If you are an extreme sports enthusiast, you will find almost every gear toting accessory suited for your particular passion. One of most common of these accessories is the standard backpack, the ergonomically perfect carrying device dating back through history to when a few enterprising individuals first realized strapping your possessions on your back was an easy way to carry a load while keeping your hands free to handle walking sticks, spears and clubs.
It didn’t take long to modify these backpacks, adjusting the size of shoulder and adding padding to reduce contact point pains along the shoulder and back. The truly modern evolution of the backpack came when someone finally realized the design of a pack can also be influenced by the particular material or equipment being carried.
Thus began the highly specialized branch of backpack design and manufacture specifically tailored for particular applications plus the gear needed for those endeavors.
Soldiers needed packs to carry personal belongings, rations and weaponry. Hikers needed lightweight materials and heavy load carrying adaptations. Photographers needed specific extra padding to protect valuable and sensitive equipment.
But what happens when you are looking to mix applications?
In my case, I’m an enthusiastic digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) photographer with a Nikon camera and a few lenses who happens to be a lover of extreme sports like snowboarding and off-road biking. If I want to travel to a specific location and take pictures a photographer’s backpack is fine. But what happens when I want to “travel rough?” What happens if I want to combine snowboarding or biking plus do some photography along the way? In most cases you have to choose either going out taking photos or going out on an extreme ride, to avoid damage to valuable gear.
Last year at Los Angeles, California, I met the guys from Boblbee who showed me it was now possible to combine those two choices.
During our conversation I mentioned that I’m a passionate snowboarder and that I avoid taking my DSLR with me to prevent it from damage. As a result they suggested I try the Megalopolis backpack matched to their Internal Cargo Camera Insert.
This Boblbee backpack features an injection-molded one piece (monocoque technology) ABS plastic hard shell with a back protector. To open the backpack you simply remove a soft cover, attached by a rubber strap. Both are made of high quality materials designed to protect your valuable gear, even in heavy rain conditions. The system had originally been developed for motor bikers. It has since been rigorously tested by bicyclists, skiers, snowboarders and skaters. I ordered the optional cargo net to attach my snow boots or my snowboard outside and also added the Lumbar Cassette. The Lumbar Cassette is an additional attachment bag attaching to the bottom of the pack which dramatically increases the total transport volume, while comfortably cradling it in the area surrounding the small of your back and waistline.
Everything arrived well packed a few days after my order. For a DSLR they offer two sizes of cargo bag. The Cargo Medium is good for a D60, D90, D5100 and other similar cameras plus two lenses (one mounted on the body and one next to it). While you are using the DSLR insert there still is enough space to handle a rain jacket and a small lunch. It appears to be very small at first, but I found it had plenty of space for my needs. The Cargo Large is good for everything already mentioned plus an additional lens or accessories such as gear flash units, cables and chargers. For my tests I used the medium most of the time, carrying a Nikon D60 (with AF Zoom-NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4-5.6G lens mounted) and an AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II lens unmounted.
On average, a regular review test on a product like this should take a few weeks. For me this was impossible since I wanted to test the backpack in the snow as well as being out with the bike. At the end, my test went one year long.
Going out with the bike:
As mentioned before, the backpack was originally conceived with motor bikers in mind, so I wasn’t surprised when I felt like it was made specifically for me. I am six and a half feet tall which often presents me with fitting problems. Not here. The straps easily fit me well, and they are obviously capable of handling any body types comfortably. Also the weight of the backpack, filled up with my gear and some clothes, felt very comfortable and suitable.
For my first biking trip I decided not to go too far. In a nearby canyon called Gauchachschlucht I found perfect conditions. This canyon is very good for hikers and according to www.hikr.org it is rated as the only hiking path with high alpine conditions in southwest Germany. It tends to be very dangerous in some spots for bikers but in my case that means it would be great for testing under rigorous conditions. After all, the purpose of the test was to see how well it would protect my camera gear while also being comfortable enough to wear on a bumpy ride with having rocks on one side and a long way down on the other side.
The experience was awesome. The backpack felt very good and comfortable even after hours. I was able to get great shots and never had worries about the safety of my gear. If you ever come to southwest Germany, don’t hesitate to contact me. It will be my pleasure to guide you through this canyon.
During the summer I made several other tests, like going out with the bike in heavy rain or participating at a mountain bike downhill race. To be honest, at the beginning sometimes I did not pack the camera in the backpack. The challenges of bike racing can be extreme and I was hesitant to pack the camera while still testing the backpack for fit, comfort ergonomics and movement restraints.
That hesitation went away after a few months. With each new bike event I became increasingly confident that nothing would happen to my gear in case of an accident.
The camera and lenses joined me on my bike trips and eventually got the torture test. At the end of summer last year I had two major accidents. One was at a regular bike tour due to my speaking to my girlfriend instead of watching the streets. As a result I missed the path and started sliding sidewise down the hill. Luckily it was not too deep and I was able to separate myself from the bike. The separation was successful with but I walked away with a bruised red leg after it had taken a strong hit from my handlebars. Another one happened going downhill in Ischgl, Austria. Just a few minutes away from my hotel in Austria I missed the path and crashed on a batch of loose rocks. This time I wasn’t able to separate from the bike. This resulted in a slide of a few yards, a scratched knee and shorts, a very dirty shirt, and some blue stains. The bottom line for the purpose of my test: in both cases nothing happened to my gear.
My testing continued through the summer and fall with the biking, leading up to the main event. Park the bike and grab the snowboard. The challenge: Take your DSLR with you on the snowboard without the risk of damage. Now it was time to find out of my friends at Boblbee had advised me well. I realized from the start that it is impossible to reduce the risk of damage to zero in winter conditions.
My first trips went out to France (Chamrousse ) and Switzerland (Flims Laax ). In France I simply checked if it is possible to go snowboarding with this kind of backpack. As with the bike it felt very comfortable and made me feel protected. Unlike the summer testing, the challenge now was wearing it on warm and thick winter closes with having a lot protection gear underneath.
In Switzerland I increased the testing up to free riding. For all of you who are doing skiing or snowboarding I don’t need to tell how cool it is to walk up the hills, enjoying the beautiful view and creating your own track in the deep powder snow afterwards. For all those who never had this experience please get a guide and check it out. There is no better way to feel nature and pure freedom.
Going back to my test. As a snowboarder it is most likely that during a run you fall on your back. As a free-rider it is daily business. Sometimes you are simply trying to avoid damage due to an obstacle recognized too late or trying to do some cool jumps. Both very likely can go wrong. The only thing you than can do is tuck your arms as close as possible to your body. In the best case you simply fall into the snow causing a big cloud of snow. In the worst case it flips you around a few times. As you can imagine all of this happens several times.
Winter turned out to be a much harder testing environment than summer. Just as I suspected from the start, freezing temperatures and accidents on pure ice (or at least on very hard snow) are inevitable. Since I felt confident from the tests in summer no day passed without having my DSLR with me, safely carried in the Megalopolis. I had wonderful days in the snow. The whole season passed with luckily no damage and no serious injuries —and then came the last ride on April 9th.
We were in Stuben (Austria) for a gathering of snowboard legends from all over the world. The sun was already shining strong and there was no blowing snow. I decided to go boarding for only one reason. I wanted to go boarding in shorts and a shirt. It’s a great experience and a lot of fun but it can lead to plenty of pain without your usual covering of protective clothing. Early in the morning I lost control on a spot which even in these warm conditions was still frozen. As mentioned before I quickly applied my closed tuck position, bringing my arms in tight to my chest to avoid injuries. In this case it was a mistake. I did not have any clothes on to protect me, so I picked up a nasty bruise.
I got a few nice pictures of my accident results and in those pictures you can see me smiling. Why? For starters, I survived. And (as a bonus) this particularly violent crash still had no damaging result on my camera gear!
I was able to capture awesome shots in areas where most likely only free riders have access, and when the occasional falls had me eating snow and ice while muttering a few chosen foul words as I dusted myself off I quickly learned there was no need to check inside the pack to see if I was now carrying a dead DSLR and shattered glass.
Pros and Cons.
The pros and cons segment of any review typically starts with the pros, but in this case, I have only one small con and here it is: I know that many DSLR shooters are accustomed to carrying heavily loaded bags full of cameras, lenses, filters and other equipment. This backpack is not big enough for all this. So, it definitely is not made for those who can’t leave home without a lot of gear. Maximum is one camera with a lens mounted plus two additional lenses. Using the Lumbar cassette reduces this issue a little bit.
That’s all I have as cons.
Pros: if you are a looking for an opportunity to take a DSLR with you while you are engaged in an action sport, this is the product you should consider. In terms of quality I strongly recommend this backpack. If you think back to all the impacts mentioned you won’t believe that even after this year the complete backpack has no serious damage except for a few hundred scratches. But those scratches can simply be considered as a cool new design.
The pack is surprisingly comfortable for long periods of time under harsh (bumpy) conditions when you consider the fact that it is after all a hard shell carrying weight.
I know that this is not an average review for the normal needs of a photographer. But I hope that for all outdoor and extreme sport photographers this is has been valuable.
See you in the European Alps!