- Buyer's Guide
Wotancraft Pilot Travel Camera Backpack Review
Wotancraft is not new to me, I’ve had their bags and legendary Panerai straps before. When they released the Pilot camera shoulder bag my first thought was, ‘They really should make it a backpack.’ So… they did! And here it is, the Wotancraft Pilot Travel Camera Backpack.
Although this pack has just been released I had an opportunity to test a pre-production version for about two months for my professional use. In fact, I got that pack not for a review, but just for real-use evaluation in the outdoors and to give my full feedback. But I thought… actually the final report I emailed back to Wotancraft could be the foundation for a full review. So fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride
Who It Suits
Landscape, adventure, and traveling photographers who demand easy access and superb protection for extended camera equipment. Bushcrafters and outdoorsmen on photography assignment should like it as well. And of course, anyone who needs to carry around serious photography kit… and more.
Who It Doesn’t
If the primary goal of your trip is not photography, or if a camera is just an addition to your outdoor kit, well, maybe investing in a specialized camera pack is not the best idea for you. And needless to say, I’d not take it on a serious mountaineering route, via ferrata, etc. It’s not been designed for that.
The Pilot pack is a modular beast. It starts at 20 liters in basic form and goes up to a whopping almost 40 liters with all modules installed. But still it looks slick, not something you’d expect from a typical camera pack. Even with all modules installed on the Pilot, it’s neither bulky nor overloaded. I really enjoy the vintage flair in the pack’s design, especially in the khaki variant. If Indiana Jones had been a photographer, he would have carried this very pack. No doubt!
It’s a classic pack, with a semi-rigid back that can easily support serious weight of 30-35 lbs. It’s built to take care of your gear, protection is the name of the game here. That’s what really separates general outdoor packs from specialized outdoor camera packs – gear protection. If you’ve ever missed a shot when digging into your hiking pack, looking for a camera… this won’t be the case with the Pilot. It’s as multi-access as I can imagine. You can get your gear from each side (multi-slider zippers) or through the back. Most pockets and pouches are accessible from both sides too. And last but not least, just as with all Wotancraft products I’ve seen, the Pilot is made with extreme care and full attention to detail.
Materials and hardware
The Cordura used by Wotancraft is not a standard one by any means. Coated with Teflon and polyurethane, it’s a military-grade top-tier variant of this famous fabric. Plus they waxed it for added protection. It’s waterproof, abrasion-resistant, and tear-resistant too. You’d have to be very dedicated in your actions to destroy this pack. Other materials are top-notch as well, including tough nylon thread and webbings plus YKK zippers. Duraflex hardware is tough enough for long years of use. All in all, it’s a darn tough specimen.
I must admit, at first I was overwhelmed with all the features in the Wotancraft Pilot Travel Camera Backpack. Tons of pockets, packing modules, dividers, zippers, etc. When hiking I prefer simple packs. But when I’m out in the forest on photography assignment with my full camera kit, then good organization is key to get the job done quickly and efficiently. It’s as feature-loaded as a pack can be. All kinds of modules and pockets, and a Velcro-compatible interior and ‘doors’ for easy slap-on pouch placement. I’ll try to name all the key features in the following paragraphs, but the list of options is simply huge! And if that’s not enough, you can find webbing daisy-chains on the belt and straps, great as attachment points for extra gear (gloves, flashlight, knife, etc.) but also for camera carry plates with a quick-detach feature and even your own MOLLE-compliant pouches.
Space and access
Even just a basic pack module is actually a carefully engineered piece of carry equipment. The main cavity is by default divided into three sections, and each accepts additional sub-dividers. Of course, all can be configured in any way you want. It can carry one to two bodies, a couple of lenses, a set of speedlights, and tons of accessories. A lot of different configuration examples and module suggestions are available on the Wotancraft website, so there’s really no point to duplicate it here, just go and check.
The main body is accessible from both sides via side zippers, each of them with no less than three sliders – handy for quick access to specific parts of the pack. There’s full access through the back panel too, which also features a padded laptop compartment (15″ fits easily). Spacious open-top side pockets with loop keepers work great for flasks, but can easily carry a tripod or monopod as well. Or trekking poles. The front flap has hidden pockets built in underneath (a kind of anti-theft feature). The closed flap compresses the front of the Pilot pack, but of course can be used to keep a rain jacket, etc. in there as well.
And finally, there are small loops under the pack, so you can strap extra gear to the bottom with bungee cord or even standard paracord – I usually keep a small sitting pad there. So as you can see, it’s quite a lot of possibilities… and that’s just a basic unit.
Pockets and organizing
Pockets and add-on modules let you spice up your pack and make it perfect for the mission. My favorite one is a big 7.5-liter Fighter01 pod, which connects to the bottom of the main pack (but I can still keep my sitting pad between them). It’s a great way to pack some extra clothes when going for a weekend photo gig. The slightly smaller Fighter02 goes between the main body and flap, I usually carry my essentials in there. And it can easily transform into a slick sling when I need to go light, with the camera on my neck. Then I need to pack only an extra shell, spare batteries, a field notebook (old-school, with a pen), a small flask, and an energy bar.
Plus there are at least a dozen other pockets available for the Pilot system – for speedlights, filters, cables, and anything you may need. Of course, pockets dedicated to the Pilot shoulder bag work great on the pack as well. So the possibilities are endless… did I mention you can put pockets on the hip belt too? I say it again: the Pilot pack is a beast of modularity.
Most camera packs feature a disastrous back and harness system but the Pilot is quite the opposite. A nice padded mesh back panel with a ventilation channel and soft shoulder straps provide really good carry comfort, even with a full kit, which means a really substantial weight of about 30 lbs in my case. The removable hip belt is clearly an add-on type, but it’s still padded and quite comfy. However, if you’re a long-torso person (like me) you can find the belt riding a bit high. But it still works and stabilizes the pack against dynamic body movements. There’s also a mesh zip pocket for small essentials on the belt.
It’s a pretty much weatherproof pack. The Cordura used by Wotancraft is fully weatherproof, but the seams are not sealed so in case of really heavy rain I’d still use some kind of pack cover. The bottom of the pack uses tough Cordura too, so you can put it anywhere on anything when exploring the wilderness, just clean it later at home. It’s a tough pack, no doubt. One of the toughest I’ve tried so far… and I don’t mean just camera packs but any packs. So yeah, it can protect your gear from the elements. And from much more actually.
Alternatives to Consider
It’s not easy to find a real modular, scalable camera pack system that is similar to the Wotancraft Pilot Travel Camera Backpack. Personally, these two options below are the closest, but both are more “fixed” types of packs (however still very capable as camera packs) and both are not so tank-like in their construction:
Lowepro Whistler 350 & 450
f-stop Lotus pack
Wotancraft nailed the design with the Pilot pack. It looks adventuresome but it is still 100% practical, with tons of features… which you can and will actually use. And on top of that, it offers full modularity, so you can tailor it for a specific mission. It’s scalable, adaptive, and shares accessories with Pilot series bags. The craftsmanship and materials are top tier, as always with Wotancraft products.
Not So Good
Not much to say here. The only thing I can think of is a lack of adjustment for torso length, so for really tall people the waist belt can ride a bit high. Also as a fully equipped pack with all the add-ons, it’s not the lightest solution. But it’s still a photographer’s backpack, not a pack for climbing fourteeners, after all.
The Wotancraft Pilot Travel Camera Backpack as a system is a one-stop solution for traveling photographers. Imagine going for an assignment, when one day you need your full kit with quick access to all lenses and gear including your 70-200 f/2.8 class bazooka lens. While another day you’d like to explore a local village with just your Olympus Pen and two small lenses. Shooting a wedding in Sicily? Tracking wildlife in the forest? It suits traveling, overlanding, exploring outdoors, going into the wild, even for bushcraft kind of adventures. Anything except high mountaineering, for which you need a special set of features like ice-tool keepers, hydration ports, a place for crampons, etc.
The Wotancraft Pilot is a tank of a pack, made to last a lifetime, with the best materials and attention to the tiniest detail. It may look a bit old-school, but don’t let the look fool you… it’s a modern, modular pack with a lot of photography-specific features.