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.
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.
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.