Whether traveling to another continent or just around town, it never hurts to have a great bag to safely carry your camera gear. One that can handle the rigors of travel—or carry more than just your camera—is a plus. National Geographic photo engineer Tom O'Brien researched and tested over 40 bags from 15 manufacturers. Some gear traveled from Baja California to Washington D.C. to be tested in a multitude of situations. Whether you’re planning a backcountry expedition or a trip to an urban jungle, browse our favorites to see what gear works best for you.
If your travels take you quite literally off the beaten path, check out these hiking- and outdoor-ready camera bags. They’re equipped to handle everything you—or the wilderness—can throw at them.
F-Stop: Lotus 32L
F-Stop has made a name among professional photographers as a go-to brand of extreme adventure bags. Their field-ready Lotus 32L combines an extremely rugged internal frame hiking pack with a back-access panel that opens to a customizable void. Filled with Internal Camera Units (ICUs) of various sizes and shapes, the space allows you to pack a very little amount of gear—or fill the bag to the brim. The Lotus 32L is a favorite of several National Geographic photographers.
If your exploration plunges you into the depths of the urban jungle, these city-focused camera bags help you get the job done while keeping a low profile.
Chrome Industries: Niko F-Stop Camera Backpack
Chrome, which specializes in packs for bike messengers, has a legacy of urban-first design. Their Niko F-Stop Camera Backpack has a rugged, unassuming exterior, but back panel access keeps your camera gear safe from thieves. A weather-sealed top access compartment can hold a camera with normal lens ready for quick access. With tripod straps and mounting location on one side, and reflective back straps for attaching things like skateboards, this bag is urban-proof.
For travelers of exceptionally discerning taste, these handcrafted bags are both brilliant camera totes and wonderful style accessories.
The Oberwerth Richard is one of the most luxurious camera bags out there, with beautiful hardware and velvet-soft, tumbled, pebbled leather. A full-size messenger, this bag’s soft, padded shell has plenty of space for multiple cameras. Quick release snaps make getting to your gear painless, and the camera insert is removable if you need to switch out your cameras for other items. Protective yet soft, the bag shapes itself comfortably around your body type.
Jack-of-all trades, master of none, these winning bags earn a category all their own. Each has its own special features that qualify it as a great all-around bag.
Peak Design: Everyday Backpack 30L
Full disclosure: I, the author, personally own an Everyday 30L backpack. While I’m familiar with its flaws, I think its sheer versatility makes up for them. Rapid access from the top and sides means your gear is always close at hand. The bag has fully adaptable “shelves” for arranging both your photographic and personal effects. With dual water bottle holders and four tie-down straps, this bag can carry more than just cameras.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
If you’re already satisfied with your travel bag, but need a safe way to store your camera gear, padded camera insert bags may be the perfect fit.
Tenba: BYOB 10
The Tenba BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) line is unique. Offering upright style—like the BYOB 10 pictured above—as well as ones resembling a strapless backpack, this series has a nice selection of internal and external pockets. The upright style comes with a lightweight, nylon sling bag that the camera insert can drop into, transforming into a carry bag all its own if you'd rather leave your normal bag at the hotel.
Tom O'Brien is a mechanical engineer and the photo engineer for National Geographic magazine. He designs and builds custom equipment for the photographers of the magazine. You can follow him on Instagram @Mechanicalphoto.