For almost 40 years, Tamrac has been producing bags aimed towards photographers who embraced the great outdoors. Their brand new collection of Anvil backpacks — which replaces the Expedition line — continues their tradition while making a number of exciting design choices that make this collection their best ever. In this review, I take a look at the Anvil Slim 15, which is sized for photographers who have entered the exploding mirrorless market, but shares the same look and feature set of the rest of the Anvil collection.
Right off the bat, the first thing that interests me in the Anvil collection is that they look like normal backpacks. I know it’s a strange thing to be intrigued by, but to me, Tamrac has been known as the company that produces awkward, square-shaped backpacks. If you’re under the same impression that I was, then it’s time to update yourself with the looks of their current offerings; they truly look great and are a much more fitting extension of the professional equipment carried within them.
Aside from a little bit of tasteful accent coloring, the exterior comes in all black. It’s really hard to go wrong with an all-black bag. The exterior is made of 600D polyester with a polyurethane coating for lightweight, water-resistant protection of your gear. The inside pockets and compartments are colored light gray. This makes it easy to quickly find what you are looking for, especially the smaller items in a mixed pocket.
The Tamrac Anvil backpacks have a traditional front-entry design and are capable of holding a good deal of equipment comfortably in their main compartments. With the Anvil Slim 15, which has internal dimensions of 11 by 17 by 4.5 inches, I was able to bring along a Sony a7R II along with 14mm, 16–35mm, 55mm, 90mm, and 70–200mm lenses and a LEE Filters Seven5 system. On top of that, within the three clear, organization-friendly zippered pockets on the interior flap, I’d also carry various accessories such as batteries, memory cards, cords, and adapters. Flashes (which can fit stacked two high with a protective divider in-between) or longer lenses will need to lay flat instead of sitting up in order to fit in with the Slim 15’s more svelte design. If you are regularly carrying larger sized lenses or DSLR gear, going with a non-slim, standard depth version of the Anvil bag would be recommended, such as the Anvil 23 or Anvil 27, which have a depth of 6.5 inches.
The dividers that come with the Anvil backpack are exceptionally nice. First, everything is completely removable from the interior and configurable; There are no sewn-on dividers. The two long, more robust dividers that set the structure of the inner compartment are thick and rigid, yet have the ability to be bent to shape if you need that extra customization. The smaller subdividers are also the best I’ve used, with a rigid foam insert and extra wide Velcro tabs. All that Velcro contact with the sides of the bag means that these dividers are staying put right where you want them. The attachment flaps also fold in and won’t make contact with the bag, making for easy adjustment without constantly snagging while trying to get things fitted perfectly.
One level up in the bag is the access to the laptop storage compartment. Within the padded sleeve of this compartment will fit an up to 15-inch laptop. This whole zippered compartment area is very large, running just about the length and width of the bag, and in turn will be able to hold some of your big flat items, such as a folded up reflector, clamps, a sweater, a big book, and of course, your laptop or tablet.
Back to the outside, two of the three exterior zippered pockets are able to spread open butterfly style and feature a pouch and a clear zippered storage pocket within. The third double-zippered exterior pocket stretches across the width of the bag and can hold larger accessories. This big pocket also acts as the base for securing a tripod to the pack. In doing so, you somewhat compromise the pocket by having it partially opened up to receive a tripod leg to hold onto. Even when completely unzipped, the two zippers do not open the pocket up enough as to where things can freely fall out, and they didn’t shift when a tripod leg was inserted, but still, I would be a little cautious having anything essential or valuable in this pocket when a tripod is included in your kit. I chose to store the bag’s included rain cover and small trail snacks in there during these times. On each side of the bag are M.O.L.L.E. System attachment points for modular accessories like Tamrac ARC lens cases or a water bottle carrier.
As stated before, the exterior fabric is water-resistant to spouts of drizzle, but also included with the bag is a shower cap-style rain cover. In a matter of seconds, the cover can be stretched over the bag to protect your goods when the weather takes a turn for the worse. After you are done using it, it neatly folds into itself and doesn’t take up all that much space.
The Tamrac Anvil bags have a great feature set that is built well with obvious considerations made in how to best serve photographers in the field, but now you may be wondering how it feels to wear it all on your back. It’s a delight. You can visually see the comfiness of the thick padding lined up with the contact areas of the bag to your back. They’ve made these areas breathable as well, using mesh-lined panels to wick moisture and airflow channels running between each padded back panel section. You should know that long-term carrying isn’t just about how well it’s padded; it also relies on its ability to be properly strapped and adapted to fit your body with the harness system. As a company who caters to the outdoor adventurer, Tamrac is fully aware of how to make a backpack that can be worn for long durations. The shoulder straps, sternum strap, and removable hip belt offer considerable comfort and stability for the kind of loads the pack will fit inside.
My only true complaint about the Anvil bags is that tripod carrying seems to be an afterthought with the bag’s design. The front-entry design of the Anvil collection means that a loaded tripod is going to be in the way of getting to your gear. The top strap that holds your tripod to the bag needs to be unbuckled in order to open the bag up, so whether you need the tripod now or not, it’s coming off either way if you want your camera. I personally love rear-entry designs mainly because my tripod attached to the front can stay secured since I’m going in from the other side. With the Anvil collection, there’s also the problem of a tripod taking over the largest exterior pocket for holding it in place, as I mentioned earlier. To me, a fairly obvious solution to all these problems is to have the tripod strapped to one side of the bag, but Tamrac informs me the Anvil series is not designed for this and they offer no accessories that would be compatible to do so. They chose not to compromise this mounting position because “carrying the tripod centered, secure, and high is the best way to travel long distances comfortably as it transfers the weight to [the] hip and keeps the pack balanced.”
What I Liked
- Great wearability with thick, breathable back panel padding and harness system for long-term carrying.
- The two long dividers and nine short dividers included with the bag are well made and don’t shift, thanks to ample Velcro contact.
- Lots of small, clear zippered areas to keep your bag very organized.
- Anvil Slim 11 and Slim 15 are great mirrorless system carriers that shave off unneeded depth and weight to the bag.
What Could Be Improved
- Carrying a tripod feels great when it's on your back and you’re hiking along, but becomes a hassle when you need to access your gear.
- Doesn’t come with any external accessory pouches.
The Tamrac Anvil collection is available now for prices ranging from $229.95 to $329.95 depending on the space and size of bag you require.