A Review of the ThinkTank Airport Commuter Backpack

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If you’ve ever had to work your way through a busy airport with your gear, you know that an ordinary camera bag just isn’t going to cut it. Making sure everything is safely packed, moving through security, getting on and off your plane, working your way through yet another airport– it’s a challenge. Think Tank Photo addressed the challenge head-on not too long ago, when they introduced a new line of Airport Backpacks. The line includes (from biggest to smallest) the Airport Accelerator, Airport Commuter, and Airport Essentials, all of which meet U.S. and international carry-on standards. I’ve been putting the Commuter through its paces for the better part of a year, and– as someone who had previously never owned a gear bag designed specifically around air travel– I’m really impressed.

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As with all things Think Tank, the construction is impeccable. Heavy-duty zippers and stitching, comfortably padded straps and handles, as well as all of the pockets and compartments I’ve come to expect from Think Tank. While lots of pockets and extra dividers aren’t exactly innovative, more and more of Think Tank’s newer bags are also being designed with dedicated pockets for tablets or laptops. The Airport Backpack series is designed to hold both. The exterior-access pockets are also right where they do the most good, providing quick access to travel essentials like i.d., credentials, passports, boarding passes, and other necessities. A large side pocket is perfect for a bottle of water or a paperback book.

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All of that great exterior access doesn’t do you much good, though, if the interior doesn’t do its job well. Fortunately, the gear section of this bag is pretty remarkable. The two things I noticed while packing it for the first time were how much it holds, and how deep it is.  Without any re-reconfiguring of the dividers, I packed three bodies, five lenses, two speedlights, a set of Pocket Wizards, and all of the memory cards, cords, batteries, chargers, gels, film, pens, business cards, m&m’s, and accessories I needed. And there was room for more.

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Other features include a locking security cable, removable waist belt, and tripod attachment straps. To be honest, I was a little disappointed by the tripod attachment set-up. The exterior side pocket holds two of the legs, and a set of included straps secure the tripod to the side of the bag.  Unfortunately, I don’t really feel all that secure attaching my tripod to this bag, but that might be my tripod’s fault. If it was light-weight carbon fiber or more of a travel size I might feel differently. I was initially a little concerned about carrying the fully loaded weight of this bag on my back, but the padding and straps work well to distribute the weight evenly. I’d probably still prefer a rolling case for longer trips, bigger airports, and larger gear loads, but the Airport Commuter is built around the concept of making traveling with your gear easier. Mission accomplished.

Last observation– Don’t let the word “airport” in the name fool you. I’ve been using this bag as one of my main, everyday location bags far more than I’ve been using it for travel. Mode of transportation notwithstanding, this is one of the best bags I’ve come across for packing a sizable amount of gear, plus laptop, iPad, and other essentials.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
ThinkTank Airport Commuter Backpack
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class called: Digital Photo Challenges.

  • 1107photography

    Question — does it go with you on “commuter” sized jets as well? I have had a terrible time with my Pelican b/c it’s fine with full sized jets, but it wont fit under the seat of a commuter jet. I’ve practically had to bribe attendants NOT to make me “gate check” it, and it’s a real issue!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    I haven’t had any experience with this bag on a commuter jet, but the exterior dimensions of the Airport Commuter are 12.5″ W, 18″ H, 8.5″ D. How does that compare with your Pelican?

  • 1107photography

    Mine is 18LH x 14W x 10D” — so significantly bigger. Plus it’s wheeled, which is great when getting through an airport… but makes it impossible to stow unless it’s a full sized jet. With air travel these days, more and more, you are ending up on smaller planes! I am going to check out this Think Tank!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Glad to help!

  • Chris

    Excellent review, Jeff! I’ve been looking for something like the Commuter that can hold this much gear. Yes, wheels would’ve been a nice addition — perhaps on a future model? Also, could you please include the price of the reviewed item in future reviews? While it’s easy enough for me to visit ThinkTank’s website, it would still be nice to have all the info in one place. Thanks!

  • Iamlav

    I have just bought the same bag and find it Awesome. BUT I ran into 2 problems. I ran into a weight issue at the airport when my laptop was also in the bag. At one customs point they innocently asked me to unpack not only laptop but also all cameras and charging cables. I kept line waiting quite a while.

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    I’ll keep that in mind for the next review, Chris. Thanks for reading!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Ahh… the pesky weight issue. Thankfully, I’ve yet to encounter that issue with this bag.

  • Bill

    Had looked at this one, but decided on the Airport security with it’s 2 cables and 3 locks. Just slightly bigger but with heavy duty wheels and retractable handle. Makes it a pleasure to ‘lug’ around the airport, and will still fit in the overhead compartment of a 737. Just hope they don’t ask you to weigh it. I had it weighing in at 42 lbs and it was excellent to travel with. Same style and idea as the commuter, with great travel-ability and TSA approved locks. A Think Tank bag is worth every penny you invest into it.

  • idratherbesurfin’thanwatchin’

    I checked these bags out and they are almost 4kg before you add any gear. There is an 8kg carry on limit here in the South Pacific and the Bag Police are thorough as they are in many other parts of the world like Asia. So no good to me at that weight before gear>

  • Excellent review I liked it much .Thanx a lot http://liverpool.fortuneinnovations.com/

  • Richard

    Great review I have this bag and travel 4-5 international trips a year throughout Asia on small domestic airlines and to Africa. It carries my Canon 5D MIII and my previous camera along with 4 “L” lenses and so far in the past 5 years only once was I questioned about the weight of everything. I just insisted that I was a professional photographer and they let me through. Love this bag these guys are the best!

  • Jeffrey Guyer

    Thanks, Richard. It always helps hearing about other photographers’ experiences.

  • Marcus

    It would be improved if the harness could be zipped away behind a panel and a normal shoulder strap attached as an option when a backpack look is inappropriate.

  • bonie

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  • darav

    It is the best stabilisation in the market for video… but i must
    express that the bitrate (24mbit/s) and the framerates (30p) are
    absolutely neutered. It is like having a ferrari without wheels.
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  • Tom

    I travel overseas a few times a year and I borrowed an Airport Accelerator for a trip and found it too big for some planes and coaches. I bought the Commuter which is the ideal size. It fits my D700, a few lenses, flash, charges, cables, backup, 15″ MacBook Pro and all the other essentials. I have never used the security cable and I always pack my carbon fibre tripod in my checkin luggage. I only use it to travel to a destination and then I use a ThinkTank Speed Freak V20 when I walk around. It is my favourite bag. Highly recommended!

  • Michelle

    If it had wheels and an extension handle it would be perfect

  • CWT

    BH Photo $210
    Amazon $210
    Airport Essentials $185

  • Chris

    Thanks for posting the current prices, CWT! It’s amazing how much the price has come down in two years since I posted my comment 😉

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