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09-20-2010, 08:34 AM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Indianapolis, IN
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Backpacking with a camera: The review of the Syncpack front mounting system

I just completed walking the Camino Portugues (walking ~220km/150mi) starting in Porto, PT and finishing in Santiago Compostella, ES. Early in the decision process for this trip, I wanted to take my K20d with me but did not want to keep it stowed within my backpack, and did not want to keep it suspended around my neck the entire trip. During the planning process, I happened upon the Syncpack, a system that ties into the front webbing of the backpack thereby eliminating the need to remove a pack to get to the camera. I decided to give it a whirl, and this is my review of the system:

MOVEMENT: The Syncpack seems to be a rather novel idea for backpackers: remove heavy items from the backpack and keep it suspended on the chest, thereby balancing the load and placing more weight on the hips rather than the shoulders. The Syncpack is designed to move with you and not be a rigid fixture. After having this thing affixed to my chest for 10 days, I can wholeheartedly support the notion it moves with you every step of the way. I started walking and would glance down at the attachments to my hip and chest straps. The pack would move in tune with my body and did not hamper my movement, whether I was scrambling up or down loose rock hills or on flat pavement. I would bend over to tie a shoe or whatever, and the pistons would retract and not impede my movement at all.

STOWAGE: There is enough room within the main pouch to hold a guidebook, K20d with DA16-50mm attached, and a DA50-135mm waiting. In the front pouch, I had enough room for a small flip book for notes, a CPL, batteries (2), and memory cards. There are two mesh side pockets, one that held a 0.75L bottle of water and a second that held a sling strap (more on that function later) as well as my sunglasses. The main compartment did not have enough room for my grip so that was left at home. The Syncpack did an outstanding job of containing all of my gear and nothing was lost. I did notice that the petal shape of the lens hoods would occasionally catch on the interior pocket of the main compartment.

FUNCTIONALITY: One of the other attractive options was the ability to remove the framing from the Syncpack and attach a sling strap so it could be used as a carry on bag or daypack for walking around a town at the end of the day. The multifunction purpose of the Syncpack was outstanding for this: hike 15mi with the pack attacked to the backpack, then convert to a daypack for exploring at the end of the day.

USE IN THE FIELD: While walking, I would stop, unzip the main compartment and remove the camera, compose, snap, and stow. If I had the camera stowed in my backpack, I would have to remove everything to get to it and that would be the last thing I would have ever wanted to do. The Syncpack allowed me to stop every so often when the situation presented itself to compose a picture. Simply put, I could not imagine a better design for doing some distance hiking/walking with a pack and photography.

There are some areas that can be improved, though: There is no dedicated rain sleeve. I had three days of rain when I started from Porto. I was soooooo happy to have the weather sealing capabilities of the K20d and lenses. Paper items stowed in the Syncpack were wetted. I wound up either trying to protect the pack with a plastic grocery sack or removing the entire pack and daisy chaining it to my pack which was protected by a rain cover. If there was a dedicated rain sleeve, I’d snatch it up to make it a great compliment to walking in all conditions.

Also, I had some trouble attaching the hip belts to my pack, an Osprey Atmos 50L. The Atmos has thinner hip straps with two stowage pockets, which actually interfered with the placement of the supports for the Syncpack. I had to remove the two brackets for the Syncpack and reconfigure the alignment of the lower attachment pegs (adjustments using an Allen wrench provided with the pack). The brackets wanted to move freely when not attached to the system, so that was a constant issue.

I also noticed it would occasionally block my sight when looking down at my feet, something that was a bit troubling when walking down a steep, loose rock slope. I had to adjust a bit for the line-of-sight.

In summary:

PROS:
• Movement of the pack is natural with your body. It moves and sways in rhythm with your steps, contracts when you bend over, and doesn’t feel unnatural at all.
• Stows a good amount of gear and balances the lode from the back to the front. More weight is placed on the hips rather than the shoulders.
• Easy access to camera to allow for quick composition.
• Two mesh containers for water bottle storage.
• Conversion to daypack is quick and easy, and it doesn’t look like a camera bag.

CONS:
• Not weatherproof, and needs protection from water. No dedicated rain sleeve, and don’t depend on plastic grocery sacks to keep stuff dry.
• A wide hip belt with no pockets would be optimal for the system. The attachments are adjustable with provided Allen wrench, so there are ways around this problem.
• Interior pocket of the main compartment may catch the petal of a lens hood when removing a lens from the pouch.

If you are a backpacker and would like to carry your camera/lenses so they are accessible in a system that doesn’t impede your movement, this is a pretty solid design. It also converts to a daypack when you reach a destination – another big plus. However, if you will be exposed to the elements, you may have to figure out how to protect the contents.

If requested, I can provide some photos in a few days when I sort through and have a chance to process them.

09-20-2010, 10:50 AM   #2
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: HK
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thanks for info. i'm doing my camino next month! buen camino!
09-20-2010, 12:54 PM   #3
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Living in Vancouver, BC, born in Melbourne Australia
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Posts: 156
Ortlieb Equivalent system

Hi Bactman,

That sounds like a fantastic walk!
I used to use a generic LowePro Tapered top loader on the backpack hip belt, but I was always worried about rain.

Then I came across this Ortlieb System. For people familiar with Ortlieb products you automatically be thinking 'WATER PROOF'. I can't say I've tested it to extremes, but I have with my other Ortlieb gear and am confident you could roll and zip this up and then submerge it and you're gear would be dry!

The Ortlieb Aqua Cam.
You can find information on it here
View Ortlieb Products \\ Camera Bags at http://www.ortliebusa.com


I've done two or three hikes with it here in BC since purchasing it and can provide people the following points. There are three various products that all use similiar technology.

With each of them you can purchase the harness system that you wear under your backpack harness. This is very well designed (as I find a lot of German designed products are) and fit beautifully under sitting underneath your backpack straps. This allows you to take your backpack off easily. It can be a little hard to get yourself set up at the start, but once you get used to it it's pretty good. It's also got little bits of elastic at the top which provides a bit of suspension to the weight so the bag bounces ever so slightly with your gait keeping excess weight off your shoulders.


Pros:
  • Water Proof.
  • Chest mounted allows for easy quick access.
  • Stores a good amount of gear - From memory my last hike I had the following inside (K20 with Sigma 24mm attached, Sigma10-20, FA 50/1.7 Two large Filters in plastic cases, small lens brush/puffer
  • Has the option of a separate harness allowing you to wear it without the backpack.
  • Waterproof
  • Has an extremely comfortable shoulder strap making a good every day camera bag.
  • Has a slot for wide hip belts so you can wear it on a backpack belt if you'd like.
  • Moves well with your body when hiking.
  • Did I already say waterproof.


Cons:
  • The dividers with in the bag have very weak velcro and don't hold their position well.
  • Can be a bit bulky sitting on your chest. I ordered the Large. Perhaps the medium size or the aquazoom product would feel a bit less cumbersome.
  • No external pockets - but Ortlieb make other waterproof external pockets.
  • Extremely hard to find. Not one camera store in Vancouver had heard of it. I ended up having my local bike store (that stocked Ortlieb products) order for me - and then that was an ordeal as well.

I could also take some photos for people if they'd like to show it loaded, but I won't be hiking again for some time.

If you're hiking and want to have your camera close at hand - you need one of these two products. It'll change your hiking life!
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