This New Modular Hardshell Backpack Is Close to Perfect

This New Modular Hardshell Backpack Is Close to Perfect

There's no lack of choice when it comes to camera bags anymore, with new arrivals happening almost every month. So. it takes more than a polished marketing campaign to catch a useful level of attention, and this newcomer is more than that.

The entry point for designing and manufacturing a camera bag is relatively low, so it's a popular product to produce. The issue is, most people who design and manufacture a bag don't know enough about camera bags or manufacturing to really succeed, but they have a go anyway. The entry point is so low, in fact, that a few years back, when I couldn't find a street style camera bag I liked, I designed one and had a small batch made. The bar I set for my bag was low: I wanted something I liked the aesthetic of, but could also safely hold my camera and lenses when I was out in the city; that's not too difficult to achieve. New camera bags fall away quickly, however, when you raise that bar to be more all-encompassing. Xcube's bar is very high indeed.

In the last decade or so, brands like Peak Design have changed the standard we have come to expect. Their Kickstarter to fund their first bag was successful (I was one of the backers) and they've gone on to create fantastic, albeit reasonably expensive bags. What they inadvertently did with their success was make it much more difficult for new brands. Camera bags now have to do everything and do it well. When I see new camera bags being released, most just don't raise the bar enough for me to consider, but when Xcube Design got in contact with us, it pricked my ears up.

This is a sponsored post, which rightfully puts everyone on red alert for overly positive angles on brands. By all means, take what I say with a pinch of salt, but what I will say is that every week I opt not to write about myriad products, digital and physical, because I don't believe in them. Until I have completed a full, hands-on review of the Xcube, I could still be off-base with my praise — such is the nature of the crowdfunding era — but I truly believe that to be unlikely.

There's a lot to cover with the Xcube and I recommend browsing their Kickstarter to get a more comprehensive understanding. However, the takeaway points for me are that it is a minimalist, modular bag, with a plethora of extra features like anti-theft and hidden pockets, while achieving two primary goals: extreme durability and capacity.

Durability

The hard outer shell means that the Xcube will not get crushed, compressed, or misshapen under any normal or even fairly abnormal circumstances. While this has many practical uses — ranging from the obvious like protecting your camera gear, through to using the bag as a platform — it also overcomes the problem of bags losing their shape, which is one of my chief pet peeves. The shell is also shockproof up to two meters, meaning if your bag fell off a wall or rock, it could fall up to two meters without affecting the contents. This is the sort of perk you wouldn't think about until it did its job, then you're high-fiving strangers on the bus in gratitude.

The next wing to the durability benefits of the Xcube is it is 100% waterproof, which is worth unpacking. Many bags will say waterproof, or worse, water-resistant, but when you get clapped by a rogue wave or disappear into six feet of snow, you learn why these bag manufacturers aren't confident enough to use "100%" in front of the term. The casing and zippers are designs so that no water can penetrate and start bathing your bodies, lenses, and batteries. Incidentally, this also means you can wash the bag down if it gets dirty.

Capacity

The capacity of a bag is tricky; too small and it limits the use and application of the bag, too big and it feels like someone duct-taped a Samsonite to your back. What's worse is that for most of us photographers, what we take out on shoots varies hugely from day to day. Some occasions, I just want to pack light and not rue the weight as I wander around the wilderness. Other times, however, I need to cover a lot of bases for a client and have to take the bulk of my kit. This implies the need for two camera bags at the least, but it's not always necessary. The Xcube has some elegant solutions to this problem.

Firstly, the capacity of the bag is expandable by up to 30% with the outer surface being able to be extended outward. This is a feature I haven't often seen, and it can be tremendously useful. Secondly, there are 15 compartments, many of which are fully customizable, and space for a 16" or 17" laptop. These two, combined with the 180° opening (the value of which cannot be overstated) means you're left with a lot of space, but enough control that you can choose to use much smaller amounts of it if you wish without everything moving around of its own accord. This is without considering the add-ons of the Cube Pack, Sling Bag, and Magic Cube, which integrate with the Xcube, but can separate.

Noteworthy Extras

As I mentioned earlier in this article: there is a lot to discuss with the Xcube, so much so, I can't reasonably fit it into one piece and instead, I'll save it for a comprehensive review. However, there are some noteworthy quirks and extra features I'd like to point out:

  1. The Xcube comes with an anti-theft chain, similar to what you'd see on a bike, so you can fasten it to a railing or secure fixture. This chain has an official TSA lock on the end of it.
  2. It has a built-in elasticated keychain.
  3. The flat shell can act as a small desk or makeshift tripod.
  4. The shell is anti-scratch.
  5. Xcube comes in 34L or 43L, then there is the Cube Pack, Magic Cube, and Sling Bag as extras.
  6. It's an attractive, subtle design.
  7. It's a cheaper price than its direct competitors.

Conclusion

I usually steer clear of discussing Kickstarters or camera bags, opting to say nothing rather than praise something I don't have high hopes for. But with the Xcube, it really covers almost every base I could possibly need in a current camera bag, from utility through to aesthetic.

The Kickstarter campaign is still live and can be viewed and backed if you are interested, just click here.

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16 Comments

Benoit Pigeon's picture

That cover picture is pretty bad, as is not appealing. Hoping this is not a new trend. The three pictures showing the inside are as awful. I'll skip the reading too.

Fritz Keuch's picture

Someone hasn't had their coffee today haha

Les Sucettes's picture

Well can you see anything in that photograph? I can’t

Fritz Keuch's picture

I think it's odd Benoit Pigeon says I'll skip the reading too...

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Yep, a few of the photos didn't convince me so why read the article. So yes no purchase from me. That's a photo web site, doesn't mean that I'll look at the article in the intended way. You can.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Possibly too many. Can you see anything beside the single(!) highlight on the left? That blur to fake a wall is weird too like a PS gaussian blur. I see other things on other images but won't comment.
I mean you do art that's okay with me, I won't say anything, you try to sell me a product... No way.

g coll's picture

You must be fun at parties...

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I guess, but are you?

Jan Holler's picture

Yes, it is very bad. But really bad is, the backpack looks ridiculous and ugly (to me).

Les Sucettes's picture

The images are so dark you have to squint to see anything. No shadow details at all. Emotive if this is a new trend perhaps reflecting the “dark times” we’re in? Awful product photography nevertheless

Fritz Keuch's picture

The article isn't about product photography... I don't think you should judge everything based off of the product photography.

Les Sucettes's picture

It’s about a product and if I can’t see the details it also reflect badly on the product.

And since this is a photography forum people will professionally point to some of the issues like bad product photographs.

Lee Christiansen's picture

I doubt the writer of this sponsored article would dare to fill this bag with all his cameras and lenses - and drop it 2 meters to prove that "it could fall up to two meters without affecting the contents."

This bag isn't looking like it will give a shockproof protection at all.

With things like zips, we need more than just rain protection - we need them to keep on working. No mention of the quality of zips.

For me, I'll trust my amazing ThinkTank bags, which seem to swallow up kit like a TARDIS, and will outlast me. A camera bag is a thing I'll never skimp on again after having tried so many.

Pete Whittaker's picture

While a number of people in the comments have noted the difficulty to see the inside of the bag as a flaw in the product photography, the situation is actually worse than that. That all black interior is a flaw in the product itself - though not one unique to this bag.

A lot of my camera gear is black or darkly colored - including small items. If this darkly colored gear goes into this darkly colored bag interior, I'm dubious about being able to find things easily. Particularly after the sun goes down or in a dimly lit hotel room.

Matt Rennells's picture

Another review that doesn't show any gear in the bag. Listen I get that the exterior of the bag is what the design is about, but an empty bag with dividers doesn't really show me anything. Does it hold a gripped DSLR with a 70-200 or is it for a small mirrorless system? Does it hold anything other than camera gear? Clothes, papers, jacket, etc? I understand that most of these bags are all about the "aesthetic", but really the reason that G.A.S. happens with camera bags is because of posts like this. "That bag looks cool" -- photog buys it and then none of your stuff fits right.