Backpacks are a sore spot for many photographers. Personally, I’ve owned so many different types over the years that I truly can’t remember them all. I know photographers who have entire gear closets filled with bags, and nothing else. The problem here, I think, is that bags look amazing online (or in a store) — seeing them, reading reviews, and even trying it on for a few minutes — but then reality kicks in a few weeks later, and you realize that your new purchase isn’t all that spectacular. That brings me to the company Peak Design. I’m sure you’ve heard of them; they made headlines a couple years ago after fundraising millions of dollars on Kickstarter for their lineup of bags. We haven’t yet reviewed one of their bags on Photography Life, so, when they reached out to send a copy for testing, I decided to see how it measures up. This review specifically covers the 20 liter version of the “Everyday Backpack.” So, does it live up to the hype? Can you finally clean out your closet of bags and turn it into something more productive? The answers are more nuanced than you might think.
- Two available sizes: 20 liters and 30 liters. These both sound small, but I already own enough large bags that I went with the 20 liter version.
- Two available colors: Ash (light gray), Charcoal (dark gray), and Tan (only available at 20 liters for now, and only from Peak Design’s own website). The one I reviewed is the charcoal model.
- Total gear capacity: This bag fits way more equipment than you would expect, given that it’s only 20 liters in size. Peak Design says that it will fit a full-frame DSLR with three to four lenses, as well as a fifteen-inch laptop. I was skeptical about both these claims, but they are indeed true. It can even expand more by connecting to a higher metal latch on the front of the bag (see the image below).
- Origami dividers: These are great. In my opinion, the “origami dividers” on the Everyday Backpack (and Peak Design’s equipment in general) is the ability to divide your equipment very effectively. Essentially, they’re just rigid dividers with some sections that can be folded in different directions, but the flexibility they offer is not something you should overlook.
- Dual side access compartments: The other feature that makes this bag stand out is the dual side access. To reach any gear stored within the backpack, you just have to unzip either the left-hand or right-hand side. A handful of camera backpacks already have side-access compartments, but dual side-access is much rarer. This, combined with the origami dividers, is one of the most efficient ways to arrange your gear in a backpack that I’ve seen.
- Carrying options: Top handle, two briefcase-style side handles, and a large flap intended for sliding onto a suitcase
- Material: “Kodra fabric with weatherproof DWR coat,” according to Peak Design. It’s essentially a water-resistant canvas.
- Straps: Sternum strap, waist strap, and adjustable shoulder straps. The usual. (Also, unused straps are quite easy to tuck away or hide in specific compartments, which isn’t the norm on many other backpacks.)
- Weight: 1.3 kilograms, or 2.9 pounds
- Price: $260 USD. It’s not an inexpensive bag by any means.
2) What You’ll Notice First
In my opinion, one of the major considerations that Peak Design had in mind when creating this bag was the week after you open it. If you buy this bag, for many days after it arrives, you’ll keep finding new options that it offers — cool little design choices that are intriguing and unexpected. For example, the loops on the top zippers can open up, and then loop back around over another strap (as a sort of anti-theft protection). Even things like loosening and tightening straps work in a way that I haven’t seen on any other bag.
This backpack also has a crazy strap management system. What I mean by that — since it’s not the type of thing I thought I’d say about a bag — is that there is some pocket somewhere on the outside of the bag intended for every loose-hanging external strap. You can tuck everything away into its own, small bit of the bag. And, if you want to loop or move one of the straps around to a different location, that’s also quite easy. I managed to create a rear-hanging-tripod system using just a single built-in strap strung through a few loops, which is highly unusual for a bag.
You’ll also notice that this is a very sturdy backpack. Initially, that might sound like a good thing. In some sense, it is. When you’re traveling with this bag, your gear should be quite safe — not in danger of bumping around too much. That’s a nice upgrade over something like a traditional hiking backpack (which is what I currently use to carry my gear on most trips). However, later on, you might start to wonder if the sturdiness brings along its own issues…
3) What You’ll Notice Later
First, the good news. After you’ve used the Everyday Backpack for a while, one huge benefit will stand out: This bag is really, really weatherproof. I mentioned that I’ve owned a lot of bags in the past, and the only other one that’s done so well resisting water was, literally, a stuff sack intended to be used underwater.
The bad news, though, is that the bag’s sturdiness and waterproofness make it very chunky. Looking at photos online, it’s easy to think that this bag is entirely made of a thin, waterproof canvas material. It’s not. The top flap is, and that’s good; in my opinion, it’s about the ideal thickness for a backpack. The rest of the bag’s material, though, is about five times thicker, thanks to an assortment of strap-concealing pockets and internal compartments adding more and more layers of fabric.
Is that a problem? Some would argue that this adds stability to the bag and helps protect it from bumps and bruises. However, to me, it seems like things have gone a bit too far. The bag is quite rigid, and not always in a good way. The two side compartments that flip out, for example, are comprised of six layers of fabric, as well as a foam stiffener to give the backpack some extra support. This makes it harder to open the section, particularly if it’s full, and it makes it harder to fit gear into each individual pocket (since the bag doesn’t allow for much stretching).
Still, it’s not the biggest issue in the world. In many cases — air travel, for example — a rigid bag is better than a thin one. But I thought it would be worth mentioning, since the impression you might get from online photos doesn’t tell quite the whole story.
One other issue you might notice with the Everyday Backpack is the surprising lack of external pockets to hold gear. All told, there are only three: the two water bottle pockets on the sides, and the laptop compartment at the very top (which does have a separate, thin pocket within it — so, if you’re feeling generous, you could argue that there are four external pockets).
Internal pocket space, on the other hand, is solid. There are large, zipped pockets within both side flaps, as well as a pouch under the top flap. In addition, the sheer number of options for the origami dividers means that you’ll never be lost for places to store things within the bag. However, as a photographer who likes to access some pieces of equipment as quickly as possible — batteries, for example — it would be nice to have just one extra outside pocket for smaller accessories.
That brings me to my overall impression of this bag’s features: As much as I love the origami dividers and dual-side access, other parts of the backpack feel “over-innovated” — intended to grab attention, demonstrate impressive engineering, and be useful in very specific cases, but mainly just take up space.
For example, the side pockets (intended to hold water bottles) of this bag are very streamlined, snapping right into place against the sides of the pack. They do so via an elastic strap hidden within the bag itself — a strap that only stretches into sight when you pull out the pocket. However, although this is a cool innovation, it means that the side pockets on this bag don’t stretch out as far as you might like, and yet they add a lot of layers of fabric (because an extra layer of canvas was required in order for the elastic strap to attach properly). Frankly, although it wouldn’t look as nice, I would prefer a normal water bottle pocket instead.
This isn’t the only instance of over-innovating — for example, having an extra handle on each side of the bag is a bit excessive — but it is the one that struck me the most. My hope is that a later version of this bag will trim down on some of the excess weight and innovations in favor of a more streamlined design. Still, I can see why Peak Design included many of these features, especially from a branding and marketing perspective. So, I don’t necessarily expect a future version to improve on most of these issues.
I once owned a bag that, when empty, was so uncomfortable that it gave me a headache. I’m no stranger to carrying heavy equipment long distances, but there’s a reason why I use a hiking backpack rather than a camera backpack to do so: They’re built to hold weight properly.
Is the Everyday Backpack built to hold weight properly? Is it comfortable to wear over time? The answer depends upon your intended use.
First, I tried using this bag to carry the same setup that I bring along on a moderate hikes: a Nikon D800e, three lenses, a few accessories, and my tripod (hanging off the back rather than unevenly weighted in a side pocket). The total weight of this kit is in the range of four kilos, or nine pounds. Add in the weight of the backpack itself — another 1.3 kilos — and we’re up to at least five in total (or 12 pounds).
That doesn’t seem like a heavy bag, and, by hiking standards, it’s not. But for such a tiny backpack, it’s quite dense — and the bag still wasn’t even close to full. That’s one area where you can’t fault Peak Design’s marketing. They say that this bag will hold a DSLR with 3-4 lenses, and it will, with plenty of room to spare.
The issue is carrying it comfortably, though. It felt like I was just pushing up against the limits of this backpack’s intended weight, and the tripod hung on the back (away from my center of gravity) moved things past the edge of comfort. After going on a longer hike with this setup, I can safely say that I’ll take back my hiking bag any day of the week for heavier trips.
The main problem is that the shoulder straps are simply too close together. Depending upon your body type, that might not be as noticeable — I’m a fairly tall guy with a wider neck and shoulders — but it was something I really felt after a while. On my hiking backpack, the shoulder straps are about 6.5 inches apart at the top (14 centimeters). On the 20L Everyday Backpack, they’re about 3.5 inches apart (8 centimeters). In terms of where the weight sits on your shoulders, that difference does matter.
I also found that the shoulder straps were too rigid for my taste. I prefer flexible straps with extra padding, or even something thinner and more agile. To me, the canvas and sturdy foam of the Everyday Backpack weren’t a great match to my preferences — but this is also an area where everyone will have different tastes, so I don’t want to make any blanket statements.
I’ll say this: The Everyday Backpack was much more comfortable than any other camera-specific bag I’ve ever tried, with the possible exception of some F-Stop brand backpacks (which are more of a hiking/photography hybrid — and even those aren’t as comfortable as dedicated hiking bags).
If you’re currently using a typical photographer’s bag, and you don’t like how it feels, this one likely will be a large step up in quality. Even the issues that I just mentioned are mainly noticeable when you have a heavier kit. When I tried carrying the Everyday Backpack either without the tripod or without the camera kit, it immediately became far more comfortable.
The bottom line is that this is a very workable bag, but some more comfortable options do exist. However, if you’re only carrying a smaller kit along — a DSLR and a couple heavy lenses, for example — it’s great, and I doubt that you’ll notice any major comfort issues (though, again, this does depend somewhat upon personal preferences and physiology). Ultimately, I’d give it a passing grade on comfort. At the very least, if you need some other feature the bag offers, you shouldn’t let this part scare you away.
Strap management system: It sounds like a little thing, but if you’re in an urban area or airplane where you want the smallest possible footprint, a strap management system is a nice feature. This bag really delivers; more than any other one I’ve ever seen, there are great options for tucking away needless straps and simplifying the outward appearance of the bag.
Waterproofness: This bag is really, really weather resistant. I wouldn’t want to dunk it underwater, of course, but I’d be more comfortable carrying this bag in a rainstorm than carrying my hiking backpack, by a wide margin. Whether or not you think this feature applies to you, some day, it will apply to you, and you’ll be glad you have it.
Origami dividers: One true innovation in this bag is the origami divider. They’re thin, strong, and easy to position. I’ve already moved the origami dividers from the Everyday Backpack into my normal hiking bag, trimming down weight and giving me more space to put in equipment. This is a great option, and it means that a 20-liter bag like the Everyday Backpack can fit far more gear than you’d ever expect from something this size.
Dual side access: The other innovation that adds a tremendous amount of space to this bag is dual side access. First, when you’re carrying the bag, it’s super easy to sling it over and grab the equipment you need without setting it down. Second, by dividing the bag into left and right halves, you can give yourself a lot of extra room to fit the equipment you want. (And, if you’re worried about thieves trying to unzip the pockets and grab your equipment, you can loop the zippers around the top of the bag in a way that renders it almost impossible.)
External pockets: I do wish that this bag had an extra pocket on the outside. As a landscape photographer, I frequently take off my bag and do a few mad dashes around an area while taking pictures. The quicker it is to run over and grab a new battery, the better. Every other bag I’ve owned has a better system of external pockets, which truly surprised me.
Over-engineering: The Everyday Backpack has a lot of cool, user-centric innovations — things like the origami dividers and dual side access zippers — but others fall a bit flat. In some places, it seems that Peak Design prioritized the ability to make the bag look streamlined rather than actually being streamlined. The side pockets that take several layers of fabric, yet don’t fit very much, are a good example. The same is true of the excess handles on the bag, and, if I’m allowed to be especially boring, even the trademark magnetic clasps at the top (which seem to be no more effective than a simpler Velcro strap would have been). That said, I’d rather a company over-engineer than under-engineer.
Comfort: This could vary from person to person, but I didn’t find the shoulder straps of the Everyday Backpack to be as comfortable as I would have liked. The same is true for the bag’s overall rigidity, which, to me, made it harder for the bag to sit properly on my back or waist. Although this backpack fits plenty of equipment, it is very dense when filled, and doesn’t have the same comfort that a hiking bag does. However, this is mainly applicable if you’re planning to carry heavier loads (more than 7 kilograms, or 15 pounds), and doesn’t matter as much for slimmer kits.
This actually is quite a good bag in many respects, but, to me, its insanely successful marketing campaign might make you think that it has a wider intended audience than it does. Although I’m sure that Peak Design would love for anyone to buy the bag — it is, after all, called “Everyday” — the feature set strongly suggests to me that urban photographers are the target audience.
If you don’t need to carry a tripod, and you’re taking a lot of photos in cities (including while traveling), this is a good backpack. For some uses, it could be the best backpack you can find on the market.
Personally, I’ll be using it from now on whenever I need to carry a moderately large camera kit to places where a full hiking backpack would be very, very out of place. I can see a lot of photographers doing the same.
However, if you need to carry a lot of gear, or especially a larger tripod, this won’t be the best option on the market. I would caution most landscape photographers against purchasing one, since it simply doesn’t do well when filled with all the weight you’d need for longer hikes. I’d much rather use a hiking backpack for that purpose. More importantly, if you don’t need all the bells and whistles of this bag, there are several options on the market that are far less expensive.
Lastly, if this does seem like the type of backpack that will work for you, I recommend going for the 20 liter version unless you have a very specific reason to get the 30 liter model. Personally, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to fit my core kit into a 20 liter backpack, but it worked out just fine. It takes some creative divider adjustments to do so, without a doubt — and the weight of too much equipment can get out of hand — but it does work.
To sum everything up, if you’re looking for a backpack that feels very modern and innovative, and you need an efficient way to carry small or medium-sized kits around on your travels, the Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack is something I recommend. However, this bag doesn’t have quite as many uses as its marketing material might lead you to think, and, at $260 USD, it is an expensive bag. If you’re carrying a huge amount of equipment, or the quick-access features of this bag don’t matter to you, there could be better options available. Like many things in photography, this one is all down to your own style — the features that matter most for the work you do.
8) Purchasing Options
An interesting thing about this bag is that, given its extreme popularity, you can find it sold everywhere. It’s on Peak Design’s own website, of course, but it also appears everywhere from B&H to REI.com. Here’s a link to the B&H purchasing page, but if you have any coupons or gift cards somewhere else, check that out before buying.
- Peak Design 20L Everyday Backpack, Charcoal, B&H
- Same thing, but at Peak Design’s own website (the only place where the tan color is currently available)
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