How we picked and tested
To narrow the field of contenders, we focused on bags with these features:
- Easy access to the camera
- Camera-specific pockets, organization for accessories, and ample padding
- User-configurable internal dividers
- Waist belts
- Weather-resistance or waterproofing
- Big enough to hold everything you need, without encouraging overpacking
- We avoided premium bags from designer fashion labels or made of leather.
To test the bags, we asked professional photographers and Wirecutter contributors Eric Adams, Erin Lodi, and Mike Perlman to take the bags out shooting for at least a few hours, but up to several consecutive days in some cases. Each tester loaded the bags with a compact DSLR or mirrorless camera, lenses, accessories, an assortment of cables, a laptop, and personal items.
A versatile, stylish backpack
The Peak Design Everyday Backpack is our favorite backpack for enthusiast shooters who don’t want to sacrifice good looks for great performance. The bag is highly adjustable, breathable, and roomy, with many thoughtful features—such as fast but secure access mechanisms, external gear loops with cinch straps, a waist belt and sternum straps, and a flexible hook-and-loop internal organization system. We tested the 20-liter version, but a 30-liter version is also available for those with more gear.
The Everyday Backpack has well-thought-out pockets overall, but its fold-top camera compartment stands out in particular for providing the fastest camera access out of any backpack we tried. It also has a 15-inch laptop sleeve.
An affordable backpack
The AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras and Accessories is ideal for a growing photographer who needs an affordable and flexible option for protecting and transporting their gear while they’re still honing their kit. This bag holds all the basic necessities, including a 13-inch laptop and multiple accessories. It has user-configurable Velcro internal dividers for accommodating a variety of photo kits, and plenty of breathable padding for a comfortable fit. It’s a bit smaller and stiffer than other bags we tested, but it’s a solid value given its low price..
A bigger backpack
The Think Tank Photo StreetWalker HardDrive can hold a surprising amount of gear without feeling or looking bulky, including multiple full-frame bodies, a 17-inch laptop, a handful of lenses, two flashes, and all the accessories you might want. It’s extremely comfortable with a thick, cushioned back and straps. It uses adjustable Velcro dividers in its cavernous main compartment, and has an organizer built into its exterior pocket as well as elastic sleeves for organizing smaller items like SD cards.
Our favorite camera messenger bag
A messenger bag is ideal for when you need something less bulky than a backpack but still want to take a camera, a laptop, and a couple of extras. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger combines the same strong design and thoughtfulness that we enjoyed with the Everyday Backpack, but in messenger form. In place of conventional modular Velcro pads are slim, origami-style foldable inserts that you can arrange in numerous patterns and configurations. It’s perfect for one DSLR or two mirrorless cameras and a few lenses and accessories, and it also has room for a laptop and tablet. Just keep in mind that you’ll be putting all that weight on one shoulder.
A super-affordable messenger bag
If you want a messenger bag that’s very affordable, the Ape Case Envoy Large Messenger DSLR Case is one of the few budget models we found that will hold your laptop as well as your camera. This simple but well-designed messenger bag can hold a 13-inch laptop, a DSLR body, three lenses, a flash, and all your accessories. And it’s comfortable enough to wear for long periods even when fully loaded, thanks to its heavy padding. It has cushioned dividers for customizing the internal pocket, a wide variety of pocket types and sizes, and offers quick access to your camera via a top zipper.
A camera purse
The Kelly Moore 2 Sues 2.0 bag is our favorite purse-style camera bag for carrying a photographer’s essentials to a shorter shoot. It offers easy access to the main compartment and plenty of pockets for stashing everything from memory cards to a smartphone. The bag looks like leather but is a “vegan-friendly” material of the company’s own devising called Cambrio that comes in several colors; the gold hardware accents look shiny and high-end. The longer strap offers considerable padding to carry the bag across one shoulder, but fashion takes precedence when it comes to camera purses, so the 2 Sues 2.0 doesn’t prioritize weight distribution or body contouring.
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