As an avid hiker I’ve long been disappointed with the backpack options available for photographers. Dedicated photo packs organize camera gear well and are great when working not far from your vehicle. However, none of them are designed for the trail. Along comes Clik Elite, a new pack company whose tagline is “Performance Packs for Adventure Photographers”. Hmm, I wonder – could this finally be the Holy Grail?
Ever skeptical I shelled out $310 on the Large Hiker pack from REI.com knowing that it could be easily returned if the product disappointed. Upon receipt I was immediately impressed with the pack’s build quality and features. Even more impressive is the fully adjustable harness. My long torso and freakishly short legs make it difficult to properly fit packs but I was able to quickly adjust the harness for a perfect fit. We’re off to a good start. The bottom compartment is padded and divided to carry camera gear while the large top compartment carries your day hiking essentials and a Camelbak style water reservoir. An extra pocket on the bottom uses weather-resistant zippers and contains an organizer for memory cards, hard drives, filters and other small photo goodies. A second, larger external pocket on the top section is large enough to stow a first aid kit, headlamp, hat and gloves and most of the “ten essentials”. The pack passed muster in the living room. What about in the real world?
Fast forward after two months of use in the Pacific Northwest and here at home in Moab, and I’m excited to announce that the folks at Clik Elite got it right. The Large Hiker carries as comfortably as any non-photo dayhiking pack I’ve ever worn, even after several hours on and off the trail. Clik Elite’s designers gave this pack a real, honest to God waistbelt that does exactly what it should – transfer the weight of the pack weight to your hips. Halleleujah! Camera equipment stays well protected in the padded compartment and is easy to access when needed. I still carry my camera with attached 24-105mm lens in a Lowepro Topload Zoom chest pack for quick access. The padded compartment carries my 16-35mm and 100-400mm lenses, external flash, extra batteries and an extension tube with room left over for lenses I’ve yet to buy. The large top compartment provides ample room to carry rain gear, food, diapers (for my son, not me!), a jacket and more. The pack is hydration compatible with a reservoir pocket and hose outlet or, for old schoolies like me, mesh pockets on the side large enough to hold 32 oz. Nalgene bottles. The pockets are even placed such that I can access my water bottles and put them back without assistance from another hiker or a kind trail stranger. Nice!
Unfortunately, nothing in this world is perfect. Those mesh water bottle pockets are loose and there are no bungees or drawstrings to keep the bottles in place. I’ve had many a Nalgene come flying out while scrambling up a steep slope. My biggest gripe is with the tripod carrying system, or lack thereof. Straps are provided on the top and bottom of the pack to carry a tripod horizontally. Huh? Nobody likes to carry tripods horizontally. At least, nobody I know does. Have you ever tried to squeeze through a slot canyon with a tripod mounted horizontally on your pack? It doesn’t work. I developed a jerry-rigged vertical carry by placing two of the tripod legs in the lower pocket and securing the ballhead with straps provided on the top of the pack. It works well, except that you lose the ability to use that cool lower pocket. That’s it for the negative. Not bad, huh?
I contacted Clik Elite about my two concerns and was told that I am not alone in my opinion and that they have already resolved the issue. The new & improved packs will be available in the first quarter of 2010. I was not provided with details on the fix nor have I seen photos of the new packs so I can’t comment on whether or not “new & improved” really means “new & improved”.
If you’re tired of adapting regular daypacks to photo use, or just plain disgusted with the usual photo pack options you should consider the Clik Elite product line. Their entire line of packs, pouches and organizers can be viewed at www.clikelite.com.
I will add photos soon…