The quest for the perfect bag

Day 2/90
Prompt:  many many photo backpacks, all black on Midjourney

I like bags, particularly backpacks.

More precisely, I like the idea of the perfect backpack, but I have tried so many in the past 12 years that I know it doesn’t exist yet, and I am not even sure if such a goal is attainable.

I should have posted reviews of all those bags when I was using them, except that, frankly, I was never expecting the list to become so long.

As the saying goes, the best time to start writing backpack reviews was 12 years ago when I started buying them. The second best time is now.

The perfect bag

Let’s start with my bag’s content.

  • A laptop. Lately, a 16″ MacBook Pro.
  • An iPad mini with its pencil.
  • A camera with its lens. Currently, it’s a Leica SL2-S with a 90mm f/2.
  • A tech pouch with cables, power adaptors, and a power bank.
  • An extra battery for the camera.
  • My wallet and passport.
  • A pen, a pencil.
  • A few FFP2 masks.
  • A headset. These days Airpods Max.
  • A pair of reading glasses.
  • Sunglasses if the destination is sunny.
  • My keys and an Air Tag.

My ideal bag contains all that. It’s as small as possible given the content, has separate pockets and compartments for everything, and offers accurate protection for everything.

I don’t care about having a waist or sternum strap, but I want the shoulder straps to be extremely comfortable and sturdy.

I want the bag to have a rigid structure, so it keeps its shape when not full, and a flat bottom, so it stands on its own.

Multiple access options are a must, ideally a rapid one for the camera. In addition, passport, wallet, and keys must be securely held and easily accessible.

Of course, it must be waterproof. That goes for the zippers too, and they must be smooth; that’s a potential deal breaker. Stitching and dividers must be high quality, not cheap thin crap. Velcro usage has to be minimal, and when unavoidable, only the best should be used.

A big plus for magnetic latches and usage of metal over plastic.

Last but not least, the perfect bag can be any color, as long as it’s black or grey.

The full list of bags

As a first exercise, I will try my memory and list all the ones I have ever owned and then check which ones aren’t on the market anymore to eliminate them from the list. What’s the point in reviewing a backpack no one can buy?

Hold my beer. I’ll be back in a minute.

All right, between working from memory and checking my email archive, I identified a list of 32 bags. Most of them are backpacks, and they are still on the market. So when the name is stricken through, it means they are not sold anymore; when it’s in italics, it’s not a backpack.

Before you picture me in a room full of bags, I must tell you that I have gifted or sold all of them but two. I love bags, but I hate accumulating things.

Over the following weeks, I’ll share what I think of them, and as I publish those reviews, I’ll add links to the list below. Please don’t be scared because I didn’t keep most of them; they weren’t all bad. Most were quite decent, but they didn’t function for me.

  • Aer
    • Fit
  • Booq
    • Python Pack
    • Python Blur
    • Boa Flow
    • Cobra Pack
  • Boundary
    • Prima
    • Errant
  • Crumpler
    • FrontRow
    • Creator’s Road Mentor
  • Lowepro
    • FreeLine BP 350 AW
    • Fastpack BP 150 AW II
    • StreetLine BP 250
    • Urbex BP 28L Plus
  • Manfrotto
    • Chicago Medium
  • Nomatic
    • McKinnon Camera Pack 35L
    • McKinnon Cube Pack 21L
  • Peak Design
  • Tenba
    • DNA 16 DSLR
    • DNA 16 PRO Messenger
  • The North Face
    • Access
  • Thule
  • Timbuktu
    • Sleuth
    • Custom Classic Messenger Bag
  • Victorinox
    • Altmont Original
  • Wandrd


9 responses to “The quest for the perfect bag”

  1. Paolo Belcastro Avatar

    Update: added the links to the Peak Design bags review.

  2. Paolo Belcastro Avatar

    Update: added the link to the review of the Thule Covert and the WANDRD PRVKE

  3. Filipe Varela Avatar

    Seems like there’s a few of us on the same hunt, eh? 🙂

    I’m a big fan of the backpack as a reductionist metaphor for your life. We all have clutter around the house that we should definitely throw away but can’t quite commit ourselves to. Prepping a backpack puts you in a different frame of mind where the essentials — whether it’s a cheap pair of underwear or the most expensive camera you’ve owned — become easily prioritized, and you quickly understand what’s crucial to you.

    Have to agree with both Florian and Jeff, and say there’s no perfect bag; a bag is as perfect as its usability for a specific person.

    For me a large portion of that equation comes down to comfort. Particularly the shoulder straps must be wide enough, padded, and aerated. Same with the back; I don’t want to be sweaty after a decent walk.

    Not the perfect bag by any stretch of the imagination, but I still love the Surge by TNF. It’s very well built, super comfortable, lots of options with inner compartments and easily accessible pockets. It’s not purposefully built for photography, but it has plenty of room for that as well.

    1. Paolo Belcastro Avatar

      We definitely agree: there’s no perfect bag.

      I have to believe, though, that there’ll be better and better ones… 😉

      I didn’t know the Surge, I checked it out, but from the photos, I don’t see that it can fit a camera easily. The bag I currently use doesn’t have a camera-specific area, and unlike Florian, it stresses me out a bit.

  4. Florian Avatar

    I have written my comment in a blog post: 🙂

    Also: 90 mm is an interesting choice for street photography!

    1. Paolo Belcastro Avatar

      I know the 90mm is not orthodox, but I am a sucker for the compression of perspective that longer lenses bring. 🙂

      That said, I only have a 24MP sensor; I could imagine reaching almost the equivalent with an M11 and its 60MP sensor, a 50mm, and some cropping, although it would be at the cost of extra DOF.

  5. […] am with Paolo. I love backpacks, and I have used a fair share of them over the […]

  6. Jeff Golenski Avatar

    Man, I came to this post with such excitement. I thought you were also going to answer my bag dilemna. haha.

    We have the same problem. Closest I’ve found to the perfect bag for me, is indeed the Wandrd Prvke. But I often find myself customizing it.

    For me, it comes down to the application—not the gear. It’s where I’m going and what I’m doing. If I’m looking for a good carry-on for a trip to the EU with my macbook and camera gear, the Prvke is my choice. But for long hike and adventuring around? Absolutely not. My Atlas Adventure Pack is my go to for anything more rugged and off the grid.

    There have been a few instances where I’ve just given up and carried my gear in the shopping bag.

    I don’t know Paolo, I think we’ll be on this hunt forever.

    1. Paolo Belcastro Avatar

      Or we need to design and Kickstart it 😉

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