In every photographer’s ongoing search for the perfect bag, until recently it seemed there was a gaping hole: a 45-liter bag suitable as hand luggage on short-haul flights, offering the possibility to combine camera gear with a few days’ worth of clothes. The HEXAD Access Duffel from WANDRD fills that gap and does an incredibly good job of it.
Much of my work involves short trips, from a few days to a few weeks, all to be done on a shoestring and typically carrying minimal gear. Budget airlines have allowed me to make this effective, but camera gear and cheap flights are not happy bedfellows. For a few years, I’ve been seeking a bag that would squeeze through the onboard baggage restrictions but still give me enough space for some essential camera gear (a DSLR and a few lenses), my laptop and ebook, and some clothes. Roller bags are out as the wheels consume space and add weight and definitely aren’t suited for short hikes around forests and foreign cities. For a period, my trips involved a 45-liter rock climbing rucksack containing a camera bag (yes, a rucksack inside a rucksack) and topped up with clothing. With the HEXAD, I now have something that works much better, albeit without the smaller rucksack for once I’m settled at my destination.
To test how it performed over a period of a few months, WANDRD kindly provided me with a HEXAD, a small and medium camera cube, and a couple of accessory straps. I’ve used the bag almost every day since receiving it in early September.
This is a duffel bag with a difference, designed specifically to offer flexibility, and combining camera-specific compartments with large, spacious cavities to be filled with clothing or anything else. Its three large sections are all accessible quickly through zippered openings on the exterior, but also through its ingenious clamshell design that allows you to lay the bag flat, a design that makes packing and organization very efficient. All of this is complemented by a series of small zippered pockets and mesh enclosures that are useful for tucking away smaller items, both inside and out.
It’s worth taking a moment to get your head around how this layout operates. The clamshell splits the bag into two halves. One half is a full-length cavity designed for non-camera gear, complete with padded pocket to house a laptop (up to 15 inch) or tablet. The other half is split into two further halves, each of which can house a camera cube depending on how much camera gear you need to carry. When packing, you open the clamshell so that the bag lays out flat and use the internal mesh zippered flaps to access each compartment. When the clamshell is closed, you have quick side-access to each compartment via zippered flaps on the bag’s exterior.
Camera cubes seem to be in vogue with the latest breed of bags, allowing users to remove the camera fittings completely and create a bag that is no longer just for camera equipment. The camera cubes offered by WANDRD come in two sizes: medium and small, both designed to fit other bags in their series. I received one of each and have found the medium version to be better suited both to my needs and to the bag more generally. The medium cube accommodates a large DSLR and a couple of medium-sized lenses, along with a few other knickknacks such as chargers and straps. On receiving my package from WANDRD, my first step was to install the camera cube into the HEXAD itself, a simple process that involved setting up the zippered door and fixing the cube in place with a Velcro strap.
Access to my camera on the fly is then straightforward: for side access, I simply unzip the flap and pull out the camera. Other lenses are also accessible depending on how you set yourself up. Both the small cube and the medium cube can double up as a standalone bag, making some of my event work quite convenient. One of my first jobs with the bag was documenting the Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau, France. With the way the event was set up, I was able to leave the Hexad with all of the participants’ bags, and wander around with the camera cube over my shoulder and thus able to swap out lenses when needed. My lunch and additional clothing stayed at base, giving me a nice amount of flexibility.
The cubes themselves are not massively sturdy, however, so scrambling around rocks with the cube over my shoulder was not ideal. Their light weight is great for travel, but they don’t offer much protection once the cube is liberated from its mothership. This is a compromise that I’m happy with. Once incorporated into the main bag, I feel comfortable that my equipment is suitably protected.
The cube system offers one other advantage: the division of stuff. My camera gear stays completely separate from food, liquids and whatever else might threaten it (mostly sand, mud and climbing chalk), and this isolation makes packing much easier to manage. I can quickly throw climbing gear into one part without worrying if dirt is going to end up sneaking its way into my lenses.
Build Quality and Ruggedness
Much of my work involves fairly testing locations: often gritty parts of the city, or sandy forests littered with countless sandstone boulders. This bag is regularly dragged across rocks and concrete, and endlessly picked up and put down on coarse surfaces. The military grade ballistic nylon still shows no sign of wear which is quite impressive given the beating that I’ve been giving it. With its weatherproof zippers, getting caught in a shower doesn't concern me and there’s a rainfly available to purchase should you need extra protection.
The zippers are a little small and light but seem up to the task (for now at least), and while I felt that parts of the bag were a bit baggy and not quite right when first unboxing, I realized that being a duffel, it’s only when it’s packed out that the whole unit feels like everything is in the right place.
The clamshell zipper on any large, non-rigid bag is always tricky and the zipper on my bag felt like it would benefit from being a larger gauge. WANDRD emailed me to say that this is one of the updates that it has made recently, making the zipper easier to use.
Buckles and strap tighteners are plastic but seem solid enough, cinching tight convincingly without slipping. The shoulder straps themselves are surprisingly very comfortable which for me more than compensates for the fact that this is a duffel bag with (removable) rucksack straps rather than a dedicated rucksack. There is a waist strap available to purchase separately but I found that it fitted too high above my hips for it to be of any use.
Function over form has definitely been a factor in the creation of this innovative bag. Duffel bags are rarely sleek but WANDRD has done a solid job with their styling, though it’s not going to draw any admiring stares. The refined touches that you might find on other bags — magnetic closures, meaty buckles, sneaky locking systems — are absent. Instead, you’ll find lightweight plastic and simple zippers.
The weight saving is definitely something that I appreciate. At just 1.8 kg (3.9 lb) and a total of 2.2 kg (4.85 lb) with one medium cube, this is not a heavy bag for its size and ruggedness. This means that when I'd unpacked my clothes into my hotel room, it didn't feel like too much of a chore to take a half-empty bag to my shoot. The compression straps offer the chance to slim things down a little, but its slight floppiness as a duffel means that it doesn’t feel overly huge once it’s stripped down to just my camera gear and some lunch.
This is a black bag with a vast array of identical zips and zippers, and navigating it can sometimes be a challenge. I’ve ended up marking a couple of my zippers with tape or a small carabiner in order to make them easier to spot. WANDRD has since assured me that it has taken a few steps to make things easier.
This is a bag that is perfect for short haul travel. If you’re taking a trip, don’t fancy checking luggage but like the idea of being able to use completely separate compartments to divide your camera gear from everything else, this bag is ideal. Its dimensions suggest that it will squeak past the 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm restriction imposed by most carriers, but the real test is in the field. My recent country hopping involved France to Austria to Serbia to Austria to England, and all went without a hitch with the fully-packed bag squeezing inside the dreaded luggage dimension tester found at most departure gates. Dragging it around an abandoned factory hidden away in Belgrade was a breeze.
For smaller planes, I’ve sometimes been asked to put my bag in the hold just before boarding. I’ve always managed to refuse on account of the expensive equipment, but now I have the option to quickly pop out the camera cube, stick my laptop under my arm, and let the airline staff stow the HEXAD full of clothes with everyone else’s suitcases.
In and around the airport, access to the laptop pocket is easy enough, though I do miss having an external pocket for a drinks bottle. External straps offer the option to accommodate a jacket, and a tripod slots in without too much trouble. The four generous handles — one on every side — make it easy to haul around, though it takes a little while to then figure out which way up the bag is when trying to find your stuff!
I was expecting to deploy this bag mostly for travel but it’s become my everyday bag for when I head out climbing in the forests of Fontainebleau. It’s made it much easier to take my camera climbing with me, knowing that it will be kept safe and clear of dirt, and the access to each compartment is far more convenient than digging through a rucksack. The extra compartment for shoes is a really useful touch, and I’ve used the small external pockets for my wallet and my phone, even though I thought initially that I’d find them useless. Even half empty, the HEXAD comes along simply because it's light and offers so much flexibility.
What I Liked
- Isolates camera equipment from other items
- Very comfortable given the form factor
- Bonus pockets are well-thought out and useful
What I Didn't Like
- Confusing at first
- Some zippers can be fiddly, depending on how the bag is loaded out
- No external pocket for a magazine or a drinks bottle
- Some zipper-pulls do not seem as sturdy or refined when compared to other bag manufacturers
The HEXAD duffel bag with a medium cube will set you back $308 which, for my level of use, seems like a good price. The other obvious contender in this very small category of camera bag is the recent Kickstarter success Travel Line from Peak Design. Having not had chance to check it out (they’re due to ship in December), it might well be a question of whether the extra cost of the Peak Design bag justifies the refined touches that it offers.
Overall, the WANDRD HEXAD is an excellent bag, perfect for travelers and perhaps event shooters who need to pack a mixture of clothing, food and gear into one bag for a day's work. WANDRD has deployed some innovative design and has created something pleasingly flexible that offers a fine balance of ruggedness and weight-saving.