Filson Photographer's Backpack Review

Added on by Nathan C. Ward.

Here it is!! After weeks of my life reading every shred of info available about this bag, and looking at hundreds of pictures of this backpack (most of them identical) in an attempt to figure out if it was THE ALL TIME bag of my life, I sprung for an item of unparalleled quality that is the Filson Photographer's Backpack. The whole journey started with me asking a photographer friend, "I need a great camera bag. I want it to hold a laptop. What do you think?" His reply was emphatically, "I would go Filson if I were you." This photographer friend I speak of has been using an ONA Camps Bay bag for a few years and has literally shredded it, buckles breaking, stitching fraying, ...(I hope to do a review of his bag in the near future)....so I could see where he was coming from. "I would get the one with the lifetime guarantee", he said. So I did. 

For those of you not already familiar with Filson, it's a Seattle-based manufacturer that designs and makes men's and women's clothing and luggage specifically made for outdoor uses. Think gun jackets and fishing vests. The brand is very well regarded for making their products in the USA with a lifetime guarantee to very rugged standards. People nowadays love rugged, me included, so if you are a fan of Red Wing Boots, Pendleton Blankets, or Best Made Axes, then you are only a step away from drooling over the Filson catalog like the rest of us. 

Filson teamed up with legendary photography agency Magnum to design a small line of camera bags with the input of two photojournalists, David Allen Harvey and Steven McCurry. No big deal, right? Just some of the best storytelling photographers of their generation. There are 6 camera bags in this series; the series includes a few backpacks, a few messengers, and one tote. Most of the bags come in two color choices, Tan or Otter Green. 

The Photographers Backpack is made with Filson's 15oz oil finish Tin Cloth and 22oz rugged twill. It's a light but exceedingly strong fabric that is nice to the touch but still water resistant. For specifics on the types of cloth Filson uses go here. I love the feel of it and also have every confidence that unless submerged, your camera is safe from drizzle and serious downpours alike. The bag has small leather trim details, and a few brass snaps. The overall look of it is somewhat minimal and in no way advertises the bag's contents to other people. 

Let me get right to how much gear the bag holds because this was info I couldn't find prior to this purchase. As you can see from the photo below, the Photographers Backpack is bordering on a total kit carryall. I fit a Canon 6d body with 85mm 1.2 attached, the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 IS, a Canon 85mm 1.8 (upright, top left), Contax G1 rangefinder film camera, and a Canon lens extender. There is even a little space I left in the top right for more kit. The point to take from this is that this bag can confidently carry the gear most photographers need for a working scenario. 

The largest logos on the bag are on the inside lid of the camera compartment. I like branding like this: minimal and not broadcasting logos everywhere. Above the stiched logos is a zipper enclosure that would be a great place for items you wouldn't want in the outer pocket like a wallet, keys, or phone. Also items that would be threatened by moisture would be well served by this compartment....think memory cards, small electronics, or batteries. I put a medium sized paper back book in this pocket to illustrate it's size, which fit the book and in addition would easily hold a few more small items. 

The inside of the camera compartment is populated by tons of space and a lot of typical foam dividers that you find in most larger camera bags. The dividers come in different sizes and have two strips of velcro, which adds a lot of sticking power. I'm a very big fan of that. What I'm less of a fan of is the rigidity of the foam dividers. They are not as robust as I was hoping a Filson bag to come equipped with. Compared to other bags made overseas that I have owned, the foam quality seems lacking. This could be for a variety of reasons, weight being a major one. Cost being the other...but this bag is $385 so it's hard for me to see it being a cost saving move. My feeling is that I might reinforce my bag with some extra foam panels....I would be interested to hear from other people on this particular feature of the bag and if the weight of the foam was an issue or not. The way the foam dividers work makes it slightly cumbersome to carry your camera with a lens attached...I arranged the foam in the above photos specifically to do this, which explains the twists and turns. This reinforces that this bag is not designed to shoot from the hip with. 

The front pocket of the bag is a bellows pocket, which mean it expands with folds in the fabric depending on the contents of the pocket. This space gets the most use out of the three compartments. I gernerally keep my laptop's wall charger, a book, my keys, or a knit hat in this pocket. It lacks any kind of the modern overkill pockets of modern camera bags that attempt to organize every pen, memory card, charger etc. Maybe a small pocket inside the bellows pocket would have been helpful to working photographers, but the lack of one fits in with the overall design ethos of keeping this simple and functional. Again, I used my paper back book (Dark Place by Gillian Flynn) as a model for the size of this pocket. 

The top compartment of the bag is really cool. It unzips along the top of the bag to reveal a medium sized space, perfect for an extra layer, flash guns, or more paperbacks. The laptop pocket is also accessed from this compartment, and easily fits my 15" Macbook Pro. The laptop sits against the very rear of the bag, and consequently, right against your back. I find something comforting knowing right where this expensive and helpful piece of equipment is....it's location in the bag would also prohibit you from forgetting it at home-you would know immediately if that computer is in the bag. Your laptop is secured in place with a simple nylon strap/velcro closure. The zipper action is extremely smooth, it has a level of quality I'm not used to feeling in zippers. HONESTLY! Might be one of the best zippers I've ever touched.

It was important to me to show some of the small details of the bag including the snaps with leather trim, the zippers, the leather loop at the top of the bag, and the stitching that anchors the straps to the bag. This last detail in particular is huge as it's one of the major stress points that could fail. My inspection shows a robust stitch...I hope to follow this review in a years time with an update about how well the yarn has held up because without a few years under this bag's belt, there is no way to really tell if our idea of Filson quality matches up with real life (I REALLY REALLY hope it does, but I want to be objective here). 

The straps on this bag are epic. Filson's description on their website says "Wool-lined shoulder pads with Bridle leather straps keep this pack comfortable on the shoulders"...What I feel from the straps on the bag is "QUALITY QUALITY QUALITY". The padding is appropriate and makes me feel very happy to put this bag on everyday, even when filled. The Bridle leather is muscular and strong and accents the bag in a functional and stylish way.

To sum up my thoughts, this bag excels because of the quality of the fabric which cannot be understated. Filson goes to great lengths to source fabric that is reliable and durable. Their lifetime guarantee is unmatched as far as I can see, adding a value to the bag that is worth much more money in my opinion. The bag was much larger then I anticipated and is something that I had to grow accustomed to. My first feeling was I should return the bag for something smaller, but I have grown to love the fact that as my lens collection grows this bag will remain useful. This bag is NOT for those that want to quickly access lenses or shoot for 8 hours walking around wearing what in some ways is a beast. This bag is good for the urban photographer who needs to bring their laptop and a decent amount of gear to work, where their bag can sit in one place and the items you need pulled out on demand. This bag would also excel at travel....it's discrete, could hold a camera, two lenses, and have room left over for socks and underwear (don't be afraid to use the bag like this. It's not just for lenses!), or to transport multiple bodies and 3-4 lenses. 

PROS: superior material quality, lifetime guarantee, lots of space for gear, understated design.

CONS: wimpy foam padding, lacks smaller pockets inside of the larger pockets, heavy when fully loaded. 

Find Filson camera bags here

Find a small update on the condition of the bag after a rainstorm here

I'll leave you here with some fit photos of the bag modeled by my buddy Cory. Check out his photography here.