- Buyer's Guide
Wotancraft Commander Review
Sometimes, there are products that elude our grasp. Grails, unicorns, must-haves. Whatever they’re labeled, they hold a certain mystique that places them in a higher echelon than the readily available bags on the market today.
The Wotancraft Commander is one such bag that has escaped my clutches for the last few years. The mix of leather, waxed canvas and camera modularity seemed like a match made in heaven. I’d resigned myself to not being able to find one. Then late last year, I had an email about an updated version coming. I’ve been using it for the last two months, let’s dive into the 2022 Wotancraft Commander.
- Name: Commander 2022
- Brand: Wotancraft
- Format: Backpack
- Measurement: 30 x 50 x 17
- Capacity: 21L
- Weight: 5.2lbs I 2350g
- Zippers: YKK Watertight
- Material: Cordura Canvas & Vegetable Tanned Leather
Who It Suits
If you’re a photographer who likes modularity, say no more. You’ll be incredibly happy with the Commander and its multiple configuration options. If you’re a fan of heritage looks and modern performance, this is a great hybrid option thanks to their material choices. Finally, if ‘buy it nice or buy it twice’ is your mantra, this could be your bag.
Who It Doesn’t
The Commander is not sleek, it is a large bag, and could be called boxy. Access is slower than many of the standard EDC packs on the market today, and modularity is how to get the best out of this pack.
Good looking, so refined.
Wotancraft’s strengths are numerous, and we’ll get into those in more detail throughout the review. However, undoubtedly their aesthetics and construction are one of their key selling points as they are second to none. A WWII inspired backpack, the updated Commander builds on the beautiful heritage styling of the original two versions, but takes cues from one of their newer bags–the highly lauded Scout, which we reviewed in Spring of last year.
The Commander is a burly mix of 500D waxed cordura canvas, paired with battle distressed leather. Together they offer an updated heritage style that’ll not only look good, but handle serious abuse. Reminiscent of the packs of yesteryear, the Commander is the definition of timeless, just at home in today’s carry world as it would have been seventy years ago. It’s not just good looking either. It is refined. In true Wotancraft style there is not a single stitch out of place even after testing. Every piece of construction is flawless and that makes the bag trustworthy for its purpose. Camera bags must be incredibly strong as you can easily get 30lbs or more into a bag of this size, and I had no concerns throughout my use. Internally, the low pile microfibre is designed for constant abuse from velcro dividers and attachments, without shedding over the bags contents. The bag is also well padded, without feeling cumbersome thanks to high density shock resistant EVA foam, you needn’t worry about your cameras in this bag.
The pocketing visually remains the same as the previous iterations, with a large snap and elasticated pocket on the front of the bag, two zippered pockets on the side doors, two small zip pockets on the side of the bag (perfect for wallets and car keys) and a pass through. I found the zippered passthrough pocket to be perfect for my tripod, although that isn’t what it’s designed for, it balanced the weight well on my back and kept it out of the way. The long leather straps on the front of the bag can also be adjusted to hold a tripod or jacket, but that hinders your access to the front snap pocket which I found to be very useful. On the Commander, there’s multiple quick access points for either your EDC or your camera tools.
However, things are not all as they seem with this updated Commander. Gone are the brass zippers, replaced by YKK Watertight versions providing peace of mind whatever the weather. In tandem with the Cordura® fabric, the Commander is something of a fortress. From a photography standpoint, this is essential. Similarly to the construction aspect, being able to trust your bag in the elements is a weight off the mind.
Traditional Wotancraft hardware can be found around the bag, with distressed rivets and D-loop attachment points visible on the sides of the bag. While they have removed a lot of leather from this version, where it remains it pairs wonderfully with the buckles and pin closures.
The most notable change is the harness. Long gone is the all leather harness, and instead it is replaced by a surprisingly comfortable and simple harness made from the same Cordura® as the rest of the bag. Breathable mesh padding is paired with a leather strip to provide suprisingly good airflow. I was caught off guard by how comfortable this is out of the box, and there is no denying the weight savings. At the top of this harness is where you’ll find a padded unobtrusive grab handle.
The Commander isn’t a sleek bag for the office, nor is it trying to be. It is what it is, a very handsome, robust and timeless bag. In the looks department alone, this is a winner.
The Commander is a camera bag first, and that is where it excels. It is different from many camera bags not just from a material and construction point of view, but from a functional one also. The large main cavity is split in half by a removable deck. This encourages you to separate your gear based on your workload. You can keep primary use items in the lower half (where the side access via the doors is) and lesser used items on the top half. This applies to both camera gear and travel gear. One could comfortably house clothing/travel items above the deck, and camera equipment below. This removable deck also allows you to have one giant cavity for housing larger zoom lenses too.
On the sides of the pack, you have side access to the lower half of the main compartment. One side is an open cavity big enough for my mirrorless with a large prime lens attached, while the other side is split in two with a floating wall. This has been where I keep my secondary body and flash, microphone, and remote control. Both of these side doors have an external zippered pocket, with YKK® Watertight like the rest of the bag and I found these to be useful for small extras like camera straps, microfibre cloths, rocket blower etc. If you don’t end up purchasing any of the extra modules, you could easily use these for batteries, cables and the like, they’d just be loose.
I’m not really a shooter who whips my bag around on my shoulder at the speed of light, I’m more of a carry in hand what I need at that moment and take my time type. What I’ve found myself doing with the Commander is that when I’ve arrived at a location I want to shoot at, I’ll load perhaps a second and third lens into the space where my now handheld camera was. This allows me to shoot on the move with great ease. Thanks to the construction and weatherproofing, I’m not worried about ingress here.
Truly, with the Commander, you can make it work for you in whatever fashion you shoot in. Thanks to the modularity of the whole bag, you can configure this in a multitude of ways. One could, for example, take out the shelf, and the floating divider and fit a mirrorless and zoom on the horizontal level, ready to pull out at a moment's notice. Or you could even topload a superzoom lens too. I do like that from a camera bag, as my needs vary from shoot to shoot, it’s nice not to be pigeonholed into one style of carrying.
The Commander also works as a travel bag or daily bag. It has a laptop sleeve (big enough for 15”) at the back of the main compartment. Personally I rarely take a laptop on shoots (iPad Pro for the win!) but it’s nice to have the option, and of course my iPad fits in there easily. It’s listed as a 21L bag, but to me it feels larger, more like a 25-30L bag when you include the pockets.
From a comfort standpoint, I’ve been impressed how easy the Commander is to wear for extended periods of time. I’ve not encountered any hotspots even under a heavy load. You can purchase an optional removable hip belt, but I didn’t find the need to use it, even when my bag was fully packed. The harness carries weight well and I didn’t find it needing the reinforcement of a hip belt. On a twelve hour hike it might be useful, but my multi hour, multi mile outings didn’t require it.
One thing to note is that the Commander is a slow bag. What I mean by that is thanks to its heritage styling, its traditional closures and all of its protection, getting set up can take a while. There is no quick slide of the straps, there are buckles which you’ll need to adjust to your size before you head out. There are two layers of protection to get into the main compartment, the buckle down flap, and then the YKK® zippers. This isn’t a deal breaker for me, but something to consider if you want to get to your contents immediately. I actually found the tactile experience somewhat therapeutic, particularly as the leather starts to break in more with each use. However, while therapeutic, it certainly isn’t speedy.
A defining feature of Wotancraft and their bags is the modularity. Like many of their other bags, the Commander has a plethora of accessories that elevate the experience. I used a few key ones that really made a difference during my testing.
This is arguably the most critical addition to the Commander set up. It’s essentially a small camera sling (with strap) that can be used for storage or carrying. The side of the insert has velcro attachments designed to secure to the inside of the main compartment, but in sling use, these can also be used for morale patches or other velcro accessories. This is a good size too, at 23 inches wide (internally) I was able to fit any combination of the following by finagling the included dividers:
- 1 x Mirrorless Camera with Medium Lens (50mm and below) + Secondary Lens
-3 x Mirrorless Prime Lens
-2 x Smaller Bodied Camera (Leica/Olympus etc) + accessories
I personally used this as my lens holder while keeping my camera in the lower half of the main compartment. However I love the concept of this. In a pinch you can remove the insert and wear it as a sling with the main bag. This is the perfect application for those traveling or those who need emergency storage unexpectedly. The insert has all of the same handsome build qualities and materials as the main bag, although it is worth noting that the zipper on this is not aquaguard, something to be mindful of if wet climates. The strap is also removable, so I just stored this underneath the insert when in the main bag. Essentially, this insert feels like a very stripped down scout bag, and we know just how good that is. It also features the same medical grade microfibre lining as the Commander, meaning you can use it with the interior modules.
These interior modules truly elevate the experience of using the Commander. If you’re at all familiar with Wotancraft, you’ll likely know these. Coming in a range of sizes and configurations, the small velcro attachments make organising your loadout incredibly easy and efficient.
I used one medium module on each side door of the bag. One elasticated for batteries and extra cards, the other zipperless for rocket blowers. I chose these two configurations for the doors because that’s where I needed them most. In the top of the main cavity I used a zippered module for my RGB Light and accessories, while in the lid of the insert I had a small lens cap holder (also works really well for a pocket knife) and zipperless pocket next to one another. These are the perfect spot for Alan Keys or general small accessories that aren’t part of your main focus when out and about, but are worth having with you.
These accessories made my experience with the Commander a lot more personal and productive, and while they do add to the cost of an already expensive bag, they are 100% worth it in my opinion, the bag doesn’t feel as capable without them.
Room to Grow
As we always say here at Carry HQ, no bag is perfect, and this rings true here. There are three areas that really stand out to me as opportunities for improvement.
The hardware is perfectly chosen for the 98% of the bag, however two areas feel like an oversight. The hip belt and the sternum strap, or more precisely the buckles. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a plastic buckle, however I was surprised to see the plastic buckles on a bag whose hardware is otherwise exclusively made from leather and metal.
Moving away from the leather harness of the previous generation has great benefits, particularly weight wise, and the new harness is immediately comfortable as we discussed. However, I don’t think they should have removed the all leather base. I love that feature on a bag, and I think it’s a very premium touch. Not only does it feel and look good, it performs really well. While the Cordura Canvas can certainly take a beating, it doesn’t have the same appeal to me as the leather base would.
Finally, the included tripod holder seems inconsequential. I found it cumbersome to use in tandem with the rest of the straps on the front of the bag, and I’m not sure if it’d fit larger tripods well. My Peak Design tripod, which has a very small footprint, was snug in there. It also doesn’t allow you to remove the tripod easily as the straps essentially cinch to the main bag, meaning you have to loosen them to get to your tripod, which isn’t what you want when grabbing quickly for a photo opportunity. It also hangs off the bag a little, and you can feel it moving as you walk. I much preferred using the pass through pocket on the main body of the bag, which is quick, seamless and effective.
None of these are deal-breakers, but they are noticeable enough to be worth mentioning. Photographers have a tendency to be particular (comes with the territory) and the old phrase of “time is money” seems apropos. Anything that slows down or hinders the process can be a nuisance.
This is undoubtedly a buy it for life bag. A very good one at that, while I noted a few shortcomings, that doesn’t takeaway from what I think is an excellently built, timelessly stylish, and thoughtfully functional bag. If you are a photographer who wants to add some heritage style but modern performance to your kit, you’ll be incredibly pleased with the Wotancraft Commander. This updated version can house all of your kit, protect it, and give you an Indiana Jones vibe all in one package. While on the higher end of the price spectrum, this is an investment piece, not one that you’ll replace in a few short years. The mixture of materials, modularity and comfortable carry make it a very capable bag and one that I’ll be reaching for regularly.
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Space & Access
Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware
Warranty & Support
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