I am notoriously difficult to find backpacks for, as I’ve mentioned on here before. I picked up a Tamrac Cyberpack 6 quite a while ago and it took 16 years to finally find another bag that felt as nice to wear. Now, I’ve found one that blows both of them away in the comfort stakes. Completely. That bag is the Cosyspeed PhotoHiker 44, which was recently launched on Kickstarter (and hasn’t quite ended yet).
What makes it so special? Well, unlike most camera backpacks, it’s a hiking bag that you can carry camera gear in. Rather than a camera gear bag that you can put on your back. This means it’s designed specifically for all-day carrying comfort while still being able to hold a lot of gear. Allow me to explain…
What’s the big deal?
The big problem with 99% of photography backpacks is that their straps are fixed to the bag and there is zero room for any kind of real adjustment to conform them to your body beyond perhaps being able to adjust their length. Sure, some have padded backs, which help a little, but the moment you actually choose to use the laptop pouch directly underneath those straps, most aren’t very comfortable to wear at all – certainly not on an all-day hike or a camping trip.
Hiking backpacks, typically, are designed with a fully adjustable system, often with some kind of reinforced frame, that lets you adjust not only the strap length but also the vertical position of the entire strap assembly to move the bag itself higher or lower relative to the position of those straps. So you can adjust it for different torso lengths and widths for different people to make it as comfortable as possible.
This mechanism allows you to position the waist strap in a way that lets you transfer the weight of the bag onto your hips and let your legs do the work instead of your back. These strap systems also typically hold the main rear surface of the bag away from your actual back so that when you decide to use that laptop slot, it’s not digging into your back and shoulder blades.
And it’s that adjustable support system that makes the PhotoHiker stand out from just about every other photography backpack on the market. It was designed and built by Cosyspeed in cooperation with German outdoor gear manufacturer, Vaude – who has a lot of experience making hiking backpacks. The two companies brought their relevant knowledge and experience to the table to produce what is probably the most comfortable photography backpack I’ve ever tried.
And what’s more, when you don’t want to use it for photography, you can use it as a regular hiking or camping backpack, too, by removing the photography-specific module inserts. Yup, it can be just a standard hiking or camping backpack, too.
The grand tour
Another difference from most photography backpacks is that this one doesn’t have a million different pockets on its exterior for various gadgets, doohickies, extra lens bags, etc. Instead, it offers minimalist pouches more akin to those you’d find on a more traditional hiking or camping backpack.
So we’ll start at the top and work our way down.
On the very top cover, you’ve got a small easy to access zipped pouch that’s typically used for storing things like a map or travel itinerary, your phone, perhaps a set of keys (and there’s a little loop to attach them to), maybe a small first aid kit, some energy bars or something. This lets you have easy access to all the little things you need to access regularly on your journey or in an emergency without having to shove everything in your pockets or dig through the main contents of the bag.
On the side, you’ve got the big long zip for the laptop slot. It’s interesting that this is accessibly externally rather than being a slot inside the bag itself (you’ll find out why further down). Great for easy access when you need it, but it is something you’ll want to watch out for when around other people as it’s potentially not very secure. Not an issue when you’re off out in the wilderness alone or with friends, but perhaps if you’re going backpacking through a country and dealing with public transport.
According to the Kickstarter campaign, the laptop fits up to a 16″ laptop, however, I’ve got one of the new 16″ (16:10) Acer ConceptD 5, a 15.6″ (16:9) ASUS ZenBook Pro 15 and a 15.6″ (16:9) ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 and only the ZenBook Pro actually managed to fit. The VivoBook Pro was a little too wide to fit into the pocket at all (it’s wider because it has a numerical keyboard) and the pocket wasn’t quite deep enough for the ConceptD 5. Cosyspeed has told me that the pocket is going to be made about an inch deeper (but not wider) in the final production version, at which point it should fit the ConceptD 5 just fine. But on the pre-production unit, the ZenBook Pro is about the limit, which measures 365 x 251 x 18.9mm when closed.
You’ll also notice in the photo above what I was talking about when I said the rear side of the main bag isn’t sitting right on your back. There’s a flexible mesh screen there that rides against your back and there’s a physical separation of air there between your back and the bag. So, as far as your back’s concerned, it feels the same whether you’ve got a laptop in there or not. This gap also helps to keep you cool and prevent you from sweating all over your bag on a warm day of hiking.
I also mentioned before that the decision to go with an external zip for the laptop slot is interesting… and here’s why. It’s also designed to be used with CamelBak (or another brand) hydration packs, allowing you to fill it up with your drink of choice and be able to easily hydrate when needed. So, the decision to go with an external zip for the laptop slot on a bag primarily intended for hiking trips isn’t that unusual.
On that same side as the laptop slot, we’ve got the first of two – yes, two – tripod pouches. Ok, technically, maybe they intend one to be for tripods and the other to be for walking poles, but for many of us, taking two tripods isn’t really much of a stretch. There are three straps to tighten around your tripod (or poles) to make sure it doesn’t come loose. The bottom two are the standard slidey strap adjusters and the top one also contains a quick release.
On the other side of the back, the tripod pouch arrangement is essentially identical – but mirrored, obviously – and works in exactly the same way.
On recent trips, I’ve been using a pair of tripods in both pouches and they work wonderfully. I carry the Gitzo Légende on one side for shooting stills and the Manfrotto Befree Live on the other for when I want to shoot video. It’s a good combo, with two lightweight travel tripods designed specifically for the two different tasks. But, yeah, you might also want to use it for walking poles, too.
On the waist strap, there are two zipped pockets for easy access to small items you might need to get to regularly when hiking or camping. Perhaps a small pocket knife, compass, a small amount of cash, bug bite cream, etc.
Underneath the bag is one more zipped pouch that contains your waterproof rain cover. If you’re trekking somewhere particularly wet (which is pretty typical here in Scotland), you can pull this out and wrap it around your entire bag to protect it from the elements.
And that’s it as far as the outside goes. Unlike most other photo backpacks I’ve used over the years, which seem to try and pack as many exterior pockets and pouches on as possible, this one’s fairly sparse.
Taking a look inside
Underneath the top cover, there’s a second zipped mesh pouch that allows you to store things you also might need easy access to when required. Things that you don’t need to get to all the time, like your passport and wallet.
Directly below this is the top compartment of the bag, which is closed up with a draw string and then held shut with a quick-release clasp on a strap.
Inside here, you’ve got plenty of room for spare clothes for a several day trip. On a recent camping trip, I managed to store several pairs of socks, a couple of pairs of jeans, a number of t-shirts, a towel (always carry a towel!), etc. to last the full four days that we were away. Underneath all the spare clothes is a zipped divider that you can open up to allow access to the entire bag through the top when you want to use it for just hiking or camping without carrying camera gear.
With the zipped divider in place, the bottom of the bag is accessible through a zip on the front – which isn’t typically a very popular move for photography backpacks, but this one comes with a twist.
When we unzip the front cover, we see that there’s an entire other zipped cover going over our camera gear. This is because this is a removable module for storing all your gear in. If any thieves were to try to access your bag, they couldn’t just undo one zip a little bit and slip their hand in. They’d need to fully open the flap and then unzip the module.
This isn’t completely theft-proof, but it does make their lives more difficult. In a crowded location, possibly so difficult that they’ll get before they can access your gear and look for another target. Inside the module, though, we can see the dividers and all our gear stored safely inside.
Inside the flap of the module are two zipped mesh pouches allowing you to store things like a remote trigger or intervalometer, memory card reader, memory cards, spare batteries of whatever random small items you don’t want rolling around loose in your bag.
As mentioned, this module is removable. This one comes supplied with the PhotoHiker 44 but CosySpeed actually has two other modules (available separately) that you can use with this bag. The Photocube M and the Photocube XL.
One (the XL) is the same size as module supplied with the PhotoHiker 44, but it’s somewhat more substantial so that you can take it out and use it as a bag in its own right with the supplied shoulder strap. The other (the M) is a smaller module that you can actually fit into the top compartment of the PhotoHiker 44 with a little room to spare (or the main compartment of the smaller PhotoHiker 24) when you want to carry a bit more camera gear.
Or, you can remove the main large insert and shove all your clothes and camping gear in there and just have the small module in the top, if your focus is primarily hiking and camping and you only need to take a small amount of camera gear.
Those optional modules
The extra optional Photocube M and XL modules are a fantastic idea – particularly the smaller one. The XL might seem a little redundant at first, considering that the PhotoHiker 44 comes with one already inside it – even if it is a different look and feel – but it can be quite handy to have a spare.
The Photocube M lets you put together a smaller camera kit for when you don’t need a lot of stuff, Perhaps just a small mirrorless camera, a couple of extra lenses and some spare batteries.
The fact that it’s modular and separate from the bag itself also means that if you want to leave your main bag at base camp and just go and explore the area a little with a smaller kit, you can just clip on the supplied shoulder strap and go for a lightweight walk. It also means that if this is the only camera gear you’re going to need, you can fill that bottom compartment with clothes, food, or whatever else you want to take camping with you.
The Photocube XL works in the same way. It’s the same size as the one that comes supplied with the PhotoHiker 44, but like the M module, it comes with a nice-looking, more rugged exterior that allows you to use it as a bag in its own right using the supplied camera strap.
Other than the obvious visual differences on the outside, the internals are very different, too. The optional XL module has thicker padding on the dividers and one very cool feature are elasticated straps with velcro attached at each end. These let you really strap your gear inside so that it doesn’t fall out if you accidentally pick it up without zipping up the lid – come on, we’ve all done it at some point!
There’s a nice advantage to having two larger modules. It means I can pack them both for different sets of gear. I can have one for when I want to go shoot stills (which is usually my larger Nikon bodies and lenses) and one for when I want to shoot video (which is my smaller Panasonic gear).
I can have all the gear stored in each full time when they’re just sitting around at home doing nothing, and then grab whichever one I plan to use for the trip, insert it into the PhotoHiker 44 and off we go.
When it comes to the pros and cons, there are a lot of things I like about the PhotoHiker 44. I can load this bag with more gear than I’ve ever been able to shove in a dedicated camera bag before and it still feels comfortable walking around with it on my back all day, even fully loaded.
Note: There are often recommended guidelines that suggest you should never load with a bag that weighs more than 20% of your body weight on a full multi-day hike. For example, if you weigh 150lbs, your bag should weigh no more than 30lbs. For simple day hiking, that gets reduced to 10%, so 15lbs in this example. Ideally, you want the weight you’re carrying to be as close to zero as possible.
I love that I can put a laptop in it and it’s not digging into my back (and that I can use it for a hydration pouch). This is my biggest complaint about most camera backpacks (even ones I really like, like the LowePro ProTactic BP 450 AWII. It’s like why even bother having a laptop slot in it if you can’t use it comfortably?
I like that it has a whole modular bag inside the bag dedicated to just the camera gear with a central divider to keep my clothes and other bits separate. I also like that the module is removable so I can use it for general hiking and camping without the camera, too.
Overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives for me, although I do have a couple of those.
Firstly, I’d really like if the zipper on the big front pouch was lockable. Nothing fancy, just a couple of interlocking zips with a hole I can put a small padlock through, like on the Lowepro PhotoStream SP200 roller case. I think if I’m travelling on a train to get to my destination, I just want that little extra security. It’d also be handy when not using the module to prevent all my stuff from falling out if the zip works itself open while walking.
Well, no, I guess I don’t have a couple. That’s pretty much it, really. Maybe it could do with having a couple more attachment points for dangly things higher up on the strap – for things like attaching a GoPro or something – but for me, that’s not vital.
This is by far the most comfortable photography backpack I’ve ever used. While my old Tamrac Cyberpack 6 and the more recent Lowepro Pro Tactic BP450 AW II do well on a general outing, for a longer camping or hiking trip where you need to attach stuff to it and carry more (either more gear or clothes & camping equipment), they’re far from ideal. The Tamrac isn’t any good for that at all, and the Lowepro can easily feel off-balance when you start adding more stuff to the outside for a long hike.
The PhotoHiker 44, on the other hand, is a dream to wear all day long, even fully loaded. Do bear in mind, though, that despite Scotland’s reputation for terrible weather, I’ve been quite fortunate when I’ve been out with this that it’s generally been pretty dry. So, I haven’t been able to really test any water ingress prevention that might be built into the bag.
But for a day hike or even a several-day camping trip where you need to carry camera gear and a bunch of extra stuff when you know the weather isn’t going to be terrible, it’s absolutely ideal. And if it is raining, you’ve always got the extra rain cover for added protection.
Ultimately, it’s the camera backpack I’ve been trying to find for over two decades, wondering why none of the camera bag manufacturers has cottoned onto the fact that hiking backpacks are better designed for carrying a bunch of heavy stuff than photography backpacks are. It’s why I’ve often gone with an actual hiking backpack instead of a camera backpack for shoots in the middle of nowhere when I need to carry a lot of gear on my back – and I’ve mentioned this to camera bag manufacturers plenty of times over the years.
Now, finally, Cosyspeed has answered the call. Assuming it stands up to long-term regular use, hiking or camping once or twice a month during the drier (or snowier) parts of the year, I can see this one staying with me for a very long time.
The Cosyspeed PhotoHiker 44 is currently available through Kickstarter, where it’s already hit its funding goal – although there are only a few days left. Pledges start at €299 for the smaller PhotoHiker 24 and €349 for the PhotoHiker 44. You can also get the medium and XL Photocube modules shown above for €59 and €69 respectively. Shipping is expected to begin in January 2022.