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Camera / Hiking Backpack Suggestions??

Hi gang - so I'm taking a pretty cool trip in a month to South America, starting in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest, then to Galapagos, and then to Peru. It's time for me to get practical and ditch my fashion camera bag :( So, I need your suggestions to help me pick. I tend to get a back ache while carrying my gear, so probably need to make quite an investment in something that will shift the weight off my back. I've seen some folks mention that going with a quality hiking backpack and then getting inserts might be a good move, but what do you think?

I will be carrying 2 DSLR bodies, 3-4 lenses, flash, and other accessories. Oh, and it needs to fit under plane seat or in overhead compartment Thanks in advance for your thoughts! :)
Allison Pluda's profile photoGraham Guy's profile photoAlexis Coram's profile photoLaurent Coppée's profile photo
don't have any recommendations but wanted to say "have fun!"
I would highly recommend all F-Stop camera bags. I have the Loka and it is by far the best designed and fit camera bag I've ever owned.
Have a look at Think Tank, Kata, Lowe Pro, Click Elite bags, and Gura Gear. There are many good ones.
Hehe I was just going to suggest the one Graham Guy mentioned :-)
I took it to Iceland, sooooo comfy with the large belts, quite roomy and with an all weather cover. Good thing as well is that the zip is in your back :-)
+Allison Pluda > I've looked at the f-stop bags...they do look pretty good but wondering how comfortable they are and if they shift the weight from back to hips. Do you hike with yours?
I have the same problem but I took a different approach than a larger/better backpack. When I went to Namibia I had a heavy equipment with me, two bodies, 5 lenses including a heavy 100-400, flash etc.

What I did is to divide it in two bags. On small backpack in which every day I stuffed in the equipment that I thought I would need for the day (some planning ahead required) and left the rest in a small standard travel trolley that I stuffed with foam for the occasion. During flights I placed everything in the trolley. Worked great, and for those occasions I was in need of something left in the trolley, I just walked back to the car and pick it up.

Not sure if that applies to your trip but there is my solution...
+Lisa Osta > thanks, I've looked at all of them except Click Elite. The problem is there are too many to choose from (frown).
I use my Loka for all my day hikes now. I love how its organized, and there is still room for my camelback and all my other hiking goods. The hip belt is pretty comfortable, which is nice to take the weight off my shoulders. You could get the larger one and do some light backpacking with it as well.
+Laurent Coppée > thanks for confirming that one, looks like a nice pack, and good to know it's comfortable. Was it ok size-wise as carry-on?
+Stefano Vedovelli > hey Stefano - I like the concept a lot (it's similar to what I have done in the past) but I'm going to be moving around a lot on this trip (I won't be staying in the same hotel for more than a couple of days at a time), so I really need to consolidate my equipment as much as possible into one bag.
+Alexis Coram Frequently. I do a lot of landscapes & wildlife, as well as outdoor model work. For one I can pack two bodies and lots of lenses, and for the other I can pack one body and portable flashguns & wireless triggers. With that on my back I have two hands free for scrambling or helping the models up the steep bits. :-)

It takes a bit of practice, but if it's muddy or sandy and you don't want to put it down you can leave the waistband clipped up, un-hook it from your shoulders, swivel it round, and access the inside with both hands free. As someone (can't scroll so not sure who) said earlier it also has a built-in rain/dust cover, and there's a place to attach a small but useful tripod (although my Velbon or the Manfrotto overwhelm it).
I think that the flipside 400 is better than the flipside 300 for this trip.
That Lowepro is nice, but I prefer the Loka for the extra room to store extra layers or food and the build in hydration bladder. Enjoy your bag hunting!
+Julian Ortiz > thanks, Julian...I think the 400 carries a bit more, which will probably work better :)
+Allison Pluda > i really like the look of the loka - it is a lot more expensive than the Lowepro and I have a hard time understanding the ICU and cant find a description?? Also, it looks pretty big...does it work as carry-on?
I live in Peru. Whatever you need to know about it, just ask me. I only use Lowepro bags, I find them robust enough for my hiking.
I also know some places here where they sell a lot of chinese unknown brand of camera bags. They sell at half the price of any other brand and the quality seems to be acceptable... just think of it as a backup plan.
They are a little pricey, but I haven't been disappointed in quality. The Loka is within the allowable carry on size. I use the medium ICU, which gives me a little extra room in the top of the bag for non-photo things. If you get the larger ICU, it takes up more room in the bag depending on how much photo gear you are taking. I like the ICU's because you can take them out and use them as separate carrying cases, too.
+Ernesto Guevara > hi Ernesto. I am going to be in Peru with a group of photographers. We will be in Cuzco for 5 days, and in Machu Picchu for 2 days. Any tips would be grateful received. Also, and suggestions on language preparation? I speak very very little Spanish, but I'm interested in learning some key phrases beforehand.
What about a second, smaller bag that you wear backwards on your front of if you can manage it, a chest rig?

Maybe something smaller that you can put some of the gear you would normally use for those "off the cuff" moments that you need to snap some shots while you are huffing it out to your destination, say one of the DSLR bodies with a lens mounted, a second lens and some of your filters and smaller accessories?

It would split the weight load to both your front and back, allow you to place your larger pack in the overhead and the smaller one closer to you in the under the seat spot on the plane.

I started doing this and it both made me more stable while hiking over rough terrain and reduced the wear and tear on my lower back.

I uses this case for my front, smaller pack that actualy works as a chest rig:

I took off the carry strap and put that in my main pack to use later if I am just going on a short walk from base camp to get some morning shots. I attached d-rings to the carry strap mount points and two points on the straps of my main pack and run the chest stabilizer strap from my main pack through the belt loops on the back of the camera case. It effectively makes a rather stable chest rig that's comfortable and insanely useful. This can hold my Olympus E-300 volt very nicely and the side pockets have enough room for me to carry it's spare battery, extra memory cards, some filters, etc.

I also use a few different lens cases that I can attach to the straps of my main pack so I can get to say a high zoom lens for my E-300 Volt while I am hiking. Makes things so much easier to get those quick shots and again, balances my load between my back and front.

Just a thought.
+Allison Pluda > Is the ICU just an interior case or does it have dividers included to separate the gear? If there are dividers, are they movable to fit the specific size of equipment? I can't find this info on their website...
The ICU is a separate case that comes with movable dividers. You then put the ICU inside your camera bag. I like them too because that extra layer helps to keep the rain/mud off my camera gear when stored in the pack.
+Riley Castine > hey Riley - thanks for the suggesting. Definitely another option for me to consider. I think I would rather just go with one bag...I have a tendency to become terribly organized if I have too many spots to put things :) haha
+Allison Pluda > you're amazing. Thank you so much for finding the link for me. Makes much more sense now, and definitely looks like a huge plus for these packs!!
and if you dont put an ICU in at all, it becomes a regular empty backpack!
+Allison Pluda > I like the flexibility. Thanks again for the suggestion, and for helping my blonde head get wrapped around the concept :)
Are the hikes all out and back in one day or will you also need to carry a lot of non-photo stuff on you as well? All that gear and hiking supplies is a lot of weight, even with a hip belt, if you're not used to backpacking.
+Scott Lewis > I will only be carrying camera gear in the backpack. When I'm physically moving between hotels, I will have all other gear in a duffle.
These guys make some awesome packs:

Check them out and hope if you find one they have it in stock. :)

My bad for not reading the earlier comments. Darn my laziness. lol Anyway I use the Loka too. Being a backpacker and having a couple high end packs, I can say the F-stop gear ranks right up there with them. I have a large ICU and it's a little tight but still effective overall.

And as for being a carry-on to quote them: " It also meets international carry-on standards, making it the go-to bag for many traveling professionals."

My 2 -cents anyway. Good fortune on your trip too.
The trip sounds great Alexis! Thanks for asking. Now I can refer to this thread when I get a real camera backpack :)
Right now I carry emergency rations, water and other "just in case" things in my backpack. I have a smaller shoulder bag with my camera and 3 lenses.
+Kevin Gault > fstop is at the top of my list...I'll be making a decision this weekend....and yes, I hope whatever I decide on, that I'll actually be able to get it in time :)
+Craig Szymanski > yeah, I have been holding off on getting all serious with a pack but this trip makes it necessary, and I'm sure I'll love it when I get it :) I'll let you know what I decide and how it fairs on my trip :)
Alexis, when we were there the Ecuadorian cloud forest trails near Quito were quite muddy, Galapagos was sandy when we weren't in a zodiac with a layer of water on the floor, and you are going to want to climb into the morning mists at Huayna Picchu when you are in Macchu Pichu. Because of this the ability to access your camera gear without setting your pack on the ground is a consideration, as well as how comfortable it is on your back. I've alternately used the Lowepro slingshot, and a ski/snowboard backpack called the Gladerunner from MEC in Canada.(waterproof/mudproof bottom 1/3)

I'm sure some of the names I see mentioned above are great packs for this also. Since pack fits are unique to each person its really important to try it on first and walk around in the store with weights/camera's in it so you can properly judge if it works for you.
+Brian Spencer > thanks, Brian - I'm thinking of heading to Calumet next weekend to look at a wider selection and try some out :)
+George Marquardt > thanks so much for the info, George. Did you happen to stay in Mindo at all? IF so, any recommendations on a hotel / lodge?
+Alexis Coram No, before Quito we did day trips/horse riding out of Hacienda Zuleta, which is quite a ways NE of Mindo. Good luck on the trip!
Depends on the laptop. My Macbook Air fits in there ok, but anything much bigger would be a bit of a squeeze, and there's no pocket for it either.
+Graham Guy > thanks, Graham. That's what I thought, so I ordered the Fstop Loka, per +Allison Pluda's recommendation. I'm excited to finally have something functional :)
I'm excited for you! Hope you enjoy it!
Yes, sounds great. Have fun with it.... and post lots of pictures!
Sorry to be late to the party Alexis :-(
My answer would have been the same as Graham's, I never carry a laptop in that bag for 2 reasons a) there's no room and b) the bag would then be way too heavy :-D
I think your choice is a great one, enjoy and can't wait to see you photos :-)
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