I just wanted to let people know about some great photo bags I found a couple months ago. I had been using an old Sun Dog pack, but that finally bit the dusk - well actually, the strap broke. I had tried some Lowepro bags, but they seemed to only last about a year - I've now started using Think Tank bags, and found the straps to be far superior for long hikes.
I also have found that some of the internal frame hiking backpacks - I have a Granite Gear pack - work really well when I have to hike 10 + miles.
Just wondering what pack solutions everyone was using for the longer hikes?
I'm a big fan of Kata bags but honestly I've yet to find an idea solution that really meets the needs of a hiking bag and camera bag at the same time. For shorter stuff (less than 10 miles) I generally use my photo vest with a couple of lenses in the front pocket and water in the back pockets. The camera goes on my tripod over my shoulder.
For backpacking trips I scale back and use a regular internal frame pack. The tripod goes on the side and my 17-40 fits neatly inside my mess cup. I use a Lowepro toploader bag strapped to my pack's chest straps for the body and my 24-70. I find that if I have to stop and open my pack to get the camera out I use it much less often. This setup works for me pretty well.
I have tried Lowepro, Tamarac and Kata and Mountainsmith and still have not found the secret sauce. If I hit the Lotto I will try Gura Gear. I spoke with the designer at the ABQ NANPA Summit and they have a great looking lightweight backpack system that had a butterfly type of access system but at the cost of a "L" lens, (not really but close), its pretty steep. My best solution so far is a old lowepro drysac insert that I put into a Dana Designs backpack that I have. I use the sleeping bag compartment for the camera gear with it's own access and use the top section for all my hiking/camping gear. Funny how with all the systems on the market most folks have some homespun solution.
I use the Tamrac Expedition, which I quite like as it sits comfortably on my back. However my local camera shop highly recommends Think Tank, which I have not yet tried but whose products do look intriguing. My dream pack would be one that includes my Tamrac's carrying configuration with the ventilation features of my Osprey day pack.
For day hiking I use the Lowe CompuRover AW. Since this also carries a laptop, it doubles as a travel backpack and is OK for carryon. It holds just about anything I would be willing to carry on an all-day hike, and the top compartment holds basic hiking supplies -- rain gear, lunch, etc. I even used it on an overnight bivy on a mountaintop -- it will hold a sleeping bag, and dinner.
For backpacking I use the same pack I would use for any extended hike (a Six Moon Designs Starlight). I use a Think Tank Holster strapped to the left side of the hip belt and a LowePro single-compartment belt pouch on the right side. The former holds the camera and lens at the ready. The latter can hold one, and sometimes two, additional lenses, a Cokin holder, two rings, and three 4 x 4 filters. All of these are within reach without dropping the pack. The tripod sits in a side mesh pocket (secured with an extra strap), and silnylon bags hold a pano bracket, spare batteries and other misc.
I also use the same belt pouch system for the CompuRover.
Naneu Pro is the only company that makes a dedicated backpacking photo pack, its called the K5. I was one of their testers. They use an old internal backpack design and some old style materials, but it is by far the most comfortable "camera pack" around. Its good for overnight trips or multiday trips in a warm climate. I am waiting for an expedition version with some lighter weight, more modern materials.
So if you want a true backpacking camera bag, this is your only real option. Though I still use small camera bags inside my backpack for long trips. The K5 isn't good if you have big glass.
I couldn't believe it when MountainSmith came out with their line, they have the background in backpacks, but just made the same design as everyone else had.
Funny thing about Naneu Pro, I don't they have ever backpacked in their life, but they made the first real backpacking camera bag.
The problem with all the backpacks for photo gear that actually have some kind of actual backpacking/hiking application in mind is they are designed to carry the photo gear, i.e., the heaviest stuff in my case, in the bottom. Anybody who does any serious backpacking knows that's the not the place for heavy stuff. Ideally it should be located high and near to your back.
That's why I use standard internal-frame packs (a couple of different Ospreys for light and medium outings and an ArcTeryx Bora 80 for multi-day excursions). I put my lenses in a waterproof stuff-sack, well-padded, and my camera body and accessory pack go in another, right near the top where I can get them (albeit not the easiest access, but side-zippers make this work a bit better). The balance is much better for scrambling and such and doesn't pull away from your back. My 'pod straps centrally in back in different fashions depending on the specific pack, again, for balance and optimum weight distribution.
My needs are not the same as most, perhaps, but I've yet to find a "photo pack" that comes even close to working for what I do. I'm sure a more serious pack-maker like Osprey, ArcTeryx or Mountain Hardwear could design one if they tried.