This is a real dilemma every travel photography lover can relate to… which bag should I choose? The stylish urban outdoors backpack, or the highly functional camera bag?
I recently tried out the Rücken Camera Backpack from BAGSMART to see if it would live up to the promise of a universal combo camera bag & all-day backpack.
To be frank, a lot of camera bags can look kinda… ummm… camera-y.
This is where BAGSMART grabbed my attention. The Rücken is endowed with style. It would look at home on the back of a plaid-clad hipster in the big smoke, commuting on a zippy bicycle, or even hiking in the mountains. And of course, on an all-day photography walk.
But how did it work out for me?
In The Wild
I put the Rücken backpack to the test over the last week around Penang, Malaysia.
It performed admirably in “camera mode” carrying my Sony A7RIII body with 3 lenses plus a drone… and there was room to spare! Everything was well-protected, and a sudden rain storm didn’t get past the water-resistant polyester shell.
I also used it in “grocery mode” (without dividers) to carry a full load of groceries from the supermarket on my trusty scooter. No sweat!
Why I Like The Rücken Camera Backpack
2 main compartments
Well, there’s more compartments than that, but I’m talking about the main storage area of the bag. One large padded divider makes it easier to reach frequently accessed items in the top, while those used less frequently can be placed in the bottom. If you really just want 1 extra-large compartment, that is possible – simply remove the padded divider.
Customisable Velcro padded compartment dividers
Depending on how you configure the smaller dividers, you can comfortably fit 1 DSLR/mirrorless body and up to 6 lenses. Alternatively, the top section would easily fit a medium-sized drone, such as the DJI Mavic 2, plus a controller.
The padded pocket is sealed by an elastic strap with Velcro attachment. It can easily fit a 15” laptop, with room to spare.
Versatile front pocket
The front outer pocket offers 7 sleeves of differing sizes which can fit a small tablet, smartphone, memory cards, power bank, cables, external hard drive, and more. I am a fan of the icons above each sleeve for effortless organisation.
Integrated rain cover
This is stored at the bottom of the bag in a discrete dedicated zippered compartment. I find this also doubles up as a useful source of padding to absorb shock when the bag is placed on the ground, and also provides another layer of protection if the ground is wet.
Water resistant shell
The rugged external polyester material keeps out the rain. I tested this during a tropical downpour in Malaysia, and all the bag contents remained toasty dry inside.
The bag feels like it’s built to last. The stitching is strong, zippers are heavy duty and polyester shell takes beating without showing any scuff marks. The padded skeleton of the bag is rather rigid which adds a layer of protection and also keeps its shape, even under a heavy load.
External tripod holder
This collapsible design is very smart. Undoing the Velcro connector opens the side flap reveals an elastic pocket that acts as a base for tripod storage. Further up the side of the bag, an adjustable strap holds onto the top of the tripod, so it can fit just about any size. If your tripod is quite large, then just place 1 or 2 legs inside the base with the extra leg/s outside, no problem. If you definitely don’t need the tripod holder, the adjustable strap can be removed for a sleeker look.
Comfortable adjustable shoulder straps
Soft mesh-lined straps help to spread the weight of the bag more evenly, making for a comfortable carry. The outward facing portion of the straps are lined by the same water-resistant polyester as the rest of the shell, for protection against the elements.
The main compartment can only be opened from the back, which means you must take off the backpack first. And the front compartment is secured by clasps which would make it very difficult for any would-be thief to access your bag without your knowledge.
Other little touches
A leather wrapped handle at the top gives the bag an easy point for pick-up, and adds to the understated style. Leather zipper pulls are a breeze to open and close. Thick, soft mesh-lined padding on the back-facing side of the bag allows for air circulation, reducing sweat and odour, especially on long trips. The adjustable chest strap helps to evenly distribute the weight across your body, making it more comfortable to carry heavier loads.
Only 1.1kgs (when empty)
The lighter the better as far as I’m concerned – why carry extra weight? That makes the Rücken camera backpack lighter than the Peak Design Everyday Backpack by 700 grams! The good news is lightweight doesn’t come at the cost of protection. This factor is especially important when carrying thousands of dollars of camera gear.
Bonus zip case included
This is perfect unit for storing cables, a mouse, small electronics or even clothing. If you’re in “travel” mode, this could be used for toiletries or clothing. And if you don’t need it on your trip, just take it out.
The price is right
At about half the price of other comparable quality bags, the Rücken camera backpack is an absolute bargain!
What Could Be Better
The unusual plastic zipped flap inside bag, between main compartment and outer zipper, bugged me a bit. It feels superfluous and slows down access to the goodies inside. While I can see it would add another layer of protection against water intrusion – the outer polyester shell and, should it be needed, rain cover does the job just fine.
While the laptop compartment is heavily padded from the back, which is good, the bottom is a little on the thin side. This could lead to device damage if you dropped the bag heavily. The concealed rain cover compartment provides a slight cushion. But I’d suggest simply placing your own 1cm-thick strip of foam rubber at the bottom of the laptop compartment to make it more drop-proof.
Side access to the main compartment would be a welcome addition, as the only way to access that compartment is to remove the bag. I found a convenient workaround - while using my camera regularly, I stored it in the top compartment which can be more easily accessed, while keeping one shoulder strap on and swivelling the bag to the front of my body.
To take this point even further, adding Velcro strips inside the top compartment (sides and bottom) would give the flexibility to add dividers here. Now that would be clever! If you’re handy with a sewing machine (or know someone who is), this shouldn’t be too hard to customise.
Tip: You can remove the top divider so that the main compartment can be reached via the top zippered flap. This will result in some space being wasted in the upper chamber of the bag, but if quick access is what you need, then this is a handy workaround.
If you’re petit, then this bag is a little on the “big” side. I’m 205cm tall (6”9’), which is bigger than the average, to give you some perspective on the photos in this article.
There’re only 2 colours to choose from. More colour choice would appeal to a broader customer base, and hopefully BAGSMART will consider expanding the range in the future.
- Weight: 1.1kg (2.42 lbs)
- Colours: black, brown
- Materials: 210D Water-Repellent & Rugged Polyester
- Dimensions: 31.5cm x 44.9cm x 15cm (12.4” x 17.7” x 5.9”)
The Bottom Line
While the journey towards designing the ideal all-round camera backpack has taken a stride forward with the BAGSMART Rücken Camera Backpack, it does have a couple limitations to be aware of. In saying that, this backpack would suit a wide variety of beginner and intermediate photography buffs and travel lovers.
I feel very confident that when I place my camera gear in this backpack, it is secure and protected. And, of course, I look a little more stylish.
Now if the backpack could just do something about my haircut!
Where to buy: bagsmart.com