I know it sounds crazy but I’ve got an obsession with finding the perfect camera bag — or rather I had an obsession. After almost two years with Think Tank Photo’s Multimedia Wired Up 20, I think I may have found the one.
My history with camera bags starts with one of those ridiculously tiny backpacks that the clerk at Best Buy assures you is a necessary item when you buy your first SLR. That bag took me through my first assignment in Africa but not much further.
From there I upgraded to a messenger bag from Pac Safe for my travels through Europe. I liked the convenience and security but it wasn’t really meant to hold the weight of a camera body with several lenses and after a year or so I wore through the trigger clip that connected the bag to the strap.
My next bag was a canvas backpack from Adorama (an exact clone of the National Geographic Explorer Backpack but about 75% cheaper). It was great for packing all my gear and a change of clothes for an overnight trip, but really didn’t meet my needs in the field because it was hard to access quickly.
Then I moved to the Military OPS Lima shoulder bag from Nanue Pro. This bag had lots of room for all my gear and was easy to access but something about the ergonomics didn’t work for me and my first bag fell apart at the seams after a few months. That bag was replaced under Nanue Pro’s great warranty coverage but when my second bag began to disintegrate, I decided it was time for an upgrade.
After a lot of research I finally settled on Think Tank Photo’s Multimedia Wired Up 20 and haven’t looked back. I’ve never had a bag I’ve loved this much and never had a bag that was this well designed. It is my perfect bag for hiking, traveling, and shooting all sorts of assignments.
The Way I Pack
The main compartment holds my Canon 40D body and three lenses (my biggest is a 70-200mm). The back zipper compartment is where I store my polarizing filter, step-down rings, remote trigger, sensor cleaner, and other extras. The rear pocket holds my notebooks and pens. The two side pouches are perfect for pretty much anything, and one is almost always holding a Nalgene water bottle.
The front compartment can be used in a lot of ways but I use it as a sort of grab-all. I keep my Pelican Case memory card wallet and a USB stick in the innermost pocket. Next come business cards in their own special slip case. The main section holds batteries, a couple of Lens Pens, a microfiber cloth, duct tape, a multitool, a headlamp, extra pens, and whatever else I might need. The final clear pocket inside the front compartment is where I store my passport, wallet, and any credentials I’m not wearing (although if I’m working in a more hostile environment, I’ll keep these strapped to my body).
The bag also has two side rails on the hip-belt for expanded storage. I keep an old Lowepro lens bag on one of the rails to hold my Zoom H2n audio recorder and accessories.
Comfort and Security
The next thing that makes me love this bag is how many options there are for wearing it. It works great as a shoulder bag and the strap is decently comfortable. On long walks I add the second strap to the bag and wear it behind me with the hip-belt like a backpack. When the time comes for really serious hiking with an actual backpack, I use the two d-rings on top of the bag to attach it to my pack. This makes a great chest bag that is not only accessible but also helps to balance the overall load.
But most of the time I wear the bag in front of me with one strap and the hip-belt. This setup lets me access the bag easily and keeps it out of the way when I’m jumping in and out of tuk-tuks, riding crowded trains, or sitting on the back of an elephant. It also lets me keep an eye on all my gear which is one of the great security features of the bag.
Other ways this bag keeps my gear safe from thieves include a thick bottom and multiple straps which provide an extra layer of protection against bag and strap slashers. The three main compartments are closed with hefty zippers that are a challenge to open unnoticed. I know of at least two attempts to pick my pocket while wearing the Multimedia Wired Up 20. In both cases the culprit never went for the bag, they always tried for a more exposed (and empty) pocket on my pants or jacket.
So Many Features
Honesty, it’s taken me two years to write this review because I was worried this bag was too good to be true. I fell in love with it pretty much the moment I unpacked it and that had a lot to do with how many features and freebies were packed inside. First was the rainfly (with its own hidden pocket) that has saved my bag on more than one occasion. It was followed by a cable management bag, bungie cords, tripod straps for the underside of the bag, camera straps, a microphone holder for the shoulder strap, and a headphone hook for the belt.
Then there are the “Wired Up” features of the bag which basically means you can run cables through most of the main compartments to the outside through cleverly designed flaps that stay closed when not in use. The bag includes removable padding for the main compartment and loops near the outside pockets for holding microphones.
The size is also perfect for my purposes. I’ve found myself wishing the bag was bigger almost exactly as many times as I’ve wished it was smaller. In my book, that means it’s just right. It fits everything I need for a journalistic assignment plus a few personal items to keep me comfortable.
As you may have noticed, I’m really hard on my camera bags. I’ve taken this bag over 15,000 foot passes, through caves and jungles, in boats, on motorcycles, and even (gasp) through airports. I’m really impressed with the durability. There is a little wear showing on the trigger clips that connect the bag to the straps and some of the nylon is fraying in places where it takes the most abuse, but other than that, I don’t see any other problems.
I know, I know this is sounding less like a review and a lot more like a teenage girl slobbering over Justin Bieber. To retain the last shreds of my journalistic integrity let me tell you what I don’t like about this bag.
My biggest gripe is the tripod straps on the bottom of the bag. It’s so difficult to get the tripod secure and then to get it back out again, that most of the time I don’t even bother to use it. I think this concept would have worked much better if straps had included some kind of quick release clip for easy access.
Carrying the weight on the front of my body tends to cause lower back fatigue but this is easily remedied by changing the way I have the bag configured.
The rear zipper compartment is frustratingly close to holding a 13” MacBook Pro. It’s literally half an inch too short for my computer which drives me a little bit crazy. Not that I would carry my laptop on assignment but it would be a nice feature for traveling.
My final issue with this bag is the look. Let’s be honest, no matter how much I pretend it looks like an awesome tactical vest or a sweet utility belt, in reality this bag is a giant fanny pack (bum bag to you now blushing Brits). I try to look cool when I’m on assignment but with this bag I might as well throw on some Birkenstocks with socks, a Hawaiian shirt, and put a little zinc oxide on my nose.
The Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20 is the best camera bag I’ve ever come across. It’s the right size, it’s built to stand up to my abuse, and its functionality is unmatched by anything I’ve used so far.
Clearly a tremendous amount of thought went into putting this bag together. From pockets for storing the hip-belt to super high quality zippers, the designers at Think Tank seem to have anticipated every possible need.
There are so many ways to use and configure this bag, I feel like I haven’t even used it to its full potential yet. I hope the material continues to hold up and that this bag and I have a long relationship.
Bonus: Don’t Try This at Home
Below are a couple uses for the bag that I’ve found along the way. I’m going to bet none of them are officially endorsed by Think Tank and a few of them might just void your warranty.
Pillow: There is something about this bag that makes it just the right shape for a pillow and I’ve crashed on this bag more than a few times. Not only is it comfortable but it also keeps your gear close when your guard is down.
Table: I occasionally write about and photograph food for newspapers. And the food I like to cover the most is street food. The only problem with street food is that there is never a table around for civilized eating. Enter the Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20. When worn on the front it’s the perfect height for resting a kebab on or balancing a plastic plate of mystery meat on top of. The only problem is crumbs tend to get into places you would rather they didn’t.
Back Brace: Once in Thailand I was experiencing some back pain and didn’t have a brace on hand. So instead of buying one, I unloaded the Multimedia Wired Up 20 and used the hip-belt for support. Worked like a charm.
Body Armor/Battering Ram: When I unexpectedly found myself in the middle of an insane solstice party in Cusco, this bag saved me from a sucker punch to the gut. Somebody who wasn’t happy with where I was going tried to punch me but hit the padding near the belt instead, I barely felt it. The bag also worked great for pushing my way through the crowd (which now that I think about it, might be the reason I got punched).(Questions or Comments? Leave them below)