The Peak Design 30L Travel Backpack is the most comfortable camera bag I’ve ever used
If you’re in the market for a new camera bag, you are rather spoilt for choice. In fact, aside from the Peak Design 30L Travel Backpack ($229.95) I am reviewing here, there’s probably far too much choice. Many modern camera bags and backpacks are not cheap, and you don’t want to get one that doesn’t suit your needs. That’s why it’s always important first to work out what you need the bag for and analyse how you like to work, and organise your gear.
Once you’ve sorted that out, there is, quite literally, a bag to suit all of your needs. I tried out Peak Design’s 30L Travel Backpack with their newest V2 camera cube inserts (X-Small $49.95 and Smedium $69.95). Honestly, it’s a great bag from a reliable company. However, it won’t suit everyone’s needs and, in my opinion, fits quite a specific photographer.
The Peak Design 30L Travel Backpack is essentially the same as the 45L backpack, except that it’s smaller (no prizes for figuring that one out!) and misses a few key details. It offers the same minimalist sleek design and high build quality, with a few differences.
The 30L backpack is marketed as a weekend or day bag for photographers. The overall size measures 53.1 x 33 x 17.8 cm (20.9 x 13 x 7″), with an inside capacity of 49 x 36.1 x 14 cm (19.3 x 14.2 x 5.5″). The design is built around a cavernous inside pocket which opens from the back. The backpack is designed to be used with Peak Design’s clever Camera Cube system, which we will look at in more detail later.
A dedicated inside pocket can comfortably fit a 15″ Laptop or Tablet, and there is also a small external pocket on the top for small items such as spare batteries or memory cards. On the sides are two large open pockets that can (apparently) carry a small tripod or large water bottle. There’s also an expandable option to increase the capacity should you need it.
The bag is made from weather-resistant, 100% recycled, 400D nylon construction, with a waterproof base. There are several handles built in along the sides that make grabbing this bag very easy. There’s also a handle on the back for slipping over a rolling suitcase should you want to.
The backpack has two adjustable shoulder straps with a removable sternum strap but no waist buckle. Additional straps can be placed either inside the pack or on the outside to stow extra things and keep everything in place.
Build-quality and design
As you would expect from Peak Design, the build quality is exceptional. Everything just works really well, and the bag is clearly made from high-quality fabric. The inside of the top pocket is softly lined and has very handy-sized compartments for your smaller items. You could easily put a pair of sunglasses in here, and they won’t get scratched.
The zips all work smoothly, and have solid tabs which can be hooked together to prevent pickpockets and theft. Very useful if you’re travelling or walking around large cities.
The whole bag is extremely sleek and minimalist in design. It comes in three colour options: sage green, midnight blue, and black. It looks expensive, which is possibly a drawback when travelling. This is obviously a bag that contains high-end gear and could make you a target for theft.
The bag is extremely well padded, and having the laptop sleeve inside the main bag means that there is little risk of damage. In the same way, because you need to use the camera cubes to stow your gear, you have even more padding and protection around your cameras and lenses.
The camera gear is accessed via the main compartment zip on the back of the bag. Unlike the 45L backpack, there is no side or front access. This means that to access your camera, you need to take the bag off, lay it down flat somewhere, and open up the whole back.
And then you need to get inside the camera cubes which is an additional zip. Yes it’s secure and well padded, but not especially convenient.
Camera cube inserts
I tried the X-Small and Smedium V2 Camera Cubes. These are the newest to be added to the existing collection of small, medium, and large (all ranging from $49.95- $109.95). The Smedium cube fits perfectly in the main compartment of the backpack and takes up approximately half the space. The remaining space if you wanted to fill it completely, would probably benefit from the small cube.
The Smedium cube is a really good size, measuring 22.5cm x 31cm x 15cm. It’s deep enough to fit lenses vertically, and it comes with lots of inserts and velcroable soft pockets for filters or lens caps.
The interior is fully customisable. It is, however, not large enough for my Ronin RS3 mini gimbal, even when folded up, which is a little disappointing. For that, I’d probably have to upgrade to the medium cube. However, with the numerous configuration options, this cube is plenty able to carry a couple of camera bodies and several lenses.
The X-Small cube is very small, about the size of my 105mm lens. If you need extra protection for something expensive, then it might be useful. However, I have found this size not especially usable for any of my gear.
As it was, the X-small cube didn’t fit particularly well in the space left over in the backpack after I’d put the Smedium cube in, and using it prevents access to the internal zip compartments in the base of the backpack. The X-small camera cube is currently sitting in my gear cupboard, housing a lens that I rarely use.
However, the cube concept is solid. Each cube comes with a set of clips so that you can attach it firmly to the inside of the backpack. The clips are not easy to put in, and they hurt my fingers quite a bit. Saying that, once in the Smedium cube was not going anywhere. The X-small cube didn’t attach well due to its size not fitting the remaining space well.
I am not convinced that you even need to clip the cubes in most of the time. If you’re going on a long journey, perhaps it would be a good idea. However, the beauty of this system is that you can have multiple cubes with different gear setups and easily switch them in and out, depending on the job.
Comfort and weight distribution
The bag could definitely use a waist strap for longer hikes.
I have to admit that when I put this backpack on, all my reservations about it melted away. It is, quite simply, the most comfortable bag I’ve ever used. I want not to use it because there are so many features that annoy me. However, I love using this bag because it is so frickin’ comfortable.
I am a five foot five inches tall woman, and for me, this bag fits my body perfectly. The weight is evenly distributed, and I could happily take it out all day without feeling it in my shoulders later. The sternum strap is not really necessary and does seem to slide off easily, and the addition of a waistbelt would make this backpack even more comfortable. I wish it was included with the bag and not sold as a separate add-on feature.
Who is the Peak Design 30L Travel Backpack bag for?
This bag is definitely for day use or as a carry-on backpack for travel. I would use it for day hikes or times when I need all of my gear on my back for a shoot. It’s incredibly comfortable, and if you like to go to a single location, get out your gear and stay in that location for the shoot, then it’s ideal.
It’s also ideal for easy swapping out of different equipment configurations. You could have a cube for a drone, another for a gimbal and filmmaking, and another setup for still photography, for example.
What this bag isn’t great for is easy access to gear, carrying other items around that you might want to get at without opening the entire bag, or easy access to your laptop. This bag in airport security will probably be annoying, though I admit I haven’t tested it in this situation. Similarly, if you like to put your camera away regularly when you aren’t using it, this bag will also be frustrating.
This is my smallest tripod and it barely fits. It’s not at all secure without adding the strap, and then the strap blocks access to the main camera compartment.
There are a few other considerations about this bag that I also find irritating, although they aren’t deal breakers.
- Size: The overall length of the bag is 53cm, which might be fine if you’re flying in the US. However, in Europe, you could encounter issues trying to get that to fit many budget airlines’ stingy hand luggage rules. For example, Ryanair only allows a free bag up to 40cm in length to go under the seat. This bag will fit, and it looks sleek enough to be able to get away with, in my opinion. However, be prepared to be stopped and charged extra.
- Side pockets: The outside side pockets desperately need a strap. They are fine as they are, for a water bottle. However, anything longer, such as a tripod, slips out and doesn’t stay firmly in place. Super annoying.
- Waist Belt: You have to buy a waist belt separately, and at $29.95, it’s not exactly cheap. Still, if I decide to use this backpack for some hiking, I will absolutely purchase this.
- No easy access to gear: As I mentioned before, you have to lay the bag down and open up the whole thing to access your camera gear. That’s fine if you’re in a location where you can do that. However, there are many locations around the world where I just wouldn’t want to. Busy city streets, remote locations in bad weather, sandy beaches…to name but a few.
- Few outside pockets: It really needs an extra pocket on the outside. Yes, it will destroy that minimalist design, but it would be super useful.
- No rain cover: While the bag is water resistant, that isn’t good enough for a hike, particularly in you live in parts of the world with a lot of rain. I wouldn’t trust it to hike in Northern Europe as it is. Oh, but wait! For just $29.95, you can buy an additional waterproof rain cover. I see where this is going.
I want to love this bag for so many reasons. Firstly, it is so so so comfortable, I could use it for hours! Secondly, it really does have a very decent capacity for camera gear compared with other bags of the same size. Coupled with the unlimited options for configuring the interior compartments with the Camera Cube system, it is extremely versatile.
That being said, this camera bag does not suit every need. If I was travelling to multiple cities and wanted to pack non-camera items as well, I might choose another backpack that had easier side access. Also, for an expensive premium backpack such as this, to not include a rain cover or hip belt is somewhat ridiculous. Once you factor in those items alongside the camera cubes, this backpack costs $300-$400, which is crazy expensive. My advice, if you really want this bag, is to work out which accessories you want to buy first.
Saying that, it’s extremely well made and will protect your gear and most likely last for years, so maybe the price is justified. Sadly, this isn’t the perfect bag, but it’s pretty good and very comfortable too!
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe