- Buyer's Guide
Road Tests :: Kata Bumblebee-222 UL
The Kata Bumblebee-222 UL fills the void between a simple day pack and a larger photo pack. It has a ton of tech features, storage, and a strikingly different look. More significantly, it holds a ton of stuff while still being featherlight. I gave it a road test to see if all those features stood up to their billing…
In a nutshell, the Kata Bumblebee-222 UL packs a large DSLR with a zoom attached, three primes and a tele, an additional body, clothes for a few days, a large laptop, a tripod, and all the little odds and ends photographers accumulate and can’t be without (notebooks, card readers, sensor cleaning swabs, et cetera).
The bag is light weight and has the ability to be my only bag on a two or three day trip. It’s exactly what I was looking for, so I was excited to put the bag through its paces.
I had the Bumblebee out on a video shoot with Brandon Semenuk. Photo by David Lang.
Fast forward: I’ve been abusing this pack for nearly a year now; it’s been schlepped about on photo/video trips from Sedona, AZ, to Squamish, BC, and I’ve been generally very happy with it. Ultimately, it successfully addresses the weight problem of most photo packs, and carves out a niche for itself in the category. If you’re in the market for an ultralight, versatile camera+laptop backpack, this one should make your short list.
Weighing between 3.3 lbs and 5.1 lbs depending on how you have it configured, nothing else comes close for a bag this size and capacity. Is the extra three or four lbs you’d carry around with a similarly sized Lowe-Pro worth the premium you’ll pay for the Kata Bumblebee-222 UL? It depends. I spend a lot of time mountain biking or hiking into locations and I need all the help I can get keeping up with athletes, so I’m pretty weight conscious about having light gear and not bringing stuff I don’t need. For that, a lightweight bag is amazing. However, if you’re hauling an ancient Manfrotto with a video head and utterly stuffing the bag to capacity with gear then the weight advantage is barely noticeable.
The next most noticeable thing about the bag is those zippers. The big loops on all the main compartment zip pulls are incredibly natural for whipping the bag open and closed quickly. I wish all bags had zippers like this.
The shoulder straps are bare expanded EVA foam, which feels a bit odd but definitely grips the shoulders well. So far they don’t show any signs of premature wear. The sternum straps are efficiently placed, and I appreciate the 2:1 ratio of adjustment on the waist straps (see photo below).
The rest of the pack’s features are generally well thought out: it just fits within most airlines’ carry-on dimensions, it has three different tripod holding options for different sizes of tripods, the outer stretch pocket inevitably gets used as a water-bottle holder so they’ve made it breathable and quick drying, the foam dividers in the camera compartment have holes in them to save weight, et cetera…
Furthermore, despite my being generally wary of offset mesh backs and back-facing laptop compartments, Kata has combined them into something that I really like: the aluminum frame gives the offset back a shape that feels great despite the laptop compartment, and the mesh they use is soft and doesn’t chafe.
There are four major downsides to this bag. The first is the buckles. While I’m impressed with how the bag is holding up in general, I broke the very small waist strap buckle almost right away and they’re impossible to replace without cutting and sewing. The buckles could be upgraded to match the toughness of the rest of the bag without a significant weight or cost penalty.
The second major downside is more subjective: it’s ass-ugly. Some might disagree, but I think the materials look cheaper than they are and the logo looks like a Wal-Mart brand from the 1990s. Call me vain, but I’m a fan of bags that look subtle and unbranded. In fairness, the black version looks better, but not screaming “this is a bag with a high likelihood of expensive things inside” would be a plus too.
The third major downside to the bag is the “spineguard,” which sits inside a massive zippered slit down the front of the bag (see photo above). Now, this spineguard doesn’t seem like it would actually do a damn thing (they claim it protects your camera equipment), and if it actually did do something there’s no reason for it to be accessible and removable. As it is, the “spineguard” falls out every time you unzip the slit to attach a tripod; super annoying and with no obvious advantages. I’ll be happy to stand corrected on this one, it definitely seems like I’m missing some obvious reason for it, especially given how well designed the rest of the bag is.
Finally, the biggest strike against this bag is that its light weight is so fantastic that you’ll spend way too much money on carbon tripods and the like. It’d probably be advisable to just lose ten lbs and carry a heavier bag, but this thing is just way too nice.
- Light, REALLY light
- Perfect overnight photo trip size
- Great design features (zips, foam, back, 2:1 straps, etc.)
- Will make you buy other light, expensive stuff
- Expensive compared to similarly featured but heavier bags
- Annoying and inexplicable “spineguard”
- Weak and hard-to-replace buckles
- Will make you buy other light, expensive stuff
Within this category of bag there are cheaper, tougher, and simpler bags out there that are likely more suitable when weight isn’t a factor; but if weight is a factor, it’s hard to go past the Bumblebee-222 UL.
Here’s a video with a few quick clips from the aforementioned trip to Squamish (NSFW language):