In need of a backpack that offers excellent adaptability? Michael Topham looks at six modular options for outdoor photographers

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45l

  • Price £299 (no cubes included)
  • Capacity 45 litres
  • Kit access Back, side
  • Rain cover Optional (£29)
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes, via side pocket
  • Waist strap Yes
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 56 x 33 x 29cm
  • Weight 2.05kg
  • SCORE 4.5/5

Whereas some modular backpacks split their internal capacity 50/50 between camera kit and personal storage, this example offers one spacious area inside where you can assemble pouches and packing cubes to turn it into the bag you want it to be. In its compressed state it’s a 30L backpack, but it can be expanded to a 35L day bag or 45L gear-hauler.

Access to the main compartment is made via the back as well as the side, plus you get a plethora of zipped pockets on the inside with spacious side pockets that can be used to carry a tripod. Accessing the bag via the rear reveals a slip-in section that accommodates a 15in laptop as well as a 10.5in tablet. Those wishing to travel with a single camera body and a few small lenses are likely to choose the small- sized camera cube, leaving two-thirds of the bag free for clothes and other essentials. The medium-sized camera cube takes up two-thirds of the interior and the large cube turns it into a fully edged photo backpack. Small- and medium-sized packing cubes, as well as wash, tech and shoe pouches are available to customise and build exactly how you’d like it. Add a medium-sized camera cube (£69) and a small packing cube (£29) to the price of the backpack on its own (£299) and it pushes the price up to just shy of £400 – one of the most expensive options of the six.

Available in black or sage green, the bag is extremely well made, has waterproof zips to keep moisture out and swing-out waist straps that can be hidden. The sternum strap isn’t elasticated and a rain cover isn’t included as standard. Although it is weatherproof, if you’re heading to remote locations, you will want to add the optional Rain Fly (£29) to your purchase. It connects to attachment points and stows inside a magnetic sealed sleeve.


Shimoda Explore 40

Shimoda Explore 40

  • Price £250 (no core units included)
  • Capacity 40 litres
  • Kit access Rear, side
  • Rain cover Optional (£8)
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes, via side pocket
  • Waist strap Yes
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 57 x 29 x 26cm
  • Weight 1.3kg
  • SCORE 5/5

The Shimoda Explore 40 is designed with adventure photographers in mind and accepts different ‘core unit’ inserts to customise it as you wish. These are bought separately or as part of the four Explore 40 kits that Shimoda offers. With the starter kit you get the bag and two small core units for £350. The more expensive professional kit costs £460 and is supplied with two small core units, a medium core unit and accessory case. Those who’d like to carry a mirrorless camera or DSLR and a few lenses and accessories, leaving space for clothes, food and other items, will find the medium core unit (£80) sufficient. The benefit of buying a small core unit (£50) as well is that it doubles up as a small shoulder bag with the supplied strap – great for casual walks around a city. A good number of padded dividers are provided within each core unit, and they fasten well with tapered tabs. To prevent kit working loose or falling out, a zipped cover is supplied.

Access to the main compartment is via the rear or side, plus there’s a clever height-adjustable harness with four different height options to cater for short or tall male or female torsos. On the inside there’s a 13in laptop sleeve and three zipped pockets. A tripod can be secured via the side pocket, but those who’d like a rain cover to protect the backpack from nature’s elements will need to buy one separately for £8. Fully loaded, it’s a very comfortable bag to carry. The shoulder straps are even wide enough that they feature a handy pocket to store a large smartphone.

Zips are smooth, buckles connect faultlessly and you’re left with the impression that it’s in the premier league of modular backpacks. It’s not cheap, but it’s an exceptional example and is also available in smaller 30L and larger 60L sizes.


F-stop Gear Ajna 40L

F-stop Gear Ajna 40L

  • Price £227 (no ICUs included)
  • Capacity 40 litres
  • Kit access Rear
  • Rain cover Optional (£15)
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes
  • Waist strap Yes
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 59.7 x 33 x 26.7cm
  • Weight 2.7kg
  • SCORE 5/5

The Ajna 40L is the successor to F-stop’s Loka daypack and is designed for outdoorsy types and those who want to carry photo kit alongside other travelling essentials. To turn it from a conventional backpack into one that offers a well-protected home for your camera kit you’ll need an internal camera unit (ICU) of which there’s a wide selection. Various bundles with different ICUs, pouches and straps are available, or you can choose to customise it yourself and buy the bag and ICUs separately. The medium-slope ICU (£75) supplied had space for four additional lenses alongside a 70-200mm lens mounted to a DSLR.

Velcro tabs and connection loops prevent the ICU from moving inside. The thick and soft internal dividers do a great job of keeping kit safe and secure on the move and the ICU can be zipped shut – making it a great independent storage unit that can be grabbed and inserted or left at home when travelling without photo kit. F-stop makes an extensive range of accessory pouches, rain covers, packing cells and filter cases so you can tailor it exactly to your liking, but these are all optional.

The bag has plenty of other useful features, too. It accepts a hydration reservoir with a Velcro-sealed tube port, offers quick-release side compression straps, adjustable waist and sternum straps with an integrated whistle for emergencies, and spacious internal mesh pockets for less commonly needed items like cables and chargers. Unlike some of its rivals there’s no side entry, so access is via the rear panel. It’s possible to attach a tripod down the spine and the moulded rear panel ensured good breathability and comfort while out on a hike. There’s room for a 13in laptop, and if drab green isn’t for you, it’s available in black or striking orange if you’d like to stand out.


Lowepro Powder BP 500AW

Lowepro Powder BP 500AW

  • Price £260
  • Capacity 55 litres
  • Kit access Rear
  • Rain cover Yes
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes
  • Waist strap Yes
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 62 x 33.5 x 22.5cm
  • Weight 2.4kg
  • SCORE 4.5/5

With a 55L capacity and weighing 2.4kg, this is the largest and heaviest bag in this round-up. What it has in its favour is a deep, spacious camera compartment that accommodates a pro-spec DSLR with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and a battery grip attached, with room to spare for up to four extra lenses. The camera box is removable and a divider can be stripped out if you’d like to use it solely for carrying non- photo-related items. To keep the camera box secure you’ll find four lugs that feed through elasticated loops. The zip-around cover can be stowed away for fast access to your kit via the rear panel, and the huge YKK zips make light work of quickly accessing kit or securing it.

Above the camera compartment there’s ample space for a few days’ worth of clothes, waterproofs or spare shoes, with dedicated space for a 15in laptop and personal gear such as headphones, smartphone, keys, wallet, sunglasses and other small accessories. There’s a spacious pocket at the front too, but it is a bit light on interior zipped pockets. A drawstring helps seal the top compartment shut and the flip-over top cover has good-sized pockets for essential documents or other small items. At the bottom you get an all-weather cover that’s permanently attached so it can’t be misplaced. Whereas on one side you get an elasticated side pocket that’s perfect for holding a water bottle, on the other you get a pull-out pocket to attach a tripod that’s secured with straps.

The shoulder straps, elasticated sternum strap and bright orange waist straps distribute the weight of heavy contents effectively and it’s amazing how much kit you can squeeze in. The capacity for the price is fantastic; the only downside is that it exceeds budget airlines carry-on baggage allowances in terms of height, which could force you to put it in the hold.


Mindshift Ultralight Dual 36L

Mindshift UltraLight Dual 36L

  • Price £167
  • Capacity 36 litres
  • Kit access Side
  • Rain cover Yes
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes
  • Waist strap Yes
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 53.5 x 28 x 22cm
  • Weight 1.5kg
  • SCORE 3.5/5

The Ultralight Dual 36L is one of the smaller options in this round-up and features a removable insert much like the Manfrotto Noreg that can be worn as a shoulder bag or beltpack. The idea is that it allows you to leave the backpack at your base when you’d like to travel light and carry just your camera and a selection of lenses. Alternatively, you can take out the camera compartment and use the entire backpack for carrying personal gear.

It’s deep enough to accommodate a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached, comes supplied with a high-quality shoulder strap and is pulled out and reinserted into the backpack via a panel at the side. This side panel has a dual purpose and provides quick access to kit without having to put the bag down on wet, muddy ground when you’re using it as a backpack. With the lower half dedicated to camera kit, it leaves a good space above for clothes, food and other items. There’s a spacious internal zipped mesh pocket for accessories, plus a dedicated compartment for a 15in laptop or 3L hydration reservoir. The drawstring and fold-over cover provides great protection for personal items. If you get caught out in a shower, a rain cover is provided for both the backpack and daypack. Other features include a deep stretch side pocket that’s handy for carrying a water bottle and there are integrated straps behind coloured tabs for attaching a tripod or monopod.

With well-ventilated padding, a thick waist strap and adjustable sternum strap, there’s no discomfort when fully loaded. The YKK zips glide smoothly and the exterior fabric has a durable water-repellent coating. The downside is that the internal padding to protect camera kit isn’t particularly thick and more padded inserts are needed to prevent cameras and lenses from shifting about.


Manfrotto Noreg Camera Backpack-30

Manfrotto Noreg Backpack 30

  • Price £129
  • Capacity 30 litres
  • Kit access Front
  • Rain cover Yes
  • Personal item storage Yes
  • Tripod connection Yes
  • Waist strap No
  • Sternum strap Yes
  • Dimensions 47 x 29 x 18cm
  • Weight 1.6kg
  • SCORE 4.5/5

Manfrotto’s Noreg backpack is aimed at those who’d like an adaptable bag suitable for accommodating a medium-sized DSLR or mirrorless camera with a couple of lenses, while offering a convenient space above the camera compartment for waterproofs, food or other items you’d like to take on a short trip. It’s similar to the Mindshift UltraLight Dual 36L in the way the internal camera compartment can be removed and turned into a small shoulder bag; however it’s not as deep or spacious, and lacks an anti-slip shoulder pad. If you don’t require the camera compartment or 15in laptop sleeve, both can be removed, allowing it to be used like any conventional backpack.

The overall design has been well thought through. There’s a tripod holder and large pocket on the front, two zipped pockets on the inside that are ideal for thin accessories like filters or memory cards, and it’s supplied with a rain cover. The shoulder straps at the back of the laptop compartment and rear of the bag are well padded, and although the bag lacks a waist strap, it has an elasticated sternum strap. The materials, stitching and overall finish are of a very high standard, with the red pulls to the external zips offering quick entry to both the lower and upper sections of the bag. The exterior fabric is water-repellent and a rain cover for both the backpack and removable compartment is provided for extra protection when exposed to the rain for long periods.

If you’re not one for lumping around vast amounts of photo kit and want a backpack that gives you the flexibility to carry everyday items while out walking or exploring, the Noreg 30 is a backpack worth looking at. It’s essentially two bags in one, and the luxury of the modular system gives you the option to customise it for whatever you might have planned.