The quest for the “perfect” camera bag is a struggle that many photographers can undoubtedly relate to. Is anything ever perfect? Of course not, almost everything in life is a compromise. However, let me give you my impressions of what might well be the best photo backpack ever made: The Kiboko 22L+ from Gura Gear.
The company was founded a few years ago by wildlife photographer Andy Biggs. The first bag they created was the Kiboko 30L (or just “Kiboko” at the time). It was designed to be the largest bag that would comply with airline carry-on requirements to hold a maximum amount of gear, and yet be as light and comfortable as possible.
A few years later, they added the 22L+ as the smaller brother of the original backpack. The “L”, by the way, stands for liters, denoting the usable volume of the bag. (They also have the “Chobe”, a multi purpose shoulder bag.)
Both Kibokos share some design features that distinguish them from other backpacks. They are made from super light yet strong materials such as sail cloth and weigh only about 4 pounds. They have a fully functioning harness so that you can carry a full pack with minimum discomfort. They also have a unique butterfly flap design that allows accessing half of the bag’s content at a time as you will see in the slideshow above.
While the 22L+ is smaller than the original 30L, and hence does not fit some super tele lenses, it does have a laptop compartment (against the back), which the 30L does not have. Because that compartment takes up some of the depth of the bag, certain large bodies (such as a Canon 1D with an attached L bracket) may not fit comfortably.
I used the 22L+ on a recent two week vacation and was really impressed with the bag. Your needs may vary, but for me the 22L+ is the right bag and the 30L would not be. I don’t have super tele lenses, nor large camera bodies, but I do occasionally want to be able to carry a laptop, such as when I’m between destinations on a road trip, and don’t want to leave valuables in the car.
I was carrying between 25 and 35 pounds of gear for several hours at a time. Sure, I felt the weight, but I never had sore muscles the next day, nor did I have any need for physical therapy. So, I’d say the harness did its job. However, I do agree with Nick Devlin’s quote about whether the bag is big enough, and I chuckle when I read it: In a word, the capacity of the 22L+ is “sufficient”. As in, ‘please God don’t ever let me take more gear than this on a trip with me.’
Ok, if you’re still wondering if the bag is big enough and really need to know: I was carrying a Canon 5D with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L attached, Canon 60D with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS attached, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II, Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Fisheye, Canon 430EXII flash, spare batteries and chargers, various filters, flash triggers, cables, and miscellaneous other little things, tripod, 15 inch MacBook Pro, Kindle, several collapsible water bottles, bug spray, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting now.
Some people who have reviewed the Kibokos have reported that the butterfly design took them some getting used to. I must say I like it. As a side effect, having the usable space split down the middle of the bag allows me to easily store two bodies with lenses attached, which is how I almost always work. Few other backpack seem to be configurable that way.
There are too many well thought out design details of the bags to list them all here. Let me just say that I am thoroughly enjoying the bag and haven’t found any downside yet. I obviously haven’t had the bag long enough to comment on durability, but it seems to be extremely well made from tough materials. Others have used their original Kibokos for several years in the field, and I have yet to read a report of anything failing. I did once accidentally back into a really pointy tree branch that probably would have given me a nasty poke in the back had I not carried the backpack. I can’t even tell where the branch hit the bag.
I said I hadn’t found any downside yet. Once you look up the price tag of $379, you might disagree with me. However, I will claim that you often get what you pay for, and this bag is a great example. Also, almost any one piece of gear (cameras, lenses, etc.) you put inside the bag probably cost you more than the whole bag, so keep that in mind!