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How to Choose a DSLR Camera Bag for Winter Photography

The alarm goes off at 6 a.m., and it’s a powder day. Before you get out of bed, you repeat this to yourself three times: “I will do anything to get the shot.” You live and breathe this photography mantra—bruises and smashed gear attest to it—but it wouldn’t be possible without the right high-tech backpack. What, are you going to carry your gaggle of gear in your hands? You need a high-functioning DSLR camera bag that’ll organize and protect your equipment.

Above Photo By: Ian Matteson

Here are several things to consider when you’re purchasing a backcountry photography backpack, and a few of our favorite options.

What to look for in a pack

Sturdiness
Sturdiness or protect-ability of the pack should be the most important attribute that you look for. Sure, you can shred and you say you never fall—but you might. And were you to fall, you’d want those thousands of dollars’ worth of gear, like your camera, lenses, SD cards, battery grip, etc., to be as protected as possible.

Size of pack versus amount of gear and extra space needed
mtnsmithpocketsMost backpacks for outdoor photographers range from approximately 1500 to 2000cu in. With some, the camera stow area might be the space hog, so you’re left with little space for layers and snacks, while others allow for less photography equipment and more stuff. Are you the type of shooter who relies on one camera and one telephoto lens alone? Or are you the type of shooter who brings a backup camera and an arsenal of lenses?

Usability/ Functionality
You’ll need to ask yourself if quick access to your camera, so you can get that unexpected shot, is more important than the ability to strap skis and skins to your pack so you can hike out farther to get that away-from-everything shot. This is where you’ll have to ask yourself the tough questions about how, in reality (versus your pipe dreams), you will be using the pack and what you need from it to make life easier—because being a winter sports photographer is inherently not easy.

Versatility
Being able to use your backcountry pack for shooting scenes on the street or at a concert might be a plus, and your gear closet will thank you. This is generally a trade-off between size and usability.

Our Picks:

Each backpack will have its unique set of benefits and drawbacks.

Sleek and Versatile: Dakine Sequence Backpack with Camera Block
DAKINE Sequence Backpack with Camera Block
The Sequence seems at home in an urban environment, with its sleek curves and minimal look, but this pack has a built-in raincover and is ready for the elements. The Sequence offers a removable, padded camera bag for versatility. And it has back access that allows you to get to your gear quickly without dumping it all in the snow. The slimmer profile of this pack (versus our other picks) makes it more lift-friendly, therefore more usable when you’re shooting in-bounds.

Tough and Free of Futzing: Burton Focus 30L Backpack
Burton Focus 30L Backpack
Can’t decide which lens to bring? Well, bring ‘em all in this huge pack. The Focus offers customizable storage options in the removable, heavily padded camera case. The 500D and 610D Cordura construction means it’s tough. You can strap a board or tripod to the outside, and there’s even a designated avy shovel blade pocket. And the exterior storage pockets sure are handy—especially the oversized beverage pocket for celebrations once you’ve gotten the shot.

The Big Motha: Mountainsmith Borealis AT Camera Backpack
Mountainsmith Borealis AT Camera Backpack
The Borealis is a workhorse, a gear-carrying machine. However, this pack offers less space for camera equipment than our other picks. You’ll be able to squeeze in a body and a few lenses, but where this pack excels is in its ability to tote layers, food, and basically anything you’d need if you venture far from the trailhead. The bevy of pockets helps you get organized, and no matter how much all of your stuff weighs, the Borealis’ load-stabilizing compression system keeps it fairly comfortable. You can also fit a 17-inch laptop into the designated compartment (which can double as a stash for a water reservoir) for city-based shoots and on-site editing.

A few other options:

Two of our picks have little brothers, just in case you need something smaller. There’s the Dakine Mission Photo Pack, which comes in at 400cu in less than the Sequence. The Burton F-Stop is 122cu in smaller than the Burton Focus. Additionally, F-Stop Gear makes a few massive options, like the Tilopia BC (2929 cu in) and the Satori EXP (3783 cu in). Finally, the Clik Elite Contrejour 35 Backpack is a burly internal-frame pack that is suited for both skiing and climbing photography.

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