8 Best Ways to Carry Your Camera In a Regular Bag or Backpack in 2022

A dedicated camera bag is the best way to carry your precious gear in most situations. Still, from time to time, it’s necessary to protect your camera inside a regular bag or backpack that was designed for a different purpose. The four main reasons for carrying a camera in a regular bag:

#1

The bag you need to use has a specific niche functionality and purpose for a particular activity. For example, when using a backcountry skiing pack that holds your skis and safety equipment or a fully waterproof bag for a kayaking trip.

#2

You only need to carry a minimal amount of camera gear, such as a single camera and lens, amongst a larger amount of non-photographic equipment. For example, when backpacking for multiple days, and most of your bag is filled with camping gear, or when flying away for a quick city break with carry-on luggage only, your bag is primarily filled with clothes and toiletries.

#3

Your current non-camera bag has sentimental value. You’ve been through a lot together. Perhaps travelled around the world. The bag’s battle scars tell a story that’s important to you.

#4

You have a limited budget and can’t justify buying a big expensive camera bag when you already have a perfectly good bag or backpack.

If any of these sounds like you, read on. This latest entry into our gear guide series contains the perfect solution.

F-Stop ICU

These days, many camera bag companies offer removable “camera blocks” for their bags and backpacks, but the unquestioned pioneer of this feature is F-Stop. When the first F-Stop camera bags were introduced over fifteen years ago, the idea of the ICU (Internal Camera Unit) was born. Since then, F-Stop has expanded the ICU lineup to include a selection of shapes and sizes unmatched by other brands.

All available F-Stop ICU sizes.

These ICUs are thickly padded, made from durable heavy-denier nylon and come with plenty of dividers to organize your gear. Metal D-Rings are stitched into the top handle to give you a shoulder strap attachment point. The strap attachment helps make an ad-hoc camera shoulder bag once you reach your destination and pull the ICU from within a larger backpack or duffle bag.

F-Stop’s range of outdoor photography packs features a back panel opening to access the camera gear. The ICUs have a zippered panel that opens on three sides to match this design. If you plan on placing an ICU into a non-F-Stop bag, consider how you will access your camera. They work best with a back or front panel opening backpacks.

Alternatively, you can use them with any other pack, as long as you don’t mind pulling the ICU out of the bag to get to your gear. Every ICU have a top handle for easy extraction, and if you place the padded cube at the top of your pack, it’s little trouble to get your camera. Most large backpacks can accommodate the three smallest ICU sizes – Micro Tiny, Small Shallow and Small Pro – with the zippered opening facing upwards, allowing fast and easy access to your camera. Those wishing to protect camera gear inside a duffle bag, pelican case or suitcase will find the large zippered access to the ICUs highly beneficial, and likely the perfect solution.

Related Reading: F-Stop ICU Size Guide – Every Model Compared

F-Stop ICU Price Check:


Shimoda Core Units

Shimoda Design’s Core Units are available in a range of sizes that nearly parallels the F-Stop ICUs already mentioned. Where you will find a difference is in the rigidity and padding. The Core Units bases and sides are thinner than F-Stop ICUs but constructed from a denser foam that provides slightly better blunt force impact protection. The added foam density makes Shimoda’s padded cubes much more rigid.

Depending on how you plan to pack, this added rigidity can be good or bad. If you want to place heavy objects on the camera gear, rigidity is good. However, if you plan to cram many oddly shaped items in your bag around the padded cube, the F-Stop ICUs will conform better to those other items.

Perhaps the most crucial difference is the lack of top padding on the Shimoda Core Units. While they all come in a removable nylon sleeve to keep gear in the Unit, it leaves one side of the cube vulnerable. This becomes a feature when the Core Units are used as intended and installed in a backpack like the previously-reviewed Shimoda Explore V2. A heavily padded back panel protects your camera. If you are considering Shimoda Core Unit use outside of the design specification, as we are in this guide, you must take this into account. Packed in a suitcase, pelican case or duffle bag and surrounded by clothing or other soft items, it’s not going to be an issue. In a soft-side hiking pack, it might be.

Related Reading: Which Shimoda Core Unit Is Right For You?

Shimoda Core Unit Price Check:

Shimoda Designs has offered Shutter Muse readers a 10% discount on anything purchased in their online store. Simply use the discount code ShutterMuse10 after clicking here to access the store.


Hyperlite Mountain Gear Camera Pod

The Camera Pod from Hyperlite Mountain Gear is the lightest camera bag in the world. Constructed from rugged and waterproof Dyneema, the Camera Pod weighs just 2.71oz (76.8g). If you are looking for a way to add minimalist bump and scratch protection to a camera packed into a lightweight hiking backpack, this is a great, albeit slightly expensive, option.

Due to the relatively thin padded offered by this bag, it works best when wedging it into your bag amongst softer items such as clothing or a sleeping bag. It also comes with carabiners to clip it to the outside of your bag if you prefer easy access.

Hyperlite Camera Pod Price Check:


Peak Design Camera Cubes

Peak Design launched a range of Camera Cubes alongside the 45L Travel Backpack (review). While they are sized to the width of that particular backpack, you’ll find that just like the previously mentioned F-Stop ICUs and Shimoda Core Units, they also fit into many other backpacks and duffle bags.

Despite being cheaper than the F-Stop ICUs, they have more features and feel like a slightly higher-end product. Not only do the Cubes open at the top as you would expect, but they also have side openings on both sides, making it possible to use them with a backpack that has a side zipper.

Clever origami-style dividers can be folded into shelves to help stack your gear, and an included divider pocket stores batteries and memory cards. There are fewer size options (S, M, L) than the F-Stop or Shimoda ranges, but they’re great if those sizes suit your need.

Peak Design Camera Cube Price Check:

Secret Peak Design Offer

We also have a secret Peak Design X Shutter Muse special offer. We aren’t allowed to reveal the details publicly, but you can click the button below to get more details.


MountainSmith TAN Kit Cube

The Kit Cubes from MountainSmith are designed to work with their adventure photo bags, created with Chris Burkard. I liked the Tanack bag when I reviewed it but didn’t think the Kit Cubes were the perfect partner because they are a little too rigid.

While that was my opinion of them when paired with the Mountainsmith Tanack bag, it doesn’t mean I don’t like them for other uses. In terms of modular camera protection, these things offer much more impact resistance than something like the F-Stop ICU. It’s hard to quantify, but I’d say they are roughly twice as hard as an ICU. They have a little bit of flex in them, but you feel like your gear is protected when it’s inside one of these. I would recommend buying one of these if you are pursuing an activity with a risk of heavy impact.

TAN Kit Cube Price Check:

Amazon B&H Adorama


LensCoat BodyBags and TravelCoats

Sometimes, all you want to do is drop some camera gear into a bag amongst other equipment without scratching up your lens or camera. For this, the LensCoat BodyBag range and TravelCoat range is often the perfect solution. The neoprene BodyBag sleeves are available in sizes to suit DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and pro-sized bodies, either with or without a lens. The TravelCoats are lens-specific. As you can see from the photos, I have amassed quite a collection of them over the years, and regularly find uses for them when packing my bags.

LensCoat BodyBag Price Check:

LensCoat TravelCoat Price Check:


Small Pelican Cases

Pelican 1120

For the ultimate camera protection, look no further than a Pelican case. If you are taking your camera somewhere with the possibility of a complete soaking, a small Pelican case, like the Pelican 1120, can be the way to go. The downside of these cases is the bulk and weight, which quickly becomes a problem for larger amounts of camera gear. Still, if you want to guarantee the safety of your equipment, these are a fantastic option.


MindShift Stash Master

MindShift Gear makes three sizes of padded camera cubes called Stash Masters. These three inserts were designed to pair with the BackLight Elite bag and the Rotation Series backpacks. Still, there is no good reason why they cannot be repurposed into general camera storage within a regular backpack or duffle. As with the F-Stop ICUs, the Peak Design Camera Cubes and the Shimoda Core Units, the trick is to precisely measure the bag you have in mind and compare the dimensions with the available options.

The three available sizes are the Stash Master 13L, the Stash Master Top Load and the Stash Master Pro. The latter two sizes offer a rear zipper and an additional top zipper for vertical camera extraction. This top opening is not a feature found on similar products from other brands, and it can be helpful if you want to extract a camera quickly from the top of a bag.

MindShift Stash Master Price Check:


Photo of author

Dan Carr

Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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9 thoughts on “8 Best Ways to Carry Your Camera In a Regular Bag or Backpack in 2022”

  1. Dan, great reviews. I have an Osprey Atmos 50L backpack and have the MindShift holster you reviewed. I want to put a cube in the lower portion of my backpack to carry lenses and accessories. It has front zipper access and is typically used for stashing a sleeping bag and/or tent. The backpack has a panel inside that separates the lower compartment from the upper compartment so the gear on top should not crush cube below but still I’m thinking about getting the Mountainsmith cube kit because it is more rigid than the Fstop unit. What do you suggest?

    Reply
    • If it’s going to be on the bottom of the pack, that’s probably a solid choice because it will give more rigidity when you stand the bag up.

      Reply
  2. This is a useful summary of the various inserts. One other option: The Tenba BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) inserts. They come with a strap and can function as a camera bag when you are not using your backpack. My BYOB 9 insert works well with a Leica M2 film camera and several lenses (a bit tight but compact).

    Reply
    • Thanks! I haven’t come across the Tenba BYOB before. Next time I update this article I will see if I can get my hands on one.

      Reply

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