What is this gear reviewer’s favorite gear to review? Bags. Every time. No question, no debate. No headlamp, backcountry stove, or pair of hiking boots will EVER get me as excited about reviewing as a bag. I have outdoor bags for hiking, backcountry hiking, skiing, backcountry skiing, camping, and backcountry camping. I have backpacks, coolers, and cooler backpacks. I can waterproof, dust proof, and fool-proof a weekend with the bags I have. I was missing one - and I’ve found it. And you’ll love it. A photo backpack. The Raja Photo Backpack from Ethnotek.
This is one of three brilliant camera kit items from this company that’s all about sustainability and working with local artisans around the globe to create products as cool as their mission statement.
Here’s my unboxing video. Check out the Kickstarter. Skip around, I nerd out for a long time. I spent the next two months using the Desa Sling Pouch, Kota Camera Strap, and Raja Photo Pack. The reviews are below.
Desa Sling Pouch
This sling pouch is an upgrade to whatever sling pouch bag you’re using in performance and style. Lots of features, and some I wasn’t used to seeing. It has a well padded interior, and some dividers with Velcro that can be adjusted to accommodate whatever gear you want to carry. Great, but so what right? Lots of camera bags have that. Yes, but do those camera bags have a folder cover for added protection with built in zippers for added storage of small valuables and accessories? I think not!
I took this bag with me on some small day hikes and didn’t have any discomfort with the shoulder strap. It is made of a high quality nylon and adjustable for all shapes, sizes, and comforts. There’s an air mesh lining on the one side of the bag that rests against your body too, comforting you and your gear when you’re moving around. You can also slide the Raja Waist belt through it (part of this photo kit, sold separately) and detach the shoulder strap, wearing it more like a large fanny pack. I didn’t have a waist belt to try but I used this open area of the bag to thread some of the straps on the Raja backpack bag through and attach it to the backpack securely (see this), so it has a few uses. I made a video with some help of my Dyrt Ranger friends to go over the Desa bag and it’s many pockets.
I packed this thing with battery packs, mics, headphones, 3 small cameras and tripods, binoculars, memory cards and cleaning supplies, some tripod mounts, and a flask. Oh yeah, and my my Sony alpha 6000 + kit lens. It had enough space left over on the sides for a small notebook and a place for my phone, plus my keys. It was much more things than I needed for my day hikes or on site work (I left the flask out for those shoots), and all of it was so well protected.
The pattern design is so well stitched and I liked how there was a different pattern on the interior. The upper inside pocket is roomy, clear so you can see your things easily, and has three smaller stiched pockets so you really have a pocket for everything.
Kota Camera Strap
Not all camera straps are created equal. I love how I get to show off a little personality and flair with this thing attached to my camera. It is very simple to attach to your camera thanks to the small caribener-style clips just above the small threaded loop. Once it’s on, you can take it on and off quickly by just unclipping the caribener on each side.
You won’t do that much though, because it comes with a soft neoprene underside and outer edges. You will want to do this though when you’re trying to get some nature shots o a remote trigger so you can be in them but the wind wont stop blowing and it keeps pushing the strap in front of your lens. I also like the clever sewn in pocket for an extra memory card. I kept a spare battery in there and a case with some microSD cards, based on what I was doing and cameras I was using.
Raja Photo Backpack
Here’s the thing: I really like to inspire others to see more of the great outdoors through my photos and this blog. Every time I go out for a hike, camp, or adventure I take a backpack. Up until now, I have been putting all my camera equipment in bags not tailored to camera gear, and I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. My bags aren’t as accommodating to tripods, so the tripod goes to one side, is unbalanced, and makes for an annoying hike. “It’s worth it for the experience” I tell myself. My backpacks aren’t padded because they’re more about being lightweight and a big empty cavity of space for any and all stuff. Thing is, I wind up wrapping my cameras in clothing or bringing some small protective bag, which just adds to the weight anyway. While hiking I hope the setup works, but if I ever slipped on the trail and bailed (happens all the time), I’m still holding my breath that my camera equipment that costs more than my month’s rent is OK in the T-shirt I just wrapped around it.
This bag was meant for anyone who photographs outside and doesn’t want to compromise on features. It’s a close relative of the Ethnotek Raja Backpack, with this one made for photographers first in mind. Here’s my video review after a hike around Gross Reservoir outside Boulder, CO.
Lets talk about how great this bag is.
The side pocket for easy access to other cameras and lenses stored in the main cavity of the bag? So smart.
The entire back opens to reveal a sleeve big enough for a 15” laptop, with the same padding inner liner that is found in the main bag cavity.
There’s a rain cover included for those times you get caught in a downpour.
A part of the bag expands to give you more space, and keep it separate from the main cavity.
Compartments for everything! There are so many dividers, some with zippered pouches for storage of small thing like memory cards and batteries, and all of it is customizable, removable, and comes with foldover straps to keep things in place and secure. You could use dividers form the Desa bag in this bag too.
There are straps seemingly everywhere around the outside, so you can attach all kinds of things easily, like a dog water bowl or a towel, and then put your tripod neatly in the back middle.
The outer pattern is one of a few threads that attaches to the bag with Velcro and clips, making it easy to pick a pattern or swap between one for business and another for play.
It comes with two clear, water resistant pockets for great stash storage. These pockets also have inner pockets. That’s right - pockets in pockets! There’s a pocket for everything big and small.
I’ve loaded this thing for trips that were work-only, carrying my laptop and tripods, hooked my collapsible bounces to the side, put all my cameras and lenses in, and had room left over for a jacket, my lunch, and snacks. With the straps that fold over the compartments I customize, nothing is moving around inside. Everything is so secure and protected. I do recommend if you have this fully loaded that you opt for the Raja waist belt. There are some well padded shoulder straps and an adjustable sternum strap which are not to be understated, but your back will thank you if you opt for this accessory. Plus it comes with some pockets. More pockets!
One of my favorite days with this bag was my trip to Gross Reservoir. I packed a hammock, my backpacking stove, some extra water and a freeze dried meal, snacks, and then all my camera gear. After spending some time relaxing in the hammock by the lake, I hiked to a spot overlooking the reservoir and fired up my computer to write this blog post while having lunch. While there I filmed the review video for this backpack and took some lifestyle photos you see in this post. Then I went for a swim, had a snack, fed the dog and hiked out. Not a bad Sunday!
One of the things I started doing with the laptop pocket when I was hiking without my computer was putting a water bladder in there and running a drinking hose out so I could stay hydrated hands free. It would be neat to see Ethnotek incorporate hole in the laptop pocket that would allow for the hose to pass through more seamlessly, and then thread through a few loops in the shoulder strap so the hose does’t flop around.
I have nothing but praise for the ETK OPTIKS collection. I love my India 8 pattern on my backpack and and I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the overall patterns. It’s pretty cool to have this consistent look to all my stuff now, between the Desa, Kota, and Raja. My photos may not be the best but my bags and camera strap sure are!