How Secure Are the Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L and Camera Cubes?

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After years of not owning a camera bag, I now have the Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L. I used it for traveling because of its security; unusually, I was transporting a lot of expensive gear. Here’s what I concluded about it.

I live in a very picturesque part of the UK, a little fishing port called Amble by a river estuary, on the coast of Northumberland. I’m about an hour’s drive from the Scottish border. Amble used to be one of the little secret places to escape to when I moved here nearly 20 years ago, nobody had heard of it. Now, it’s appeared on TV shows and this area has been identified as one of the best places in the UK to both live and visit. Consequently, we get a fair number of tourists here and retired people moving from farther south who are seeking a quieter life and benefiting from the much lower house prices.

“What has this got to do with photography and my backpack?” I can hear you ask. Well, many of those who come here do so because of the photography. You can spot them from afar because they are usually bent forward under the weight of their bags so they resemble tortoises trying to stand upright. Their bags are stuffed full of gear ready to change lenses just in case they are going to miss a shot.

Like everywhere else, crime happens here, although it is unusual. Nevertheless, camera bags do identify people as targets for crime. They advertise to the world that you are carrying expensive gear.

I rarely carry more than I am going to use. If I am robbed, I still might lose maybe $4,000 worth of kit. However, on my recent trip to Finland, unusually, I had the best part of $12,000 worth of equipment with me. Finland is a safe country. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to advertise what I was carrying.

Beware Baggage Handlers

I also didn’t want to entrust it all to the baggage handlers and the plane’s cargo hold. Just as well too, as at Schiphol Airport, they failed to get my luggage to my connecting flight to Helsinki. One thing that concerned me is that airlines are becoming fussy about the size of the cabin luggage. I have seen people have their hand luggage sent to the plane’s hold because it was slightly too large, and they have been charged for it. Furthermore, recently an airline changed its rules, and people returning from holiday had to check in their bags that were okay for the outbound flight, and they were charged extortionate fees for doing so.  

Furthermore, looking out of the plane window, I could see the handlers throwing the bags onto the conveyor belt with no care for the passengers’ possessions.

That Is Why I Traveled With a Peak Design Travel 30L Backpack

The Peak Design Travel 30L Backpack is low-key and it being a camera bag is not obvious.  Moreover, it offers some very secure features.

The standard external dimensions are 20.9″ x 13.4″ x 7″ (53 cm x 34 cm x 18 cm), and when you unzip the expansion section 20.9″ x 13.4″ x 7.9″ (53 cm x 34 cm x 20 cm). KLM’s maximum allowable size at the time of writing is slightly larger at 21.5” x 13.5” x 10” (55 cm x 35 cm x 25 cm.) These are the internationally agreed carry-on restrictions, but not all airlines offer the same, so do check who you are flying with.

The Bag’s Features

The 30L title is a clever misnomer as that is the average size between its unexpanded (27 L) and expanded (33 L) sizes; the expanded size is still okay for planes’ hand luggage.

On first inspection, it clearly has a high-quality build. It’s rugged and littered with lots of fabulous features that have been well thought through for usability and security. Here follows a guided tour of the bag.

The Rear-Facing Front Panel

I’ve read confusingly different descriptions of backpacks. Some call the side that faces outwards and away from you when you wear it the front of the bag, and some call it the back. I’m calling it the front panel.

At the top is a large double-zipped padded pocket. The zips are heavy duty, and their pullers are attached with wide metal rings. Those are big enough to attach a padlock.

Inside, that pocket is lined with a light-grey ripstop material. In turn, it has three small open-top pockets, big enough for your passport, keys, and so forth. A fourth internal pocket is zipped. That’s big enough to take my large smartphone, and it features four small slots and each of those will take two SD cards in their cases.

The rear-facing panel of the case also has four strong eye loops that can be used for attaching straps for carrying extra stuff on the outside or securing the bag in a boat or canoe, using the supplied compression straps. Then, at the base of the panel, is a deep upside-down sleeve held closed by magnets. This would be good for carrying a cagoule, tissues, or a rain cover for the bag, but nothing too bulky or heavy.

The Side Panels

Each side features a reinforced open pocket at the base just large enough to take the legs of a travel tripod or a water bottle. Another eye loop further up can be used to attach the supplied compression straps to stop the top of the tripod from shifting. I did think these pockets would have benefited from being a little deeper. However, that would have compromised the functionality of the carrying handle that each side also sports.

The sides mirror each other, which means that both left and right-handed people benefit from the design when accessing their gear.

The Base Panel

This is reinforced by an extra layer of a thick, waterproof fabric, ideal when sitting the bag on a wet surface. There’s another carrying handle down at that end too.

The Rear Panel

A thick padded section that sits against your back makes it comfortable to wear. A clever feature is the spaces on either side of that section and the bag. These make it possible to hide the shoulder straps away. That’s a good idea if you do need to check the luggage into the cargo hold as straps can get caught in the conveyer belts.

A narrow Velcro-sealed pocket on the side is designed for a name and address label. A small ribbon loop could be used to facilitate attaching that. I saw one review where that pocket was used for a credit card, but I don’t think I would use it for that purpose as the Velcro seal is small and it would be easily accessed by a pickpocket.

Besides the two shoulder straps, the back panel has yet another two carrying handles and, at the base, two more eye loops.

Carrying the Bag

The shoulder straps are well padded making the bag comfortable to wear, even when filled with 12 kilograms of gear. The strap attachments are extremely strong.

The straps’ quick-release buckles didn’t slip at all in use and pulling the buckle upwards did release and loosen them easily. To tighten them again, I just had to pull down on the tails. I would have preferred the sewn-over ends of the tails to be just a tiny bit longer to make them easier to grab when wearing gloves.

The two shoulder straps could be connected by a chest strap. There is no hip belt attached to the bag, which is an advantage when rushing around airports or carrying the bag in the trunk of a car where the straps can get tangled. However, you can buy an Everyday Hip Belt from Peak Design to add to the bag. For long walks with the bag, that would be a good idea.

The shoulder and chest straps can be stowed away to prevent getting tangled with the environment.

No matter how you want to carry that bag, there will be a handle that facilitates it. Besides the shoulder straps, there are five unobtrusive external carrying handles. The long top handle is big enough for the handle of a roller bag carrier to fit through.

Inside the Bag

One thing I look for in a backpack is secure access to the main compartment. Years ago, in Nairobi, I had something stolen from a backpack while I was wearing it. It happened without me noticing. The thief even zipped the bag up afterward.

Accessing the main compartment is via a very strong double-zip that runs around the rear of the bag. These zips can be padlocked together. Inside it is light grey, making it easy to see within.

A lot is going on in the bag; Inside are four mesh pockets and webbing loops. However, the main compartment is an open space because it is designed to take Peak Design’s Camera Cubes and the loops are designed to secure those. There are numerous options for how to divide the compartment up using the Cubes. Mel Martin wrote an excellent review of these back in October last year, so I won’t go into full details.

I packed mine with two of the Smedium Camera Cubes, which was sufficient to carry two bodies, three lenses – including a large telephoto – and I squeezed a gimbal in too.

Using the Cubes makes the system very flexible. If you needed to send the backpack into the plane’s cargo hold, you could remove one or more of them with your most precious possessions and carry them onboard into the cabin.

Cubes are supplied with clips to attach them to the bag. When the bag is open, it is lying on its back and the Cubes stay put anyway, but the clips would stop a thief from grabbing a cube from your bag.

I removed the Cubes’ padding from the pocket in the lid. That was redundant anyway because of the ample amount in the top cover of the bag.

Like the top pocket, the bag’s main interior is lined with a rip-stop material and has four internal mesh pockets and is light gray.

Inside the lid is a double sleeve that will take a 16” laptop and my tablet.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack In Use.

I found the Peak Design Travel Backpack 30L comfortable to wear, and the design was unobtrusive. With a cursory glance, it is not obvious it’s a camera bag. For traveling, it is easy to use with confidence, and you do not have to fumble with it to access the contents. Appearing unsure of yourself and your baggage can make you a target for thieves.

The way it is designed with your camera gear behind several layers of rip-stop nylon makes it hard for a thief to quickly slash through the bag and grab your gear. Similarly, the lack of side and rear openings makes it less accessible to someone with their eye on your valuable cameras.

The Camera Cube inserts and the well-thought-through pockets make it easy to organize and access gear.

What I Liked and What Could Be Improved for Travelling Securely

Fstoppers writers have reviewed this bag and the Camera Cubes before. They’ve mentioned all the environmental advantages of using the Peak Design equipment. So, this review is considering it purely from a security perspective.

What I Liked

  • Strong build.
  • Unobtrusive design, especially the black model.
  • Robust zips can be locked.
  • Lots of carrying handles making it easy to hold.
  • Strong 400-denier nylon with a waterproof 900-denier base.
  • Multiple layers help prevent a thief from cutting through the fabric.
  • Plenty of places to hide an Air Tag.
  • Space to fit 2 x Peak Design Smedium Camera Cubes.
  • Works with The Peak Design Travel Rain Fly, although designed for the 45-liter bag, will still fit.

What Could Be Improved Next Time?

  • Kevlar or a steel wire in the strap would prevent the bag from being cut from one’s shoulders.
  • Similarly, a slash-proof material in the most vulnerable areas would give it even greater protection. Perhaps a slash-proof rain cover?
  • Stronger magnets or Velcro on the upside-down pocket would make it safer.

In Conclusion

Although I don’t use a camera bag every day, I have owned them in the past, including some premium models, and this was better than any of those. After I returned from Finland I did try it for carrying my gear around that I wasn’t going to use, and I found it comfortable. For that purpose though, I would recommend the optional Hip Belt.

It could carry more equipment than I needed. It’s also discrete, secure, and easy to use. I found this an excellent backpack and its higher-than-average price is reflected in the quality. It was the perfect solution for traveling with a lot of expensive camera gear and for those who like to carry all their equipment with them.

Nevertheless, in the future, I won’t often be carrying as much camera equipment as I did on my last expedition. But the versatility of the Cube system will still make this the ideal bag for my cabin luggage.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack currently retails at $229.95.

The Peak Design Rain Fly cover and the Hip Belt v2 are both retailing at $29.95.


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