Four Travel Backpack and Tripod options reviewed:

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LowePro Whistler 450aw on the left with the Gitzo behind it. Mindshift backlight 26l on the left with the B&S 645 behind it. As you can see the lowepro is clearly a bigger bag but the space in the photo insert is smaller due to the thicker padding. For this reason the ~17″ gitzo or feisol is needed to fit in the lowepro where the smaller backlight can handle the ~18″ sirui or D&S.

This review covers 4 different “back panel access” backpacks as well as four carbon fiber “travel” tripods.  Back Panel Access to me means that the access to the camera gear is through the panel that touches your back.  Travel to me means the tripods had to be small when collapsed and light weight.  Small enough in fact to fit INSIDE the camera compartment of the backpacks in question.  Back panel access is crucial for landscape photography because you’re constantly working in messy locations.  Mud, snow, sand, you name it we’re standing in it shooting.  If you set down a traditional backpack in these scenarios it goes on the ground straps/harness down when you access the camera which means you wear whatever it was set on when you’re done.  This makes me get wet and dirty far too often so I much prefer bags with access on the same side as the harness.  The tripods are all picked to be the most stable options but that fit inside the bags listed.  Here’s what we’ll be looking at for bags:

and here are the tripods:

Of the four bags and four tripods in question I own all four of the bags (incase and f-stop for 2+ years, the mindshift and lowepro are new this fall) and two of the tripods (sirui and davis & sanford).  B&H was kind enough to loan me the gitzo and feisol.  I’ll say right now that all four bags are great bags but some are better for some things while others are better for different situations.  The tripods are even closer, they’re all great options and it really depends on what you’re looking for.  There are really no bad tripods in this group, but I do have my preferences…

make sure you click the HD/1080p option when you watch the videos! 

Let’s go over the tripods first since it’s the closest and also the most number happy!  Here are the specs on the tripods:


blank

price

weight g/lb

folded length

max height column up/down

legs & center column in mm


$399.95

1125g/2.48lb

18.25″

63″/52″

16/19/22/25-24


$169.99

1151g/2.54lb

18.25*

65″/52.5″

16/19/22/25-25


$739.88

1054g/2.32lb

16.7″

60.2″/51.2″

14.75/18/22/25-24


$388.00

1161g/2.56lb

16.9″

69.5″/59″/50.4″

16.5/20/24/24-25/28

For me the tripods are all about being as solid as possible while fitting inside the bag of choice.  I prefer carbon fiber for a lot of reasons, it’s lighter in general, it feels less cold in the cold, but also because it’s better at absorbing vibrations.  I also feel it’s better in the salt water environment I’m in/around most often as metal seems to corrode faster.

Another consideration for tripods is you need a head to go with a tripod.  There’s really three parts to this equation; support = camera plate + head + tripod.  You need all three sorted out to get good support.  I’m an L-bracket user.  I used to buy RRS (really right stuff) L-brackets exclusively but there’s quite expensive ($125~$150) and amazon has (Chinese) options for ~$25…  It’s a non moving part so as long as it’s shaped well it works.  I’ve been very happy with my neewer plates for both my a6000 and a7rii.  Head wise this is my travel tripod setup which is geared towards being compact (fitting inside the bag).  A smaller diameter base on your head often means the legs fold in closer making the whole package smaller.  For this reason I’ve been using a sunwayfoto FB-28 with my sirui for 2 years.  When I was shopping it was the best small head I could find.  I also don’t tend to use pan knobs so that extra control is more of a hassle as you need to line up 2 knobs with the legs when you invert them.  Unfortunately they don’t make that head anymore and the new version has a pan knob now…  But it’s still one of the best bang for the buck options I’ve seen.  Here’s the link.  RRS also makes a BH-25 that’s similar (but 25% more expensive).  It also ditches the panning knob but their main knob has this great lever on it but I wonder if it would also be harder to align between the legs when inverting everything?  Then they have their BC-18 that looks awesome and tiny/light…  I actually found it by reading the gitzo GT1545t review on B&H (yes the very tripod I’m reviewing!) as a user there has it on his.  The issue there is the BC-18 comes with a male thread on the bottom (most tripods have a threaded hole) so you have to REMOVE the stud/post from your tripod, put in an adapter bushing (the gitzo has one, they’re easy to find at B&H, search for a “3/8″-16 to 1/4″-20 Reducer Bushing”).



The sirui has been my go to travel tripod for two years now.  I picked it up before a family trip where I was flying with my kit but also my kids so I needed a tripod that was easy to carry.  I knew I wanted a tripod that could fit in my bag so I’d have one camera bag the entire time but I also knew I didn’t want more than three leg locks and it needed to be carbon fiber.  At the time the sirui came to the top of a pretty short list.  I happened to have the incase bag at the time as well so the maximum folded length had to fit inside that bag which the sirui just did.

The issue with the sirui came to light when I went to photo expo this fall and saw the new lowepro whistler 450.  I liked the bag a lot and wanted to replace my f-stop with it but the sirui won’t fit inside by about an 1″~1.5″…  So I started looking for a tripod that fits inside the lowepro but also only has 4 sections/3 locks without having pencil thin sections.  This list ended up being pretty short with the feisol and gitzo being the two obvious options.

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Sirui 1204x

As I mentioned, this has been my personal travel tripod for two years now.  I bought it when I was still using a canon 5Diii and it could support that as long as I wasn’t using anything bigger than a 70-300.  The tripod itself can support more but I’m using a very small sunwayfoto  FB-28 ballhead which has it’s limits with longer lenses with the torque they can produce.  Now that I’m a mirrorless shooter it’s been even more capable.  As I said above the only reason I’m looking to replace this set of legs is that it’s slightly too long.  The sirui has the option to use the center column with one of the legs as a monopod as well.  Everything is made well and has held up well to two years of use in and around salt water.  This is a $400 set of legs so for me it better meet your needs exactly for that price.  It’s feet are permanent which is a negative to me as I like to use spikes when shooting landscapes but need an option to switch to rubber feet for interior work.

Pros & Cons:

  • + Has a monopod option
  • + good track record (I’ve owned and used it for 2 years w/o issue).
  • – ~$400 seems expensive when you put the D&S next to it.
  • – fixed feet, rubber only.
  • not much else pro/con wise here, it’s basically the baseline for all comparisons below!

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Feisol CT-3441S

The feisol is the first of two tripods B&H was kind enough to loan me for this review (I’m an affiliate of theirs).  This is definitely the largest tripod in the group in terms of the build of the tripod.  Everything is bigger here, the feet, the leg locks, the diameters of each section of the legs.  What this gets you is a more solid tripod but at the cost of being slightly heavier but also taking up more volume in the bag.  It’s also the shortest of the group with the column down or with just the first section of the column…  Yes it has two center column sections but the higher you go on a single center column the less stable everything becomes…  For that reason this is my least favorite tripod of the group.  It takes up more space in the bag (diameter wise) and it’s shorter than I’d prefer.  The added leg diameter isn’t worth it for me as I haven’t had a problem with the sirui/D&S twins or the gitzo (which has the skinniest legs in the group).

Pros & Cons:

  • + Largest diameter legs in the group (most solid support, can hold more weight)
  • + tallest height when using both center column sections
  • – need to use two center column sections to get the height!
  • – center columns aren’t “anti twist”
  • – heaviest in the group
  • – fixed feet, rubber only.

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Gitzo GT1545T

The gitzo is easily the nicest tripod in the group.  And you pay for that.  It’s the most expensive option by a long shot.  You do get a nicer tripod because of it but I don’t think you get better images.  IE I don’t think it’s any more stable, the details are all just a bit nicer…  The center “spider” is a nice casted magnesium piece where the others are all machined aluminum.  The leg angle locks are fancy sideway rotating affairs that are very nice.  Those two combine to make for a smaller center “spider” which makes the tripod take less volume in your bag.  The leg locks have the best rubber grips on them by a large margin and the locks are shorter which means more of the leg is used to go toward it’s height with less overlap.  The rubber feet are also shaped with a steeper angle so they grab onto rocks better somehow and they’re replaceable if needed (and you can get spikes or a convertible set).  Again, lots of minor details that all add up to a nicer package.  Interestingly there’s no hook at the bottom of the center column, but it does have an eye in the center casting that you can tie a line to to tie your bag to to add weight.  It does come with a shorter center column option but you have to swap out the long column to use it.  The gitzo also only has 2 angles for it’s legs then the inverted setting (the others all have 3 then inverted).  But gitzo also uses a wider stance on it’s legs in the normal position which means the tripod is slightly more stable.  This sacrifices overall height slightly but it’s only an inch sorter w/o the center column which is worth the stability to me.  The gitzo is the only tripod in the group to not come with any padding on the legs, but with a carbon tripod this is less important, but worth noting.  Another detail that’s quite nice is gitzo makes the platform for the head a smaller diameter on smaller legs.  It’s also positioned so it sits just below the thickest leg lock.  One final detail is that the carbon gitzo uses has a great double crossing pattern on the outermost layer that looks fantastic.  The only complaint I really have with the gitzo is the price.  At $740 it’s significantly more expensive -vs- the other options in the group.  It’s the nicest option and it fits inside the lowepro perfectly (and it’s easier to get into all the bags) but yeah, $740 is a hard pill to swallow for me.

Pros & Cons:

  • + easily the “nicest” tripod in the group, lots of small details are just better…
  • + lightest in the group.
  • – most expensive in the group…. by a significant margin.
  • – shortest in the group.
  • + smallest in the group when folded, easiest to just drop in the bag and go.
  • + awesome leg locks.
  • + removable feet, so can carry a set of spiked feet and swap or get convertible feet.
  • + nicest rubber feet in the group, they’re wide but “thin” so they grip better.
  • + cast center spider is compact and also great looking
  • + best looking carbon in the group
  • – no hook for those that need one (but there’s a cast loop in the spider you can tie anything to and is a lighter solution).

ILCE-7RM2-DSC01538

Davis & Sanford TR654C-36

This is the wildcard in the group.  I’ve noticed this tripod on B&H’s site a few months ago when a friend was looking for a good inexpensive tripod.  I couldn’t really recommend it because I’d never seen or heard of Davis & Sanford but it’s specs were hard to ignore.  I had to see what it was about so I ordered one for myself (it’s not on loan, I bought it).  Out of the box it’s VERY similar to the sirui.  Similar specs across the board except for a few differences.  First up and most obvious is the price.  This tripod costs $170 and comes with a ballhead and plate!  You do lose the monopod option but you gain convertible feet…  That’s right, the least expensive tripod in the group is the only one in the group with convertible feet!  This might not be a crucial feature to everyone but it’s something I’ve had on my induro CT313 for ~5 years now.  Doing arch work I use the rubber feet, outside I use the spikes.  Threading the rubber foot up/down is MUCH easier than a set of feet you swap on and off (been there, done that).  One area this set of legs differs from the sirui is that the hook under the center column has a weird plastic part around it.  This forces the center column to protrude about ~1/2″ below the bottom of the “spider” when everything is collapsed.  For most this probably isn’t a big deal but I’m putting these legs inside the bags in this review and that ~1/2″ was just enough to make it work.  So I unthreaded the hook, removed the plastic bit and hook, and replaced the bottom plate.  Now the center column sits flush with the spider!  The other really nice thing with the D&S is that the switches for the angle of the legs has a very nice and easy shape to it.  It’s easier to get a finger on than both the feisol and sirui.

The negatives with the D&S would be that out of the box the tension with the legs isn’t tight enough.  Grab the tripod by one leg and it opens leaving the rest of the tripod behind.  But they provide you with the tools needed to tighten the screws and you can tighten them enough to meet any preference (IE I over tightened them!).  The platform for the head is also larger in diameter than is needed.  This means when you invert and close the legs they touch the platform before they touch the ballhead which keeps the legs spread a bit wider than needed.  The last negative is hard to count as a negative as it’s the included ballhead.  Yes that’s right, the least expensive option in the group has a ballhead and plate thrown in for “free”!  The reason it’s a negative is it’s a heavy ballhead that’s got the traditional 3 knobs on it that just means it doesn’t work cleanly with a tripod that’s designed to invert.  The knobs end up straddling one of the legs and the clamp ends up fighting with the third leg with it’s lock in the way as well.  Now, it’ll still fit in the backlight 26l or incase camera inserts with this head and like I said, it’s included in the price…  But with all the other legs in this test I’d be adding my own small travel ballhead to them so it’s only fair to do the same here as well.  Once you replace the head the legs fold neatly around the head without any issues.

Pros & Cons:

  • +++ CHEAP!!!
  • + seems to be a clone of the sirui but at less than half the price.
  • + includes a ballhead and plate for the price.
  • + very nice “locks” on the legs to invert them (the blue levers)
  • +/- blue accents, could take or leave…
  • – leg tension is loose out of the box + fixable with included tools
  • + tallest in the group when using one or no center column
  • + feet are convertible out of the box, spikes and rubber!
  • ? there’s some metal on here (spikes and in around the leg rotation mechanism) that might not be stainless enough if you put it in salt water (like I do) at this price.  Time will tell…
  • – not a lot of mileage on one, haven’t seen any other reviews, how will it hold up?
  • – ballhead is heavy and makes it tricky to collapse the legs and line up the knobs (not the best travel head) but it’s free at a price that’s <1/2 the others so it’s very hard to call this a negative (I have my sunwayfoto FB-28 on mine)…
  • – hook design leaves center column ~1/2″ below the spider which makes it ~1/2″ longer in the bag, had to REMOVE the hook and put just the plate back on to make it fit in the larger bags (the hook on the sirui fits flush).

and now onto the bags…  I’m trying to get myself into that one perfect photo backpack…  As I’m sure most of you know this is almost impossible because we don’t do the same thing all the time in terms of where we go OR what we shoot.  Some times you’re in the city, sometimes on a mountain, sometimes you’ve got a bag of primes and flashes, other times it’s tripods and zooms and filters.  But my goal here is to get one bag that does everything I do (which ranges from architectural to skiing to landscapes to weddings) without needed a bag for each genre…

incase

Incase DSLR pro backpack

I’ve had this bag for two years now and it’s been a surprisingly good bag.  I bought it to see if I’d like back panel access bags and I realized they work really well for me.  The great part about this bag is it’s very low profile and it blends into the sea of backpacks out there.  It’s a great bag for flying under the radar.  It’s got one tiny incase logo on it and very few straps or anything else to draw attention to the fact that it’s a camera bag.  This bag has plenty of room for a laptop and tablet in the front compartment and I’ve even put in my full filter kit (in a mindshift filterhive) and my strobe kit (in a think tank modular bag).  But when there’s nothing in this section it practically disappears and this is easily the thinnest bag in the bunch when there’s nothing in the front section.  This thinness is due in large part to the fact that it’s got the thinnest camera section was well.  The camera insert is only ~5″ deep where the lowepro and mindshift are both 6″ deep.  This inch could make a big difference if you’re using something like a 5Diii that really fills the smaller bag.  Even my a7rii when on it’s side gets tight in the incase where it drops right into the mindshift or lowepro.  The overall height of the incase makes the longer tripods fit perfectly.  The inserts are well built but not quite as nice as mindshifts.  The back panel opens sideways which I actually prefer to the top down opening of the others as the flap stays out of the dirt/sand better.  There’s a nice quick access opening at the top of the bag which lets you get your camera out of the top in a hurry.  It’s also got the nicest handle in the group at the top…  The biggest negative for me is the lack of a hip belt means it’s not a comfortable bag to hike with for a full day.  But this is also the cheapest bag in the group by a lot priced at $140!  If you’re looking for a bag for short hikes or prioritize having a very stealth bag over all else this is the bag for you!

Pros & Cons:

  • + cheapest bag in the group.
  • + least camera bag looking.
  • – thinnest camera section (can’t hold a pro body).
  • + thinnest camera section means thinnest bag though…
  • – most organic looking shape, least boxy.
  • + great accessory pocket up front.
  • – no hip belt
  • + love the “sideways” opening to the camera compartment, door/flap stays off ground better than others.
  • – back panel zipper is smaller than the rest, doesn’t flow as well.
  • +/- has worn OK for 2 years, but some seems are starting to show stress (not coming apart, just shows some mileage).
  • + quick access flap at top of bag to access just the camera.
  • + nicest grab handle of the group at top of bag.

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Mindshift Backlight 26l

If the sirui and D&S tripods were twins the incase and mindshift bags also share a lot of similarities.  The mindshift is basically the outdoor version of the incase.  It’s built better and has the best camera insert in the group.  Mindshift/Thinktank just know how to make no nonsense camera inserts.  They use thinner padding that gives you more room.  For me it’s the correct amount of padding as I want some protection but prefer having space -vs- bloated padding (and you can always double up on inserts around items you’re worried about).  The zipper pulls are the nicest in the group and even though the main zipper is the same here as in the lowepro and f-stop, it somehow works slightly better here.  Possibly because of the shorter pulls on the zippers?  The front pocket is almost identical in layout to the incase with room for a laptop and tablet and plenty of accessories and or lunch and some layers.   There are great water bottle pockets on both sides on the outside with straps above so you can store a tripod on either side here if you like.  It’s also got a great setup to put a tripod down the middle of the back but it’s furthest away from you meaning it’ll throw your balance off a bit, even with a light tripod.  There’s another small pocket on the back as well.  The harness is nice but maybe not quite as nice as the lowepro.  This bag (and the lowepro) comes with it’s own rain fly (an extra on the f-stop).  Basically this is the bag I would suggest to anyone reading this review unless you’re a hardcore skier.  The side straps couldn’t quite handle skis but this bag will handle just about anything else.  You get a lot for your money at $250.  If that seems a bit steep for you and you can live without the hip belt the incase is your answer.  The backlight is the answer if you’re hiking at all and it still doesn’t scream camera bag (as long as you keep your tripod inside the bag) when out and about.

Pros & Cons:

  • + best all around bag in the group
  • + best camera inserts by far.
  • – a bit boxy in shape.
  • – fabric on back panel and straps LOVES to pick up sand…
  • + great harness AND it fits me at 6’4″.
  • + 2:1 on hip belt makes it easy to tighten.
  • + plenty of storage options on outside of bag for tripods, water bottles etc.
  • + includes rain cover.
  • – a bit boxy looking.
  • +/- while not super stealth looking it still doesn’t scream camera bag.
  • + great zipper pulls!!!!
  • – grab handle at top of bag is thin (so are the whistler’s and f-stops), thinktank has a much nicer handle on their own trifecta bags.

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LowePro Whistler 450aw

This is the bag I want to win me over…  But it’s not perfect…  As I said earlier I spotted this bag at photo expo in NYC and tried my sirui in it immediately only to realize the camera insert is juuust a hair too short.  Turns out the compartment itself has TONS of room, it’s just that the insert lowepro has designed for this bag has very heavy and stiff foam or even plastic boards in the sides and top and bottom.  This eats up valuable room and it makes the sirui and D&S twins just too long to fit.  Take the insert out and the longer tripods swim in there…  The rest of the bag is built VERY well.  The material is hard to explain.  It’s got an almost rubberized feeling to it.  It’s heavier than the f-stop but in a way that feels like it’s more waterproof/resistant and less likely to rip.  It’s got awesome straps and buckles for putting skis on the side in an a-frame (see below) or for a snowboard centered on the back.  The snowboard straps are even removable for skiers to give easier access to the snow tool pocket.  And that’s right, this bag has a snow tool pocket, NOT a laptop sleeve (I’ve always questioned f-stop for this on their dedicated ski/snow bags, they’ve got a padded laptop sleeve why?).  This compartment has a grommet in the bottom to drain water and a nice rubberized hypathalon (?) layer between it and the camera section.  There’s a hook up top for your water bladder so the drain and barrier make sense.  The harness is the best in the group.  The material on the bag flap is great as it’s not mesh so it doesn’t pick up dirt or sand, but it’s got enough relief to it it’s not one hot flat panel on your back.  The sternum strap is not only a whistle (the backlight has this as well as the f-stop) but it’s fixed on the left strap in a way you can EASILY clip and unclip it ONE HANDED!!!  I didn’t really realize how nice this is until I’d used the bag a few weeks and keep finding myself trying this with the other bags now as well.  The straps are probably all a bit longer than they need to be as I’m 6’4″ and have PLENTY of extra strap/wedding at each adjustment.  I would hate to see someone not fit due to short straps but this is close to overkill IMHO (and it costs more and weighs more).

Pros & Cons:

  • + best bag for carrying skis/snowboard.
  • + great material, feels rugged and a bit more waterproof/resistant (time will tell).
  • + includes rain cover.
  • – over protective camera insert gives up space for padding (can’t fit the sirui/D&S in the biggest bag in the group?).
  • – very boxy with the insert in the bag (boxy rectangle with “boards” in the sides mean there’s zero give).
  • – to put it this way, if this bag had the mindshift insert it would be my winner hands down…
  • + no laptop compartment in a ski specific bag as it should be!
  • + snow tool pocket is nicely waterproof and has a drain hole.
  • + buckles/straps are heavy duty so they’ll take the abuse ski edges put on a bag.
  • + great material on the back panel picks up zero sand.
  • + great harness, has the same 2:1 hip strap but also has the non dangling sternum strap that’s amazing (one of those “why did this take so long to figure out?” moments).
  • + most comfortable bag.
  • +/- biggest bag in the group (this can go either way but they make a smaller version if you don’t want big!).
  • + great zipper pulls
  • + dedicated ski bag means extra storage is for snow tools, non skiers/riders will consider this a negative as they laptop/tablet storage isn’t quite as nice.
  • – gray on gray zipper pulls on the non camera zippers are hard to see at dusk/dark, gusset pulls should be gray but the rest should be a contrasting color.
  • – Main compartment zipper pulls aren’t quite as nice as the mindshift but this is just being super nit picky…
  • – orange?
  • +/- has a fiberglass stay for shape.
  • – thin grab handle at top.

F-stop Satori EXP

This is a great hiking backpack that can carry a camera.  By that I mean the bag itself is great, but f-stops ICU system leaves a lot to be desired.  I know a lot of great ski photographers use f-stops but I just can’t get over the ICU system and how it feels like an add on and not a cohesive unit.  I owned the loka for over two years before I upgraded to the satori which is basically just a larger version of the same bag.  I’ve had my satori for two years now as well and I’ve put countless miles on both skiing and hiking.  Another oddity with this bag is the fact it’s got a padded laptop sleeve.  Obviously photographers travel with laptops quite often but NOT when they’re skiing…  Lowepro left this out on the whistler and instead built a dedicated snow tool pocket (which a padded laptop sleeve can fit in easily when traveling but not hiking/skiing).  In the end I just really don’t like the inserts and the way everything else in the bag loves to come out that back panel once you open it (a larger insert would plug the whole better admittedly).  For this reason I’ve been looking to replace this bag for a while now and the whistler is the first bag that can match it’s performance skiing.  The only thing this bag is better at -vs- the whistler is the fact it’s inserts come in different sizes.  You can go with a tiny camera kit and load the rest with gear which is nice.  But you can do something similar with the whistler by either not filling the camera insert with camera gear or just removing it and using a smaller insert.

Pros & Cons:

  • + light weight.
  • + nice harness, has 2:1 hip belt buckles
  • + most wide open storage options…
  • – because of the above sometimes things “float” around in the bag as it can be one massive compartment if you want it to be.
  • – ICUs are worst camera insert in the group.
  • – has a padded laptop sleeve in a ski/hiking bag, when was the last time you took your laptop skiing?  Plus, if you say “for traveling” yeah, OK but don’t we all have padded laptop sleeves/cases already?  So a slot for a shovel that your padded laptop bag goes in when traveling makes way more sense…
  • – if your bladder were to leak that’s in the “laptop sleeve” which isn’t waterproof/resistant that water is then inside the rest of the bag (the lowepro has it in it’s own pocket with snow tools [that can get wet] with a grommet at the bottom so it drains and keeps the water away from everything else).
  • +/- has an aluminum stay for shape.
  • – thin grab handle at top.

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Final Thoughts:

To wrap this up lets break it down into some picks for best bags and tripods for different things.  For me here’s the breakdown, The satori is the loser all around.  I was the best ski bag but the whistler has taken over that role pretty convincingly.  The incase is the pick if you’re on a budget or if you want the most stealth bag in the group.  The whistler is the new ski bag and it gives the backlight a run for it’s money overall as well.  It’s slightly bigger so if you’re as tall as I am (6’4″) it might fit better and it’s built with slightly heavier materials (more durable in theory but also heavier).  The best bag in the group would have to be the backlight 26l.  It’s really the best all around bag here.  The only thing I wouldn’t do with it is strap skis to it and hike tucks but that’s not it’s design (just something I’m looking for).  It’s got the best inserts, the best accessory storage (although the incase is basically the same) and a great harness.

Tripod wise I can’t really see why we’re not all using the Davis & Sanford…  It’s the least expensive in the group by a large margin.  It’s slightly heavier than the feisol and sirui with the gitzo being the lightest by only ~7%…  The D&S comes with it’s own ballhead and plate.  Admittedly the head isn’t the best travel head, but it’s basically free considering the other three options all need a head added anyway.  The gitzo is my second choice and only because it’s the winner if you need something in the <17″ range when folded.  It’s enough nicer than the feisol for me that if I need a tripod that size it’s the choice for me.  I’ll find the money to make it work somewhere as it was just a pleasure to use in every way…

In short, if you’re a big guy or skier buy the Whistler with the gitzo but otherwise go for the backlight and D&S.

 

42 thoughts on “Four Travel Backpack and Tripod options reviewed:

  1. Great write up and video review! It would be great to see a follow up and find out what your thoughts are after three months or so of use. I’m particular interested in how the Davis & Sanford TR654C-36 is doing since it’s such a wildcard, in a specs-to-cost sense–perhaps address your concerns as far as corrosion resistance and durability.

  2. Hi Ben:

    What head would you recommend I replace the stdard in-box head with for Davis & Sanford TR654C-36? Thanks for this great review.

    Cheers
    Sudheer

    • I’ve got a sunwayfoto FB-28 that I really like. The newer version has a panning clamp/knob as well which isn’t a terrible addition (but means an extra knob). Really right stuff also has a small option, I think the BH25?
      Thanks!
      Ben

  3. Thanks for the review. I have a trip this summer and was looking for a carry on pack that had a back open style. I have it down to the Whistler 350 and the fStop Ajna. Your comparison is the closest I could find just different sizes. Avid amateur photogs here love the fStop despite it not being sold here in Canada. The Mindshift also is only available in the US. For me I think it will be the Whistler only because I won’t have to pay a currency exchange (add about 30% to the price you’d see on the flop site) or shipping and it does go on sale. Glad to hear it was right at the top of your review. Other reviews online seem to agree with you on the Whistler.
    BTW, my trip is to British Columbia home to Whistler. Can’t wait to get into the mountains for the landscape photography.

    • Thanks for the comment Ian! FYI I’m selling my loka so if that helps (willing to ship to Canada!) let me know… Bummer you can’t get the mindshift up there though. Where are you in Canada?
      Ben

  4. After viewing and reading your review, I’m leaning towards the Gitzo tripod. Is there other any head for this particular tripod besides the sunwayfoto?

    • Well, any head will work so it’s really personal preference. I use the sunwayfoto because it’s small and light and holds my sonys. RRS has some awesome small options (the BH-25) but they’re not cheap.
      Good Luck!
      Ben

  5. Great info Ben. I’m preparing to buy my first tripod for hiking and after this review I am trying decide between the Sirui and the Davis & Sanford. There seems to be a big discrepancy between the two in regards to load capacity. Is this due to the ballhead that is included with the Davis & Sanford?

    • the problem here is load ratings are not all created equal… So it’s hard to know if you’re comparing apples to apples. I know both of the options you’re looking at will support an a7rii with my biggest lens (70-300) but 2.8 glass or a 5Diii might push them a bit more? They’re pretty close though. The D&S’s head, while not fancy is very solid. What are you going to be putting on it as your biggest setup?
      Ben

  6. I need something that will support a Canon 5d MKIII (2.09 lb.) with a sigma 150-600 contemporary lens. (4.25 lb). I will be using a Jobu Jr. 3 gimbal head (3lb). Total weight under 10 lbs.

    • I’d say that setup is pushing any of these options to be honest… I have the tamron version of that lens adapter for my sony a7rii. It works but you need to be careful with the balance or it could tip the whole rig over. I use the clamp tilted 90° so the neck of the clamp is in the drop notch and then set the camera off to the side (you can’t get the drag right with these smaller setups for a rig this heavy). It can then pan around and you can adjust the angle by loosening the tripod foot. But it’s a “good enough” setup, not ideal.
      Good Luck!
      Ben

  7. Very informative reviews, thank you. I shoot with a Fuji XT-1 which lighter than dslr, and have been looking for a good travel tripod. What is your thoughts on the Davis and Sanford with the mirrorless Fuji XT-1.

    thanks.

    • Hi Cindy. I used that set of legs and head with my sony a7rii for this review. Our setups are very similar in size and weight so it will absolutely work. It’s a great budget friendly setup.
      Good Luck,
      Ben

  8. Hello, I’m oriented to a gitzo 1545; have you tried it’s ballhead 1382TQD? Otherwise which ballhead for size and controls do you recommends? I own a sunwayfoto xb-44 but I destroyed my panning knob, I really don’t really like this brand…

    • I haven’t tried any of gitzo’s ball heads. The problem with small travel tripods is you need a head with a small base diameter so it fits between the legs or you’ll have to take it off to get it folded up correctly. Otherwise the legs stay splayed out too far to fit into a small space. Acratech has a GPSS version of their head with a smaller base. I’m not sure how well it fits between the legs of the gitzo though. I loved that head when I had a full sized tripod. Really Right Stuff would be another option to look at. Their BH-30 and 40 are both rock solid and reasonably sized. I’d go with the 30 on a travel setup. There’s a new company knocking them off called leofoto that’s available on amazon that might be easier to get.
      Good Luck!
      Ben

  9. Thanks for the thorough review(s). Have you had a chance to review the D&S 684, the slightly larger but otherwise identical version of the 654 reviewed here? As a taller guy, and in order to avoid full extension of the center column, I’m wondering how you would compare the two (obviously, fitting it in a bag will be harder).

    I’m also wondering if you could expand on your motivation for storing your tripod inside your bag versus outside. Clearly, doing so is less of an announcement to others that you’re carrying camera gear, and may be a consideration for carry-on protection, but I’m curious to know what other reasons you might have.

    • Nic,
      Have not seen the 684. I’m all for the largest option that fits in the space so it would be nice to see if it works. I agree on avoiding the center column whenever possible. I will say it’s nice to have though as there have been a lot of times when I’ve needed to keep my legs close together (perched on a rock in a river) but wanted some height.

      As for legs inside my bag. It’s for the exact reasons you mentioned. More protection and less attention when it’s unseen. I will say our trip to Iceland has me rethinking this though. When you go on a quick trip or a work trip with photo gear I love the stealth inside the bag option. But on our Iceland trip is was a photo trip. I was using the tripod constantly once we arrived. So it was in the bag for the flights but once there the legs were rotated around to their normal position and it stayed like that the entire time we were there. Because of this I couldn’t put it inside the bag but we were in and out of the camper so much I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway. But for the entire trip I had no need for this feature/option. It also made me realize I could get a set of legs that is that specific length with the head removed and just install it once I arrive. Or store something larger on the outside of the bag even. It comes down to where you’re going and how often you’ll be using the tripod really. And for the Iceland trip I honestly wish I had a shoulder bag as well as we only went on ~3 long hikes where the backpack was great to have but a TON of quick hikes out of the camper where a shoulder bag would have been easier to work with… There really is no one perfect answer. It’s just about finding what works best for you.

      Good Luck!
      Ben

  10. Hi Ben,
    Great review..again, you’ve got the knack for making informative and unbiased reviews. Are you still happy with the p0 monoball? I am tossing up purchasing it or the Acratech GP. The Arca Swiss is almost getting the nod however after reading (in Precision Camera Works info) that there are steel plates/ parts in the head and if the head gets wet, it is highly recommended that it is sent in for service to prevent rusting, etc. I like the GPs simplicity in this regard. Basically I use my gear around the ocean mostly which is my main concern with this. Have you had any issues or concerns with your p0 to date?
    Best regards,
    Mick

    • Mick,
      Thanks! As for the P0 I still have mine and it’s in great shape *but* it’s never really gotten all that wet. The inverted design really helps there. Water can’t really “fall” into the ball. It’d really need to get submerged to get wet inside. But as you mentioned the GP is a great head with ZERO issues with water (or sand/dirt etc) getting into anything as it’s completely exposed. I actually owned a GP before my P0. I switched because the rubber bits on the knobs of the GP broke off of the metal portion so you’d be twisting a knob and only the outer rubber bit would be spinning… This was the one big/main locking knob. The other thing I prefer on the P0 is that the locking ring goes all the way around the head so regardless of how you setup your legs it’s good to go. With a traditional head with a panning and normal locking knob you end up either having to pay attention to how you setup your legs or having to rotate the head after you’ve setup. It’s a small detail but something that bugs me a lot in practice personally. I know most people don’t mind but for me I don’t want to have to pan the head around, tighten that knob then switch to the other knob for setup in the dark before my coffee has kicked in! So I’ve found myself 2 heads (on travel one for the bigger legs which is the P0) that have basically a single knob and they’ve worked really well for me.

      $.02/YMMV!
      Ben

  11. Great review! I would however want to know if you think that the InCase DSLR Pro backpack would fit a 18.90 inch tripod? I also want to inquire if the Feisol tripod (or all of mentioned tripods) are compatible with only ballheads?

    • I’ve sold the incase at this point but I doubt it would fit. The sirui at 18.25″ was quite tight. You’re adding more than half an inch to that… So if it fits it would be a struggle to get it in and out of the bag which negates the point (at least for me). I want easy access with everything in one place. As for the heads tripods pretty much all come with the same threads and all heads use the same threads as well. In the rare cases they’re not a match a bushing is supplied and will make it work. You can use a bunch of different head options. I have both a geared head and two ball heads I use on these tripods.

      Good Luck!
      Ben

  12. Hi,

    Thank you for the review – just bought the Mindshift at B&H this weekend. I tried many backpacks in the store, but the Mindshift was exactly what I was looking for.
    Two weeks ago I bought the Sirui 1205-X and it fits nicely into the bag – btw: MUCH more stable than the 025-X.

    Pretty happy now an looking forward for the next photo trip.
    Alex

  13. Great review!! I will be purchasing the Mindshift bag based on your review. I’ll be sure to click your link when I do. 🙂 I have a quick question. Have you found any spikes to work with the Gitzo 1545 yet? It seems that most of what I’ve found says Gitzo does not make any for the Series 1 tripods. Best, JD

    • JD,
      Spikes are an issue… I have not found spikes that work. I’ve found the spikes are all the next size up. This leaves you with either drilling and tapping the holes for the next size up (then you’ll need new rubber feet as well) or getting an adapter (messy and not as stable). And I was missing my spikes in Iceland…
      Ben

  14. Fantastic review! Exactly what I needed. Thanks for the work.
    How does the FB28 fit with the GT 1545? Does it allow the legs to fully close around it? It’s tempting because it’s much cheaper and lighter than gitzo’s original.

  15. Thank you for your review.

    Which spikes can you use with the Gitzo 1545T as the Gitzo website specifies that the feet are not interchangeable?

    Is the Gitzo GT1545T considerably better than the Sirui N-1204x you had before considering the price difference?
    Thanks in advance for your feedback.

    • The feet come off the 1545 but I couldn’t find anything with the smaller diameter threads (maybe 1/4 20?). I was tempted to drill and tap them but didn’t… And that’s one of the huge negatives with it. The gitzo is better but by enough to justify it, not sure? I ended up selling mine after my iceland trip as I felt the last leg section was a bit too skinny after a full trips worth of shooting… It’s stable on hard ground (rocks etc) but in sand and some other softer situations they sank easily.

      Ben

  16. I think I’ll go for the Sirui as travel tripod, although no spikes is not ideal. I tried the Feisol CT3442 as a solid bigger option but the thicker legs were wobbly compared to the Gitzo GT1545. Very disappointing. Do you have any other recommendations for a travel tripod or a bigger solid one with spikes as option? Thanks.

    • Well the D&S option has spikes and is very similar in stability and quality to the sirui. But if you’re longing for gitzo quality you’re not going to get it with the sirui or D&S. I see two options, one of which I took myself. First is to go a size up on the gitzo and get the 2454. This is ~$270 more for something that’s .8″ taller and .6lb heavier but the legs are all one more size larger at each stage. What I did instead is opt for the really right stuff TQC-14. It’s similar in specs to the 2 series gitzo in price and size but is lighter by a tad. The only difference is the RRS doesn’t invert it’s legs for storage so to get it inside the bag you have to take the ballhead off but that’s actually quick and easy (and only done when flying for me now). It’s a rock solid little tripod that I’ve been very impressed with. The only 2 negatives are it’s price and the non inverting legs but it’s so solid that’s worth the trade. Then I have their “rock claws” as my spiked feet. Their rubber feet work quite well though thanks to their larger diameter.

      Ben

  17. Hi!
    Great reviews. We are shopping for our first tripod to use in a trip to iceland in December and the Davis and Sandford seems a good first tripod. But I am worried about the durability (corrosion) and if the ball head would take the cold weather. Any experiences worth sharing with us?
    We will really appreciate to know how it felt for you so far
    The other option in mind is the Mefoto Globetrotter, have you used this one before?
    Thanks

    • unfortunately I haven’t tested that head in cold AND spray… Iceland is land of waterfalls so you’ll be getting wet and cold. Not sure how it’d fair. I’m sure it’d last the trip but who knows long term. Mine has worked well here in the cold and with some spray in the warm but I’ve never had both at the same time… Another small head I really like is the leofoto LH-25 or LH-30 from amazon if you’d like an inexpensive spare but that’s adding to the cost.

      I’ve seen and handled the mefoto’s but I haven’t used one more than for a brief second checking it out. My issue with the globetrotter is it’s got 4 locks and 5 sections. That makes the final section very skinny and less stable. For me three locks and 4 sections is the most I’ll use and even then it depends on the tripod as some have that final leg section being pencil sized…

      Of those two I’d go with the D&S. I’d consider putting some of the savings into a better head if you’re concerned about it. I’d bet it lasts the trip but at that price you can add a $100 head and still be around the price of the globetrotter.

      Good Luck!
      Ben

  18. Hi Ben, just to update you on my tripod search. As I live in Europe I have no access to RRS. I have bought the Rollei Rock Solid Gamma, 1.35kg, with removable spikes, and sand and saltwater resistant. I’ve only just started using it, but it seems sturdy and it is very good quality. Happy New Year!

  19. Thank you for your video. It made things clearer. I own an RRS 30. I need a travel size tripod for a trip to icleand. If I go with the Davis and Sanford, is the screw on the RRS going to fit without a problem? I don’t know the size of the screw on the D and S ballhead. If it’s 1/4 …it won’t fit. If I go with Gitzo , same question.

    • The screw on the tripod for the head is a 3/8″ screw.
      Good luck in Iceland, we’re going back in July!

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