Think Tank StreetWalker HardDrive: The Ultimate vehicle safari backpack

Think Tank StreetWalker HardDrive: The Ultimate vehicle safari backpack

Think Tank Photo StreetWalker HardDrive (Black/Silver/Blue)Regular readers will know that for yours I’ve been searching for the perfect backpack for taking on African safaris – or to other locations where we shoot from vehicles. For international travel, the bag has to meet carry-on requirements, so it can’t be too long. It also needs to either be a roller, like the ThinkTank Airport Takeoff or the LowePro X200, or at least have really nice backpack straps for lugging through connecting airports. At the same time, it needs to be compact enough to fit on the seat in a vehicle and move around in potentially tight spaces on boats or trucks. Plus it needs to accommodate a couple bodies, several lenses including a long one, and a laptop. Enter the

Everything you can carry, in one bag

Once upon a time I often carried a huge photo backpack, like my LowePro ProTrekker. Now, even if I was willing to lug a 50 pound pack full of gear, I couldn’t get it on most airplanes. Fortunately, I’ve been able to travel with slightly smaller cameras, like my , and I don’t carry a 600mm lens everywhere anymore. But I do now need to bring a nice laptop (currently a Dell XPS 15), along with spare drives and chargers. So an efficient backpack that lets me bring what I need but will fit on my back, on a vehicle seat, and on an airplane is a high priority for me.

I’d kind of given up on it, and just lugged my everywhere. Great for airports, fits on most airplanes, is rugged enough to lock up and check when necessary, and it rolls when I need it to. But it is a pain to use on vehicles. So I was excited to try out the on my recent African photo safari. It is much lighter – and therefore more efficient weight-wise – than a roller, and has a smaller footprint for squeezing onto planes, trucks, boats, and ATVs. The backpack straps are excellent, so as long as your back and shoulders are up to it, you can carry it for long distances. It’s smaller height & width (and weight) make it much easier to grab off the floor to put on a seat next to you, and to use it working from the seat.

I found I could put a camera body on one of my long lenses (either the or my ) and still place it nicely in the long section of the pack. That meant that it’d be kept out of the dust, and still be easily accessible. In a pinch I could rest that combination with the lens shade engaged on the bag, but the camera stuck out over the edge in that case. When I was using my primary body, I’d rest my “backup” body (a or ) with my scenic lens (Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC Lens) and shade attached. So, while the bag won’t really hold both cameras with lenses attached, it will hold one or the other – leaving me with just one to deal with.

StreetWalker on the seat next to me, where I can swap out my Sigma 120-300 and Tamron 24-70
as the need arises. In a pinch, I can use it on the floor in front of me, or even in my lap.

Other features of the StreetWalker HardDrive

The bag has a nicely-padded laptop slot, that will certainly fit a 15” laptop (like my Dell XPS 15 or a MacBook Pro). It is supposed to fit a 17” laptop, but with some of the new wide-aspect-ratio displays, machines are often wider than they used to be, so you’ll want to check your computers exact dimensions if you’re planning to use one with a large display. It also has a convenient, transparent, zipper-pocket on the inside of the flap, that you can see above. On the outside of the flap is a small pocket for business cards, cables, etc., with a key/wallet leash. There is another zipper pocket below, that I found to be the perfect size for my hat. Unfortunately, the design of the bag does not allow a full-size front pocket, so don’t expect to put maps or file folders there. They need to be crammed into the laptop slot with your PC. I found this annoying compared to using my , that has a full-size front pocket, but I got used to it.

As is typical with Think Tank, there is also a removable rain cover, and some additional attachment points for tripod straps, a drop-down tripod base holder, etc. I found that the tripod strap at the top of the bag actually made a great place to attach my rain jacket or fleece when I wasn’t using it. There is a water bottle pocket on one side, along with a couple long side pockets, which are useful for a monopod, walking stick, or other gear that needs quick stashing.

Given how much it can hold, the StreetWalker HardDrive
keeps a pretty low profile on your back
Photo by Ed Reinke

When to use a

  • When on a trip where weight matters and you can keep sight of your camera bag and are willing to carry it
  • When you’ll be working out of a vehicle where you have limited space and want a bag that is easy to maneuver, can be used on the seat next to you, and can still carry a long lens with camera body attached.

When not to use a

  • When you really need a roller for long transfers or other hauls where you’re not up to carrying a pack
  • When you might need to check your bag. The HardDrive is sturdy for a backpack, and would probably do okay with most gate checks in a pinch, but I really wouldn’t want to let it too far out of my sight.

If I thought I’d need to check – or even gate check – a bag, or if I needed a roller -- I’d go with the , or perhaps the if you want a removable insert.