In 2011, I had the spectacular good fortune to go on two trips that fit the “once in a lifetime” category. One was to Antarctica, the other to Tanzania. Both were the kind of trips where you want to take your best photo gear, weight be damned, because, dude, how likely are you to be twice in Penguinistan or Elephantlandia? So schlep my gear I did, my heavy Nikon, the big telephoto, a video camera, a pocket camera, a zillion miles of cable, pockets full of camera memory and spare batters and oh, yeah the laptop for additional storage and backup.
Hauling that much electronica across the planet and back has its challenges — before I had a decent camera pack, I used a standard day pack which plunged, before my very eyes, from a hook on the back of a door in Bangkok to a hard tile floor. The result? An irreparable 200 lens and a somewhat depressed traveler. Thankfully, it was the end of the trip.
I now use a pack especially designed for camera gear. I’m partial to my Kata Digital Backpack. I tried the Timbuk2 messenger bag — it’s nice but it doesn’t really fit my geometry. Quiksilver — yeah, that surf brand — now makes the Shutter Speed pack, a bag designed to get your gear from the top to the the bottom of the planet in safety. The short wrap? This is a great bag for transit, but I’m not sure it makes the cut for regular use.
To find out if this is the bag for me, I gathered my usual kit and stowed it in the Shutter Speed. There are loads of pockets, internal, external, zippered, mesh, I had no trouble getting my complete kit, flash included, into the bag. And it was all very well organized. I moved the Velcro secured pads around so they held my gear in place and zipped the bag shut. Nice. My stuff didn’t rattle around, it was very secure. I didn’t drop test it, I’m just too traumatized by the last time that happened, but I feel like the camera would survive the fall.
I also put in a binder, a laptop, a water bottle, and a few other odds and ends. Everything was beautifully organized. There’s a security pocket at the small of the back for your stealables (I mean beyond your equipment stealables) — you’re not going to have your wallet or passport lifted if you stow them there. There’s a stowable rain cover, some lashing straps on the outside for your coat, and did I mention the zillions of pockets? All good.I also really like what I’m going to call the chassis on this pack. It’s got fat padded straps and a padded waist belt. It’s all very adjustable and once you’ve got it cinched to fit, the pack feels secure and close to your body — it’s just not going anywhere. You can race for a bus with this thing on and it’s not going to be swinging around. You could take your gear on a long hike and the weight would be where you want it to be. All good.
But I’m not crazy about how you get your gear in and out of the Shutter Speed. You have to place the pack on its front — think suitcase with straps attached to the top. The back opens up to reveal all your gear. You can’t have your pal pull the camera out of the pack while you’re in it, you will have to take the pack off and then open it up.
Some of the Velcro pads are sewn into place, making the gear bucket a little less customizable than I’d like it to be. I wanted to place my camera, with the big lens mounted to it, at the bottom of the pack. No go. It needs to sit in the center because I can’t move the pads to accommodate the camera body. Furthermore, there’s no obvious place to lash on a tripod. This seems like a big oversight. You can use the straps on the front, but I couldn’t figure out a really efficient way to do this. It could be just a matter of trying a few different things, but for a pro gear pack, it seems like this should be more intuitive.
My final issue is that the bag is, for my kind of use, a little too specialized. There’s no great place to stow my lunch, the front pockets are just too small and flat for much more than a power bar or two. I travel with a roller bag and a day pack, and when I’m in transit, the day pack carries my camera, snacks, my travel documents, a clean shirt, a toothbrush… the kind of stuff you need should your trip go wrong or should you be compelled to check your bag. I imagined what a hassle it would be to have to extract stuff from the main body of the pack on a crowded airplane. That scenario didn’t go well.
I’m not dissing the pack at all. As I said, it seems like a great way to haul all that gear from point A to point B and to have the gear be secure in transit. But you need to think about what you’re doing with your gear at your destination. If you think you’re going to be continually packing and unpacking it as you shoot your way across the Serengeti or the ice, well, I’d want a day use bag, too. Your mileage may vary.
The Shutter Speed pack retails for 175.00 directly from Quiksilver. Expensive, but not as expensive as replacing that telephoto that got sacrificed to gravity in Bangkok.