I feel like I’ve kissed a lot of frogs when it comes to camera bags. Sometimes it feels a little like Goldilocks searching for something ‘just right’. Not too heavy, not too small, room for items besides camera gear, but I need to bring ALL THE GEAR! I’m not sure such a thing actually exists, it may actually be a unicorn. I’ve never yet found The Perfect Camera Bag (yes those capitals are deliberate!).
Perhaps a far better approach then is to find a bag that exactly fits the requirements for a particular type of photography. Most of us do more than one type, and I must say that the requirements of an outdoors adventure photographer will be very different from say, a city-based portraits on-location photographer. With this in mind, I got to test out the Moment Strohl Mountain Light 45L camera backpack and give it a good run through its paces in the outdoors.
Who it’s for
Let’s start with who this backpack isn’t for. If you need to carry lots of camera bodies and lenses and a ton of other camera equipment then this isn’t for you. If you like to have all of your stuff organised into separate little pockets and niches then this isn’t for you. If you like to be able to access all of your gear easily in one go then this also isn’t for you. If you like to travel around European cities where pickpockets are a menace then this definitely isn’t the bag for you. If you’re any of these things then there are far better options out there that will better fit your needs.
But, as I mentioned above, we must remember who this backpack was designed by, and who it’s designed for (basically the same person!). French adventure photographer Alex Strohl designed this bag in conjunction with Moment, yeah, the company most popular for its smartphone lenses. I believe it was the first collaboration of its sort that Moment has done, and it has to be said that they all should be really proud, it’s a considerable achievement. Similarly, if you’re unfamiliar with Strohl’s work, check it out. It’s quite beautiful in terms of wilderness and travel photography and he really does get around.
Strohl clearly designed this bag with himself in mind. It functions primarily for photographers going out for either a day hike or multiple days, with minimal camera gear. Say perhaps, one small mirrorless camera body plus a couple of lenses. They might bring a drone and the lightest of tripods as well. They will also have some non-camera essentials, such as survival gear, a lightweight tent, some provisions, plenty of water, maybe even a sleeping bag, possibly ski poles. They are prepared to rough it, but they will be in exactly the right place at the right time to capture that elusive landscape image.
So what makes this bag different from all the others? Well, for starters, and this is really the number one selling point, it’s light. I mean, it’s really light. The whole pack empty weighs just 1kg (2 pounds). That’s considerably lighter than most other camera packs. It has a 45-litre capacity meaning that it’s plenty large enough for multi-day trips where you need to bring more than just camera gear. It’s available in black, canary yellow, and bright blue (pictured).
It’s made from waterproof Cordura rip-stop fabric with taped seams for extra protection. On the back it has a back panel zipped access to your camera gear making for easy access and no need to unpack everything.
The whole bag is festooned with large and small pockets for stashing anything from tripods, gimbals, drones, water bottles, ski or tent poles, ice axes, snacks or anything you could ever think of. I easily got a bottle of wine and a baguette in the outside pocket, naturally being more of the ‘bring wine in case of emergency’ kind of person than the ‘bring an ice axe’ variety of hiker.
There is also a plethora of loops and straps for tying on other items such as sleeping bags or mats to the outside should you wish to. Like I said before, this bag is for serious hikers, bottles of wine not-withstanding. If you’re more of a water-on-a-hike person then the pack is also compatible with most water pouches.
The backpack is closed using a roll-down drawstring closure with a G hook. Additionally, there is a ‘brain’ pocket compartment which attaches to the top of the backpack. This has zipped pockets on the top and bottom making for extra easily accessible storage. A handy zip pocket on the belt is also a great addition for putting small items such as spare batteries or credit cards or cash.
The backpack has an ultra-lightweight internal frame which helps make the whole thing a bit more rigid. It’s also removable for shorter day hikes if you don’t need it, and if you want to make the backpack even lighter.
The pack currently comes in two sizes: large and medium. The two helpfully have different torso measurements, the medium covering 17-18.5 inches and the large fits an 18-inch plus torso. It doesn’t seem like there’s a big difference between these measurements, but I must admit that at 5 foot 5 inches the medium pack fits me very well. Admittedly I have ridiculously short legs, I am literally all torso. Still, this seems like a nice plan, particularly for shorter folks (ie. Women). That being said, I believe that there is room for a smaller-sized backpack in future, given that the average torso length for women is between 14 and 18 inches. For the smallest among us, the medium is likely to still be too big.
There are two extra accessories that you have to purchase separately that truly make this a camera bag as opposed to just a trekking backpack.
The first is a moulded lightweight camera insert with divided compartments. This fits into the bottom of the bag and is held in place with Velcro. You can easily get access to the contents via the back zip pocket. It weighs just 0.3kg so barely adds any extra weight to the overall weight of the backpack.
The other extra is the camera loader pouch. This is shaped a little like an old-style film camera case and should easily fit a DSLR or mirrorless camera plus a standard lens. It will attach to the hip belt of the backpack or the shoulder strap via an extra clip.
It’s made from the same material as the backpack, so is water resistant, and has extra padding. It’s designed for keeping your camera at easy access, while also keeping it safe. You can then be hands-free for any challenging parts of the hike. It also has four corner attach points for mounting as a chest rig, should you wish to.
The Good: Lightweight and roomy
Did I mention just how light this backpack is? This is a hugely important thing and certainly goes a long way towards the comfort level of any backpack. Obviously the lighter you can make it, the longer you’ll be able to carry it. And on that aspect this backpack definitely delivers. The addition of an ultra-lightweight frame adds to the comfort level as it helps keep everything upright and in place better than a frameless bag does.
This backpack also fits a lot of stuff. And not just camera equipment either. It’s essentially a stuff sack with a camera insert, so if you aren’t super fussy about keeping everything in individual compartments then this bag is very good. You can literally take everything and anything you might want to. It even comfortably fitted my monopod in one of the side pockets.
I also liked the idea of the camera loader. It can become quite annoying when you have to keep putting your camera away in the main backpack and then stop and get it out again to take a photo. Usually, I just take fewer photos, or I keep my camera out unprotected. The camera loader is a much better idea: keep your camera protected but within easy reach without having to access the main pack.
I will say that it was fairly comfortable in the hip belt, but for me personally, it is much too large to mount on any of the chest straps. For larger people, this may not be a concern.
The straps are reasonably well padded and are adjustable in plenty of different ways. They are curved making them more comfortable for anyone with boobs (or moobs!). This may seem like a weird thing to mention but you’d be surprised just how many backpacks are not made with women in mind, and our different body shapes.
The hip belt is designed to take most of the weight, and you can adjust the shoulder straps to support the top part, additionally redistributing the weight of the pack further onto your hips. You can also adjust the chest strap so that it hits at just the right height. My only main concern about the hip strap was that it was difficult to cinch it as tight as I’d like. For the more petite framed among us this could be a concern.
The Bad: Camera access and insecure fastenings
The opening to access the camera insert is small. It’s actually too small really to be able to grab a long lens, or indeed even your camera out of the pack. For me, this became annoying after a while.
Similarly, the camera insert is durable, but not particularly padded. I understand that this is to keep things as light as possible, however, I’m not certain that it would protect the equipment well enough if the backpack were to take a small tumble. I’d like to see a better-padded insert, along similar lines to the padding in the camera loader.
I would also prefer that the G clips were more secure. Sure, they are quick to remove, however, I feel like the brain part of the pack can become detached too easily. This is not great if you are using it to carry expensive gear and accessories.
Similarly, the front roll top closure and clip don’t feel very secure. I would not want to use this backpack in a European city. But it’s designed for trekking, you say! Why does it need to withstand city pickpockets? Well, in Europe, we are often taking the train to destinations before embarking on any kind of hiking or trekking. I would not feel confident using this pack in, for example, Barcelona. A small consideration perhaps, but one well worth considering if you are relying on public transport and travelling in a mixture of cities and nature.
The Ugly: Comfort
One of the largest considerations for me is the comfort factor, particularly if carrying a lot of gear over rough terrain for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, after walking a mere 15 minutes with the bag fully loaded, I was feeling a lot of pressure on my lower back, and developed bruising. I made sure that I had adjusted it as well as possible, but due to a design fault, the bottom edge of the camera insert was pressing against my lower back, and cutting in.
It was frankly not very comfortable. Try as I might, I could not find a way of readjusting the backpack so that this didn’t happen. My travelling companion also had a similar issue when he tried the bag. As it is, the only way I can see to avoid this is to either not use the camera insert or to fold some kind of fleecy sweater around the hard edge of the insert to better pad the bag. As it is, I, unfortunately, cannot see a way of comfortably using it.
Now I’m only saying that it is not that comfortable for me, as a woman of 5 foot 5 inches tall. That’s not to say that this pack won’t be comfortable for someone else with a different set of proportions. Trying before buying is always going to be a great idea for camera bags if it’s at all possible.
Strohl and Moment have clearly put a lot of thought into the design of this backpack. It really does address a lot of problems that other large-capacity camera bags have, and they’ve found good solutions generally.
Is it for everyone? Absolutely not. I would actually say that this camera backpack is actually quite a niche product. For the people searching for what this bag does, it’s possibly one of the better options around. But it certainly won’t suit anybody and everybody.
If you like individual compartments for everything then this isn’t for you. If you like to bring lots and lots of camera equipment with you rather than just one camera body and a couple of lenses then this isn’t for you. If you are primarily looking for a travel backpack and visiting a lot of cities and need room for your laptop then this isn’t for you.
However, if you are going on a multi-day trek in the wilderness and need to bring survival essentials like a sleeping bag, shelter and food, then this pack could be for you. If you are tackling some adventurous terrain and need ice axes, crampons, and rope, then this bag could be for you. If you just prefer to bring lots of snacks rather than that extra 800mm lens then this backpack is definitely for you.
As a smaller-sized woman, I will say that it was generally sized and designed in a way that worked well with my body. The only downside is the bottom edge of the camera loader on my lower back. If that one thing could be sorted out then this backpack would be golden.