Review: Atlas Athlete Backbag for Travelling Photographers

(This blogpost is not sponsored)

For almost 10 years, the Lowepro CompuDaypack backpack (not for sale anymore) has been my backpack when I had to pack both camera gear and Other Stuff. It can fit a reasonable amount of camera gear, has a nice laptop compartment, different small pockets for batteries and such, and a bigger pocket that can fit for example books and a 0,5l bottle.

That backpack has been my day backpack during our recent holiday in Scotland and in Greece last year.

Strollin' around Edinburgh with the Lowepro CompuDaypack backpack.

Shooting long exposure in Moray, Scotland.

Tracking wild horses on Cephalonia, Greece.

Enjoying the view

Unfortunately, the backpack had some restraints in Greece, as it couldn't fit big water bottles - an important feature when you're running around in a over 30°C heat! Luckily, we had a rental car that could hold a lot of water bottles.

During our vacations, the backpack had a fitting size for our daily adventures. However, we are about to do more weekendtrips with a photography theme, and for that the size of the backpack is very inconvenient. Even though it fits the normal measurements for carry on luggage on planes, it simply didn't have the space for items you want to bring on a weekendtrip.

So with a couple of weekendtrips planned and the backpack slowly showing signs of wear, it was time to find a new backpack! The best backpack!

Requirements For my New Camerabag

Even though I never really made a list with requirements, I could sense that I was pretty inflexible about a few aspects while I browsed the backpack trends and supply:

  • it should fit the required measurements for carry on luggage on planes
  • should be able to hold a lot of camera gear
  • should also be able to hold items one brings on a weekendtrip

I didn't feel like I was asking for a lot. That are normal wishes for a travelling photographer, right?

Well, I learned better. Turns out it was quite difficult to find a backpack that fullfilled my wishes.

Atlas Athlete Pack

During my research, I found the Athlete backpack by Atlas Packs, a fairly new American company with at the moment only two products: the smaller Athlete backpack and the bigger Adventure backpack.

The Athlete backpack felt like the best fit for my requirements, and after that all the other backpacks I looked seemed to fail even more.

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Like most camera backpacks these days, the camera compartment of the Atlas Athlete pack is accessible via the back of the backpack, while the compartments for Other Stuff are accessed via the top like in normal backpacks.

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Athlete Pack - The Cons

There are some disadvantages about Atlas' backpacks that made me seriously consider whether I wanted to order one of them. I'll explain them first before I head on to all the good features.

The Price

The price is - juicy. Which is fair if the backpack is good quality and will join me on my adventures for many years to come. However, in combination with the next disadvantage it can become a big drawback.

Not Sold in Europe

They're located in the US with no partners in Europe so far. That means that there is no other way than to open the purse even further and pay for the import.

Carry on Measurements

Be aware of the measurements. The (regular) Athlete pack can measure 53-61cm in height, 18-33cm in depth and 28cm in width, depending on how it is packed. The measurements for allowed carry on luggage on Scandinavian airlaines like SAS and Norwegian are 55 x 40 x 23 cm. So even though Atlas Packs claims that the backpack is carry on compliant, you should definitely check up on that yourself.

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On the backpack's first weekend trip to Germany, we got a fairly small airplane with only two rows à two seats. The overhead compartment was accordingly smaller. I managed to stow the backpack under the seat in front of me - ish. I didn't have lot of space left for my legs, and had the flight taken longer it would have been rather uncomfortable.

Low Laptop Pocket

The laptop pocket can hold a 15'' Macbook Pro, however it won't cover it all the way up. When the backpack isn't filled all the way up, part of the laptop is without padding.

Eye-catching Branding

The branding is pretty big and obvious. This isn't the a big con for me, but I know people that would not buy the backpack as a result.

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Athlete Pack - the Pros

I bought the backpack after all, so there must be some convincing advantages, right? Well, convincing enough for me. Here they are:

ICU Included

The ICU (= Internal Camera Unit, the camera storage compartment with padded dividers) is included. That isn't the case for many other potentially interesting backpacks.

The ICU is even customizable in size depending on whether you need more storage for camera gear or other items:

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Here the top part of the ICU is folded in a way that gives more space to Other Stuff.

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When the top compartment of the ICU is popped out, you have more room for camera gear.

You'll get plenty more dividing walls for the ICU. I haven't quite figures out the best setup yet, but this is what I'm running with right now.

It's Flexible

The concept of the backpack is different than most of the other backpacks. The only rigid parts are the ICU and the frame to divide the weight of the backpack more ergonomically.

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The rest of the pack is made of a thin, flexible fabric wrapped around the ICU like a bag which means that is has more capacity than other backpacks with the same measurements but thicker materials. The not-camera-compartment can fit 5-30l.
Even though it's thin, the fabric still feels durable and water-repellent.

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Both the waistbelt and frame can be taken out if wished thus having even more control over the size of the backpack.

So Many Pockets

The backpack has a great variety of pockets in different sizes and locations. It even has a water bladder pocket, which is of no interest to me, but might be for others.

After having used the backpack a few times now, I would have liked a few more smaller pockets that aren't in the top, though. When I put my batteries, cards and other small items in the (amazing!) top pockets along with my keys, the backpack gets very top heavy and won't stand anymore.

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The top flap has three pockets of varying sizes:

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A small one with a key hook.

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A very well sized underneath. I put all kinds of small items that don't necessarily have to stay 100% dry here. Yes, that is my asthma inhaler and also phone chargers. This pocket is also perfect to easily access the plastic bags with fluids when you're flying.

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A small pocket in the inside of the top flap. I used it for all my camera and flash batteries and the SD card collection. Not sure, whether it's the smartes choice to use it for that yet, as you can't access it very quickly without risking that stuff falls out. And when I want to swap cards or batteries, I'm usually in a rush doing that.

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A pocket that I totally forgot about and first discovered again when I took the photos. It's a small pocket on the back of the backpack that I might use for SD cards from now on.

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The backpack has flexible pockets for bottles or small tripods on both sides.

Removable Waistbelt

As a teenager, I didn't like waistbelts on backpacks, as they looked so uncool. Well, I have grown up since cause I love the waistbelt system of the Atlas pack! It makes the backpack so much more comfortable to wear, it has small pouches - and it can be removed!

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Taking out the waistbelt is a very wiggly and loud task because of the velcro that is is fixated with. Putting it back in is a little easier.

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The small pouches of the waistbelt can just get stuffed into the backpocket, where the belt usually is:

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Make sure to check out the sizes of the waistbelts before ordering! I'm not a really big person, but I had to order a size XL, which is the largest they sell.

Fun fact: The chest strap has a small whistle worked in, which I was embarassingly late to discover. Just in case that's the thing that makes you want to buy this backpack.

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Customer Service

Atlas Pack is easy to get in contact with and eager to help if you have questions. They even included another waitstbelt in my package as I wasn't compeltely sure whether the size I picked fit. Keep on doing that!

They even offer to refund import fees.

Conclusion

Everyone buy and mention this backpack so Atlas Packs can get some partners in Europe!

Check out Atlas Packs' website and Instagram profile where they regularly share customer's stories and photos.

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Written by: Judith tagged with gear, review, blog