Nobody Makes the Perfect Bag, Part 2 (Shimoda Designs + Peak Design)

As I’ve made clear in a previous post, nobody makes the perfect bag. It’s a fools errand because “perfect” is subjective and what works for one is completely inadequate for another. However, the more modular a bag is, the better chance for it to become all things to all people by allowing all people to adorn it with all things to meet their needs.

For instance, LowePro mostly copied the ideas fueling Peak Design’s Everyday Backpack in their Freeline Backpack, improving on it with a more durable design and robust materials. The issue is LowePro’s use of crappy shelving that wasn’t designed to be reconfigured on the fly; decent for single genre photographers but less than ideal for those who work in multiple genres. I solved it by combining a superior bag with a superior organizational system from Peak Design and you can read more about it here.

Looking further into this idea, especially since Peak Design’s recent release of a fully redesigned bag lineup dubbed “v2,” I’ve realized Peak Design is great at making accessories that meet the needs of most people but wrap it all up in bags that don’t. Take their 45L Travel Backpack… it converts into a duffel with a forward facing, wide-mouth, zip opening. It’s really not great for anything but a duffel bag that turns into a half-assed backpack for longer distance carry, especially for outdoors. However, for camera carry within, they’ve created camera cubes with efficient padding, mindful access port placement, an abundance of attachment points and durable exterior skin sufficient enough to be used on its own. A quick check of the external dimensions gave me an idea as the camera cube is nearly spot on with the dimensions of Shimoda Designs’ large Integrated Camera Unit (ICU) for Explore and Action X backpacks.

As proof of Peak Designs’ superiority in reimagining accessories, their camera cube is a complete case solution; it’s padded throughout and, with a single strap, can double as a shoulder bag. It was clearly designed to be used both in and outside of their Travel Duffel and wasn’t an afterthought. Shimoda Designs’ ICU includes a thin, nylon shell and strap to convert theirs into an impromptu shoulder bag, but really only protects 5/6 of your gear, with no padding on the exposed side of the ICU; a clear example of an afterthought. It’s flimsy at best and useless at worst and I would never rely on this solution to double my carrying capacity, especially since it requires me to carry this shell along, uselessly taking up space until I need it.

So, the point is that I’ve replaced the ICU in my Shimoda Designs’ Action X70 backpack with a large, Peak Designs Camera Travel Cube. This way, it serves the same, camera protecting function while inside my backpack, with all of the volume I had before, but can be pulled out and zipped up to carry my camera gear separately and securely. The only accessory needed is a shoulder strap, a dual function served by my Peak Design Slide Lite, which is in my bag already.

Other improvements are attachment points surrounding the opening of the Camera Cube I can use to secure it to the internal frame of the Action X70 bag, a feature Shimoda’s own design lacks and makes their ICU’s float a bit if the bag isn’t filled to capacity. Peak Designs’ thin, reconfigurable padding takes up far less space, a design choice shared with Shimoda Designs, surrendering more room for your gear. It’s slightly bulkier than an ICU but is easily absorbed by the Action X70.

As a bonus, for Shimoda Action X30 and X50 owners whose bags have the side access ports, the ports on the Peak Design Camera Cube seemingly line up for fully functional use in those bags, too.

There are just two shortcomings: Peak Design could’ve thought ahead and placed a large, central loop at the top of the bag for a Slide Lite strap to slide through. This would allow a single strap to be used to convert the bag into an impromptu backpack. Sans this, it would be nice if Peak Design were to offer a set of backpack conversion straps styled like their Slide Lite straps or made the shoulder straps on their Travel Duffel removable and swappable between duffel and cube. However, this would’ve taken incredible foresight and it’s a simple solution I’ll likely rectify myself in the next week or two. The other issue is less easily rectified, and that’s flimsiness. Shimoda’s latest, improved ICU’s include a metal frame to help keep their shape, a feature I wish the Peak Design Cube had. Although, to their credit, the combination of a more rugged skin and surrounding padding ensures the Peak Design is no wet noodle; I’m just saying I wish it were a little better.

See? Nobody makes the perfect bag as my needs and wants likely differ from yours, although it seems I’ve found two companies who make things that can be combined into something greater, yet still function great on their own, like Voltron. The more modular my setup becomes, the more I’m able to cut down on the number of bags I need to own, and better still, have to manually transfer each item from one bag into another. While Shimoda Designs has been thoughtful to ensure their ICU’s can be moved between their company’s products, Peak Design is on its way there. Ultimately, I still wanted something barebones that can serve as both bag and cube to protect my gear and make changeover easier. Now I just need a more fashionable street bag that begins as a daypack, is expandable, and can accept the Peak Design Camera Cubes to replace my LowePro Freeline… maybe the WANDRD PRVKE 31L is properly sized and configured to fit?

Photos and first hike review forthcoming, along with setup and rigging tips I may acquire along the way.

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