If there is one thing as photographers we love more than debating over new camera bodies it is camera bags. Chances are if you're like me you have a closet full and you are always looking to get another. Each bag is a unique snowflake making it the right tool for the right job. Therefore I need all kinds of different bags with all kinds of different features. Or maybe you prefer that one perfect bag to rule them all. That's cool too I guess.
When it comes to adventure camera bags specifically even though it is a relatively small niche market with a lot of players, both big and small. There is no one perfect bag, resulting in a lot of photographers forgoing photography specific design for the fail-proof comfort of a traditional hiking pack and padded cube insert.
Of course, this is not any better of a solution which is why we have seen so many new bags over the last few years trying to bridge that gap. I’ve hiked, demoed, or purchased almost every hiking adventure styled pack on the market, and like a lot of my peers, I too often reach for my traditional hiking backpack. I do dream though of that elusive 3-day backcountry camera bag.
Enter the ELEV 5800 made by Alotech. The newest adventure camera bag to make an attempt and it looks like they have taken some cues from both their competitors and the backpacking industry while throwing in a few of their own interesting features. It’s being funded through Kickstarter and well on its way to hitting their modest goal. Now I know a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with Kickstarter but I think niche gear markets like this are a great place to not only innovate design but also inform the industry as a whole. The reality is bigger companies are just going to sell a lot more airport rollers or messenger bags then hiking packs. If we want more customization and better features its venues like Kickstarter that can help smaller companies take those risks.
Most of the bags in this category typically fall into two groups. Lots of open interior space that fits a lot of gear but puts all the weight on your shoulders. Or creative ways to store and access a smaller amount of gear with a more traditional hiking pack design for comfort. Of course, the better bags on the market try to be the best of both these groups yet still leaning a little more one way or the other. Alotech looks to fall into the latter putting a lot of emphasis on comfort-based features.
The biggest and most interesting comfort feature the ELEV 5800 has over a lot of other bags is the range and options in custom sizing. Any seasoned hiker knows the importance of a properly fitted pack and the ability to adjust it depending on packed weight. Alotech offers optional straps for women and three bag sizes each with additional adjustable suspension allowing it to fit photographers from 5’1″ up to 6’7″. There is also a more ergonomically designed, uniquely curved, back panel with “deep air channels” that they claim will increase load-bearing comfort while providing more airflow and hence less back sweat.
I've seen a lot of different back panel designs over the years, suspension, aero cushion, etc. all trying to alleviate the sweat problem and maintain support comfort to some degree. I’m a little skeptical that this design can eliminate it entirely but the overall curved fit does seem like a positive improvement over a lot of camera bags. It will be interesting to see how it compares to a traditional hiking pack. It’s a unique enough design in the photography bag world that there isn't much to compare it to and I'd love to give it a try and see exactly how it feels.
There are a lot of the standard features you expect to find on a quality adventure pack. Durable waterproof fabric with water sealed YKK zippers. A collapsible top storage area that's separate from the main compartment for extra gear or non-photography items. Several extra stuff pockets, a water bladder pocket, and two side water bottle pockets. It has four different ways to mount a tripod which means plenty of ways to also strap on a slider, hiking poles, a tent, or snowshoes without sacrificing a spot for your tripod. The snap button mounting method seems like a handy design.
There are a few other unique features I really like. The angled water bottle pockets just seem genius. In fact, I think every bag should do this. I often will clip my water bottle on my bag because either the bottle doesn't fit the pocket or I just can't reach back and get the bottle out or back into it. We all have a bag full of useless Velcro dividers. What I don't have is dividers with pockets on them. Especially for sticking a lens cap in when using the lens. This is another small feature I feel like should have been adopted by more companies by now.
The bag is also compatible with Alotech's camera/lens holster system. holsters are definitely not for everyone but I do use one when hiking. Except for intense hiking or occasional scrambling, I will always have at least one camera outside my pack at all times. It's way to easy to come across something that you only have an instant to get a photo before it is gone. I do this with either a camera holster or with a camera strap around my shoulder. Some of my bags just don't work well with a holster so it's nice to see them build a bag with that in mind. The holster itself seems to be a decent design and capable of carrying a lot of weight, including up to an 800mm lens. It uses Arca Swiss plate mounts which will please a lot of wildlife photographers. I hope they can find a way to expand the mounting styles as I just don't use them.
The main camera compartment is pretty expansive allowing for just about any size lens including a massive 800mm f/5.6. From the photos, it seems you should be able to pack a decent amount of gear and you might just be able to pack a good camera kit and a weekend worth of camping essentials. That's what gets me most excited for a bag like this. Comfortable adventure bags are hard to find. Ones that can also carry camping gear and a full camera kit are even rarer. I’d love to see some sort of stiffer divider that can split the open compartment. One thing I think almost all camera hiking packs get wrong is the need to place the heavier weight during longer hikes in the midsection closer to the center of the back. A stiff divider would allow you to store lighter stuff on the bottom and your camera kit in the middle. Otherwise, Alotech looks to be pretty close to having something that can carry a 2 body/3 lens kit as well as a tripod, tent, sleeping bag, food, water, and other smaller weekend trip essentials. That is the dream camera bag for me.
With Wildlife and landscape photography getting more popular all the time bags like the ELEV 5800 really make getting farther and deeper into the wilderness away from the tourists, that much easier. Even if this isn't the right bag for you companies like Alotech are listening to us outdoor photographers and pushing the idea of what a camera bag can be closer and closer to whatever your dream bag looks like.
I hope Alotech succeeds in their Kickstarter campaign and we get to see them at some of the photography conferences this fall.