Peak Design’s new backpack — how it compares to the Everyday Messenger

I’m an amateur photographer, as well as a professional laptop lugger. For the two weeks of the month that I’m on call, I need to have my work MacBook Pro with me for most of the day, and as somebody who likes taking photos of things I like to have a camera nearby 24/7. I also go to the gym, read books, write in notebooks, have an assortment of lenses, tripods, bottles of water and sometimes clothes.

Basically, like everybody, I carry a lot of crap around with me most days.

My Everyday Messenger (with my Fuji X-T10 on the side) at Mount Teide, a volcano in Spain

When I saw that Peak Design were releasing a camera (and other stuff) backpack on Kickstarter, I backed it immediately (and picked the dark grey colour). I had been using their Everyday Messenger for about a year, and I love it — except for one thing: It can get uncomfortable, hanging off one shoulder when it’s filled up with heavy gear. I’ve always preferred backpacks to messenger bags, so I couldn’t wait to test out Peak Design’s take on the camera backpack.

Here, I’ll compare one month of lugging stuff with the Everyday Backpack to one year of lugging stuff with the Everyday Messenger. I’m writing this for people who are familiar with the Everyday Messenger, or have done some research into the Everyday Backpack, but hopefully others will find some use in it too. I’m not going to spend much time talking about the features, instead I’ll talk about my experience with those features.

If you aren’t familiar with Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack, watch this 41 second video.
The Everyday Backpack was created by a team of designers, engineers, and photographers to meet the needs of creative, adventurous people. ~ Peak Design product page

The Looks

This bag was marketed on looks just as much as its ability to safely carry around thousands of euro worth of equipment. I own a lot of backpacks. I’ve got a bit of a problem, you see — I’m a bit of a backpack pack rat. I have at least 5 large bags in use at the moment, including a Chrome Industries Citizen and Bravo, what I think is a Bailey Works Work Pack and my two Peak Design bags. I’ve also got a smattering of smaller bags including the Peak Design Field Pouch which I mostly use when I want to bring my camera somewhere but also travel light. All in all, I probably have ~€700 worth of crap-holding capacity within reach.

Of all the bags that I own, this one looks the best — and it definitely shares a design language with the Messenger, if slightly evolved. The Peak Design team clearly have a vision of what they’d like their bags to look like. Where the Bravo looks like a Blade Runner prop that’s about to murder you, the Backpack looks every bit as functional, but also somehow warm and welcoming. Unlike the Bailey Works pack or the Chrome Citizen, it matches both my brown jacket and my smarter pea jacket. It shares the same waterproof Kodra synthetic canvas material as the Messenger, although I do prefer the slightly lighter and less shiny look of the Messenger, which has more light-grey threads woven through it. Maybe this is something that the Backpack will get with age.

Carrying Your Stuff

Peak Design

This Backpack is designed for photographers who want to carry other stuff too. I wouldn’t recommend using it to go to the gym, or do the weekly shop. Like the Messenger, it comes with origami-style dividers which allow you to create perfect storage areas for your camera, lenses, flash, and so on.

On the Messenger, these dividers work fantastically. They operate as walls to keep each piece of equipment away from the others, and can be organised in dozens of combinations.

On the Backpack, they still work pretty well (with a caveat). While you can still configure the dividers in dozens of ways, the most natural way to organise the diviers is to create shelves which break up the backpack’s interior (you can see this setup in the 41 second video above). The dividers no longer need to operate as just walls — they now need to be walls, ceilings and floors. I suspect that over time I’ll tweak the configuration and find the perfect setup for me, but for now it feels a little fiddly and wobbely. The cavities never perfectly fit my camera body or lens, so I’m always aware that a lens might be rattling around — surrounded by protective fabric maybe, but still moving. I never felt this way about the Messenger’s dividers, since you can make everything fit much tighter.

The Backpack with two dividers installed (it comes with a third)

That said, the dividers are still the crowning point of the bag, and make Peak Design bags the best I’ve seen for somebody who needs to transport loads of expensive camera gear. Using them I can fit a whole lot more stuff than I could in my Messenger, and I can make special places for even some smaller things like straps.

So that’s how it holds your gear. But it can hold a whole lot more. Like the Messenger, the Backpack has a whole host of smaller pockets, most of which are in the sides. In order to access them, you zip open a side of the backpack, where you can unzip part of what initially looks like the lining of the bag.

The Messenger’s layout makes me feel like everything had A Place in the bag. Some pockets were the perfect size for batteries, SD cards and other bits, other pockets were great for lens filters and caps, and there was another pocket with perfect fit my glasses and passport. I don’t feel that way about the Backpack.

The sizes of the pockets seem to be a little arbitrary. I can tell that the small ones are probably for SD cards, but they’re so tight that I think that I’ve stretched the elastic by storing three SD cards in their plastic cases in one. There are also some long pockets that I’ve ended up using for cables and assorted pens, and a few really big pockets that I guess could be used for a small hard drive, or a passport. I’ve put a lens filter in one of them, but it feels like it’s swimming, rather than being securely hugged.

The laptop sleeve is protected, and you can access it without opening up the body of the bag which is a feature that I really appriciate. There’s also a pocket which you can access when you unzip the laptop area, which I’ve used for storing items like sunglasses and tissues.

My setup usually only requires one divider, and then the rest of the bag is empty. There’s a whole lot of space in there into which I can throw anything else that I need for the day. Because the exterior of the bag is quite rigid, things can still rattle around quite a lot, but I haven’t had any huge issues. I definitely prefer using the Backpack to the Messenger when it comes to lugging around a whole load stuff.

Grabbing Your Stuff

How side-access works, from the Peak Design product video

As a photographer, I always want to be able to get my camera as fast as possible. An extra 2 seconds of access time could mean missing the shot, and this is one very important point where the Backpack loses out to the Messenger. With the Messenger, I could swing the bag around to my front, open the flap and grab my camera in a heartbeat. With the Backpack, you take off one of the straps, swing the backpack around your body while simultaneously loosening the remaining strap, hold the Backpack in place with one hand, unzip one of the sides and then lift the camera from where it is nestled by a divider. This rarely works as planned for me, and I instead end up tangled in a strap, or with the backpack stuck on my coat (even the Pea Jacket which is pretty form fitting with no loose parts) or just generally confused as to why nothing in life works the way I want it to. In addition, the zip often gets a little caught while traveling around the contours of the bag.

Today I saw a piece of graffiti I wanted to take a photo of and I managed to spend at least a minute trying to get my camera out of my bag, and then swap the camera’s long strap for a wrist strap, a series of actions I used to be able to do in seconds with my Messenger because it didn’t require the use of a hand and an arm to keep it balanced. I was genuinely concerned that I was about to drop one of the lenses out of the backpack onto the ground, and being in Dublin’s inner-city I was also very aware that I was waving nearly €2,000 of equipment around in the open air without it being latched on to anything.

I’m open to being told that I’m doing it wrong, or that I need more practice, or that I have the bag weighted badly. I’m going to keep practicing, because if I can be as smooth as the guy in the video, it’s going to be a very convenient way of accessing camera gear.

One thing to note is that the strap hardware displayed in the video above is different to what ended up shipping — At the start, you notice the model putting his thumb through a piece of material to loosen the strap. In the video it looks like the material is the same stuff (Hypalon) that the amazing giant zipper pulls are made of, but it’s actually a small loop of webbing. I think it’s the same webbing that Peak Design use for their camera straps (which all feel great), but with a loop this small it’s just a bit sharp and stiff. They use an even smaller loop of the same material as a pull to remove the sternum strap, and in that instance the loop is so small and the fabric is so stiff that it’s actually a hassle to get your finger through it. I’d go as far as to say that this smaller loop is downright bad. On photos I’ve seen of the pre-production bags, they were definitely using Hypalon pulls, and I’d love to know why they changed.

While the Backpack wins for carrying your stuff, the Messenger easily takes the crown when it comes to grabbing your stuff.

Comfort

There’s no way to get around it, wearing the Everyday Messenger for more than an hour is uncomfortable, even if it only has my mirrorless and an extra lens in it. After a few hours, it can become sore (although I have hiked around a volcano in the gusting wind for several hours without too much difficulty). If I throw in a 15" laptop and a few other bits, it’s a difficult bag to carry.

The Everyday Backpack fairs better. Loading it up with a laptop, a book, the Fuji X-T10, a spare lens and a few other piece of small equipment didn’t make my shoulders ache. It’s a mostly comfortable bag that has one problem which might be down to my body shape.

I’m pretty skinny, and my shoulder blades can be pointy. There are two strips of foam running down the back of the Backpack, and when I’m wearing the bag the edges of these strips rest on the inside of my shoulder blades. They very slightly push my shoulder blades outwards — nothing actively uncomfortable, but just a little bit annoying if I’m not wearing a thick coat. A friend who is slightly taller and broader than I who also bought a Backpack told me that the straps are a bit too separated, something which I’d agree with although I haven’t noticed being a particularly big problem.

So the Comfort category is a bit of a tie — for light carry, the Messenger wins just because it doesn’t put weird pressure on my back. For anything more than a camera, lens and lunch, the Backpack wins.

The Small Touches

The Everyday Messenger has a whole host of ‘small touches’ which makes it a joy to use — the Everyday Backpack is no different. Many of the pockets are closed with magnets behind the fabric (which still feel magical to me, despite being a fully grown adult), the zippers are (other than in the case mentioned above) smooth as butter, and the custom metal hardware feels pretty indestructible. There are endless connection points to secure stuff onto the outside of the bag using a series of neat little hooks and compression straps(most notably used when I cycled through Dublin with a three piece suit winched onto the back of my bag), the side pockets expand big enough for a sizeable water bottle and despite my worries of rattling equipment everything has always felt safe and secure in real-world usage.


The Final Round Up

I like this bag. I’m not as in love with it was I was when the Everyday Messenger arrived, but I like it. The Backpack has so many high points, and only a few low points. The design and construction is incredible. The material feels perfect. It seems to offer as serious protection as you can get without going hard-shell. However, it can sometimes be a little bit uncomfortable and I haven’t yet figured out how to get into the side pocket without looking like the bag is attacking me. Hopefully this is something that will come with practice!


Update

I mentioned in the review that I was unable to figure out how to access the side zips without the bag strangling me. Thankfully I’ve since figure it out! It’s all about the fluid motion of loosening the shoulder strap while it swings around.

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