Fstoppers Reviews the Tenba Solstice Camera Backpack: The Best Daypack for Photographers?

Fstoppers Reviews the Tenba Solstice Camera Backpack: The Best Daypack for Photographers?

Geared towards the outdoor photographer who needs a day bag for their camera gear and accessories, the Tenba Solstice caught my eye as a promising choice. Read on to find out how it performed.

For this review, I used the mid-sized $169.95 Solstice 20L, but Tenba also has a smaller $149.95 12L and a larger $199.95 24L version. To be honest, if I weren’t doing a review I would have went with the 12L version as I love the slim shape and it’s more practical for me who doesn’t like carrying a lot of gear. I do find the 20L to be a good all-rounder, however, and if my kit size changed from day to day this would be a good way to go. A plus for this 20L is that it’s only a lightweight 2.25 pounds, so there’s not much of a load penalty for going up one extra size than I thought would be needed.

So what exactly does the Solstice 20L have room for? In the main compartment it can hold one or two DSLRs and four to six lenses. One thing that annoys me in general is when I have to reverse hoods to store lenses away. I’m happy to report back that a telephoto zoom lens can be mounted with lens hood out and fit in the main compartment (Sony a7R III and FE 100-400mm GM in this case).

In the front zippered area of the 20L there are several pockets for organization and a larger sleeve for storing a regular-sized iPad. Personally, I’m 100 percent OK with the lack of laptop storage; it always sounds nice in writing, but in reality I would never hike with a laptop anyways. The top hatch area can either be divided off for miscellaneous bulk item storage or can just have access straight to the main gear compartment if the divider is removed.

Both exterior sides of the Solstice have tripod or water bottle storage pockets with dual straps that can either stay to one side or be extended to buckle something in at the middle of the pack. A GorillaPod 5K is the perfect fit for the side pocket, and other travel-sized tripods are going to work well here. It also secured my bigger Gitzo pretty well, but the top of the tripod is about 1.5 times taller than the bag itself. The Solstice gives me the option to store the tripod in the center of the bag thanks to the long strap system, but personally I hate tripods mounted here on rear access bags and always want them on one side. Options are good though; I like options.

Price

For $169.95, the Solstice 20L is a fair price for a backpack with a specific role. For outdoor use, less expensive packs usually have poorer quality materials that generally aren’t very good at withstanding the elements, and similarly priced bags can be double the weight. Everyone’s situation is a little different, but if you are looking for a camera backpack with this price range in mind, the Solstice should be one to compare against.

What I Liked

  • It’s lightweight. Not many backpacks this size at this price are only 2.25 pounds.
  • The versatile side straps. It was a smart design choice to have one side use male connectors and the other side female connectors, then having them long enough to meet in the middle. It steps up the possibilities in what can be carried on the outside.
  • Top and rear access to main compartment. This was hardly ever a big concern for me living in the upper Midwest as the terrain here is usually just covered in leaves, sticks, or rocks, but nothing that really would transfer from the bag to my clothes. Then I visited the desert, and learned that a front access backpack was troubling to use because I couldn’t find somewhere to set it down without getting the backside dusty which would then get all over my back when I put it on after. Just buy a bag with rear access and save yourself from dealing with that.
  • The outer material is water resistant nylon and easy to wipe clean. It also comes with a rain cover for the harsher days.
  • Smooth pull YKK zippers. I’ve reviewed a number of bags before, and surprisingly something as basic and everyday like zipper pulls isn’t always a given that it will be a good experience. The zippers on the Solstice are great though; no hangs, no extra effort.
  • I love the tall and skinny shape. What drew me originally to the 12L was the thought of just holding a camera with telephoto attached for bird photography, and not much else needed. Other small bags are usually more square in shape and doesn’t work with that particular setup. It’s a normal temptation to think you need more, but I’m drawn to working with less. While the 20L is certainly more roomy than the 12L, it still has the shape I’m after.
  • Stiff bottom can stand itself up. I’ve seen some bag manufacturers skimp on this area and the bag just flops over when you try and set it down upright. No troubles here.

What I Didn’t Like

  • The waist belt is not removable. I almost never use a waist belt on any bag, and love the trend towards making them removable. Unfortunately I’m stuck with the waist belt slapping around and generally being in the way all the time while using the backpack.
  • Weak stitching on an inner pocket. On the back flap that opens up, there’s a small divided pocket that began to lose its stitching just from looking at it. I ended up just cutting out the remaining stitches myself to create a non-divided zippered pocket.

Stitching coming apart easily.

Post stitch removal. Now houses a memory card holder.

Conclusion

The Tenba Solstice is bag that knows what it is and doesn’t try to please everyone. This is an outdoor day hiking bag for holding camera gear and a few necessities. If your gut reaction is that this might look like something for you, then you’re probably right. If you’re worried it doesn’t have enough slick features or doesn’t look sick enough for the streets, owning it isn’t going to change your mind about it.

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15 Comments

I read the article to figure out how good a job the waist strap does. Unfortunately you don't use them. They are what transfer the wait from you back to your hips and very much a key aspect of backpacks. I learned that last year when I bought a backpack to carry my 1 year old daughter around.

Studio 403's picture

Gee whiz FS. I keep looking for the one thing, perfect backpack. One day I gonna do a photo shoot of my 15 backpacks. I was shopping the other day at Whole Foods, I think those paper bags are looking better and better for bio-friendly, environmentally safe, maybe editable gear bags.

Please do that photo shoot of your backpacks. Even if it only serves as a guide which backpacks you can't recommend

Alex Armitage's picture

I have so many bags and still haven't found one I like for day hikes. Mostly because weight on my shoulders is such an issue. I think my next bag is going to be an Osprey day pack with a camera sack in it. This one doesn't look like it supports weight all too well off the shoulders.

I have an Osprey Stratos. I love everything about how it fits and how the mesh suspension panel keeps my back from getting completely soaked with sweat. It carries a load really well, as long as you can figure out how to pack it. The compartment is sort of a partly-flattened hourglass, narrowest in the middle, and I haven't found a photo insert that really fits well. If you have individual lens pouches you can sort of squish them into the gaps around a small photo insert, but then to get at something you might have to set the bag down and start fishing around inside it to get the particular thing you want. That then raises the next issue: it doesn't stand up on end if you set it down, which gets annoying. I had to look for things to lean it against if I didn't have something strapped to the bottom.

Also the very first time I used the rain cover I put a hole in it, but that may just have been bad luck.

I still like it better than any actual photo bag I've tried. The axe loop can be used to hold a tripod, I liked the loops for attaching hiking poles, and the hip belt did such a good job distributing weight I never felt off balance. I keep hoping Osprey will make a photo bag with their suspended panel design, because that could be perfect for me. If you're mostly hiking in, setting up once, and then hiking back out, the load issues will be worth it. If you have to get in and out of the bag a lot you might get annoyed.

Alex Armitage's picture

Yeah I read a long article about using an Osprey bag and that's what inspired me. I rarely go in and out of my bag on hikes, but want to carry my camera just in case. After multiple days doing day hikes, my shoulders were really sore. I can't keep doing it, need to put that weight somewhere else.

Check out Mindshift Gear's Rotation 180 packs. I have the 22L, and it is the most perfect hybrid hiking/photo backpack I've ever found. It is super comfortable on the back, and distributes weight well, the rotating belt pack lets you grab your camera out without even breaking stride if you want to the materials are top notch, it holds a 2L water bladder, the top pouch is big enough for my Mavic, a light coat, a small first aid kit and some food, and a tripod mounts well on to the back. It has come with me skiing, climbing to the tops of 14ers, trecking through muddy, monsooning Vietnamese jungles, and even down into dusty caves. It has taken everything I've thrown at it for more than 2 years and I don't think it even has a loose stitch.

My biggest complaint is that it does waste space relative to its size. The space between the two compartments takes up a good 2-3 inches, and the two compartments can't be combined into one big one, so you can't store taller items. I wish they made a size between 22L and 34L, as I think the 34L is probably bigger than I want to carry for day hikes, but I sometimes wish the 22L had a bit more space.

That minor complaint aside, I went through probably 10 different camera packs over the past decade trying to find one that was both a good camera pack AND a good hiking pack, and the Mindshift rotation pack is by far the best I've found.

Peter Gargiulo's picture

I always use the waist strap! My Lowepro BP 250 AW II has a very comfy waist strap, AND it's removable. So far, I think it's a super solution when it comes to price, comfort and capacity.

Anonymous's picture

It's not a "day pack". Do you see space for food, water, water filter, first aid kit, and waterproof jacket? And if you are at all serious about your hiking, you can add a tent and and sleeping gear to that, for when you get smashed by a blizzard on top of a mountain. A "day pack" will generally be 20 to 45L of volume (not for camera gear).

It's a camera bag.

Shimoda on the other hand:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1032536695/shimoda-adventure-camera...

Alex Armitage's picture

I genuinely feel like I'd be better off buying an Osprey bag and putting a unit inside of it. I don't need quick access to my camera though, so that seems to be a big difference than majority of people.

Anonymous's picture

For FF and medium format I carry a Lowepro Toploader Zoom on my chest. For large format I have a insert, which I carry in a 105L Wilderness Equipment pack.

Most of us have different packs or bags for different purposes. For mild mannered day hikes and travel this low-volume pack would be okay although more space would be needed for survival essentials on challenging hikes. It's basically a generic camera pack. In any case how well the shoulder straps and waist belt fit and adjust are very important. The reviewer appears to prefer an old fashioned rucksack so I don't understand why his review was used.

I really like the new solstice bag and bought the small 12L. I needed something small and light to do short excursions with. Fits a D5200 with Tamron's 18-400 snugly with room for a couple of primes and a tripod. Sit comfy on the shoulders for hours at a time. I really like it! However, it's been less that a month and I need to send back the bag for a second time due to stitching problems. I don't know if it's bad luck on my part or just bad workmanship, in any case, I wish they would get back to me soon. Hopefully third time's the charm.

Just found this review ...

It would be nice to know (when reading reviews of backpacks) how high the test person is. I find as a 6'3" person that most backpacks are ~1" - 4" too short and the waist belt end up on the middle of my belly and not around the waist ;-) - which is why I am longing for a back like the tenba soltice 24L with a removable wait belt.

Otherwise it looks like a solid bag, and the waist belt problem could be sorted with a pair of scissors.

Ryan Mense's picture

I'm 5'10". Thanks for the feedback and I'll try and remember to mention it in the future because you make a good point.