While walking the PhotoPlus Expo 2012 show in New York City, I stopped at the Gura Gear booth. Gura Gear was a relatively new camera backpack/case company at this time, but it already had a great reputation. With a name like Andy Biggs involved in product design, it is no surprise. Joining Andy for an African safari is on my life's bucket list.
Soon after arriving at PPE, I was discussing the Bataflae 32L's capacity as I was searching for a backpack with a unique capability - one that could compactly hold both a Canon 600 L and a 500 L with bodies mounted. The 32 L falls just shy of this capability, but ... it looked like a great design - and Gura Gear handed me a 32L to review. You are probably aware of my general love for quality camera cases and backpacks - and this case appeared exceptional. It was a great way to start the show.
The downside to being handed a case early at a big show is that was that one must carry it throughout the rest of the already-tiring show. And in my case, about 3 miles through Manhattan after the show. At the end of this very long day (arrived home after 1:00 AM), I realized how light the full-size, very-well-padded backpack I was carrying really was. I was very impressed.
Turns out that hurricane Sandy caused Shenandoah National Park to be closed the week I had planned to go there to photograph Whitetailed Deer (using the said 500 L and 600 L lenses). I used the backpack throughout the rest of the fall and into the winter for various smaller needs, but this backpack deserved a more serious travel test before I reported my thoughts.
My 2+ week trip to Hawaii fit the need perfectly. I planned to take a big lens and a lot of other kit with me. My fully-loaded Gura Gear Bataflae 32L resulted in the primary gear being obscured, but here is the partially-loaded Bataflae 32L:
Included in this picture:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon EF 500mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens (later swapped for the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens (used for tripod-based landscape)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4 L IS USM Lens (primary carry lens)
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 L IS USM Lens (primary carry lens)
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II Tilt-Shift Lens (ultimate serious landscape lens)
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM Lens (specifically for night photography)
10 CP, UV & ND filters, chargers and much more. Most lenses have their hoods in reversed position. Much more gear was added post-photo - including a jacket with pockets large enough to hold lenses (just in case I have to hit a lighter bag weight). I also had many smaller items packed in the various lid compartments - memory cards, microfiber cloths, plastic bags, sensor cleaning swabs ...
The rest of my critical gear, including:
second Canon 5D Mark III
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Canon EOS M with Canon EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Arca-Swiss Z1 Ballhead
laptop, power supply, AC adaptor and much more ...
was packed in a Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 60 V2.0 that qualified as my "personal item"/briefcase.
I carried about 37 lbs (16 kg) in the Bataflae 32L and another 30 (14 kg) or so in the UD 60. This was a big load - especially when walking from one end of Chicago O’Hare to the other. But, I have no complaints from the comfort level of the Bataflae 32L.
Would I have rather had a roller for this hike to the next gate? Definitely. But definitely not when I arrived at that gate. An airline agent was gate checking every roller headed down the jetway ramp to the plane - with no exceptions. And worse, these rollers were being checked to the final destination - which meant these bags were being given the same treatment as standard luggage. Checking camera gear send chills down my spine.
If you have flown much, you know that the risk to your checked gear is much more than just the theft of such. My quality luggage (REI Tech Beast Rolling Duffels) shows signs of serious abuse when I retrieve it at the end of a flight. Impact from such handling does not have a positive effect on gear - and especially not to lens element alignment.
At the gate checking stop, they didn't even look at my backpack. Same scenario at another flight - this time boarding for a regional jet. Again every roller was being checked - no exceptions.
The Gura Gear Bataflae 32L fit perfectly in the overhead storage on every flight I took it on (7 different planes) with a small regional jet (RJA) being the only exception. Very little fits in the overhead storage on RJAs, but on this flight, the 32L fit nicely under the aisle seat in front of me (the TTP Urban Disguise went in the overhead on this flight). The 32L just fits in front-to-back orientation in the smaller center overhead storage of the double-aisle B-777 aircraft.
While I used the Bataflae 32L from the vehicle a lot (drove over 1,950 miles in rental SUVs) in HI, I also carried gear while actively shooting. One of the reasons I took the 500 L on this trip was to shoot Kilauea Volcano at night. Unfortunately, my day in Volcanoes National Park was a nearly-complete rain-out. The rain was so heavy and the fog was so thick that I didn't even attempt shooting on this day - until the volcano lit up after dark. The rain didn't stop, but became light enough that, along with fog lifting, the volcano became visible - and was glowing red.
I setup my gear in the visitor's center, stretched a small hole in a garbage bag (I always have these in my backpacks) over the front of the 500 L's lens hood (the stretched plastic holds tightly - gaffer's tape can also be used) and tucked myself, the camera and the tripod head inside the bag for shooting (I had a smaller Think Tank Photo rain cover with me, but not one sized for the 500 L). The Bataflae's rain cover took care of the rest of my gear in the bag with only the shoulder straps getting wet. I'll leave the story about high winds encountered during this long shooting session for later, but I successfully captured the images I was looking for. Rain is something I regularly encounter when shooting, and the Bataflae 32L's rain protection was of course very useful for this shoot.
To this point, I've established that the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L is light, large (but nicely sized even for flying) and comfortable. But there is much more to it. Let's talk next about how the case opens.
"Bataflae" is Bislama (Vanuatu) for "butterfly"
Fully open only one zipper, leaving the top/center clip fastened and the full length center-of-the-case Velcro attached, to allow one side of the case lid to flip open. Open both sides with the clip fastened to get the full "butterfly" appearance. Opening one side provides full access to half of the case. For example, in my packed 32L shown above, I could access the 500 L and 5D III without opening the rest of the case. Accessing half of the case is about twice as fast as accessing the fully-opened case.
The 32L can also open like a conventional backpack by opening both zippers to their extents. Actually, the zippers open further than most packs, giving the lid some flexibility in where it opens to. It can even be rotated/twisted to the side - 90° from normal, parallel to the back of the case. This feature is very handy when working in tight spaces as the lid can be laid to the side instead of constantly falling closed.
I initially found the rugged zippers to be difficult to open, but was assured that these would loosen up over time. And it seems they are doing just that. I was not bothered by the required pull force during use on my trip. The color-coded zipper pulls are great to use.
As you can see in the above image, many more padded dividers are included with this case than I used in my example.
Inside the lid are four zippered see-through mesh pockets. I stored a pile of memory cards in one of these pockets. This worked fine, but I would like to see some memory card-specific storage pockets provided - to avoid the ball of cards scenario.
Also visible under the lid is a strip of Velcro-attachment to aid in the center-of-the-lid fold, butterfly opening this case features. Don't want to use this feature? Run a strip of Velcro down either side of this closure to disable it.
The outside of the lid features two more large zippers with four more see-through mesh pockets (two are zippered) and misc other pockets. I even carried a light jacket in one of the outer lid storage pockets (it was a bit bulky in this config). One additional zipper on the lower outside of the lid contains the 32L's rain jacket.
Tripods can be carried on the back or sides of the 32L as exampled below. I prefer the side attachment due to the attachment method - and this keeps the pack lid easy to access without the tripod getting in the way.
Various side attachment points and a pair of stretchy side pockets are provided (useful for water bottles).
The straps and waist belt are stowable inside a zippered rear pouch for a clean look as demonstrated below.
With the shoulder straps ready for use, the back of the pack reveals thick padding with air venting. The waist belt is optional and can independently be stowed. Having the waist belt out of the way for light backpack use, such as when walking through an airport, simplifies things.
Attachment rings are provided on the shoulder straps. Strong, firmly-cushioned, rounded handles that are always raised and ready for use make handling this pack easy. The side handle is especially useful when taking the heavy pack off of your shoulders.
I love the look of the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L - it will help any professional image you are looking to convey. I love the logo - the cairn (little pile of stones) takes me places I like to be. Even the included draw-string dust cover looks sharp.
The Bataflae line leaves little to want in materials and construction. Here is the materials list:
This case is holding up very well. Even after weeks of heavy use, it still looks like new.
The Bataflae 32L comes in your choice of three colors. I went with black - because I like it best - and it matches most of the rest of my gear and gear bags. Black is also less likely to show up in reflections than lighter colors. Pick what works best for you.
Is the Bataflae 32L (32 liters) too large for you? No problem. The 26L or 18L should meet your needs.
Not sure what size photo backpack you need? Lay out your gear on a table in a packable configuration and take measurements. You can figure 1/4" (6.4mm) for the small padded divider thickness and 3/8" (9.6mm) for the thicker center divider.
|Name||Exterior Dim||Interior Dim||Weight|
|Bataflae 32L||14 x 21 x 9" (36 x 53 x 23 cm)||13 x 20 x 7" (33 x 51 x 18 cm)||4.2 – 5.3 lb (1.9 – 2.4 kg)|
|Bataflae 26L||14 x 18 x 9" (36 x 46 x 23 cm)||13 x 17 x 7" (33 x 43 x 18 cm)||4.0 – 4.9 lb (1.9 – 2.4 kg)|
|Bataflae 18L||12 x 17 x 9" (30 x 43 x 23 cm)||11 x 16 x 6.5" (28 x 40 x 16 cm)||3.0 – 3.1 lb (1.36 – 1.42 kg)|
"Weights vary based on equipment configuration including the rain cover, waist belt, and dividers, as well as the overall sewing and materials tolerances. Minimum weight is considered the basic bag without the rain cover, waist belt and a standard divider configuration. Maximum weight is ‘as shipped’ and includes extra dividers."
The 32L's 7" (18cm) inside height will easily accommodate most pro-sized or gripped DSLRs even with L-plates mounted. The 32L's overall size is perfect for airline travel - and this capacity is about all that my body can handle in weight for any extended hiking.
My most-comparable backpack is the also-excellent Lowepro Pro Trekker 400 AW Backpack. The Lowepro is heavier and less compact, but it is a bit more ruggedly padded with more-thickly padded shoulder straps and waist belt. The Lowepro backpack also has zippered side storage pockets and storage for a laptop. Both are great packs. The Lowepro may be a better option for serious hiking and the Gura Gear may be a better option for travel.
As you may have guessed, top quality is not inexpensive, and I'm sure the 32L's price tag is going to turn some away from this case. But, what you put in this case is going to be much more costly - and very valuable for whatever purpose you are carrying the gear for.
I expect the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L to accompany me on many more photo trips - both short and long. It is easy to highly recommend this backpack - and I do.