The Bag Struggle

Last week, Ben Brooks wrote about his recent struggles with packing the right bag for a short (but intense) work trip. It was an enjoyable read for a bag enthusiast like myself, and Ben ended the piece by making a call to other frequent travelers to post their own methods of choosing which bag to take where, and how much to put in it. While I'm no frequent traveler, (11th grade high school student here, nice to meetcha!) I definitely can relate to Ben's difficulties, and I find myself running into the same sorts of issues in my daily life whilst transitioning between the school day, my part-time job in the evenings, photo-outings, and whatever comes in-between.

For a long time I had just one bag that I used for several years, cramming whatever gear the occasion required into, but since then I've made a handful of bag purchases (both good and bad) which lead me to where I am today. I'm not completely happy with my current setup, but it certainly works. Albeit with regular bag-changes and lots of moving gear in-between different packs.


1. Lightest-Weight: ThingsYouWear Macbook Air sleeve

My school days alternate between 4 classes every other day, which means that it's possible for me to have a different bag packed for either day at school, and that's actually been the case for me this semester. One of my school days all I require to do work is my iPad and a Field Notes Arts & Sciences book, so I'm able to fit everything I need into this tiny "pack" for the day. The sleeve is handmade by the Etsy artist ThingsYouWear in Poland, and while it isn't the most protective sleeve due to it's mainly cotton-based construction, it works well for me in that it can fit a surprising amount of gear inside.

In the sleeve, I routinely carry:

  • my iPad Air 2

  • an Apple wireless keyboard

  • the TwelveSouth Compass iPad stand

  • a Field Notes Arts & Sciences (Arts, if you were wondering) Notebook

  • the 53 Pencil stylus in it's original retail packaging (which works well for transportation)

  • two Pilot G2 pens (with varying point-sizes)

  • an iPad charger + lightning cable

  • a beanie (you never know when a bad hair day may strike)

That's all I need to do my schoolwork 50% of school days, along with any writing I might be working on for the blog and all the normal computer-y things that one does on a daily basis. I also really appreciate that the sleeve was handmade and carries a character with it that you won't find with a more generic product, and the plaid pattern on the outside definitely helps with that.


2. Middle Ground: ONA Bowery Camera Bag + ThingsYouWear Macbook Air Sleeve

The ThingsYouWear sleeve fits almost everything I'd ideally like to carry with me on a good, creative day out. Everything that is, except my camera. I shoot with a FujiFilm x100s and so the ONA Bowery is a great choice as a camera bag. Unlike most small camera bags out there, the Bowery exudes style and quality. The strap that mimics a seatbelt's build, the leather accents, and the waxed canvas are all really top-class materials, and it shows in use. I've had the Bowery for over a year now, it's held up really well in frequent use with no signs of wear, and it's been useful in many unforeseen ways outside the regular wheelhouse of a camera bag.

The usual loadout however, is something like this:

  • my FujiFilm x100s

  • a Wasabi-Power battery-charger

  • several extra batteries

  • an extra sd card in a clear case, (along with a spare sd-card case for the card that lives in the camera)

  • a Woxom Slingshot phone tripod mount & miniature tripod

  • a microfiber cleaning cloth

  • a (semi-antique) camera neck-strap from the 70's

  • another beanie (both to add some more padding to the camera and because you really never know when a bad hair day may strike)

This is all in addition to toting the ThingsYouWear sleeve and it's contents along which I mentioned above, but the Bowery doesn't stop with just camera accessories. I've used the little bag to hold sweatshirts (if I crammed them in), water bottles, snacks, papers, and who knows what else in my time with it. And the adjustable design of it's clasp means it can be surprisingly versatile as a little companion day pack. The bag is a little expensive but honestly for the quality of materials you're getting I'd say its worth it. The Bowery makes a great little camera bag and can double as a man-purse (or you know, an actual purse) in a pinch.


3. Catch-All: The Osprey Flapjack

When I know I need to carry a lot of gear or just be able to tote around the extra (read: actual) school supplies that I need on my busier day of school, the Osprey Flapjack is my go-to. I got the bag about a year and half ago right before a trip to NYC, and both in that trip's experience and in the everyday life experiences that have followed, the bag has performed nothing short of admirably. I love the pack's "flapjack" design that requires no zippers to access the main compartment and keeps pocket-management to a minimum. I'd describe it as a somewhat minimal pack, with only one large pocket containing a laptop compartment and a couple smaller zip pockets on the outside. There is a side zip-pocket to hold a water bottle, but my bottle is incased in a silicon sleeve, which makes sliding it in and out of the smaller pocket hard, so I just keep it in the main compartment instead.

On the average day, the Flapjack is loaded with:

  • the ThingsYouWear MacBook sleeve slipped into the laptop compartment (packed as earlier described)

  • a TI84 graphing calculator

  • a plastic folder stuffed with papers from a variety of classes

  • two composition notebooks that really serve little purpose outside of scratch paper

  • my Takeya glass water bottle

  • an assortment of pens, pencils, highlighters, and other school paraphernalia

  • my Fuji x100s (in one of the separate front pockets)

  • yet another beanie (both to add padding to the x100s and because you really never know when a bad hair day may strike)

The Flapjack isn't really a bag made for me. It's not designed with an iPad-only workflow in mind, it's not designed to be a camera bag (and I have some qualms with putting my x100s into the bag's front pocket, for fear of damage to it), but it is designed to work well with pretty much whatever you throw into it, and to allow quick access to those contents with it's flap-based design. It's not perfect for me, but it is a catch-all that I can go to with everything short of longer trips. Shorter, couple day trips have worked fine in the past, and it's pretty much a great bag to have in the period of my life that I'm going through right now.

All this being said, I've of course been on the lookout for the next bag that might work perfectly for what I'm carrying in my life right now, and I think I've found it. The ONA Prince-Street looks to be a bag that would be big enough to tote around my iPad work setup, some school supplies, and be easy access-enough and padded enough to work as a camera bag as well. Doing all those things while also being a small and convenient bag for any occasion would be quite the feat, but I think the Prince Street has a valid chance of pulling it off. That, and it'd look really nice too.

I've had my eyes on the Prince Street ever since ONA announced it last year, but the steep price tag has had me hesitating to pull the trigger for awhile now. It's been long enough where I think I ought to go ahead and buy it soon, but throw in the fact that I want to purchase the full-grain leather version this time around and I still have my doubts about the purchase.

I'm sure I'll work myself up to it sometime this year. Until then though, my current eclectic setup will do me just fine. :)