Searching for the mythical perfect photo backpack

In the past 10 years I had only 2 camera bags: a Lowepro Stealth Reporter D200 shoulder bag and a Kata DR-467 backpack; sturdy, trustworthy ones. The first I still have: it's a little tattered, but fine. The backpack, I had to gave up on: the back fabric teared up, the weather repelling was completely gone. I used it in this condition for a good 2-3 more years, but eventually I decided to replace it. This is when things got problematic.

Lowepro Stealth Reporter D200 AW
Lowepro Stealth Reporter D200 AW
Kata DR-467 hybrid photo backpack
Kata DR-467 hybrid photo backpack

Kata had been eaten by Manfrotto

So when I started looking around to replace the backpack I learnt that Kata 1 was merged into Manfrotto 2 and that their cheaper bags are gone and are replaced with the Manfrotto versions. There: I should choose Advanced Active II backpack 3 . Unfortunately, complared to the 467, this is a weak, featureless bag, which is an absolute no. There are no rings on the shoulder straps, which are to hold the camera with detachable neck straps with hooks. The tripod holder is not a 2-in-1 bottle holder. There are not little fabric hooks to hold things attached to it. It's just not in the same league. Manfrotto do offer some hiking-level bags 4 , but 30L is too small for this purpose, it lacks optional attachments completely, and it's a expensive.

eBay to save the day

So I went off to eBay and checked for any leftover DR-467 - and I got lucky. I got a barely ever touched one for £40, which is a steal. I smelled quite bad for a few days, but hanging in a ventillated area for a few days took it away.

Unfortunately it was not over. While I love this bag I always had a small problem with it: it's a little short and there is no proper padding for your lower back. It's ideal for regular amount of equipment and a little food, but that's all. This is usually also my hand luggage on planes, and it was getting more and more crowded during the past couple of years, so I wanted something slightly larger and comfortable.

Lowepro: brilliant system with a missing base

The perfect solution would have been some kind of modular system, which I could shape according to the needs and the travel purpose, so I kept looking; at first, at Lowepro 5 .

Their off-road bags are again too small, the hybrid bags are even smaller, and while the Street & Field system 6 is brilliant, it lacks a main backpack to which you could attach all the pouches. There is one to put the bags into, but not one which is a real, preferably hiking backpack to attach the pouches to. If that will ever become a reality, I'll buy it, no matter the price: a proper, ~35-40L hiking back for stuff + Street & Field pouches would be THE perfect combination. Unfortunately Lowepro uses 6cm straps, so MOLLE/PALS 7 compatible military bags are not a fit.

A near match: Naneu

I started looking at other options, at names and brands I've never heard before, and arrived to a seemingly perfect one: Naneu K4Lv2 8 . I've never heard of Naneu, and though they were on the verge of being a little too pricey, the idea of having a shoulder/waist bag inside the backpack, which could be taken out was awesome. I was very close to order one, but first, their ordering site was completely down. When it finally came back, the shipping costs made me realize, this is also too expensive for me this way. I also tried to look up reviews on Naneu, without luck: all of them were from years ago, about the first version, or just unboxing reviews, no honest opinions, on, for example, build quality, durability, etc. I let this one go, but if you happen to have one, please tell me how good is it; I've not given up on it yet.

Naneu KL4v2
Naneu KL4v2

By this time my search for a bag was eating up more time than I wanted to spend on it. Driven by nostalgia, I went back to Kata, to check all what's now history. That visit made me realize a few things:

  1. I already have a modular backpack.
  2. What I need is an additional waist bag.

Forgotten features of Kata: EPH system

There was a feature on some of the Kata bags which I completely forgot about: the EPH System 9 . I never really used it on the previous bag, and while it sounds like something big, it's actually just a few fabric hooks. The are sewn into the bottoms, tops, sides, etc. of some of the Kata bags, with which you were able to bind these bags together.

Therefore I was extremely pleased to find some DW-491 bags on Amazon, and quickly ordered one. I was a little hasty, because when I arrived, I had to face the sad truth: not even my camera with my base lens could fit in it.

So I went back to eBay, and I found an old, W94, former "display model" waistbag. This turned out to be a really large pack, slightly larger than anticipated, but it's complatible with the backpack - except it didn't come with any hooks.

Kata W94 Waist photo bag
Kata W94 Waist photo bag

I made another order, to get some "Viper V-Locks 10 " - these are plastic carabiners which open on the side instead on the middle. These are way thicker than the original ones, so I had to take a little piece of it, but now it sits safe and sound on the waist bag.

The two bags together are slightly bigger than I whished for, which is due to the fixed straps of the backpack, but it's finally large enough to be my 2 part hand luggage (I fly mostly Ryanair and Easyjet; with priority boarding, they both allow 2 pieces of hand luggage, which this fits into).

I have no idea what I'll do when these run down. Hopefully they'll last a good 6-8 years, just as the previous did, and by that time, someone comes up with a better solution. I'll probably go and try Naneu, if there are still around that time.

Update after hiking with the double bag

We managed to visit friends in Germany and finally enjoy some snow so I took the chance to also test the backpack setup of the 467 + W94.

As for the airplane part, Easyjet didn't even ask me to take it apart or anything, even though the combined size is rather impressive. For my surprise, when they are hooked together they still perfectly fit in the overhead locker if I push the backpack first.

Unfortunately, for hiking, it wasn't as comfortable as I longed for. The overall size is about 8cm too long and the waist belt ends up too low, so when I used the waist belt, the weight goes entirely to that aera and it soon results in some pain in the lower back. Eventually I used the pack as I used to: backpack, with the chest strap - this ended up fine, but I'm a little sad I can't use the waist bag for some weight offloading.

Nonetheless it's ideal for a day (or more days, depending on the amount of clothing you need) trip this way, but it looks pretty much that if I want a bag for hiking, I'll need to look at hiking bags and some special organizers to store the lens and the camera in there.