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.
Luckily, disguises for expensive photography gear have become far more creative in recent years, with plenty of designs and brands now available. The best camera backpacks will also typically offer to carry not only a DSLR body and a couple of lenses, but a tablet, a laptop, and sometimes even a drone.
Before you pick a camera backpack you like the look of, consider what you need it for. Are you going to go hiking to get the best landscape shots? If so, the comfort of the straps is the most important thing. A waterproof cover might also be useful. If you're going to be touring in a vehicle and merely walking short trails from car parks to observation points, those things are less important, and the best gear for urban landscapes will be different again, as a slimmer profile and no dangly straps are a big bonus, especially on public transport.
You might be tempted by a messenger or shoulder bag or a swing-around sling bag, but while these are smaller and lighter and make it easier to get to your kit, they're less comfortable when you have to travel long distances with a lot of equipment.
Nor should you think only about camera gear; just as important is a space to stash your lunch/water bottle/torch/warm layer or waterproofs. If you travel light, it's even possible to use some of these backpacks as carry-on luggage when flying – though you may have to wrap your lenses in your spare underwear, and frequent fliers might actually be better off choosing the best roller bag instead. Some backpacks are split into two compartments; one for your camera gear, one for clothing and other supplies.
You should think about the capacity you need too. The DSLR vs mirrorless often hinges on the smaller size of mirrorless bodies – but the lenses are just as big in both cases, so in the end it doesn't make too much difference. Don't forget you'll need space for all those essential accessories too.
Whatever your needs, never forget what a backpack is really for: protection. Make sure the inner dividers suit your camera and lenses, and that's there's enough padding – and never forget the tripod, too. Here's our pick of the best camera backpacks you can buy right now...
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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).
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.