- Buyer's Guide
Wotancraft Commander Camera Backpack: Drive By
Taiwan-based Wotancraft has revamped their original Commander camera backpack for 2018. Inspired by World War II era military backpacks and constructed from highly durable weather-resistant Cordura, the pack is as heavy-duty as you can get for outdoor use. But at a cost of $700-plus, it raises the question – is the pack worth the investment? After a few months of testing the revised Commander here is what I came to find.
Who It Suits
Photographers with an endless budget looking for a durable pack made from high-quality materials. Those who love modularity, military styling, or want a camera bag that is unique.
Who It Doesn’t
Photographers who want quick access to their gear in one main housing, fast adjustability, and don’t want to spend over $700 on a pack.
I found the Wotancraft Commander camera backpack incredibly unique compared to most camera packs that I’ve come across. The first thing that demands attention is the military rucksack styling and the mixed use of Cordura and leather. The combination of materials complement each other in a seamless manner. Wotancraft has nicknamed this particular Cordura fabric “Fog Camo”, which is a 500D Cordura that has heat-resistant properties and utilizes ultra-strength nylon with a waxed treatment and underside water-repellant PU coating to protect from the elements. The “fog” comes from the printed “fog-like” camouflage pattern, which is said to gradually develop “water-washed fading”, similar to Japanese raw denim. This pattern wasn’t very blatant to me as I only discovered this information while researching the bag on the company’s website. In person, the exterior shell (at least my pack) has a more vintage aesthetic and I do believe that over time it will age well and have a beautiful patina.
The vegetable-tanned full-grain cowhide leather has a nice look and feel. I personally like the black leather and tonal black stitching used in some sections of the pack. Over time like most quality leathers, the leather will soften and age gracefully with use.
The little details have not been forgotten when designing this pack, from the included “Remove before adventure” keyring to the Wotancraft-labeled hardware. Speaking of hardware, every detail was well thought out. The high-strength zinc alloy and brass hardware go well with the Cordura and leather. Bronze YKK zippers with a rust-proof coating also help complete the vintage vibe of the pack.
The durable construction is one of the strengths of this pack. Using a bonded nylon thread that is typically used for leather boots and saddles helps to enforce the durability of the pack when in heavy use out in the field.
The organization of this pack took me some time to get used to, but due to its modularity you can quickly find a system that suits your particular shooting style. Having options and the ability to personalize your gear is always nice. Let’s start with the strengths of their system. The interior features a Velcro-compatible medical grade microfiber. The Wotancraft Commander includes a system of attachments that can be added for additional storage and organization including: a quick-draw insert, a small divider, two large dividers, a top/bottom divider plate, two divider plate tab, and a T-shaped divider. Additional accessories (modules) can be purchased separately.
Using their system I found myself making constant adjustments as various shoots require a variety of different lenses and gear. What I did like in particular were a couple of the optional modules that can be purchased separately and attached via Velcro to the pack. I particularly like the cord organizer / utility fastener module, which makes it easy to store a laptop power cord and cables. I also used the zippered pockets (available in two sizes) for additional storage as I connected those to the interior of the side compartments as they can fit items such as an air blower, microfiber cloth, and spare batteries.
Additional modules include: a battery & SD card fastener, zipperless pocket, 2pcs card holder, and lens cap holder / utility fastener.
The pack is full of storage solutions as there are several compartments that can house your valuable photo gear, from the main top compartment, which can hold up to two camera bodies, to two side compartments that can be accessed while the strap is still on your shoulder. A zip pocket for storage and quick access to items such as a cell phone, wallet, or keys is located at the very top of the pack. Four zip vertical pockets surround the top perimeter of the pack, utilizing all the space possible and can fit a range of smaller items. Each side compartment also has its own slot for smaller and skinnier items such as a lens cap. The front of the pack has a deep snap enclosed pocket with an elastic band at the top for items like a water bottle. To round things out eight brass D-rings can be found on the exterior. Not to be forgotten, a side panel allows up to a 15″ laptop to be stored while on the go.
The pack is full of storage solutions as there are several compartments that can house your valuable photo gear.
The exterior leather straps are not only pleasing to the eye, but also functional and can be configured to hold a tripod. A removable leather top handle with brass clasp hardware lets you easily pick the pack up off the ground or out of an airplane’s overhead bin.
I found the pack fairly comfortable overall. The two padded shoulder straps are removable, although I don’t recommend it especially with a full load as the leather straps by themselves are a bit stiff and can dig into your shoulders. The latex foam padding of the straps is as comfy as it gets with ample padding and the design helps to distribute weight evenly. The leather-trimmed edges and Cordura exterior of each shoulder strap is simply beautiful.
A non-slip backing on each of the strap padding helps to keep the pack in place. An adjustable and removable leather chest strap helps to stabilize the weight of the pack to the center of the body, while minimizing carry stress from the backpack. EVA foam back padding adds further comfort on your back.
One last area that the pack excels in is protection. The pack is fully padded and also features a built-in aluminum frame for stability. The base of the pack features a thick pad, which is removable, but I don’t recommend doing so if you have your precious camera gear inside. The back side is also padded to protect your laptop from dreaded drops. The top of the pack, for items placed in the top compartment, is also padded and secured with a zippered layer of Cordura and then another flap that securely adds one last layer of protection from the elements.
“The pack excels in protection. The pack is fully padded and also features a built-in aluminum frame for stability.”
The Not So Good
This is an expensive pack. The high price of the select materials used and construction can justify the cost, but for a camera pack it may be hard for some to afford.
I found that the functionality while in the field took a bit of time to get used to and comparing the overall experience to other camera packs it was one of my least preferred. While fully closed it takes more time to access the gear stashed in the top compartment as you need to first unlatch two enclosures and then a zipper. I personally prefer full openings where I can easily see all of my gear when I lay the pack down. Again, this is a personal preference.
The side openings to the compartments are nice to access while keeping your pack on you, but I often forgot which side I had certain lenses stored. I also had to remember to first turn the pack completely sideways to ensure none of the contents would spill out. This is also after having to disconnect the clasp for the chest strap.
“This is an expensive pack. The high price of the select materials used and construction can justify the cost, but for a camera pack it may be hard for some to afford.”
When attaching a tripod using the leather straps you lose the full functionality of the front pocket, which was one of the compartments I used most often.
The size of the compartments is ample, but if you keep the added top/bottom divider sections in place along with a divider to keep the two bottom compartments separate then you lose some overall space for larger items such as a long lens or flash. If you tend to keep a longer lens attached to your camera i.e. 70-200 you’ll have to really make some adjustments and in my case some sacrifice to make it fit in the pack either from the top main compartment or the bottom side compartment. For example if you want to access the DSLR and lens combo from the top you would need to lower the overall compartments lower and if you want to store it from the bottom then you must remove the center divider and in both instances you lose some organization and precious cargo space.
The actual adjustability of the shoulder straps on the go can be a pain. Sometimes with larger loads I may tighten straps to ensure the pack stays as close to my back and centered as possible. The shoulder straps work much like a belt and individually adjust, which means up to four places need to be adjusted with the pack off. You can’t simply tug on an end to tighten your straps similar to many traditional pack strap designs.
“The actual adjustability of the shoulder straps on the go can be a pain.”
The pack itself due to the heavy-duty nature and construction with the Cordura, leather, and brass hardware is fairly heavy. With the pack fully stuffed with photo gear and a 15″ laptop it can take its toll, especially when out in the field – as every ounce counts.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room – the price. At $700 for the base system (not including the optional additional modules) this is not a cheap bag and not for everyone, especially the beginner photographer. Some may opt to use this budget for another lens for example.
However, the cost can be justified if you are looking for a pack that may last for a long time. This pack is more of an investment and statement piece. It has the material and style that many look for in a traditional pack coupled with the organization of a camera bag. If you’re looking for a unique camera bag with vintage styling and ultra-durable materials and price is no object, then this may be the pack for you.
For those looking for a more affordable but just as handsome camera pack, Wotancraft has other options available including the new Sniper, Ryker leather, and Trooper bags.