The TTP Airport Accelerator is a great backpack choice for securely carrying moderately large amounts of very expensive camera gear in a relatively discreet fashion. This classy-appearing pack is a premier choice for travel including international air travel.
There is a story behind why I chose the Airport Accelerator as my primary camera backpack for a recent photo trip to Colorado. I will share that story with you, but I'll first give you a tour of this pack.
Let's start the tour with the product images:
The front of the case has a clean, classy-but-nondescript professional appearance. A pair of double zippers near the top are the first clues to storage areas contained within. The lower zippers provide access to a slim 7 x 10" (178 x 254mm) storage area with a variety of pockets inside. These pockets range in size from that of a small finger (ideal for pens and similar) up to the full pocket dimensions. The next-up zippers open to a near-full-case-sized pocket measuring over 13 x 19 x 1.25" (330 x 483 x 32mm). This area is designed to hold a laptop and a separately-protected tablet/iPad. You can't see it in the picture, but a slim 15" laptop was in this pocket at photo time. TTP indicates that a 17" laptop model will fit and I see no reason why it would not. A hook-and-loop closure secures the tablet in place.
The top-most, larger-sized zipper pair opens the main storage area. I'll discuss that area throughout the review, but the under-side of the lid has three large zipper-closed mesh pockets (shown loaded in this image). The top-most single zipper is barely visible from this angle (it is more easily seen in the top view image). This zipper provides access to a slim 5.5 x 8" (140 x 203mm) pocket. Above this pocket is a business card-sized pocket with a small hook-and-loop closure inside.
Rounding out the front of the case is the rugged, flexible, thickly-padded handle at the top.
The left side of the case (left as viewed from what I called the front) consists of a small pocket containing a cable and lock and another padded handle. There is no handle on the right side of the pack, so this case is made to be taken off of the left shoulder using the right hand to complete the removal. The right side of the case consists of a large elastic pocket and attachment loops compatible with TTP's Modular Component line positioned from the top of the pocket until the top handle. The side pocket easily accommodates a water bottle or the feet of a tripod that can be locked into the attachment loops using the provided pair of clips and straps.
The back of the pack is what you feel when carrying a load and what you find here in the back of this pack is comfort without significant bulk. The straps are moderately padded and the back of the pack is similarly padded with an airflow design to help avoid overheating. As usual, the main straps are adjustable for length, while the sternum strap is adjustable for height and length. Each strap has an elastic pocket that will fit up to an iPhone 5-sized device, a flashlight, pocketknife, etc. Each strap also has a metal D-ring that can accommodate camera straps or anything else you need to clip to your pack and 3 loop attachment points are also provided (for 6 total). The slim waist belt (not shown) can be removed (my preference for travel) and/or replaced with a TTP Pro Speed Belt. Overall, the straps are adequate for comfortable support of the pack, but they are small enough to not cause problems when the pack is stowed such as in an overhead bin in an aircraft.
The bottom of the backpack consists of a large web handle that remains flush with the case to not affect the backpack's ability to stand upright (which this pack solidly does).
Per Think Tank Photo:
"Exterior: For superior water-resistance, all exterior fabric has a durable water-repellant (DWR) coating, plus the underside of the fabric has a polyurethane coating. It also has YKK® RC Fuse (abrasion-resistant) zippers, 1680D ballistic nylon bottom panel, 600D polyester, 420D velocity nylon, 3D air mesh, ultra-stretch pockets, Y-buckles, antique nickel-plated metal hardware, big hole air mesh, honeycomb mono mesh, nylon webbing, and 3-ply bonded nylon thread."
"Interior: Removable closed cell foam dividers, 210D silver-toned nylon, polyurethane-backed velex liner, 2x polyurethane coated nylon 210T seam-sealed rain cover, Belly-O mesh pockets, and 3-ply bonded nylon thread."
Most of the product pictures in this review were taken after returning from my trip. Obviously, the case has held up very well, still appearing like new.
Describing the build quality of a Think Tank Photo case seems so ... redundant. Redundant in a good way of course. Every Think Tank Photo case I've ever used (and I've used many of them) has been very well constructed and smartly-designed. They are all built to look great and hold up through daily professional use and the Airport Accelerator does not vary from this experience.
A primary backpack selection criterion is size and backpack size selection often involves two criteria. The first involves the maximum size that can be physically tolerated by the vehicle transporting it and/or one's body. Airline restrictions provide a firm upper size limit. The larger the size and weight of the pack, the more difficult the pack is to carry when loaded, especially for longer periods of time.
The other criterion is how much you need to be able to fit into the pack and all else being equal, the larger the pack, the more gear you can get in it.
When flying, I'm usually trying to max out the airline limit, packing in all the gear I can take. At the same time, I avoid roller bags due to a bad experience with ALL rollers being required to be checked on a certain flight I was on. If the pack is on my back, I can usually walk right onto the plane with an "It will fit under the seat" being my standard line on regional flights (note: book an aisle seat on these smaller planes to avoid the sloped plane floor by the windows). Slightly smaller than max carry-on size is helpful when the under-the-seat option is needed and I can confirm that the packed-full (including a laptop) Airport Accelerator fit under the RJA (Regional Jet Aircraft) aisle seat on my flight.
The overall shape of this rather-rigid pack is squared in the corners (vs. rounded), allowing efficient use of the dimensions it is permitted to occupy.
Exterior Dimensions: 14" W x 20.5" H x 9" D (35.6 × 52.1 × 22.9cm)
Interior Dimensions: 13" W x 18.8" H x 6.8" D (33 × 47.8 × 17.3cm)
Laptop: 11.8" W x 17.3" H x 1.4" D (30 × 44 × 3.5cm)
Weight: 4.1-5.5 lbs (1.9-2.5 kg)
International and domestic carry-on size compatible (per TTP as of review time)
Also per TTP: "The Airport Accelerator accommodates two pro DSLR’s, 6 - 8 standard zooms plus an iPad and up to a 17" laptop. For the big glass enthusiasts, it holds up to a 500mm f/4 with body attached."
Here are a pair of Think Tank Photo-provided images of the Airport Accelerator loaded.
As you likely guessed, the Airport Accelerator is not an inexpensive backpack. But, its price is in line with other packs of similar quality.
Now for the story I promised. While preparing for a recent Colorado photo trip, I was hearing reports of United Airlines becoming stricter in enforcing their carry-on baggage size limitations. Those size limits were 9 x 14 x 22" (220 x 350 x 560mm) for the "carry-on bag" and 9 x 10 x 17" (220 x 250 x 430mm) for the "personal item". Being paranoid of having to check any of my photo gear and especially because I was going to be flying in a smaller regional jet at both ends of my trip, I decided that I wanted to insure 100% compliance.
The Gura Gear Bataflae 32L had been my primary travel backpack (love it) to this point and this pack falls under the max carry-on size limits. However, the Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise 60 V2.0 shoulder bag that I have been long-using for my slim 15" laptop and additional camera gear exceeds the 10" (250mm) dimensional limitation by 2" (55mm). Think Tank Photo indicated that they were not hearing any reports of this bag being denied use as a personal item and thought that I would have no problems with it, but ... I wanted to take no chances.
After failing to find an alternative personal-item-compliant laptop case that suited me, I moved in a different direction. Think Tank Photo sent me their largest sans-wheels backpack, the Airport Accelerator, to review. I would use the Airport Accelerator in place of the Bataflae 32L as my main pack with the Accelerator's laptop compartment being the biggest benefit.
Without needing to hold my laptop, I had a lot more flexibility in selecting a personal item. With some hiking on my schedule, a small backpack seemed to be the ideal option and the Think Tank Photo StreetWalker I already had and very frequently use was my choice.
Here is a picture of my Airport Accelerator just prior to leaving on my trip:
On the bottom, I have a pair of 5D Mark III bodies (3 total – one provided by LensRentals.com). One 5D III is mounted to a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS Lens and shown positioned lens-downward. The other three lenses are the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS Lens, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II Lens and Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II Lens. In addition to the bodies and lenses, many accessories are shown packed, more are packed in the lid pockets (shown earlier) and even more were packed into remaining spaces in the case after the picture was taken.
Even packed completely full, this case remained comfortably below my flight's carry-on size restrictions.
The Airport Accelerator loses about 1.5" in interior length and .5" in width to Gura Gear Bataflae 32L. While slight, these differences are noticeable. The AA is more tightly in line with airline carry-on regulations (including for international travel) when stuffed full, but I was able to pack more gear in the Bataflae 32L. Both are great choices, but the Gura Gear option does not provide dedicated laptop storage.
With the big pack on my back and the smaller StreetWalker worn reversed as a front pack, I comfortably carried 42.4 lbs (19.2kg) through airports including some very long gate changes. I even went through Chicago O’Hare immediately after an arsonist severely damaged the regional high altitude control tower, causing scheduling problems and gate change craziness. I carried the AA to and from hotel rooms for 10 days. On some occasions, I carried the pack into shooting locations and I daily worked out of the pack from the vehicle. I have no complaints.
In the end, I think that my Urban Disguise 60 V2.0 would have easily passed as my personal item on my flights, but the combination of the Airport Accelerator and StreetWalker worked great and the reduced stress of being 100% compliant definitely has value. I have no regrets from my pack decision and plan to continue to use this option. Since such packs are relied upon to carry a very expensive load, component failure (including zippers) is simply not tolerable. I have come to trust Think Tank Photo packs and have no reservations in recommending the Airport Accelerator. If this pack is the right size for you, it is unlikely that you will find a better option.
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