Think Tank Airport Commuter Review

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to test and use the Airport Commuter backpack from Think Tank while taking it on trips as well as using it around town. In this review, I will look at the backpack in detail, go over its features and discuss how it has been serving my photography needs when I travel. As you may already know, I am a wildlife photographer, hence not many bags can accommodate my gear. I decided to get the Airport Commuter because it is one of the largest travel-safe backpacks offered by Think Tank, which can fit long, super telephoto lenses like 400mm f/2.8 or 500mm f/4.

Airport Commuter Backpack

1) General Information and Dimensions

1.1) Features

  1. Meets International and USA domestic airlines’ carry-on size requirements (check with your airline to confirm before traveling)
  2. Cable lock & locking YKK zipper sliders for added security
  3. Holds your laptop and iPad in a separate (lockable) zippered compartment
  4. Includes tripod/monopod mounting system
  5. Bottom hinge opens bag completely for quick and unencumbered access
  6. Light, comfortable and contoured harness system
  7. Top zippered pocket for boarding pass
  8. Removable waist belt for additional stability when walking, running, etc.
  9. Adapts to Pro Speed Belt for additional support
  10. Water bottle pocket
  11. Ultra-Stretch pockets on shoulder straps
  12. Robust handles on three sides
  13. Easily accessible front organizer pocket
  14. Seam sealed rain cover included
  15. YKK RC-Fuse zipper and highest quality materials throughout

1.2) Dimensions:

  1. External Dimensions: 12.5” W x 18.” H x 8.5” D (31.6 × 45.7 × 21.6cm)

  2. Internal Dimensions: 11.5” W x 16.3” H x 6.8” D (29.2 × 42.4 × 17.3cm)

  3. Laptop: 11” W x 16” H x 1.3” D (27 × 40 × 3.5cm)

  4. Weight: 3.5-4.2lbs (1.5-1.9kg)

1.3) What’s in the Bag?

Here is a photo of a partially loaded Think Tank Airport Commuter bag:
Packed Airport Commuter Bag with D4 and 300

Here is what all that gear looks like unpacked:
Contents of a packed Airport Commuter Backpack by ThinkTank

Here is a list of gear packed into the bag as pictured:
Computers:
- 15″ Apple MacBook Pro and battery charger
- Apple iPad
Camera Bodies:
- Nikon D4 Pro Body
- Nikon D600 Camera body
Lenses:
- Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 (attached to pro camera body)
- Nikkor 70-300mm
- Nikkor 24-85mm
- Nikkor 50mm f/1.4
- Nikkor 2x Teleconverter
- Nikkor 1.4x Teleconverter
Accessories:
- Sony XQD card reader
- EN-EL18 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
- MH-26 Battery Charger
- MH-25 Quick Charger for EN-EL15 Battery
- Pearstone EN-EL15 Battery
- USB cable
- Extra lens caps
- Giottos Rocket blower
- Giottos lens cleaning kit
- Optech rain cover
- Neutral Density Filter
- Circular Polarizing Filter
- Rain cover for the back pack

And lastly, for illustrative purposes here is a photo of the bag with a Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens (unattached):
Packed Airport Commuter 500mm unmounted

2) Size and Function (Handling)

2.1) Outside the main compartment

Large handles (2 well padded – side and top – and one strap-like on the bottom) like on all the Think Tank bags we have reviewed, make it comfortable to lift and carry despite heavy loads. I particularly like the handle on the side that allows me to carry it more like a briefcase to give my shoulders rest from time to time. I had 36 lbs packed in it on my last trip and although it can’t make 36 pounds feel like 10 lbs, it can certainly make it more comfortable to lug around. Another thing that they have done to make it more comfortable, is that they added some lumbar support/padding to make it a bit easier on the lower back while carrying all that weight.

On the front of the bag are 2 zippered compartments. The first compartment is smaller to hold, cables, pens, cards and smaller accessories or even your boarding pass. There is a clip sewn into the packet that I found useful to attach my car keys until I returned back in town and picked up my car from the parking lot. The second and larger compartment on the front is composed of 2 padded sub-compartments dedicated to a laptop in one pocket and a tablet in the second.

Airport Commuter Backpack Full view Laptop and Tablet compartments

On the top of the bag, underneath the handle, is a small zippered compartment which will store a few small items or is perfect to hold the blue sealed seam rain cover that comes with the backpack.

Keeping the compartments securely closed are YKK RC Fuse zippers like those used on other Think Tank products. These zippers are heavy duty with smooth action and are made to handle the stresses placed on it by a photographer pushing the bag to its capacity limits. If you need a little security, a cable lock is included in a side pocket which can be used to lock the zipper closed and to secure the bag to an immoveable object such as a post.

Airport Commuter lock

The side without a handle has straps to secure a tripod as well as a stretch pocket which can also be used to hold a water bottle.

Airport Commuter and Tripod

The shoulder straps are wider than found on some packs and have adequate padding. On the front of each strap are small pockets capable of holding small items like a cell phone. In addition to the pockets, are “D” rings which can be used to attach more gear as desired.

Airport Commuter strap pockets

2.2) Inside the main compartment

Inside the main compartment you will find the dividers similar to most bags with hook and loop (velcro) connectors to allow for customizing the space for your gear needs. I do wish there was a little more variety in divider sizes so that there is a bit more flexibility in customization of spaces. However, I do like the depth of the main compartment as it allows me to stack items in the divided compartments and thus get more gear in.

The inside of the lid has two large see-thru zippered pockets for filters, batteries, cables, cards or other smaller items. The zippers recess into a small pocket (like on other Think Tank bags) to keep the metal from scratching the gear.

Airport Commuter Backpack Interior Compartment

2.3) Size

This backpack will fit under a seat on most US domestic airlines and can come in handy if you have a lot of gear to pack and you don’t want to check it. Recently on a trip I needed to take a considerable amount of gear which required me taking two bags. I ended up taking the previously reviewed Airport International v.2 Roller Bag from Think Tank as well as the Airport Commuter. The nice thing about this combo was that the Commuter fit under the seat and the Airport International went in the overhead compartment allowing me to avoid checking any gear while keeping me in compliance with “one bag for the overhead and one under the seat” requirement. As always, keep in mind weight restrictions for carry on luggage – fortunately for those in the US, most domestic carriers rarely enforce weight restrictions for carry-on baggage.

Here is the two bags together waiting to board a flight.
Airport International Roller and Commuter Backpack

3) Build Quality

Like all Think Tank products, the materials used are durable like the 1680D balistic nylon and and have been treated for water and stain resistance. While Think Tank makes products that are durable, they pride themselves in making gear that is also environmentally friendly and thus they use no PVC. Under heavy use in which I packed this bag with over 36 pounds of gear, I have not seen any signs of broken seams or stitching, including on the shoulder straps or along the edge of the zippers where it would most likely be seen first.

We have said it here before, Think Tank makes tough stuff but if you need more reassurance, they have what they call their “No Rhetoric Warranty” in which they guarantee and warrant the bag against any defects in material or workmanship for as long as you own the product and are the original owner. They will repair or replace the item at their discretion and their reputation is that the warranty is not just talk but that they have excellent customer service to back it up. See their website for details.

4) Value

While the Airport Commuter is not the cheapest backpack on the market, it still represents a good value. It is built to last and while you pay a bit more, it has the features you need and the durability you want so that it still represents a good value. In fact, if it lasts longer than the average bag or pack, then the cost difference becomes somewhat nullified. You carry gear worth a considerable amount of money and so a bag that gives you the ability to comfortably carry it with peace of mind and protect it is worth it.

5) Conclusion

Until now, I used my Kata 3 in 1 bag as my primary bag for carrying gear around town, to the mountains and on trips. Now that I have used the Think Tank Airport Commuter backpack, I rarely use the Kata 3 in 1. The main reasons are that the Airport Commuter will hold my 500mm f/4 lens, the handles and the shoulder straps are more comfortable, and lastly, there is more overall room in the Airport Commuter. If I don’t need to carry as much gear or the larger lenses, then I will grab the Kata, because it is lighter and less bulky when not full. Overall, between the Think Tank Airport International and the Airport Commuter, my needs are fairly well covered for travel around town or across country.

6) Where to Buy

You can buy the Airport Commuter from our friends at B&H Photo for $199.75 (at the time of this post) or directly from the folks at Think Tank Photo.

Think Tank Airport Commuter Review4.7Tom Redd2013-02-09 23:47:21Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to test and use the Airport Commuter backpack from Think Tank while taking it on trips as well as …
Build Quality
Handling
Value
Features
Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating

Avatar of Tom Redd About Tom Redd

Tom grew up in Texas, but the love of nature and the mountains lured him and his family to Colorado, where he and his wife raised their kids enjoying the beauty and activities that surround them. It is that beauty of both wildlife and landscape that made Tom want to capture and preserve these experiences thru photography. He became serious about photography in 2008 and continues to learn and refine his skills. Some of his photos can be found at 500px.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Dave

    HI Tom – great review. Did you compare the Commuter to the TakeOff which seems to provide a similar capacity as well as a trolley system but a weight cost. The shoulder strap systems could be quite different though. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Dave. I didn’t compare it to the Takeoff, but we might in the future. The TakeOff does appear similar but there is about a 4 lb. weight difference. The straps appear to be similar but I have not seen the bag in person to comment.

  3. 3
    ) Arun D

    Hi Tom, Detailed and great review. How do you compare Think Tank vs Lowepro, in quality. And Lowepro Flipside AW400 is slightly less weight compare to Airport Commuter. Is it possible to compare Airport Commuter with some other good backpack. Thanks

    • Arun, thank you. The Lowepro line in general is a nice line of gear and usually at a good price. My feelings are that I like the Think Tank gear better overall, but that opinion is based on the products that I have personally seen and both companies make a number of products and both are reputable. In fact, Bob has reviewed a Lowepro Trekker 400AW that he likes – you may wish to check his review here:
      http://photographylife.com/reviews/lowepro-400-aw-trekker

      As to your question of the Flipside AW400, I have the Flipside AW300 and I can tell you I like the shoulder straps on the Airport Commuter better. I don’t have the Flipside 400 to see if the straps are different but they appear the same from what I can tell. Assuming the 300 and 400 bags have the same straps, the Airport Commuter is better in that aspect. The Flipside 400 has a padded hip/waist belt which can be a blessing or a curse. If you are using it to backpack/hike – the padded belt is better and will take weight off your shoulders. If you are not hiking and just using it to get from one location to another and not a long hike, the hip pad can become cumbersome and in the way, IMHO. For instance, it can keep the bag from lying flat and it may hinder your ability to slide it under a seat on a plane.

      The 400 and the Airport Commuter are similar in size, but the Commuter is about one inch wider and deeper than the 400.

      I hope that helps Arun and thanks for reading.

  4. 5
    ) WhiteLight

    Another great article on Photography Life.
    It would be great if you could compare a few of the best models from the top manufacturers and also for different price ranges.
    I know that’s a huge request which may involve a lot of work & time but am sure it’be fantastic.
    I have been trying to decide a good backpack which can be used as a trolley for 2 DX DSLRs & 7-8 lenses for almost 4 months but have not been able to decide on one.
    If you guys do such a review, am sure people will just buy your recommendations without that much of a thought :)
    i know i would.

    Thanks again Tom!

    • Thank you WhiteLight. I can’t say how soon that can be done but we will look into it. In the meantime, there is a review of the Lowepro Pro Roller x200 which is similar to the Airport International which we reviewed. Both are roller bags – since you said “trolley”. Here is a link to the Lowepro review – both are good bags with some slight differences.
      http://photographylife.com/reviews/lowepro-pro-roller-x200

      The Airport TakeOff from Think Tank is an option that may work well if you are looking for both a roller bag and a backpack in one…

      I hope that helps some.

  5. Just got back from a two week trip to Hong Kong; got this bag for the trip. It did a fantastic job, holding lots of stuff (I don’t have any big glass to put in it, though). And it even managed to fit in the overheads of the commuter jets that we took for the short hop to NY on the trip.

    Only issue I had was the tripod holder being on the side was a bit of a pain for walking around all day. Can’t say as I’ve thought of a better alternative, though.

    Also, highly recommend getting speed belt for when doing a lot of walking. I was glad I did.

    Oh, and you didn’t mention getting the camera support straps when talking about the shoulder strap d- rings. Good when you need to keep the camera at the ready.

    • AMusing – thanks for the comment and for adding your insight and I am glad that it worked out well for you, I like mine.

  6. 9
    ) Anthony

    I wonder if the Commuter will fit a travel tripod INSIDE? (fold height around 42cm) I don’t carry long lens but it would make my back a lot less bulky if the Commuter can hold it inside.

    • 10
      ) Tom Redd

      Anthony, since the Height internal dimension is 42.4 cm, a tripod of 42 should fit if you don’t carry long lenses as you indicate.

  7. 11
    ) puckhead193

    Do you think I could squeeze in a 17″ Macbook Pro?

    • Puckhead, according to the dimensions for the MBP 17 (15.4 x 10.4 x 1), it should.

  8. 13
    ) Darrell Wood

    Tom,

    Thanks for the review. I currently have the Shapeshifter but would like to store when at home and have a bag which does not have to be carried on the shoulders all the time. Which of the above would you recommend (international, Commuter). I would take the Shapeshifter as hold luggage and as a backup for when wheels are not an option.

    • 14
      ) Tom Redd

      Darrell, if I understand you correctly, the International is a better bag for you since it has wheels and the Commuter does not. The Commuter is a backpack.

  9. 15
    ) Nick

    Hi Tom,

    thanks for the very good review.
    I am trying to decide between Airport Essentials and Airport Commuter I assume the net-weight of both is very similar. And the gros-weight is depending on my gear, maybe increasing in the future.

    The key-question for me is the strict restriction of some airlines to accept maximum of 50x40x20 cm measurement. And 20 is the issue here as the Commuter states 21,6 cm

    Leaving the front-bags empty is it then easy to keep the target of 20 cm when the boarding-crew is checking the luggage? (and they will do in single airlines like Ryanair).

    Can you give me a answer on it?

    Thanks in advance and once more thanks for the work you invested to the review.
    Nick

    • Thanks Nick. That is a tough one. I tried measuring it and it is over 20 cm but it does compress down I’d there is nothing in the front two pockets. The problem is that there are still straps and I did not include them in the measurement. I fear that they might go over your limit. You may wish to take a look at the bag in a local store and make your own measurements since I measure it to be over 20. Good luck.

      • 17
        ) Nick

        Thanks Tom,

        End of February I have the chance to travel to the next TT-shop (abt. 250 km)
        I will use the chance to check it out and give you then an information of the result/decision.

        Nick

        • 19
          ) Nick

          Hi Tom,

          the planned business has been cancelled. Therefor no check-by myself in the TT-shop possible.
          Meanwhile I got a 30 EURO used Lowepro Mini-Trekker (in size similar to the Essentials). I will make it for the next time with that one.
          Nevertheless I wait for a chance for hand-on the TT. But 30 € vs. 200 € is an argument.

          Greetings
          Nick

          • Nick- 30 v. 200 is an argument. Safe travels.

  10. 18
    ) tony

    Hello Tom,

    Excellent review. I have been looking at this and the Essentials an maybe the Accelerator. I go to a lot of air shows and wanted something with enough room to carry a Canon 6D with grip, 2x TC, a soon to be added 300 f/2.8, 16-35 f/2.8, and maybe a 24-105 f/4.

    I have a roller bag I keep all of my gear in and then pick a smaller bag from my closet depending on where I’m going and what I’ll need.

    Tony

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