Airline restrictions for carry on luggage are getting much tougher which is making it harder for photographers who travel a lot and do not like to check in their equipment. On recent flights, airline ground personnel started “inspecting” (i.e measuring and weighing) my carry on bag(s) to make sure they comply with their (very) strict regulations. There are even carriers in the USA that charge passengers for carry on bags that do not fit under the seat in front of them. Carrying large bags of camera gear onto an airplane is fast becoming a thing of the past.
The last thing I ever want to do is check in a camera bag – so if it cannot accompany me in the main cabin, I refuse to board the aircraft. It is that simple.
Having just said that, I needed to find a camera bag that would hold the gear I wanted to take on assignment and make sure it would be allowed in the main cabin on even the smallest commercial aircraft. In general, I like to travel as lightly as possible, however, there are times where I need my full working kit which usually means a couple pro level DSLRs, 3 to 4 lenses, a small laptop computer and other accessories such as spare batteries, chargers, flash, etc. With all of that gear, that typically means I need to use a backpack so I can easily transport everything safely and comfortably.
I had a Tamrac Expedition 7 backpack (B&H – Amazon – Adorama) – it is an excellent bag, however, it weighs about 3 kg (over 6 lbs) empty and it has a substantial amount of external padding – which is both good and bad. The good part is that the padding nicely protects your gear from bumps and knocks. The bad part is that this same padding adds a lot of extra weight and bulk to the bag. In fact, I have been challenged several times by airline personnel in the past when flying with this backpack, so I decided it was time to find a new one.
Just over a year ago, I came across the Think Tank Airport Ultralight V2.5 backpack (amazon.com – Adorama). I contacted ThinkTank and they stated that it would fit into the overhead bin (or under any seat) on small aircraft yet it would hold my normal working kit.
How did they do this?
The Airport Ultralight V2.5 has minimal padding which dramatically reduces the weight and bulk of the bag, yet it is still rigid, strong and protects your gear nicely. It weighs only only 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs) empty and its external dimensions are 28 cm x 44.5 cm x 18cm. Most airlines I travel on only allow 8-10 kg of carry on baggage, so reducing the weight of the empty bag by almost 2 kg (over 4 lbs) is very welcome.
There is also a business card holder on the top of the bag. A common myth is that thickly padded shoulder straps are what provide comfort, however, the width of the shoulder strap is critical in distributing the load correctly. The harness system is light but comfortable and comes with an adjustable sternum strap.
The front pouch easily accommodates a 15 inch laptop computer and there is even a security cable & lock to secure your bag if need be. It also comes with a rain cover (not shown) that protects the front/sides of the bag when it is wet outside
You can fit a lot of camera gear into this backpack – I use it to travel with multiple DSLR bodies and lenses. You can see what I put into it on my recent trips to Africa and Antarctica – and there was still a little extra room to spare.
The Airport Ultralight V2.5 also has clear, zippered pockets on the inside portion of the flap. I store batteries, memory cards and other (relatively) flat items here.
I have been using my Airport Ultralight V2.5 for just over a year now – it has been on dozens of airplanes and subjected to brutal conditions (dust/heat in Africa and snow/cold in Antarctica) and it still functions as if it were brand new. It is virtually indestructible and has made my life much easier when I need to transport a lot of camera gear.
I urge you to check out the Think Tank Airport Ultralight V2.5 backpack (amazon.com – Adorama) if you need to travel/fly with a reasonable amount of camera gear and be certain that your bag fits in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. It has become my primary bag when I am on assignment.
*** UPDATE *** – As of August 2012, Think Tank has discontinued this bag, but has updated the Airport Series with a new and improved photo backpack called the Airport Essentials. Click here to read the review on this website.
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