October 6


My Adventures Trying to Find the Right Camera Bag

By Dan

October 6, 2010

I’ll just say it right off the bat. I have camera bag issues.

My main problem is that when I find something that works for me, I use the @$&! out of it and life is good for a few years. Then, long after it’s discontinued or radically altered in some way, it breaks, falls apart or just reaches the end of its useful life, which leaves me out in the cold. Or, I decide to change my methods, like buy a new lens and same thing happens.

Hmmm… this seems to be a regular pattern in my life. I say this after stumbling around the web yesterday and finding lots of great software that won’t run on my aging, non-Leopard G5 PowerMac, and then thinking about what won’t run on the new Mac Pro that’s on the way.

Anyway, the same thing keeps happening to me with camera bags. When I first started shooting, twenty and a half years ago, I carried all my gear around in this awkward, dorky looking square shoulder bag that I quickly outgrew. It worked well enough for walking around the city, but it wasn’t very practical for outdoor photography.

Enter the Tamrac 515 Compact Zoom Pack. Great little bag, in fact, I used it for years. Took it Nepal in 1993 and used it to carry my camera during my trek up the Baltoro Glacier in 1994. The thing worked great. It’s durable, compact has a second pocket and it keeps your camera right there in front of you where you want it. Can’t really say a bad thing about it.

However, in 1996, I bought my first Photoflex Galen Rowell Chest Pouch. I fell in love. I’m talking the real thing here, with roses, candy hearts and all that other stuff. It was exactly what I’d been looking for all my life- at least all the years I’d been a photographer.

It was perfect for what I needed- a small padded pouch with a waist belt with a zipper and velcro closure that allowed you to carry it on your waist, where I usually carry it, or on your chest by using your camera strap and the velcro closure. I could easily wear it while running, climbing, biking or hiking and still have access to my camera. Of course it was, it was designed by the grand master of adventure photography himself!

Combined with the lens cases that went with it, I took that thing EVERYWHERE with me and used it until the first one fell apart. I bought a second one, and have used it just as much as the first. Probably more.

Unfortunately, the thing is on it’s last legs, and of course, Photoflex doesn’t make them anymore. I’ve sewed it up numerous times and last fall, I took it over to my friend Eric’s shop (He makes bike bags) who put it under his bar tack machine. That helped with the torn belt stitching, but the foam is still totally compressed and lifeless.

Enter my LowePro MiniTrekker AW. A few years ago, I made friends with the marketing director at LowePro. She saw what I do and gave me a bag to try out. I’ve been using it ever since and I love it. In fact, I love all the LowePro stuff, I think it’s all made really well.

The MiniTrekker allows me to carry all my gear, plus the other 6 essential items that always live in there, and head out into the outdoors for some serious photo shooting sessions. I’ve even run with it for a few miles at a time during some of my recent trail running shoots. I LOVE this bag, but it’s not what I use in the backcountry. That’s when I need the smaller pouch and lens cases. LowePro does make smaller bags, but I’m just so stuck on my old Photoflex Chest Pouch that none of their holster bags seem to work for me. That’s where I probably just need to get over my issues and try another one of their bags.

I do like the shape of the LowePro holster bags, but I’ve grown so accustomed to having my camera face outward as opposed to down in front of me. That way it doesn’t get in the way of my legs. The LowePro Topload Zoom AW is great, but I’m a little guy and don’t have a very big chest. That thing is just too big for me. Plus, it’s not a true belt back- the strap is attached by D-rings, it’s not sewed directly onto the pack. The smaller model, the TopLoad Zoom 45 AW won’t hold my big DLSR and Nikon 14mm lens.

Same goes with the Tamrac bags. I’m not saying that either of these brands are not really good bags, in fact they are. Lots of other adventure and outdoor photographers use them and love them. They’re built to last and they get the job done. Again, I just have issues.

I know that there are some other companies out there, like Think Tank, Kinesis and Mountainsmith that have good products, but I just haven’t found exactly what I want yet. I’m just too damn picky. The Mountainsmith Aurora actually looks like a pretty good choice, but I haven’t had a chance to try one out yet.

So, the search goes on, although, more and more, its looking like I may just end up taking my dying chest pouch back over to Eric’s shop this winter, where we’ll dissect it and completely remake it with fresh foam and fabric. Pretty much make a complete Six Million Dollar Franken-bag. We have the technology. We can rebuild it.

That is, UNLESS I can find another bag that works for me in the meantime. Help. (This is where you offer suggestions.)

And if anyone, I mean ANYONE comes across one of those old Galen Rowell Chest Pouches that are impossible to find, (believe me, I’ve looked on Craigslist and eBay) pick it up and contact me- I’ll buy it from you.

Edit, April 2012: My please have apparently not fallen on deaf ears. I have finally found a replacement!!

About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 25+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.

As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.

  • I feel your pain.
    I am not a Pro, but we do travel our fair share. For that I needed a bag that can hold, camera stuff, Laptop and external Harddrives. Yeah…. living in Hungary doesn’t help. Many companies even with amazon don’t ship there.
    I liked the idea of Crumpler bags (fell in love with the most comfy neck strap ever!) and ended up getting one in Germany. Not perfect, but it works. Smaller and tighter than it should be for the bulky thing it is.

    Have you had a look at their pouches? As far as I know they make some. I bought a knockoff here in Kuwait. Not perfect, but it fits the DSLR even with the 18-200 on it. I can sling it around the shoulders or wear it on a belt.
    Guess the Crumplers work similar.

    Forget it, just checked, you can’t even zip the top of the bag. My knockoff is better than that 😉

    Sorry, no help from this side of the Globe.

    Can’t you have someone sew one for you from the design of your old pouch?

  • I’ve just bought a Canon 550D and there hasnt been a day I’ve let it out of my sight. I am very very picky about bags too, and have even considered deigning one myself. But Kuwait is the land of no opportunities when it comes to these things 🙂 Will be travelling soon myself and would love to know where I could find that “knock-off”. It would greatly relieve my troubled soul.

  • Hi Dan, I feel your pain too! I love my lowepro toploader, but it is one I bought about 15 years ago and it is a bit smaller than the big one they make now. I had the same problem it is just too big. And the smaller one is … too small. I feel like Goldilocks. I dont know how my ancient toploader has held up this long, but now that I bought a Canon 7D, I really have to cram it in there. And I can only fit one extra lens. And it can’t be the wide angle! An extra millimetre of space would go a long way. Looking forward to hearing the results of your ongoing quest.

  • […] There are two schools of thought here, and it comes down to preference. You can either get a bag that’s small enough to let you go light and fast, or one that’s big enough to carry everything. It all comes down to what works best for you. Some photographers like to go out with a single body and one or two lenses, while others like to take their entire inventory of gear with them. Like I said, whichever works for you. Of course, I make this sound so simple, but anyone who’s followed this blog for awhile knows that I have camera bag issues. […]

  • I found your blog on Saturday through Google while searching for lowepro camera bags and your post regarding Trying to Find the Right Camera Bag for Outdoor Photography | made me leave this comment. I always enjoy coming to this site because you offer great tips and advice for people like me who can always use a few good pointers. I will be getting my friends to pop around fairly soon.

  • Hi, the fact it is now 2011 and there still is nothing as functional as the Galen Rowell chest pouch really shows that companies like Lowepro, Tamrac and all the others are truly amateur photography related and are asleep at the wheel. I am still using my original Galen Rowell chest pouch that I bought new in 1989, it is bleached in color, worn out, does not protect the camera from moisture, but it really works, is easy to use, everything else out there falls short, is overpadded and takes up far too much room in a pack if the going gets tough. I have talked to Lowepro about this and it seems they have no interest in making something for honest professional outdoor work. So I am going to design it, make it and produce it, end of story. The first prototype should be done at the end of my ski season, stay tuned…

  • Dan, I’m very much in agreement with you on this. I don’t know why other companies haven’t stepped in and made a clone of the Galen Rowell Chestpouch. Keep me posted on the progress of your own version, I’m very interested in seeing what you come up with! Thanks for the comment. – Dan

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Whether you’re a professional photographer or just a casual shutterbug, at some point you’ll find yourself looking at bags, trying to find the perfect one for a long trip. The requirements for a travel bag are a bit different than a standard bag you’d use to carry your camera and gear to a photography site for an afternoon. Although you’ll still want easy access and lots of room, you’ll be concentrating more on what makes a bag sturdy enough for traveling long distances.

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