Best Camera Bag for Adventure and Traveling

Best Camera Bag for Adventure and Traveling

I have a closet filled with camera bags but I think I might have found the best camera bag for adventure and travel photographers. There are countless bags on the market but every adventure requires a slightly different bag. The goal is with the right features, versatility, and customization, one bag can do everything!In today’s post, I’m going to walk you through my hunt for the best camera bag. I’ll share my discovery of the Shimoda Action backpacks that my wife and I use for our photography business. And then I’ll highlight some additional scenarios to consider beyond the bag and into the overall bag system.

Regardless of if you agree with my camera bag choice, I lay out a replicable process for finding your best camera bag for traveling. I expect a lot from my gear as it has to be rugged enough to handle adventure, convenient enough to enhance my photography, and versatile enough to handle a variety of conditions. Let’s explore.

The Hunt for the Best Camera Bag for Adventure and Traveling

To me, the key to finding the perfect camera bag is a combination of trial and error as well as some practical planning. If you think through the different scenarios in which you shoot, you can come up with a vision for what type of bag you’re looking for. However, the best way to know what works is through first-hand experience.

First, you have to try out some bags. Before I bought an expensive camera bag I tried a handful of different options ranging from compact cases to dedicated backpacks (albeit cheap ones). This helps you to imagine the different ways you use or carry your bag which leads into the next step, planning. 

Doing some planning to think through the different scenarios can really help you hone in on what features are most important. Visualize yourself adventuring, traveling, exploring, and trying to photography your experience. What are your needs? 

Will you be flying with your bag, carrying it on a multi-day trek, skiing, biking, or climbing? When it comes to features, you should think about what would make it most useful for the majority of your scenarios: i.e carry-on compatibility, laptop carry, hydration compatible, waterproof, back panel access, etc. The goal is to find something that works for most cases because there is not a one size fits all perfect bag.

The Top Qualities To Look for in a Travel Camera Bag

Below is my list of what I want in an adventure travel camera bag:

  • Rugged and durable
  • Adaptable and scalable
  • Ability to carry and access camera gear
  • Ability to carry additional adventure gear: water, skis, helmet, rope, snacks, etc
  • Airplane compatible
  • Comfortable especially when heavy

As a little background, I love to travel via car, plane, or any other method of transportation that takes me somewhere promising beauty and adventure. Sometimes this means I have to be able to hike with my camera gear on my back. I shoot adventure photography, everything from rock-climbing to backcountry skiing, so my gear has to be able to handle heat or snow and I have to be able to handle my gear even at 14,000 feet.

I love gear and I know how easy it is to accumulate more and more. However, I also believe that our camera gear should make our photography easier and more streamlined. It should make us better, not weigh us down. Therefore, as you can imagine, finding the perfect camera bag was a big priority for me.

Below is a video where I go through a variety of bags that I’ve experimented with over the years in my pursuit to find the best camera bag. 

Enter Shimoda Camera Backpacks for Adventure Photographers

In 2017, my current favorite backup company, Shimoda, launched. I was looking to upgrade my camera bag and their backpack fit everything I was looking for. They now offer a variety of bags in various sizes to fit many different scenarios. 

I think the Shimoda Action X30 is as close as a backpack has come to being my perfect bag. The Shimoda Action X30 with a medium core unit has served me quite well. Below are some of the reasons I think it is one of the best bags on the market:

  • Well built rugged design
  • Comfortable suspension system
  • Highly weather-resistant 
  • Rear, Side, Top Access
  • Core unit can be swapped for larger smaller camera carry
  • Shoulder strap stash pockets
  • Expandable roll top design
  • Water bottle/hydration carry
  • Ability to strap on skis, helmet, etc

With all these features and the ability to adapt to different types of trips, the Shimoda Action X30 has become my go-to camera backpack. In addition, I also use the Shimoda Explore 40 when I need to take slightly more gear. It’s great because I can easily swap the camera core unit between the two bags and keep my same camera organization style.

The Importance of a Good Camera Bag System

In addition to having a quality camera bag, I think it’s important to think of camera carry as a whole system. Start with the core unit that fits your cameras, lenses, and accessories, then expand to the bag that will accommodate the core unit plus other items you’ll be carrying (outdoor gear, clothes, water, food, etc). I often store my camera gear in core units and accessory pouches at home then grab the bag that fits the type of trip and quickly load it with the appropriate gear. 

In addition, it can be helpful to think about how you will adapt the system for flying on a plane or incorporate it into a roller bag. These are two scenarios when the core units become essential. A good camera bag system can easily be sized up or sized down depending on the type of shoot or adventure you’re heading out on.

I often work alongside my wife. A good core system allows us to scale up or down our system if we’re shooting alone or separately, a big job or a small one. On some trips, our priority is to be able to go light and fast while other times we need a large amount of gear for higher production. Versatility is key.

Camera Bags and Traveling on Airplanes

If you’ve ever boarded a smaller than expected plane and had the flight attendant offer to “check your bag for you,” with all your cameras inside, you know the feeling of dread associated with being separated from your equipment. This is when the core unit can quickly be removed and stowed as a personal item.

Additionally, camera gear is heavy and you may want to put it in a roller bag instead of carrying it on your back while traveling. Sometimes I swap out my cameras for my clothes in the roller bag so that I can wheel the heavy cameras and lenses, and fill my backpack with lightweight items. Again, the core unit allows me to transition the camera gear from the roller bag to the backpack upon arrival at my destination.

Find Your Best Camera Bag and Get Traveling

In review, here is my easy four-step process to find the best adventure camera bag for traveling. I can’t wait to see if you come to the same conclusion as I do.

  1. Make your priority/needs list.
  2. Experiment.
  3. Find your bag.
  4. Build out your camera system.

These are just some of the scenarios and features I’ve thought through in my quest for finding the perfect camera bag. Hopefully, you’ve found my assessment useful in your journey to find your best camera bag or check out Shimoda. If you have any questions leave a comment below.

Marc Bergreen's picture

Marc Bergreen is a colorado wedding photographer and adventure photographer based in Evergreen, CO with a passion for human powered adventure sports. When not shooting photos or creating youtube videos you can find him climbing, running, and skiing in the mountains.

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Good summary of important specs indeed.
You should be bag manufacturer ;-)

The Shimoda looks nice, although I'm not fan of such back panels. I prefer Deuter's approach, where the back is just floating.

My solution was to get a normal mountaineering bag from Deuter that had two sections, and using a custom camera insert in one of them.

It seems if you are into serious hiking then specialized backpacks are better suited than camera backpacks. At least that’s my conclusion lately. Hiking backpacks are also a little cheaper.

The Shimoda packs are exceptionally comfortable for a dedicated photo pack. And quick gear access is vastly superior to using an insert, particularly with the Shimoda's excellent side access. That said, if quick access isn't a priority, the Deuter + insert solution is going to be a more comfortable carry for sure. I keep waiting for someone to incorporate the floating design used by Deuter and Osprey in a dedicated photo pack. So far, nothing.

Yes my Shimoda Explore 40 is indeed very comfortable, as is my Tarian Pro, which although the material isn't as tough as that on the Shimoda I find the bag far more functional - and when it rains I put the rain cover on, ditto on the Shimoda.
Note that with Shimoda you must buy an ICU that allows side-access to use the side-access zip (access which can actually scratch cameras/lens exteriors because it is a slit and not a panel that opens, which Shimoda corrected with the Action X line which now have dedicated panels).

The Deuter TMP (the 'floating back' you have mentioned, was the single most uncomfortable, nay painful, backpack I've ever tried. Be careful, try before you buy because it doesn't suit everybody.
I wrote a long review on Fred Miranda that you can find if you enter something like Deuter Futura + Osprey Kestrel + JW Highland Trail XT + L-A Cerro Torre, into Google. BTW the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre is amazing (the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail superb too).

You should learn from your own words before voting my comments down, which is based on real experience.

I didn't suggest you or anybody buy this or that bag (which btw, was not TMP). I suggested buying a mountaineering bag. If I suggested *any* model, like you did here in many comments, I would always be wrong.

When buying any mountaineering backpack, it's best to try them on. Everyone has a different body size and back length. You can't suggest people those bags and not the one I pointed to, just because it didn't suit you (you, not everyone).

Depending on your height, back length or body size you may feel uncomfortable with any bag that I or others may praise. Some bags offer adjustments for different back sizes, but not all do.

And no, it wasn't the Deuter TMP I was referring to. I was referring to Deuter Futura 30L style bag that I own, because it suited *my* back. But more importantly, because it's sectioned so one can put gear in separate sections from food or wet clothes.

I didn't mention the specific model and size which you tried read in between lines, because everyone is different and everyone's or the route's gear needs are different too.

This bag had me do 25 miles routes, routinely loaded with mountaineering and photo gear just fine. If I mentioned it is because I've used it for long now and these bags with inserts work better than photography specific bags.

The only issue is that the bag shape is a little bit bent, to let the back free from contact. That reduces the space quite a bit despite its apparent size.

Now do let me know what's wrong mentioning that.

You seem to have a literacy comprehension issue.

I specifically stated : "Be careful, try before you buy because it doesn't suit everybody".

Also your Futura 'Floating Back' is indeed a TMP (description below since you don't seem to understand the term). I'm amazed you own it and don't know that (I owned the Deuter Futura 50+10 Vario, as I stated above). They have various systems but almost all are variations of a TMP. Their website shows this very clearly :

As for posting the same information in response to different posters : yes of course, because most people don't return to the page unless in response to a new message directed to them.

TMP Description
Deuter (born 1898) obliterated this archaic concept 35 years ago by inventing a brilliant system that keeps your pack very close to your back, but not against it. They did this by replacing the full or partial PP with a Tensioned Mesh Panel (TMP, sometimes called a “trampoline” panel) that connects at the top with an internal curved frame made of a special lightweight steel which bends in (towards your center of gravity) as you add weight to the pack.

You must be the one with comprehension issues, because I never complained about you repeating posts.

Rather, I complained because you keep voting me down for no good reason, and you keep suggesting specific bags to people, which should not be done according to yourself. Because those bags will not suit me or others. They suit you. Yet, I did not vote you down in those posts, you see the difference? I tell my experience, you tell yours. Unless some brand paid you to go against Deuter.

About not knowing what your TMP term is... I don't need to know silly marketing terms to know how they behave while using them, just like you won't know the name for the materials used in your camera shutter.

And maybe you should know different places in the world give different names to goods, brands and technologies. But hey, welcome to the world outside your home. They do exist even when you're not on holidays.

And your comprehension issues continue because you keep stating that I am recommending specific bags whereas the reality is that I've stated TWICE : Be careful, try before you buy because it doesn't suit everybody.

If you had bothered to find my reviews on the bags you'd also know that I am talking from experience. Lots of comments and pictures that even you should be able to comprehend.

As for the TMP comment : you literally stated your bag was not a TMP, when I proved to you it was you effectively go on a 'don't care ' ramble ! LoL !!

Because it's *not* called TMP over here. You still have a hard time trying to understand right? Have fun

f-stop is the best sorry

Agreed me and my team all use f stop and I can’t fault them !! Also I think there icu system is amazing and I’ve been using them to take camera kit in planes for a while seems like there idea has just been copied here

I think F-stop and Shimoda are pretty close. My deciding factor was the hip belt. I simply like their belt support more among a few other things myself!

F-Stop packs are great and, as far as I know, they came up with the ICU concept. I have used and loved both the Guru and the Loka. That said, the Shimoda Action X packs are superior in just about every way. The material is better. The harness is more comfortable. The large side door is extremely convenient for quick access without laying your pack down—a feature that is handy not only when you're working in mud but also when you're exploring in the middle of Old Delhi. And the roll-top adds extra capacity without unnecessary bulk when the extra space isn't needed. The camera core units have a padded aluminum rim which allows you to pop them in and out of packs without messing with little Velcro tabs. About the only advantage the F-Stop bags retain (IMO) is that, when used outside of the pack, the lid is padded. The Shimoda camera cores have no lid and the thin nylon bag that is provided with each core unit for when you want to use them independently doesn't have a padded lid either. This leaves your gear vulnerable on one side.

FWIW, it is not surprising that Shimoda bags represent an improvement on F-Stop Gear. Shimoda was founded by Ian Millar, F-Stop Gear's former chief designer who was laid off in advance of the company allegedly fleeing the US in an effort to escape creditors. (There are several detailed accounts of these events if you Google around.) Ian has continued to innovate and incorporate a bunch of user feedback in the second-gen Action X Series. Meanwhile, I'm seeing a lot of copycat designs from F-Stop. The Dyota is a poor ripoff of the WNDRD PRVKE 21.

That is a good point about the padding on the camera units! Saves a little weight but definitely leaves gear unprotected on that side.

This was a topic I wanted to cover at some point myself. Up until recently I think one of the best hiking bags you can buy isn't camera related at all, just get a small unit for an Osprey or Deuter and it'll be far more comfortable than anything else you can buy in my experience. That said I do love the Shimoda 70L too.

Great article Marc!

Thanks Alex! It would be great to connect with you at some point if our schedules line up :)

Yes indeed! Message me anytime Marc

Maybe take a look at the long review I wrote on Fred Miranda (I use the moniker 'Frogfish' on FM) that you can find if you enter something like Deuter Futura + Osprey Kestrel + JW Highland Trail XT + L-A Cerro Torre, into Google. Lots of photos. BTW the Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre is amazing (the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail superb too).
Note : zero views or 100 views, I gain nothing at all I'm just linking it because it seems relevant and may be of interest to some.

A proper hiking bag with camera insert is best. I prefer the Gregory Zulu with front opening (in addition to top opening) for quick access when you put the pack down. They simply hang better on your back then most "camera" bags. You could always tether a quick release to the bag so your camera can stay available at all times.

Agreed, if you're putting in the miles on a trail, a quality backpack will usually win. I access lots of camera gear regularly which gets to be a major pain if you're always having to dig into a traditional backpack.

No Peak bags reviewed?

Don't think peak bags are really made for hiking or extended length treks

Looks durable but heavier than the fstop ultralights...I'm amazed how much a pound weighs. Wish the ultralights had more pockets though.

Great review/article.
Is it possible to move the compartment to the upper part of the backpack to move the weight to the shoulder part?
To me the backpack looks great otherwise but if the weight is in the lower part it affects the balance of the one carrying it. It drags a bit down in the back.