The search for the best camera bag is an ongoing saga, but have we finally found the bag to rule all bags with this customizable, modular camera backpack from Wotancraft?
It's difficult to find the right camera bag to suit your needs. Some are too big and bulky, while others aren't big enough to carry all your kit. The requirements for each shoot might be different as well. If you're a travel photographer, you'll likely want to go light and compact, whereas if you're shooting wildlife or perhaps even capturing video, you might need to carry all of your gear. If only there was a way to add and subtract to the bag in a modular way to customize a bag specifically to your needs. Well, that's what Wotancraft aims to do with their Pilot Travel Backpack.
If you want the capacity of a larger camera backpack, but sometimes like to travel light, then you may not need to own more than one bag. Wotancraft, the camera bag manufacturer working out of Taipei City, has developed a modular camera bag that's designed to meet the needs of most photographers.
Ringing up at $329, their approach to bag-making is to create something that's long-lasting and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. The backpack both looks good and swallows up kit with ease, despite only being 20 liters in capacity. If you need some extra space, there are also some accessory bags that fit onto multiple clipping points on the bag, which make it modular and customizable and also increases the maximum capacity to 36 liters, but it definitely doesn't feel bulky.
These accessory bags can also be used in their own right as smaller camera bags and have the same stylish aesthetics and good quality materials as the main bag itself.
The backpack itself is relatively light, made from Teflon and PU, the military-grade CORDURA fabric repels water and is apparently "anti-tear." The arm straps feel strong and are well cushioned for prolonged carrying, which shouldn't put too much strain on the shoulders. There are also ample pockets and zippers of various sizes, which continually surprised me as I explored this bag.
There are so many options for storage that if there's a hole or a gap to be filled, Wotancraft have filled it. It did seem rather overwhelming when first inspecting the bag, as I kept discovering new pockets of storage throughout, but the designers have done a great job to pack in as much as possible without detriment to the beautiful vintage military style.
The biggest selling point of the Pilot Travel camera backpack is probably its visual styling. The worn effect of the bag makes it look instantly at home with your camera kit and really blends in with those that dress to impress. It has a wild quality about it that looks tough and rugged. It comes in khaki brown or charcoal black, both of which look understated and could easily pass for a regular backpack, which is a breath of fresh air from the standard conspicuous bags that stand out like a sore thumb.
Packed to the rim, the 20L Pilot supposedly fits a 15" laptop, two full frame DSLRs, and up to five lenses. And while there's ample space for a bag this small, users would probably get more bang for their buck if shooting mirrorless because of the smaller form factor. Pair that with a tablet instead of a laptop, and you'll be traveling very light indeed.
Being marketed as a modular backpack, there are also accessory pouches which you can affix to the bag itself, or use in their own right as smaller camera bags. Simply use the supplied shoulder strap to carry one of the pouches, sling a camera in, and away you go. This is a really clever move because it's not often I want to carry all of my gear, but occasionally, I need to. So, having the option of expanding my carrying capacity without having to mess with two or more different bags is both a time- and space-saver.
The Good and the Bad
Each clip and zipper feel really well made. The plastic feels of high quality in the hand, and the waterproof zipper seams are outstanding and wouldn't be out of place in a camping shop in terms of waterproofing style. While the Pilot is extremely well made, there are a few quirky design choices that seemed to stump me.
First off, when opening the front of the bag you're met with a zipper that is obscured by the fastening clip that lays over the top of it. It's not the end of the world to open this section, but it can be a little fiddly. I imagine that those who are rushing to get kit out because they're chasing the light or those with gloves on in colder or wetter climates may struggle to get this open. To my mind, it would be better to have kept the zipper line on the inside of these clips to avoid this problem, and you wouldn't have to make the storage space any smaller either.
That said, I do love the modular performance of this bag. All over, there are extra straps on which to mount the accessory pouches or even your own kit. I immediately started customizing the setup to suit me by putting an LED light on the main leather zips and even wedging a carabiner clip to the loop at the bottom of the bag against which I would attach a bottle, map, or even the dog lead should I need to tether my pet pooch temporarily while keeping my hands free to shoot.
I did take a little issue with the attachment of the accessory pouches too, but only in that the clips that hold them onto the bag were a little tricky to reach and would be more difficult if it were packed full of gear. I decided to flip around the clips on the left side of the pouches to make it easier to release them without jamming my fingers in the gap.
The side-access to this bag is tremendous. I can confidently swing the bag around onto my hip and take out my camera without ever placing it on the ground, which means it never gets dirty when out in the field. It has access from both sides so I can reach in for another lens or even tuck in a pair of shoes or a spare top if I'm going on a hike.Tripod storage is great for those that have one small enough to tuck tidily away in the side pocket, and this is what I've traditionally done with bigger camera bags in the past. However, it feels as if the modular aspect should come into play a little more here, with an extra clip and band to hold the tripod onto the front of the bag to keep the center of gravity and the bag balanced and not lopsided. A smaller, lighter travel tripod would be fine, though. You could always pop a water bottle in there instead and just handhold the tripod if you get stuck.
The Pilot backpack looks amazing, feels comfortable when worn, and swallows up a huge load of kit without bursting at the seams. It's not the kind of backpack you'd take to climates where inclement weather is the norm, because it's just not waterproof enough. But for fair weather photographers or those that are lucky enough to have drier weather most of the year (or perhaps just shooting indoors more often than not), it's a sturdy, compact bag that will keep up with you no matter what you need.
What I Liked
- Modular customization
- Huge storage potential
What Could Be Improved
- Awkwardly placed zips and clips
- Not waterproof
Final Closing Thoughts
Overall, the Wotancraft Pilot backpack is a superb camera bag that's both well made and incredibly beautiful. While I've picked up on a few minor things that I'd personally like to see tweaked, I'd happily recommend this bag as a go-to for those that want something a bit more stylish. It's water repellent, but not waterproof, so I'd say you probably don't want to take it out all day in heavy rain.
But its flaps and zip seams should be more than capable enough to keep the dirt and dust out, as well as a light shower. At $329 and with free international shipping (not including import tax or VAT), it's a brilliant option that contends with some of the major camera bag manufacturers and, in my opinion, is much prettier than most others out there.
Whether you're someone who's interested in fashion and looking good or just want a simply styled camera bag with a timeless quality, the Wotancraft Pilot backpack might be for you. Buy it direct from Wotancraft here.
Some images used with permission from Wotancraft.