too.
Whatever your needs, a camera backpack needs to protect your camera. Its inner dividers – typically secured by Velcro, so moveable – should suit your camera and lenses, and there should be both enough padded areas, and zones that suspend lenses, keeping them away from vibrations. Also, never forget the tripod; some backpacks are built for two, large tripods, one medium, or none at all, so choose wisely. Here’s our pick of the best camera backpacks you can buy right now…
1. Lowepro ProTactic BP 350 AW II backpack
A modular camera 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
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.
2. 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
Thule has thought of everything on the hiking-ready Aspect 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 camera backpack that deserves the top spot in this list.
3. Manfrotto 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
Incredible images of wildlife are everywhere, but it’s rare to find a camera backpack that address the needs of those who need to get themselves and their equipment into remote places for long periods. Cue the Manfrotto’s Gitzo Adventury 30-litre camera 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.
4. 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
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.
5. InCase DSLR Pro Pack
This compact and streamlined back-opener gives easy access to all of your gear
Dimensions: 51x30x23cm | Weight: 1.5kg | Lenses: 4 | Raincover: No | Padded hip belt: No | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: Yes
The Incase Core Photo is a DSLR backpack that's all about giving access to your photography gear in one go. You set the Pro Pack on the floor, then zip around three sides of the back-panel to reveal a large divided compartment good for a DSLR with lens attached, plus four other lenses. There's also a top-opening zip to extract just the camera. On the front is an organiser pocket for accessories that has slip pockets for both a laptop and a tablet. The only issue we have concerns the side’s two tripod loops, which require a tripod leg to be threaded through them; that's far too fiddly when you've got a large wet tripod and you're in a rush to leave the scene.
6. Manfrotto Advanced Rear Access
Another rear-access camera backpack with a novel tripod pocket
Dimensions: 45x32x19 cm | Weight: 1.4kg | Lenses: 3 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: No | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 13in | Tablet compartment: Yes
Packing a lot into a relatively small camera backpack, the Manfrotto Advanced rear Access' a rear-opening pocket just about fits a DSLR and three lenses, while a top pocket is left free for whatever you want (it's sized to allow a drone like the DJI Mavic Pro, Breeze Yuneec or DJI Spark). A front section holds a small laptop, a tablet and A4 documents, though it's a bit of a squeeze. Although it has a waterproof cover in a side pocket, it's shoulder straps are rather basic, so it's not the best choice for hiking or any extended adventures. That said, it's great around town. It's got a special side pocket for zipping up a small tripod, which will suit those that travel with small GorillaPod-type products (see our list of the best travel tripods).
7. Vanguard Alta SKY 45D
Comfy but heavy-duty camera backpack that leaves no stone unturned
Dimensions: 31x23x49 cm | Weight: 2.20kg | Lenses: 4 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: Yes | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 13in | Tablet compartment: Yes
Capable of carrying a couple of DSLRs, four lenses, a laptop and a tablet, the Vanguard Alta SKY 45D is for super-serious landscape photographers who need to do some serious hiking. Highly customisable, this tough camera backpack has two main sections, but the relative size of each can be tweaked. Even the laptop sleeve can be accessed from both the top and the back-facing section (for extra security). A top zone fits a large DSLR with attached zoom lens, together with 2-3 lenses, a flash and accessories, but there's enough room here for two DSLR bodies. Uniquely, the Alta SKY 45D has a lower section with removable padded dividers that's designed for three more lenses, but could also be stripped bare to carry a lunch box. That's key, because the Alta SKY 45D is heavy even when empty.
8. 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
If you’re travelling 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 customisable 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.
9. Caselogic Kontrast Pro-DSLR Backpack
Put your camera in a hammock in this free-standing daypack that's good for wet ground
Dimensions: 31x24x47 cm | Weight: 1.77 kg | Lenses: 6 | Raincover: No | Padded hip belt: No | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: Yes
There's no doubts about the Caselogic Kontrast Pro-DSLR backpack's killer feature: instead of placing your camera into a zone of padded dividers, it goes through the top of this bag into a hammock. It's designed to keep a DSLR fixed with a 200mm lens suspended inside the bag, and so safe from any impact. That's probably overkill for most of us, but elsewhere the Konstrast has everything a mid-size camera backpack should have, such as tripod clips, a water bottle holder, organiser pockets galore and separate padded pockets for a laptop and tablet. However, though the Konstrast isn't waterproof and there's no raincover included, it fine when the ground is wet thanks to its heavy-duty hard plastic base.
10. Thule Covert DSLR Rolltop
This roll-top camera backpack totally disguises the presence of camera gear
Dimensions: 45x20x54 cm | Weight: 2.26kg | Lenses: 2 | Raincover: Yes | Padded hip belt: No | Tripod storage: Yes | Laptop compartment: 15in | Tablet compartment: Yes
Though its roll-top design is largely a decision about style rather than functionality, it helps the Thule Covert DSLR Rolltop look like anything but a camera backpack. That's partly because it isn't. A DSLR and a couple of lenses are housed in a padded section that in the bottom half of the bag that opens from the side, but that entire section can be removed. That means the Covert can be used as a regular backpack when you're not planning to take your DSLR gear out, which is a nice option. The upper roll-top section is reserved for sundries and clothes, and there's another section on the front that's good for gadgets, hard drives and documents.
11. 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
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.