Bogen Walkabout Rucksack
After two-plus years, switching camera backpacks has become somewhat of a traumatic experience for me. Not only have I been quite happy with my Kata Ergo-Tech Sensitivity V Backpack because of its combination of slim profile and infinite-seeming capacity--though it frustratingly doesn't have a bottom to stand on--but because I rarely find the correct combination of features in a single bag. Unlike a lot of people, who switch bags regularly, I tend to pick one and stick with it. Otherwise, the random miscellany I carry with me everywhere disappears like socks in a dryer. But even the best-constructed products start to fall apart with daily (ab)use, so I've been trying different bags. Some make it through the weekend; some never make it out of the office. Maybe one day I'll blog/rant about them all, but given my limited bandwidth I'm sticking to a policy of only writing reviews of the ones I can recommend. Which brings me to the latest candidate, the small National Geographic Walkabout Rucksack. It's survived as my daily carryall for several weeks now, and while it's not perfect, it's designed flexibly enough to handle almost anything you need to schlep for an afternoon, attractive enough to turn at least a few heads (in a good way), comfortable enough that you won't find yourself debating the merits of leaving it behind, and seemingly sturdy enough that you won't hesitate to overstuff it.
The Walkabout comes in two sizes: small and medium. The small weighs about 3 pounds, and has dimensions of 14.2 inches high by 7.1 inches deep by 9.8 inches wide when empty. The medium weighs a bit more, 3.4 pounds, and is taller and wider (but not deeper): 17.3 inches high by 7.1 inches deep by 11.8 inches wide. Both are made of an attractive dark gray heather brushed canvas fabric that's treated for water resistance and lined with padding and nylon. There are too many openings at the zippers and pockets to feel comfortable if you get caught in the rain, though each comes with a plastic shower cap you can use if the weather turns. Even fully laden, the bag is quite comfortable to tote. The padded straps don't rub and the weight seems to be evenly distributed enough to prevent muscle fatigue.
One of the small bag's standout features is the side-zippering laptop pocket, which can hold a 12.1-inch model or smaller, and which handled my Dell Inspiron 420D without a problem. Most bags of this size don't offer the laptop pocket, although with the growing popularity of Netbooks, that may change. Even if you don't need to carry a laptop, these back pockets can be indispensable for carrying papers or old-fashioned pen-and-paper notebooks. I do prefer a zipper that goes all the way around, or at least over the top as well as the side, which makes it much easier to remove and repack the computer as I wend my way through airport security.
The bag is composed of two compartments, top and bottom, separated by a zippered divider you can fold down to create one large space, like a traditional backpack. With designs like this, I find it convenient to unzip just one side of the divider and slip a collapsible umbrella down the length of the bag.
The top compartment opens on the top of the bag, via a double-zippered flap that lies under another flip-up flap that snaps down. While roomy, there are no subcompartments, sleeves, or bags to store small items here. You access the bottom compartment via a double-zippered flap on the front of the bag. It can be configured as one similarly big empty space, or subdivided with stiff padded inserts that attach to each other and the bag innards via strips of Velcro. I tend to find the flap-based attachments difficult to align properly and the placement of the loop patches (of the hook-and-loop fasteners) too limiting. I generally tote a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with the 24-70mm lens and Canon Speedlite 580EX II, which takes some finessing, since the dividers are optimized for more compact, consumer-oriented bodies and lenses.
There's another flat, zippered pocket atop that flap, covered by another flip-up flap that closes with Velcro. This pocket includes some more nylon pockets to accommodate office-supply type stuff like cards and pens. On each side of the bag are large pockets with Velcro-sealing flaps, and a cell phone/MP3 player holster can be Velcroed securely to an add-on loop on either strap. There are also a variety of dangly bits that attach through more add-on loops on the bottom of the pack, to hold a tripod.
Though attractive, the bag is a bit overdesigned. No one seems to like the superfluous faux-leather black loops on the flaps, and it would be nice if the false pockets on the top flap were real; none of the existing pockets are adequate to hold media like SD or CompactFlash cards.
Overall, the small National Geographic Walkabout Rucksack makes a good camera daypack and bag to get you through the daily grind. Since it's not too large, yet holds a lot, and looks more casual chic than geek, I think it's also good choice for a lot of women as well as general amateur photographers who don't want a bag that screams "camera inside!"