We recently did some work for Airbak Backpacks, and they sent us one of their photography packs to use and review. The model I tested was the Zoom. To test it out, I took it on a 3 day trip to Bogota, Columbia. I decided that since it is a smaller pack, it would be perfect for the short trip, because I didn’t bring as much gear as I normally do (a very hard thing for me to do!!!).
The number one claim that Airbak makes is about the comfort of their packs. By using an airbag, in locations that are, typically pressure points with conventionally designed packs, the pack forms to your lower back, distributing the load more evenly. I must say, it works! It is extremely comfortable, even when packed full of gear. My guess on the weight of the fully loaded pack for our trip was around 25 pounds.
So what happens when you send an air bag from sea level to Evergreen, CO, at elevation 8,000′? Needless to say the air bag was expanded, and was pushing into the gear compartment, taking up some valuable gear space. You can see it in this pic, at the bottom of the pack. It’s pretty easy to adjust the air level, and in a few seconds I got the air level to within reason.
After I got the air bag level to where I wanted it, I loaded it with gear. For the below pic, I packed more gear into it than I had it loaded on our trip to Bogota, to show what could be packed into the pack. The pack is a bit small for professional use, but of course I had to test it to see how much I could load into it.
Here’s what I have in the below image: Canon 1dmk3 body (pro sized body), Len’s: 50mm, 15mm fisheye, 70-200mm L IS (with hood), 24- 70mm L (with hood), 16-35mm L (with hood), and a Sensor cleaning blower. There was also room for a flash in there too. Even with this much gear in it, the pack was extremely comfortable.
An area that the Zoom pack excels in, is it’s ability to keep you organized. There are two pockets that fit disc holders perfectly, as well as a larger compartment at the bottom, great for snacks, or other misc items. It also has straps for a tripod, monopod or light stand. These straps really aren’t adequate for heavier tripods. I have an average size / weight tripod, and the straps just didn’t hold them securely enough to make it comfortable. They need to be further apart. They probably would be fine for a light-weight, hobbyist tripod, or a light, light stand.
Here’s the back of the pack. The straps are conveniently / comfortably located and are easily adjustable. The one strap that needs to be redesigned is the waist strap. I have a 33″ waist, and with just a sweat shirt on, the waist strap only has about two inches left to be expanded. With a jacket on, it would be hard to get around the gut.
Pros and Cons..
- Comfort. The ergonomic fit, and the design with the air bag, really works. We walked quite a bit in Bogota, and the pack felt great the entire time.
- Organization. There are plenty of pockets with organizing dividers, so your not constantly searching for your gear.
- Ease of adjustment straps
- The waist strap is way too short. It would also be nice if the waist strap was a little beefier, than just a 1″ strap of webbing.
- The tripod straps are too close together to hold even a moderate weight tripod comfortably.
- The layout of the gear dividers aren’t flexible (adjustable) enough. It’s hard to get a layout that fits a body with a lens attached to it. The gear dividers use velcro to hold them in place, but the velcro strips on the dividers that run horizontally, are sewed in vertically, so your kind of stuck with the layout Airback sewed the velcro for the dividers that run vertically. It would be more flexible if there were two rows of velcro strips sewed in horizontally, on the horizontal dividers. One strip at the top, and one strip at the bottom. That way, the vertical dividers could be placed anywhere you needed them.
This pack has a niche, and it’s the hobbyist photographer looking for a extremely comfortable pack, with room enough for a basic kit, accessories, and still have some room for snacks and stuff for a day out shooting. It’s also great for any photographer that brings their camera everywhere, including trips to the store! As a professional photographer, I have a hard time limiting what I pack for gear, but when I limited my packing for our trip to Bogota, I found it liberating to have a light weight pack, with just enough gear. The Zoom pack, has held up great, works extremely well for what it’s designed for, and is ridiculously comfortable. If you fit into it’s niche, I would highly recommend this pack!