Something that often gets overlooked when going on safari, at least until the last minute, is what you are going to pack your camera, binoculars and other equipment that you may be taking with you in.
Obviously you don’t want to have to put your camera in the cargo hold with the rest of your luggage and whilst you are actually on safari you want to be able to comfortably carry your equipment around with you as well as have quick and easy access to it.
Best Camera Backpack
So to me it makes sense to have some sort of travel backpack: This is because they are easy to carry on your shoulders, freeing up your hands and so long as they are small enough, they can be taken on board the aeroplane with you. Depending on how much camera and other equipment you have you may decide to use a specifically designed camera backpack as opposed to just a standard daypack or safari backpack – this is because with the best camera backpacks you can be sure that all your equipment will be properly protected, your most used items will be easily accessible without having to dig down to the bottom of your bag and they have a whole host of features that will make travelling with your safari equipment that much easier.
Vanguard Skyborne 51 Camera Backpack with Laptop Compartment
I suppose I take quite a bit of equipment with me on safari, but in my opinion not an excessive amount – just the stuff that helps me enjoy my holiday as well as a few thing so that I can also do a little work. So this will usually include (In order of importance):
- Binoculars (Usually Compact or at least Mid-Sized)
- Camera (Bridge Camera not SLR)
- Telephoto Conversion Lens
- Tripod (Small Travel Version)
- Night Vision Binoculars (sometimes a scope rather than binos)
- Laptop (a small notepad)
(For a more specific list of the exact models take a look at this article I recently wrote: What Equipment I Take on Safari)
So because of all these things, I obviously need a fairly big bag. I took a look on the web to see if I could find the best camera backpack for my needs, but discovered that there very few really good (and impartial) camera backpack reviews and that is why I was very grateful when Vanguard offered to send me one one of their bigger Camera daypacks to test and review: the Vanguard Skyborne 51
So is this review impartial I hear you ask? Well yes, Like all my reviews, even though the manufacturer kindly lends me their product, I am in no way obliged to only say positive things about it – This review as all my others is my honest opinion. Besides I still don’t have my own Camera Backpack for my next trip and so I am honestly looking at it with the intention of buying it if I like it, or choosing another if I don’t.
Plenty of Space
The first thing I thought when it arrived was “This bag is Big” – I know I read it’s dimensions before asking for it, but seeing it for real puts those numbers into perspective. It’s Inside Dimensions are 12 5/8″ x 6 1/4″ x 10 5/8″ (LxWxH inches). Which means according to Vanguard (and I now believe them) that it will take One or even two Pro DSLR cameras with attached lens ( up to 70-200mm), as well as 3-4 extra lenses, a flash unit and accessories (memory cards, cables, battery and charger) plus a 15″ laptop. So plenty space for my specific needs, infact so much so, that it potentially gives me space to take a few other things for the journey.
Space is one thing, but it is how the bag has been divided up into compartments that makes it far more useful for camera and safari equipment than if you were to just buy a standard big bag.
Remember that the Skyborne 51 has been specifically designed as a DSLR camera backpack and so what it nice is that the internal space of the bag has been split up and has loads of cushioning in the key areas (where you store your camera and lenses) – for excellent gear protection. This padding is so good that I had no worries by testing it with my camera in it and dropping the bag from shoulder height. The interior dividers can customised to suit your grear if you want, completely removed, should you ever need the bag for something completely different, like carrying clothes for example.
I especially like the quick access side compartment (pictured above) where you store your camera. It is long enough for me to keep my Raynox DCR-2025PRO teleconversion lens attached to my camera and is really quick to access via a zipped door on the side of the bag – Ideal for those times when you need your camera in a hurry (like that unexpected lion sighting!) – far quicker than digging through all your equipment to grab your camera.
Laptop Camera Backpack
A really nice touch is the front compartment that has been designed to take laptops or other notebook type computers up to and including 15″ ones and so I guess you could call it a camera backpack with laptop compartment! If you don’t need to carry your computer with you the big front compartment is also great for carrying a who bunch of other things that you may need – I used it to carry my notebook and other guides whilst out in the field.
A really good quality and well padded laptop cover also comes with the packpack…Nice!
As I tested it with the Vanguard Nivelo 204BK ultra compact Tripod, the Skyborne 51 is big enough to carry most small travel tripod internally. But if you were be taking an SLR camera, or like me a Bridge camera with a large teleconversion lens attached and you needed a larger and more robust tripod, then this is camera backpack has a tripod holder strap on the back, with a flap that unfolds from it’s own compartment to keep the tripod legs in place. It is fully adjustable and should be able to take most full sized tripods. I tested it with my Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT which worked perfectly.
Attention to Detail
Other nice little touches include the mobile phone case on one of the straps, a little magnetic flap that prevents the zip from accidentally opening on the side pocket and a handy pocket for lens caps, memory cards or any other small things that you often need that can be accessed from both inside and outside the bag.
I don’t think the bag is waterproof, but it does come with a rain cover that has it’s own storage compartment under the lower back support area, so will always be with you, should you get caught in a downpour.
Too Big For Hand Luggage?
One of my biggest issues with this bag is deciding if this Vanguard bag is too big to take on board the plane with me, the last thing I need is to be told at the airport that I have to put it in the hold with the rest of my luggage.
The Facts: Outside Dimensions: 14 5/8″ x 15″ x 22″ (LxWxH inches)
British Airways Hand baggage allowance: All airlines have slightly different policies but on BA for example (hey.. it’s the “worlds favourite airline!”) you are allowed one piece of hand baggage plus a laptop or handbag. Your main piece of hand baggage max dimensions: 25cm x 45cm x 56cm (10in x 18in x 22in), including the handle, pockets and wheels.
So as you can see it is very close, just the depth of the Skyborne 51 (14 5/8in ) that is the problem – as BA say that you are only permitted 10 inches. If you were lucky you could possibly get away with it. I think where you would most definitely have problems is if you are also taking internal flights on smaller aircraft where they may be more strict.
Best camera backpack for travel: Unfortunately No, whilst the Vanguard Skyborne 51 is an excellent bag, I feel that for travel and air travel in particular, it is just too big. You may get away with taking it on board on some airlines, but others may not be so lenient. So for me it is not worth the risk a far beeter alternative would be one of Vanguard’s smaller bags like the Skyborne 48 or even the Skyborne 45.
As a Hiking camera backpack: Due to how comfortable it is to carry, with what Vanguard call “air-infused cushioning” on the straps and back area this could be one of, if not the best camera backpack for hiking, especially if you have a lot of equipment to carry.
To test just how comfortable it was, I filled the bag up with a whole lot of stuff that I often take on walks and some more on top of that and went for a pretty long hike – this included binoculars, 2 cameras all my camera gear and two tripods, one Vanguard Alta Pro 263AT and the compact Vanguard Nivelo 204BK Travel Tripod, that once folded easily fitted inside the bag. (I needed two cameras and tripods to take the product photos of myself that you see on this page of me using the bag).
There was no denying that the bag, fully laden was heavy – but even after over an hour of walking I still felt pretty comfortable – the shoulder straps are as good as I have ever used and the support at the base of your back is excellent.
So overall the is definitely one of the best SLR camera backpack bags that I have ever tested and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a lot of equipment where size is not a major issue. If you need to take your stuff travelling like on safari where a plane journey is unavoidable, I would either go for one of the smaller Skyborne bags, one of the many other Vanguard photo bags or at least check with your airline before travelling.
Cost & Where to Buy
Costing around £120 / $180 they are not the cheapest camera backpack with laptop compartments in the world, but if you take into consideration all their great features and impressive build quality and how well it protects your far more expensive gear, then I think it makes the Vanguard Skyborne 45 Camera Backpack easily worth the money: