Camera Bag For Hiking/Biking
Recently I did the unthinkable. I needed a camera bag for hiking and bike camping and bought a fanny pack. Now, granted, this is not the fanny pack you wore back in the day when you needed a miracle to see Jerry and the boys and someplace to stash your patchouli and ganj.
Instead, I bought a Mountsmith Lumbarpack and it looks nothing like the fanny packs of yore. If you really want to do a deep dive on patents Mountainsmith says that their bag is not a fanny pack at all.
I have had this bag for about a month now and it is totally rad but nevertheless it is pretty unfashionable. I fully admit to letting function win out over form here.
Snowshoeing With A Camera
My fanny pack conversion began a few winters back. I was out cross country skiing at a local park. It was one of those clear blue sky days and I was one of the first people out in the park. Every new section of trail presented an amazing photography opportunity. Unfortunately, I was keeping my camera and some other gear in my backpack. It was a huge pain in the ass to have to juggle my poles and take the backpack off every time I wanted access to my camera.
So I’m skiing along and this conversation goes down in my brain:
“Man, wouldn’t it be awesome if someone made a bag you could just wear on your waist for easy access to . . . . flashback to early 90’s summer tour in my VW camper. . . . Oh, right. Never mind.”
So I continued to bear the inconvenience of a backpack while out XC skiing and snowshoeing for several more winters.
Then this winter we got a dog.
He’s still a puppy and I can’t really have him off-leash in the woods. So now I’m out snowshoeing, holding the leash with one hand and trying to grab stuff out of my backpack with the other. After a couple rounds of doing this with a 70lb chocolate lab puppy pulling me in circles and I said screw it, I may look like a total dufus but I’m getting a fanny pack.
Mountainsmith Lumbarpack Tour
I ended up with the Mountainsmith Lumbarpack Tour Model. The engineering and features that have been built into this thing are astounding. The pack has been around since the mid-80s and has undergone massive amounts of refinement and improvement over the years. This is definitely not the Guatemalan fabric fanny pack that you used for toting your one-hitter to Grateful Dead shows.
Last year the Tour model got a major update from Mountainsmith that includes:
- Codura fabric
- tuck-away waist belt for messenger style carry
- removable shoulder strap
- front panel bungee for stashing your jacket, etc
- interior tablet sleeve for an iPad mini
- smart phone holder in the waist belt pocket
- side water bottle holders
- front panel pocket with key clip
- compression straps to keep it stable on your waist
- headphone port
Another factor that tipped the scales in favor of this pack is that I recently picked up a Fuji XT10 camera. Even with the 27mm pancake lens the camera doesn’t fit in my pockets very easily when I’m out cycling or hiking. I know that if the camera is in my backpack I won’t take as many shots but I don’t want the camera dangling around my neck either.
Camera Bag Testing on the Appalachian Trail
I brought the Tour bag on a day hike of an Appalachian Trail section last month to see if there was any difference in having my camera around my waist vs in the backpack. Initially it felt strange to have my gear around my waist and I admit to feeling like maybe I looked a bit like a dork. But let’s face it, I’m a bald, overweight, middle-age guy who wears the same flannel shirt every day until it stinks so I gave up really caring about looking like a dork a long time ago.
Anyway, I was lugging some camera equipment and water bottles in the bag. Using compression straps, the bag stayed put and didn’t sway or swing around even on some hairy climbs and descents. The compression system works by tucking the weight close against your lumbar area and it works like a champ. After a month of use I still haven’t really dialed in how to best use the compression straps to stabilize the load but it’s a trial and error thing.
Also, it was pretty easy to just swing the bag to my side and grab my camera. I am sure that I ended up taking so many more photos with my camera in the Tour vs having it in a backpack.
One key factor that played a role in the camera accessibility for me was that this bag can be worn around the waist but you can also stash the waist belt and use the included strap to carry it over your shoulder like a messenger bag. This feature is hands-down my favorite about the Tour.
Even with a full water bottle, mini-tripod, camera and gear, being able to alternate from waist to shoulder meant that the bag never really felt heavy. That, and my camera was always ready to go.
I don’t like having a camera just swinging from my neck while I’m hiking or biking. The Mountainsmith Lumbarpack gives easy access and just a bit a protection without having the camera stashed away in a backpack. If I felt like I needed more protection for the camera or maybe a spare lens or two, I could add the Mountainsmith Cube Padded Case to the kit.
The bag holds a lot of gear (9 liters worth). My wife’s 12″ MacBook fits in the bag with no problem. My 13″ MacBook Pro doesn’t fit but even if it did I suspect it would be too heavy to lug around in the pack. My iPad Mini fits easily in the padded sleeve.
There are a few different pockets on the inside and out of the bag which is useful for keeping smaller bits like spare camera batteries at the ready.
As far as cons: I thought I would want the strap and pad to be a bit bigger on the shoulder strap but after my day hike it felt ok. Still though, if the bag were really loaded I might want a more substantial or wider pad on the shoulder strap. Also, I wish that the water bottle pockets had some kind of rubber or friction material at the opening to keep the bottle from sliding/falling out. Yes it can be closed with the pull but smooth water bottles will still fall out if the bag is held at the wrong angle.
The Tour is a really well engineered bit of kit. I’m glad to have found it as a solution to getting my camera and other gear out into the woods. Now, I’m not saying I’ll be wearing this thing to date night at the movies but for any outdoor related photography stuff, this bag can not not be beat.