5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

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One of the great things about being a travel photographer is that you are almost always working outside. Sometimes this might be in a city and sometimes in the wilderness. Either way, one of the main attributes you will need is to be organized. This involves everything from research and planning, to your shot list and efficiency. It also includes being organized with your equipment and what you will need on a day to day basis.

There is a fine balance between carrying too much unnecessary equipment and what you actually will need. A vital part of carrying your equipment is choosing the right bag for the scenario you are going to be photographing. Not only are camera bags important in keeping your equipment safe and dry, but a good bag will also make it easier to carry equipment.

Especially when you will potentially be walking around all day. There are so many bags to choose from, so here are the five types of bags that you may need at some point.

person on a cliff overlooking the water - 5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

#1 – Day Bag

A day bag is usually the first bag that most people would purchase. It will also be the bag that gets the most usage. So it’s vital that you take into account the different options available to fit your needs. Before you rush out and buy one, consider the following factors:

day bag for camera gear - 5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

  • Size – What will you generally be carrying day to day? Most travel photographers will carry a telephoto lens and possibly a couple of smaller lenses. You may also carry a flash as well as memory cards, batteries and possibly a second camera.
  • Tripod – The first day bag that I ever purchased, didn’t have a way to attach and carry my tripod. I quickly realized how frustrating and tiring that was. Carrying a tripod means you are constantly having to put it down every time you want to take a photo. So when fleeting moments arrive you are not ready to snap away.
  • Non-photography space – Another big consideration when purchasing a day bag is how much additional space you will have to carry non-photographic items. For example, can you carry a bottle of water? Or a rain jacket? Is there somewhere safe and hidden away that you can keep your keys, mobile phone or even cash?
  • Accessibility – Would you really want to take everything out of your bag to get to those plasters right at the bottom? How quickly and easily you can access the various compartments of your bag is very important. For example, some bags will allow you to get your camera out from a side zipper without having to open the whole thing up.
  • Comfort – As a travel photographer you will often be out walking for hours. Being able to carry your equipment comfortably can mean the difference between going back to the hotel because you’re uncomfortable and in pain or carrying on.
  • Airline carry-on – Another consideration is whether your bag complies with the carry-on regulations of airlines. I always carry my camera equipment on the plane (I put my tripod in my suitcase) rather than check it in so have to make sure that my bag isn’t too big.

All of these are factors that need to be considered before purchasing a day bag. It’s taken me a few attempts to find the perfect day bag but my choice is the Lowepro ProTactic 450 camera bag.

It has plenty of storage for two cameras as well as a couple of other lenses and things like memory cards and batteries. It has a top zip, as shown below, that makes it easy to access my camera without needing to open the whole bag. I can also carry a large tripod attached to the bag as well.

5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs - Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW Camera Backpack

#2 – Hiking Bag

While a day bag is great for everyday use, sometimes it’s simply not big enough. For those photographers who like to hike or camp overnight, then a day bag won’t be able to hold all of your camera equipment and additional things needed like a tent, food, and water.

So the next bag up from a day bag is a hiking bag. But again it’s important to consider the factors below before purchasing your hiking bag.

5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs - man sitting on a rock by the ocean

  • Size – The first criteria for your hiking bag is the size that you will need. This will come down to what you are planning to photograph and the duration of your hike/trek. For example, if you are planning to camp overnight you will need space for a tent and sleeping bag. But if your hikes are one day ones then you could get away with something smaller. Factor in all the items you will need such as spare clothes, a first aid kit and even cooking utensils as well as your camera gear. Then find a bag to fit what you will be carrying.
  • Water reservoir – This might seem like a trivial point when considering a bag, but being able to have a drink without having to take your bag off is incredibly useful. So one thing that I would always recommend is buying a bag that either comes with a water reservoir or one that you can fit one into. You don’t want to have to constantly stop and take your bag off every time you want to have a drink.
  • Waterproof – Most outdoor bags these days will be somewhat shower proof, but some bags also come with a rain cover that you can place over the bag. These sometimes sit under the bag and can easily be accessed when you need them.
  • Adjustable – On any long walk or hike, comfort is vital. So look for a bag that allows you to be able to adjust the straps to fit your posture. The best thing to do is to try out your given bag for a few hours with your equipment locally before setting out on your trip.

My personal choice for a hiking bag is the Lowepro Pro Trekker 650 AW camera backpack. As I rarely camp overnight, this bag is big enough to carry my camera equipment and any additional daily items. There is also a side pocket for a water reservoir (not included) and you can strap a large tripod to it as well.

#3 – Sling Bag

There are times that even a day bag is too big and cumbersome to carry around. Sometimes all you need is a small bag to carry your camera and a few additional accessories. Sling bags are useful for this purpose and also because you can get things in and out without having to take your bag off.

There may also be occasions (i.e. in busy events) where you can keep your bag in front of you thus making it less inviting to pickpockets and thieves. You won’t be able to carry a lot of equipment or strap your tripod to it, but a good sling bag should still have plenty of room for what you need.

I pack my sling bag into my suitcase (it folds flat) and will use it on occasions when I don’t need to take a lot of equipment. For example, some museums or viewing platforms don’t allow backpacks whereas you’ll be okay with a sling bag.

My sling bag of choice is an older version of the Lowepro Passport Sling III camera bag. It’s surprisingly spacious for its size and I can fit my DSLR as well as a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens inside. It also has space for memory cards and batteries as well as outside pockets which are useful for things like a water bottle.

sling bag - travel photographers camera bags

#4 – Toploader

These small camera bags are only big enough for one camera and one lens (if you want it for a telephoto lens make sure you purchase the bigger size). The real benefit of these bags are that you can keep your camera on your hip for easy access. So rather than having to take your bag off to pack or unpack your camera you can simply place in this bag as and when you need to.

I find that this is especially beneficial on long hikes or treks when I sometimes may not take a photo for long periods of time but I still have it on hand when a moment presents itself.

The less obvious benefit of these bags, which I realized recently, is when traveling by air. Airlines can be very picky about the weight of your checked-in luggage. So if you find that you are over the limit you can place some items from your luggage into this bag and take it onboard. For example, on a recent trip I was able to place the head from my tripod and few other small but heavy items into this bag and avoid paying the excess weight charge.

I take my Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW II camera case with me on every trip. If I can, I pack it in my suitcase and use it where necessary. If my suitcase is full, I put my camera in it and carry it onto the plane in addition to my day bag.

Lowepro Toploader bag - travel photographers camera bags

#5 – Hard Case

Another option to consider for traveling are hard cases. These are suitcases which are made of a tough material which is waterproof and dustproof. They are especially designed for transporting camera equipment.

The benefit of these cases is that your equipment will be safe inside from damage. But they are generally only useful for transportation rather than day to day use. Some of the latest models are designed with a camera backpack inside which allows you to wear it like a traditional day bag. But having tested one a while ago, they are not as comfortable as the traditional day bags.

Personally I have never found a need for one to date as I carry all my equipment in my backpack. But if you are going to be traveling to harsh conditions or face the likelihood of your equipment getting wet than it would be worth investing in a hard case.

Summary

Camera bags might not be the first accessory that comes to mind when building your photography equipment inventory, but they are incredibly important. Not only will they keep your equipment safe, but they might stop you from being uncomfortable or even in pain because of the weight you are carrying.

The important thing is to not rush out and buy all of the above at once. Over the years as the need arises, you can invest in a new bag. So, think carefully about what you need and do some research into the different types of bags available.

What camera bags do you have or find useful? Please share your recommendations below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty and Axiom Photographic and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others. To keep up to date with his latest news follow him on his Facebook page

  • Rob

    Sponsored by LowePro? Either way, I love my LowePro ProTactic AW 450. A but on the heavier side, but you get great protection, molle webbing for more customization, and the straps are great. I may pick up a Sling for a lightweight option.

  • Kav Dadfar

    I wish… if only eh?? Would have saved myself a small fortune. No unfortunately not sponsored by LowePro. I have tried lots of different bags over the years and I have settled on LowePro now though as I find they fit my needs best. ProTactic 450 is my favourite bag that I have ever bought!

  • kenyongerbrandt

    I’m currently using 3 different bags and none of them are LowePro…LOL…Tenba DNA 15 Messenger is my “everyday” bag with enough room for my full frame camera, 3 lenses, and accessories. I can even slip my iPad or even my laptop if needed. I also have an older Tenba Shootout backpack that just won’t die. And then for the long trips I have a ThinkTank Airport International V3. The ThinkTank is a great roller that I can gate check with confidence when required to do so.

  • Mark

    Lowepro isn’t cheap and isn’t always the best but you have to give it to them – they have one heck of a range of bags.

  • PA

    Good article but I think the editor who writes the titles really needs to start reading the articles first. I was curious to see which five bags I needed to have. As it is, the author only needed four of them, and they were all phrased as a “may need” anyhow.

  • VincentR

    No love for MindShift Gear 180 backpacks I guess…? After trying countless backpacks for 10+ years, this one has been with me on pretty much every travel trip since I got it 2 years ago. A bit on the expensive side, but then again, this is not a cheap hobby!

  • Scott L. Schable

    I use a Domke (doesn’t scream camera bag) shoulder bag and a Think Tank backpack. The shoulder bag is American made.

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