DIY Camera Backpack – An inconspicuous & affordable camera bag

January 22, 2014

These days I’m getting ready for a trip I’ll be taking to Europe.  I’ll be traveling through Germany & France, and wanted the perfect camera bag to take with me.  I won’t be taking a ton of gear, mainly one body (my Nikon D600), and one lens (Nikkor 24-70 2.8), as well as a portable hard drive & card reader to dump images onto.  I wanted to find a low key bag that looks stylish, is comfortable, and can safely carry my gear with a little extra space.

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I have several bags already, that I do indeed love.  I have a great shoulder bag by ThinkTank called the Retrospective that is one of my favourites.  However on long days, a shoulder bag is uncomfortable, and just not practical, though this bag is inconspicuous as a camera bag (which I love) and holds a ton of gear.  I also have a great backpack by Olympus  called the E-system Pro that holds a LOT of gear, and is very comfortable, but screams out CAMERA BAG to anyone looking.  While I do bring this one on assignments when I need to fly with a lot of gear, it isn’t what I want for this trip, which will be more casual.  My other favourite bag is the Photo Sport 300AW by Lowepro.  This bag is what I use in the backcountry.  Very comfortable, it is meant for hiking, skiing, or other off the beaten path type activities.  Carries a hydration bag, a small amount of camera gear, with extra space too.  Unfortunately the one I have is bright orange, which, is the complete opposite of subtle.

So what to do?   I looked high & low online.  I saw some amazing bags, the nicest being the Ona Camps Bay, which is exactly what I was looking for.  Stylish, functional, & well-built.  I though long and hard about it, but the one reason I didn’t jump on purchasing it…the pricetag.  It is US $429.  Add shipping & taxes, I’d be spending well over $500 dollars for this beauty.  Sure I would love it, but I just couldn’t justify it.

My solution? DIY

I decided that maybe I could put something together to suit my needs.  First I had to find the right bag…I wanted a good looking canvas type backpack with comfortable straps. I looked all over, and by chance someone mentioned to me that a local skate shop called Cheapskates had some in stock that I might like.  I headed down and there I indeed found a good selection of Herschel Supply Co. backpacks.  The one that I liked most was the Little America 24L Canvas backpack.DIY camera backpack

I checked it out, and it looked promising.  The size looked about right, the straps were comfortable, and it looked great.  Importantly it wasn’t too expensive either.  They retail for around $149.  I noted the inside dimensions, and told the owner I’d hopefully be back to buy after I checked on the next part of my plan… A camera bag insert.  I found a seller through Etsy who sold various sizes of inserts with adjustable padding to turn any bag into a camera bag.  I checked the dimensions of the Medium Bag insert and found it to be almost a perfect match to the Herschel bag.  And for only $18 CDN too.
A quick online search, and you can find several padded inserts.  Just be sure to get the right size insert for your bag.  I found one here.

I promptly ordered the insert, and back to Cheapskates I went, to purchase the Herschel backpack.  When the insert came in, I installed it into the Herschel bag, and it fits quite nicely.  I’m able to fit all the gear I need, and even have extra room for a sweater, light jacket, or any other items I might want to bring along on my excursions.  The whole kit cost under $200, which is a big savings compared to what I would have put down for the Camps Bay.  The bag carries nicely, and looks very inconspicuous.  There is a media sleeve for a laptop in the bag, not that I’m bringing one on this trip, but it is a nice feature.  The front pouch is zippered, with a key clip inside.  The top flap has adjustable leather straps, that easily close with magnetic clips.  Under the flap there is a drawstring closure as well, so it is quite secure.  There is even a media pocket for a phone on the inside, with a port for your headphones to slip through.  All in all, I am very happy with the bag, and this setup.  It is a good looking backpack, that doesn’t look like a camera bag, and can carry just what I need for this trip.  Sometimes when you can’t find what you need, you just have to do it yourself!

***UPDATE:  I’ve had folks ask me about the ability to load a tripod in this bag.  It doesn’t really work for a regular tripod to be honest.  But I do have a small travel tripod, and a Gorillapod that would work.  I use this bag for day excursions, where I’m not likely to need one anyways.  Nowadays I use a Fuji XT2 Mirrorless camera which is super light compared to the Nikon D600 DSLR I lugged around in Europe in this bag.  I hardly notice it is in there.  Love that camera for so many reasons, and that is one of them!

Well I hope you enjoyed my post about my DIY camera backpack.  I would love to hear from you if you have any ideas like this that you have tried, or want to try.  Happy travels!

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Hi Raquel, thanks for the feedback. The setup worked great for me, as I didn’t need a tripod carrier at the time. However, I can definitely say that the Lennca Logan bag really looks fantastic! Certainly the best design feature I can see over the Herschel bag is the access compartment for the camera. And I really like a lot of the other features & details too…And of course the overall design is really sweet. Nice looking bag! I think you are right, it would definitely be a great choice for someone looking for an affordable camera bag choice. I would definitely be interested in trying it out for my next trip! I’m headed to California to do some shooting in a couple months (from Joshua Tree to Yosemite) and the Lencca would be perfect. Cheers!

Just read this through a few weeks ago. good DIY, but the tripod function is a let down if your spending over $170 altogether.Came back to ask if you’ve considered the Lencca Logan backpack??  http://www.lencca.com/logan/ It can be found for under $150 and has a built in and collapsible DSLR organizer inside. Fits 15-17″ laptop, water repellent and has a dedicated tripod carrier. Also doesn’t look like a camera backpack. I was able to fit it under the plane seat in front of my for my latest trip. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on the Lencca Logan.

Hi Adam,
The front pocket opening would be too small to pull my camera from unfortunately. Plus I like that little pocket for memory cards, extra batteries, and such…And would be worried about that stuff spilling into the main compartment of the bag if there was an opening between the two. When there is stuff in the main bag on top of the camera insert, it is a bit of a pain to get the camera, but usually I don’t have much more than a sweater or raincoat in there. Let me know how it goes if you set one up!

Have you ever think to cut inside the front pocket to make it easier to grab your camera on the fly, and obviously can put lot of stuff  on the top! I’ll try to custom it in this way soon 😀

Hi Julia,
I had a Nikon D600 & my 24-70 (with the hood reversed) so I have no doubt it would fit! I’ve since switched to Fuji mirrorless, so my gear fits so easy now, as it is smaller & lighter. Of course, you can always get different size inserts to adapt to what you need. Let me know how it works out! Cheers.

Hi! Would this fit a Mark iii and a 24-70 2.8? Love the idea!

Hey Enrico, I think if you verify that your long lens would fit into the insert attached to your camera body, then you should be okay. The two other prime lenses should have no trouble fitting on either side of the insert. The good thing, is that you can be sure to get the right insert size to match what you need. With this bag & insert setup, I wouldn’t recommend adding two inserts, as it would just be awkward & difficult to access. You’d have to pull one insert out to get to the bottom one, and that wouldn’t make it very practical. Now that I am shooting with a Fuji XT1 mirrorless, my gear is so much lighter, and it really fits great. Best of luck, and if you get one, let me know how it goes!

Hi,
Great backpack, I wanna buy one for my Canon 6d with a 24-105 mm on, plus a Canon 50mm f 1.8 and a Samayang 14 mm. Do you think that backpack can carry this stuff? Can the Little America carry two camera inserts? Sorry for my bad english, I’m italian…Thank you so much.

I updated the link. There are plenty of similar items that can be found. Just be sure to get an insert to fit your bag. Cheers!

Can you possibly update the link for the camera insert? Can’t seem to find it 🙁

Hi Jennifer,
That is definitely not going to work with this particular bag unfortunately. I imagine you could do a very similar setup with a different pack (get an insert to fit) that had external straps for a tripod. Let me know if you find an alternative, I’d be curious to hear about it!

how did this work out with a tripod? I would love to do this idea but I’m wondering where to put my tripod. Thanks and great idea!