Monday, 11 August 2008

Kinesis Journeyman: first impressions

I've just received my new Kinesis Journeyman backpack system. I'll run through some first impressions, but first some background.

What I want in a photobackpack

I was in the market for a new backpack, my old alpine style one being unsuited for camera gear and the padding long since compressed to nothing.

I've posted before about photo backpacks. I'm disappointed by all the offerings from big names. Pressing a regular backpack into photo service is also a non-starter.

What I need is a 30-40l daypack that can carry my photo gear and my regular stuff (like lunch, water, waterproofs) comfortably in the hills. I can end up carrying 10-15kg easily on a day out. I also need to to carry my tripod and a pair of walking poles, plus all the camera bits and pieces in an organised manner.

I also want to be able to carry the photo gear near the top of the pack for better weight distribution. I prefer the tripod lashed to the side. While this sets the weight a little one-sided (I've often got a side pouch on the other side anyway), it is also closer to my back, which is more important to me.

Must have a proper harness for comfort over longs days in rough terrain.

Where the market falls down

Photo backpacks come in 2 camps: the huge expedition size things or small set-ups. Almost all are designed with only photo gear in mind - clearly not aimed at those of us who hike stuff into the hills. Split compartments always put the photo gear at the bottom. Harnesses are mediocre at best. Weight is high due to all the padding. Quite frankly, I'm just as well off using my Think Tank carry-on.

Regular backpacks are really designed for hiking or climbing only. No real way to put camera gear in well. In the day-pack size there are almost no dual-compartment designs to allow me to stow camera and other gear separately. Lots are also coming with these new ventilated back systems where there's a tensioned mesh against the back and gap to the pack - this moves the weight away from your back which is bad, especially for heavy loads.

I figure in today's world, I don't need to compromise or buy lots to find something suitable. I just keep plugging away until I find someone who's got it together.

Enter Kinesis.

A bit of a one-man-band enterprise, this is a novel line up of photo gear. All modular in away that fits all kinds of packs, pouches, belts and harnesses together in anyway you chose.

Their backpack offering is the Journeyman, which can be combined with all sorts of options to create the perfect set-up for your application. It's a proper backpack, with the ability to hook-in camera pouches. Pole loops & tripod mounts as standard. A host of accessories to add on.

What I ordered

A lot of gear (see picture). Pack, hydration pouch, accessory pouch, interior pouch, straps & doohickies for lashing stuff on. Clip system to attach camera to the harness.

Kinesis Journeyman componentsKinesis Journeyman (centre) and components


The stuff I've ordered allows me to do the following:
  • Backpack, with or without camera.
  • Removable harness, removable belt - great for carry-on.
  • Extendible with the hydration pack as an extra pouch.
  • Slap everything on for a big day out.
  • Hydration pack only.
  • Camera pouch & belt as a waist pack. Add hydration pack for a lightweight all-day set-up.
  • Camera pouch as a shoulder bag.
Loads of options, great for travelling or sightseeing or hiking.

What do I think

Without using it in anger, here are the thoughts out of the box.

This thing is pretty large. Bigger than I'd expected. Pack measures 55x30x20cm (22"x12"x8"). It's a square shape, too, so you get full volume for your size. Weight is reasonable, not the lightest or heaviest. The harness is good, though, so the weight is light in the shoulders, which is what counts.

Kinesis journeyman harnessJourneyman harness system opened out
Back padding folded down & belt removed to show aluminium struts

Materials and construction are all top quality. harness sizing is pretty large. I would say larger than the website credits. I'm 6' tall, not too fat, and the medium/large harness is cinched right down when I've got it on - the smaller size would have been fine. Even then, the chest strap is at maximum extension. I went down a size on the belt and am glad I did. Side mesh pockets will actually be useful. Most sacks have very flat designs or they're small so everything falls out. Not these - expanding sides, large and a good stiff top band.

The internal pouch is excellent. The lightest I've come across for the size, and it's large. Fits easily my 4x5" field camera or the Mamiya RZ67. It's SLR plus 3 lenses territory - 70-200 stands up easily inside. Top opening is well designed. Most of the padding can be removed which is also useful.

Journeyman opened with inner pouch in place
The Pouch can it attached anywhere through the height of the pack

All of the accessories and pouches snap together easily. This is truly modular design. There are all kinds of ways to do things and I've been spending hours working out which will be best for me.

There are a few negatives. Harness strap design doesn't quite come down over the back of my shoulders as I'd like. I'd prefer the top attachment a bit further down the pack for this - allows better with distribution over the shoulders.
Attaching the inner pouch to the belt for a waist pack has a problem. The pouch is a "triple wide" which means it spans 3 attachment points. Trouble is, the attachments are evenly spaced from the belt centre so the waist pack is offset from centre.
Inner pouch attachment only has one attachment point so it hangs off the fixings. This means it's loose at the bottom which may cause it to swing around or gear to get trapped underneath. Time will tell, but I think a bottom attachment would have been good.
The front pocket, whilst useful for putting small stuff in, has no extra pockets or attachment points. In effect everything has to be loosely stored. even some Velcro strips would be useful.
Colour - it's not uniformly black but I'd like the grey side panels to have a red option. Red is a much better colour for visibility in the hills or poor weather.

I'll follow this up with an in depth review after my up-coming trip to India. It should all get a thorough working over on that one so I'll really know what it can do.

UPDATE 25/9/08: my field report now online.

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