I’m loving my new traveling companion. With just one minor flaw (who’s perfect, anyway?) it is all I need and a great traveler. Such is the bond frequent travelers makes with their gear, in my case a carryall camera bag.
It’s such a personal thing, a travel bag. Like a ladies handbag, it must have just the right number of pockets and pouches, dividers and slots to stash things that only the owner knows she needs. And it must be attractive.
But my camera bag must be all that and more. When I travel, whether for pleasure or on assignment as a travel journalist, I don’t want to carry more than one bag. A purse, a bag for the camera, a tote—that’s just too much to carry, too much to keep track of, and makes me too vulnerable to thieves when I have to set them down or strap them on to maneuver through a train or subway station.
But a bag that will serve as a handbag yet fit my camera, notebook, passport, tickets, reading material and a raft of odds and ends—that’s a tall order.
And here’s the catch: It shouldn’t look like a camera bag. That would make me a target or define me as a tourist. It should be reasonably presentable whether I’m trekking through the desert or dining at a Michelin-star restaurant. And since it will be my constant companion for days at a time, in all manner of weather and cramped conditions, it has to be sturdy and resilient.
Too much to ask?
I was beginning to think so. When my old camera bag wore out after years of hard use, I began the hunt for a new one. The bags in the camera store looked too nerdy and utilitarian. A tote bag didn’t have enough pouches or padding to protect my camera.
Then, a travel writer colleague raved about her Pacsafe bag. I went online to investigate the wide range of travel gear from this Hong Kong-based company. The Citysafe 200 shoulder bag looked good, but when I packed it for a trip to Vienna I couldn’t cram all my stuff inside, so I left it behind and lugged my old, beat-up bag one more time.
Back from that trip and planning another to the UK, I decided to try Pacsafe’s Camsafe V12 anti-theft camera sling bag, which promised more volume. Everything fit, but would it hold up for 10 days of travel by air, train, subway, boat and hovercraft?
I was able to reconfigure the thick, modular padding inside and secure it with Velcro tabs. My Nikon D90 fit securely with room to spare. Most DSLRs with attached lenses should fit with space for an extra lens.
The main compartment also held my Kindle, travel documents, string wallet/purse, a light wrap, headphones, a couple of granola bars and other odds and ends. There’s a slot big enough for an iPad. A zipper expands the volume of the main compartment by 15 percent, but I never needed the extra room. An outside zippered pouch has slots for smaller items. Long, stretchy pouches on either end will fit a water bottle or collapsible umbrella.
My one complaint? I wish the bag had an open outside pouch for a quick stash of a map or notebook. Retrieving these items from the zippered main compartment proved cumbersome and tedious.
The reason for the lack of an exterior, unsecured pouch might be Pacsafe’s emphasis on preventing theft. This bag is a traveling Fort Knox—well, not really, but close. My Camsafe V12 has five anti-theft features: steel wire inside the strap and steel mesh inside the main compartment to prevent slashing, hidden zipper security hooks to prevent easy opening by pickpockets, a security buckle used to release the strap to attach the bag to a stationary object, and RFID blocking material to prevent thieves using a scanner from downloading information from microchips in passports and credit cards.
And yet, the bag was specifically designed not to look like a camera bag. The Camsafe V12 resembles a big handbag or tote and I was able to wear it over my shoulder or across my chest. It might look too girly for guys to carry, but Pacsafe has three other camera bags with the same anti-theft features in shoulder bag and backpack styles that might be more suitable for men.
The company also sells a wide range of other travel gear, including luggage and backpacks, sold in 33 countries.
My Camsafe V12 retails for $140, comes in black or two-tone gray, and has a five-year warranty against defects. I expect to carry this bag around the world with me for at least a decade.