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As a photographer, amateur or professional, you know the value of good, reliable gear. It is often said that we photographers value good gear more than expensive material things like jewelry, designer watches, and/or expensive clothes. If you don’t agree with me, just ask my husband. He is still perplexed about my choice of buying a 20+-year-old film camera for what it would have cost him to buy an Apple watch for my birthday! But considering that I am the one who works most with my gear, carries it around, and takes care of it, I want to make the best buying decisions when it comes to my photography business. So when I had the opportunity to review the Udee backpack, I was excited to give it a test run.
As a somewhat petite female photographer who is generally lugging about 20+ lbs of gear, I am always on the lookout for a good, sturdy yet comfortable, camera bag that will last me a long time. I had the opportunity to test the Udee bag on several hiking trips with my family last month.
This is where I want a bag that is durable and can last the rough wear and tear I generally put my gear through when I am hiking. For my wedding photography business, I already have a bag that is tried and tested and something that I will likely not change as my needs for that part of my business are very different.
You can see the individual features of the Udee backpack on their Kickstarter project here. My personal opinions of the Udee are based on a few factors that I feel are important to me when I am buying a camera bag.
I have to say that when I first saw the Udee backpack I was very impressed with the appearance. It’s definitely one of the more stylish looking backpacks I have ever seen. The color combination of the gray flannel-type material with orange accents was attractive, and it appeared to be made of good and sturdy quality fabric. It did not feel like cheap construction and there were no telltale signs of poor workmanship in terms of loose threads, uneven seams, bad zippers, etc., at first glance.
The material felt strong and sturdy yet light-weight. The padding on the back of the pack also felt thick and soft. I prefer camera bags that don’t look and scream “here is a photographer with several thousand dollars worth of gear on their person” too much. On many occasions, I venture out on my own in a new place and I don’t want to attract too much attention.
As per Udee, their bag touts a weight reduction system by improving weight distribution via an S-shaped buckle, and an X-shaped back support structure. I tested the bag when I went for a family hiking trip to Colorado and completely loved the weight reduction system. I hiked for a good two to three hours and did not feel the discomfort that I normally feel with other traditional backpacks.
The back support made carrying the bag super comfortable and the straps did not dig into my shoulders with the weight of the bag. The combination of the X-shaped back padding and stiff back support made it easy to carry the camera bag for an extended period of time. I did not have any odd shaped gear poking into my back making it unfordable to carry. The bag straps were also wide enough to comfortably fit on my shoulder.
My seven-year-old son also carried the bag for a short period of time (minus the camera, as I was holding it taking pictures) and he did not complain about the weight. At that time it contained a few snacks, a 50mm prime lens, a 70-200mm and a water bottle.
I used to carry a lot of gear with me during my travels but over time I have narrowed down my options to only carrying lens and gear that I know I will use. I plan out my excursions ahead of time so I know exactly what I will be using and when. The Udee backpack fit the following comfortably:
I don’t carry additional bodies when I travel most of the time but sometimes I will carry an additional film camera body which is small enough to comfortably fit in the Udee.
The padding inside the bag is thick and soft. I am very particular with my gear and always travel with the lenses in the bags they come in. Sometimes I will put two or more lens in a smaller padded zip bag and then put it in my backpack. It might seem like overkill, but I would rather do this than have damaged gear when I reach my destination.
With the Udee backpack, I felt comfortable enough to just put my lenses in their bags directly into the bag. I did find it a little uncomfortable to fit my 70-200mm with its case in the bottom storage compartment but it fit perfectly in the top compartment. The main compartment of the Udee also had various smaller storage areas that hold traditional things like cards, a wallet, loose change and even had a padded place for sunglasses or eyeglasses.
On a side note, for those of you who travel on planes with the Udee, the dimensions are within the guidelines of the airlines and it actually fits perfectly in the flight overhead compartment.
I found this to be a very unique and interesting feature of the Udee backpack. Call me paranoid, but I never ever leave my gear unattended. If I am traveling alone, it comes with me wherever I go. If I am with family, then I have someone watch my gear if I have to step away. My gear is what keeps my business afloat and even though I have insurance, I still behave like I don’t when it comes to safety and security with my gear.
When I read about the anti-theft device in the Udee, I was intrigued. This is an interesting feature for travelers especially if you put your camera bag in an overhead rack when using public transportation or need to step away from your gear for a few minutes. The small, built-in combination lock and steel cable are long enough to keep your pack safe and the lock can also be used on some of the pack’s zippers.
I love bags that have a luggage belt. This small but important feature is invaluable to me as it helps maintain my sanity when I am rushed and traveling through an airport with my kids. Those of you who travel with young ones can likely relate. Somehow you suddenly become the luggage porter just minutes before walking through security. Especially when they swore that they would carry their own bags the whole trip if you just let them take that extra book or that extra game!
The luggage belt allowed me to hook the camera bag onto my carryon bag handle and gave me an extra hand to maneuver my kids through the crowded airport. I liked the security pocket too because it let me store and access my phone easily. However, I don’t see myself using this for anything other than a phone and maybe some money just in case I lose my wallet somewhere. It was easy to access even with both bag straps on my shoulder, which is a big plus in my mind.
I really loved this feature of the bag. I found it particularly useful when I was hiking with my family. We tend to stay out past sunset (generally because I am photographing something and get carried away) and we always carry flashlights with us. We have headlamps, but the fact that the bag could light up and replace my headlamp was particularly impressive.
I can also see this as being very useful for people who walk along roadsides at night. With just the click of a button on each strap, the LED strips either blink slowly, blink quickly, or stay on continuously. The fact that each LED module can be removed from the strap and can be plugged into a standard micro-USB charger is also really practical as there are no batteries to replace.
But there were a few things about the Udee backpack that I personally did not like. These are just my opinion based on my time with the Udee!
Now I am very conscious of the environment and try to practice sustainability in my everyday life. To that end, I always carry my own water bottle everywhere I go. This is especially important when I am out hiking and camping with my family. This was a huge con in my mind as there is no storage spot for me to keep my water bottle on the Udee bag.
I would have to use an external hook to clip the bottle to the shoulder straps, which I find extremely cumbersome and awkward as the bottle tends to hustle around when I am hiking. The other option would be to put the bottle inside the bag which makes me very nervous – liquid and electronic gear in close proximity is a disaster just waiting to happen!
I found accessibility to my camera very difficult when I stored it in the bottom compartment of the Udee backpack. This is the part of the bag that Udee calls the camera storage area. With the bag on both shoulders, it was impossible to reach the zipper of the bottom storage. I had to shift the bag onto one shoulder and even then, it was very challenging to open the zipper and take out the camera.
The bottom storage compartment was stiff and did not open wide enough to take the camera out, especially when there were extra lenses in the top compartment weighing it down. This may not be an issue if you don’t anticipate taking pictures while you are getting to and from your destination. I like to stop and take some pictures along the way when I am hiking and/or walking around town. I don’t necessarily want to have the camera around my neck for easy access.
Especially when I am hiking a difficult terrain, I like to be safe with my expensive gear. I did notice that it is possible to access the lower compartment from the interior of the backpack since the divider has a zipper around it. However, that’s not practical if the upper compartment is also full of stuff.
Through out my time with the Udee bag, some of the zippers were very difficult to use. Now, this could be just my copy of the bag and not really a problem in general.
The orange zipper which opens to the compartment with the key hook (I kept the car keys and my wallet there) was particularly hard to operate. The key hook kept getting stuck in the zipper and it was hard to open. I had to press down on the front of the bag and then open it. So I could not open the bag and take my keys out super fast. I would have to try a couple of times before being able to get anything out. I did not have a problem with the other zippers so, as I said, it could be just an issue with my copy of the bag.
Overall I think the Udee backpack is a very good looking bag that is generally well-built. Its list of features includes some really innovative things like the LED lights, anti-theft device, and portable charging.
However, I feel that it also has some serious misses like the poorly designed lower-compartment in terms of accessibility and lack of beverage storage. I may be tempted to use this bag for light photography use and small day trips where I may not even take my camera or take just a point and shoot. I would not consider taking this on an extensive travel trip where I am constantly on the move, taking a lot of pictures along the way and need to take my camera out multiple times.
P.S. I really want to thank my kids for being such sports and testing out the Udee with me on our trip. The bribe of being photographed for an article really worked in my favor this time around!
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