- Buyer's Guide
Three quarters of the way through, and it's already clear that 2015 is a flagship year for San Francisco-based Peak Design. As an original backer of their first product, the Capture Camera Clip, in 2011, I have always kept an ear pointed North to keep tabs on what the team has been up to. They've since released what many would consider evolutionary products, going from the Capture to straps for your wrist and shoulder. However, that all changed at the end of July when Peak unveiled the Everyday Messenger, their first foray into the soft-goods/bag world. The announcement came about a week before Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015, and I could not be more excited to see what they had in store.
"What stands out to me about Peak Design is they are a company that solves problems you don't even know you have."
As bag reviewers, camera bags are one of the topics we get asked most about and that we feel most passionate about. When you are out shooting, whether it's exploring a new city for pleasure, or on assignment, your camera bag can be a real sore point. I feel like a camera bag should be present and just work, allowing you to do your work. This is often not the case, and when this happens, it leads to frustration and decreased efficiency. What stands out to me about Peak Design is they are a company that solves problems you don't even know you have. Let's see how successful they were this time.
- Name: Everyday Messenger
- Brand: Peak Design
- Format: Messenger
- Measurement: 17 in. x 12 in. x 7 in.
- Capacity: 13.5L to 20.5L
- Weight: 2.5 lbs
- Zippers: Water-resistant external
- Material: 500D Kodra, DWR coated
- PriceUS$ 195
Who It Suits
The name of the product (Everyday Messenger) implies that this bag can toe the line between a photographer’s bag and one that anyone can use day to day. I would say this is mostly true but in practice I feel like this is primarily a camera bag that can do double-duty as a non-camera bag. This can be said of any camera bag, technically, but in my experience I’ve found that camera bags that do well as everyday bags are much more rare than the other way around. It’s not uncommon for photographers to hack together a camera bag from a standard bag and have it work for them.
This is the bag for you if you primarily want a camera bag that has thoughtful features that help you carry other things as well.
Who It Doesn’t Suit
This is not the ideal bag for someone who primarily wants it for everyday activities, such as a student or business person. The moment you put even one divider in, you are losing about a third of the width of the bag. If you are carrying a large stack of documents (standard or legal), you will need the full width of the bag and that means it doesn’t play well with the dividers. On the other hand, I’ve found that you can easily carry a 35mm or digital camera inside one compartment and still have room for your ID badge, sunglasses, and miscellaneous items.
The Carryology crew actually tried to meet up with Peak at OR but we just missed them on the final day. This was especially disappointing because we had caught a glimpse of the Everyday Messenger on the main floor, but since we were in the middle of a meeting with another brand, we couldn’t exactly chase the wearer down to ask questions. Luckily, the Peak team was extremely easy to work with, and I was able to secure a sample, one of a small number in the wild. Please keep this in mind: the bag I am describing and that you see in photos is a pre-production sample so while most of the form and function is complete, there have been some tweaks. You can always check out the updates in the Kickstarter campaign to get the latest news.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with the Everyday Messenger, using it as my primary work bag, as well as loading it with camera gear for photo shoots. Designed in conjunction with New Zealand photographer Trey Ratcliff, the bag is touted as a bag photographers could use in the field but one that seamlessly transitions to the boardroom, classroom, or under your seat in coach. Trey is most known for his HDR, landscape and travel photography so when he comes knocking with an idea for a bag, you listen. Before I talk about what makes the Everyday Messenger so great, let’s review what the design team at Peak, led by Art Viger, did not do.
Construction and Materials
They didn’t make a camera backpack with a three-quarter open panel. They didn’t use stiff leather that’s unmalleable and does not conform to your equipment. They didn’t just make an insert that fits inside a bag you might already own. Last, but not least, they stick with the industry-wide accepted, yet hated, Velcroed divider walls.
“When asked, the Peak guys told me it comes to putting quality over cost.”
Instead, Peak Design created a camera bag system from the ground up, solving many of the complaints photographers had and many we didn’t even know we had. The Everyday Messenger is made of a DWR-coated Kodra synthetic nylon which gives it great durability and the ability to stand up to inclement weather, not to mention a good balance between structure and flexibility. The hardware consists of anodized aluminum rivets, latches, buckles, and hooks, adding a touch of luxury and reliability without sacrificing too much unnecessary weight (I’m looking at you AustriAlpin). Peak smartly uses Hypalon rubber in areas that could benefit from the toughness and reliability and the smooth edges for interaction (i.e. stability strap attachment point and the Capture mount on the Field Bag). The external zippers are all waterproof. This is an important point because it’s so commonly missed by even the large bag manufacturers. You would not believe how many bags we come across that claim to be water-resistant but are covered with ordinary zippers. When asked, the Peak guys told me it comes to putting quality over cost.
Speaking of the zippers, let’s focus on them for a second. The pull tabs are a thing of beauty – they are bias-cut, laser-etched with subtle branding, and have contrast stitching to catch your eye. When closed, the tabs sit in a little flap so you don’t get that annoying metal on skin interaction. The front panel has dual zips for quicker deployment and access to those key items when shooting (battery, film, memory cards, etc).
The strap is one of the most important interface points the user has with the messenger. The Peak Design team put a lot of thought into this too. It rocks a nice wide strap that’s internally padded and can quickly switch between three modes of carry in half a minute. The strap is reversible for right-shoulder carry and ranges from 78 to 142 cm, allowing you to keep the bag in the small of your back or to the side and over your shoulder. The strap is connected to a beefy rivet on each side of the bag, that’s not only eye-catching (anodized circumference) but also functional, allowing sway and pull during movement. Finally, Peak has smartly integrated their quick-adjust buckle system that we’ve previously seen on their camera straps.
"The pull tabs are a thing of beauty..."
Enough with the incidentals. How well does the bag actually hold your gear? From my experience, quite well. The main compartment expands from 13.5L to 20.5L while being designed to take the slack when you need to carry less. It’s designed to hold up to a large DSLR and three lenses and everything in between. I am not a DSLR shooter. This is made possible by a shell that consists of 22 panels, flexing and folding like a piece of origami. I’ve long switched to film cameras and either fixed lenses or a single prime lens per body. For me, a shoot could mean a medium-format body, a 35mm point and shoot and a 35mm rangefinder, plus a digital camera for backup. I was able to carry all this with this bag.
Working in conjunction with the shell is the ingenious divider panels they devised. Instead of your standard rectangular dividers, Peak Design came up with an innovative flex-fold system. The dividers can fold into three different configurations and go from 12 to 22 cm wide. They can sit fully upright to accommodate your 400mm telephoto lens, or fold down to create a shelf system, allowing you to safely stack two bodies or two lenses, or any combination you need. The dividers have Velcro on the sides and bottom but because of their polygonal design, the Velcro strips are only about 1.5 inches long. Why is this important? Well, let’s say they are much easier to adjust compared to the 4-5 inches of Velcro that you have to pull away in other bags. Speaking of securing, the internal walls of the bag only have Velcro where the dividers meet and nowhere they don’t. This means you don’t have an entire interior of the furry Velcro material that can snag the dividers as you are installing or removing them. Lastly, the Velcro is patterned stitched so it doesn’t pull away from the bag.
The front flap panel was designed for easy access while you’re wearing the bag. The dual zippers open up the panel and allow it to fold away, allowing you to quickly access items such as memory cards and batteries. Speaking of consumables, the panel is split into two mirror halves with red and green stitching for easy organizing – put your fresh batteries and memory cards in the green pockets and move them to the red side when they’re spent.
The back section is padded and holds a 13-15 inch laptop and has space for a small tablet or Kindle. The devices are flanked by pockets for your pens.
In the main pocket, you’ll find a small document holder perfect for your passport and boarding passes or a Moleskine notebook for notes. A pocket internal to the interior of the flap is perfect for lightweight items such as a cleaning cloth, flash drives, or even your sunglasses.
Finally, two small pockets to the side can hold your smartphone or other small flat objects in a pinch. Coincidentally, these pockets exist because of the dedicated Capture Clip attachment points, one on each side of the bag.
The Everyday Messenger does so many things well. The strap is a joy to use, offering easy adjustability between three lengths, an internally padded section that always sits over your shoulder and easy adjustability using the tried and true Peak buckle system. It also has a retention and waist strap that tucks away when you’re not using it.
The hardware is amazing and eye-catching while being subtle and classy. The attention to detail, from the waterproof zippers to the pull tabs and tuck-away homes for the tabs, is appreciated. The subtle laser etching of the logos isn’t gratuitous in the least. The contrast stitching ties everything together visually.
The dedicated Capture Clip mounting points show a consistency in design and a nod to Peak’s roots, without seeming forced or unnecessary. They are an obvious and welcome feature once you’ve used them.
The easy access front panel has colored compartments that subtly guide you into being more organized. Speaking of easy access, a waterproof zipper runs across the top, allowing for convenient access to documents or items in the main compartment. I use this daily when I need to grab my badge out of my bag, to get into my company. No more fumbling with buckles.
The MagLatch system allows for one-handed open and closure and offers 15 cm of range. Upon closure, you have the option of simply allowing the magnets to do the work, or with a quick pull up, you have a mechanical lock for extra security.
The top carry handle is a thing of beauty. It’s internally padded and sewn like a trapezoid with chamfered edges, conforming to your hand. I actually did a double take the first time I held the bag, because I couldn’t believe the detail.
Finally, the bottom is abrasion resistant and is shaped to help the bag sit upright. It doesn’t sound like an important feature at first, but having the bag by my feet actually sitting up, all on its own, instead of drooping over, is so nice. It means I can just reach down and grab something from it without the extra step of righting it first.
“I actually did a double take the first time I held the bag, because I couldn’t believe the detail.”
My initial complaints of the bag had to do with the pre-production nature of the sample. I felt the retention strap was too short. This has been lengthened in production. I felt the interior soft pocket’s zipper was binding in the center. This was a padding issue and it too was resolved before production.
Despite liking the Capture Clip attachment point, I found it could pose problems too. When you’re walking around a city and taking pictures, it’s a great way to have easy access to your camera. However, the moment you sit down or place your bag on the floor, you have to be really careful. You have an expensive piece of equipment sticking out of the side of your bag and it has a tendency to bump into doors, rails, etc. In addition, when you’re wearing the bag with a camera attached, you are essentially extending the width 4-5 inches, which can be problematic in situations where space is at a premium (public transport, crowded venues). Of course, you can simply choose to remove your camera and place it in the main compartment.
My other niggles have to do with all messenger bags, really, and are not unique to the Everyday Messenger. When you put a notebook in, you create a situation where the bag doesn’t fully sit on your back. Instead, it sits on just one side, leaving a pocket of space. This can be partially alleviated with some adjustment. When you don’t have a laptop in there and you pack it a certain way, you can get this situation where one of the sides sort of flexes and folds onto itself at the rivet where the strap meets the bag. This depends on a few factors including your torso side and strap length and is more of a visual annoyance than anything else.
Lastly, I would have appreciated a few pockets that were more rugged with more heft to them. I appreciate the elastic pockets but I need some pockets with firm walls to hold things like pens or a pocket knife; a place where things don’t just rattle around.
Others To Consider
I’ve been thinking a lot about camera bags because they have always been such a point of frustration for me.
“...the Everyday Messenger [is] something I could see myself using for years to come.”
- Camera bag doubles as a functional piece of daily carry, including when camera gear is not required
- Innovative FlexFold dividers and MagLatch closure system
- Strong and subtle hardware, with understated branding
The Not So Good
- Need to take care when using the Capture Clip attachment point in crowded spaces
- Some pockets with rigid walls for pens and the like would be useful
If you’ve read this far, you won’t be surprised to find that I am a huge fan of what Peter, Art, and the rest of the Peak Design team has pulled off. It seems now that it was only a matter of time before they dipped their toes into the world of carry and am I sure glad they did. It perfectly fits my needs in being able to carry something as small as a point and shoot to something as large as my Hasselblad medium-format, and everything in between. It looks and feels great to wear, and the innovation from the FlexFold dividers to the MagLatch closure system makes the Everyday Messenger something I could see myself using for years to come.
To date, the Kickstarter campaign has raised over $3.2M from over 11,000 backers. It’s the #1 bag in the history of Kickstarter and the #1 photography related project. I’d definitely recommend pledging for one if you haven’t already.
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