Skip to main content

Camera Bags That You Will Like

If you’re working with only a single camera and a lens, a good camera strap is all you need. But as soon as you start bringing multiple lenses and maybe even a tripod, you’ll want a proper camera bag—preferably one that also looks nice enough to use every day. After spending the past two years testing more than 30 camera bags in myriad urban and wilderness environments, we’ve found a number of great bags that cover a wide range of styles and carrying needs.


Rather than attempting to test every camera bag currently available, when possible we focused on bags from companies that we know and trust, models that look good enough for everyday carry and can hold a laptop, lunch, and an extra layer in addition to your core kit. For many photographers, that means choosing either the 20-liter Peak Design Everyday Backpack (also available in a larger, 30 L version) or the 15-inch Everyday Messenger, depending on your preference. While other bags can carry and protect a lot of gear, offer easy access, and look good while doing it, the Everyday bags stand out for how well they execute on every level. They both offer best-in-class camera-access speed and ergonomics, and while tastes certainly vary, Peak Design’s sleek aesthetic can fit in with almost anyone’s style.


While the Peak Everyday bags are nicely styled and offer top-notch organization features and ergonomics, they are quite spendy, and different photographers have varying needs. That’s why we also have picks for camera purses, more affordable messenger bags and backpacks, and high-capacity backpacks for pros, as well as alternatives to each of our picks.


Table of contents

How we picked and tested

Waist belts can be life-savers.

Camera bags are more performance-oriented and, generally speaking, less subject to fashion criticism than your typical laptop backpack or messenger bag. So we found it a bit easier to establish some concrete rules for narrowing down the field of contenders:

  • Above all else, we focused on contenders that offered fast, easy access to the camera. A bag that buries your camera beneath too many straps or closures, or requires clumsy unbuckling, hinders access and is a bad bag.
  • Camera-specific pockets and organization for memory cards and accessories, dividers for lenses, and ample padding are also crucial. Otherwise it’s just a normal bag.
  • User-configurable internal dividers are also important, so you can accommodate a variety of lens kits. The lenses you take to a sporting event, for example, would be very different from what you’d want for street photography, and the bag should be able to accommodate both loads.
  • Waist belts, by the way, can be lifesavers: “The most important feature to me in a backpack is having a real waist belt,” said photographer and gear specialist Toby Gelston of “Many manufacturers skimp here, and if you have any weight in the bag, it is all on your shoulders. A bag with a proper hip belt takes that weight and distributes it much better. Even relatively light loads can start to feel heavy in an hour.”
  • Weather resistance—or better yet, waterproofingis also key. “I don’t care if I’m soaked and the bag has to spend a couple of days drying out, as long as the gear is dry inside,” explained PCMag camera reviewer James Fisher.
  • We wanted a bag that could hold everything you need, without encouraging overpacking. “It’s easy to eye a monster bag that can hold everything,” said Fisher, “but if I’m out walking in the woods, I prefer to keep the kit as light as possible. For travel, I tend to take a smaller backpack or a small shoulder bag that holds a camera and a lens or two.” With that in mind, we looked for bags designed to accommodate a mirrorless camera or compact DSLR camera (not a bulky pro-grade rig) and a few lenses, as well as some personal items—at least a 13-inch laptop, and ideally snacks, a water bottle, and maybe even a light jacket.
  • Generally, we avoided premium bags—those from designer fashion labels or made of leather—or those that cost more than $300. We also avoided bags that looked too much like conventional camera bags (chunky rectangles, or gigantic garages with mazes of dividers inside) or were engineered specifically for outdoor use (trekking backpacks).
A bag that buries your camera beneath too many straps or closures, or requires clumsy unbuckling, hinders access and is a bad bag.

To test the bags, we asked Wirecutter contributors Eric Adams, Erin Lodi, and Mike Perlman (who are also professional photographers) to put them through their paces. Each tester loaded the bags with a compact DSLR or mirrorless camera, lenses, accessories, an assortment of cables, a laptop, and, if the bag’s capacity allowed it, personal items, and took the bags out for anything from three hours to multiple days at a time. When applicable, the testers also used the bags to carry their personal gear to, from, and during shoots. This process gave us a list of favorite bags that can not only hold all of that comfortably but also come in a variety of styles and capacities, and often have useful features such as easily adjustable capacities and locking zippers.

A versatile, stylish backpack

Who it’s for: The Peak Design Everyday Backpack is our favorite backpack for enthusiast shooters who don’t want to sacrifice good looks for great performance. The bag is versatile and roomy, with many thoughtful features—such as fast but secure access mechanisms, external gear loops with secure cinch straps, and a flexible internal organization system—that clearly show its designers paid a lot of attention to how it would be used. I tested the 20-liter version, but a 30-liter version is also available for those with more gear. I would likely prefer the latter, as I travel a lot, but the 20 L will be great for most people, and it’s a half-pound lighter.

Why it’s great: In addition to its sleek looks, the Everyday Backpack is an exceptionally comfortable and well-organized bag. It offers excellent ergonomic design throughout and has the right pockets and closures for providing easy access to all your camera equipment while fitting all the gear you need for a full day of wilderness exploration.

The Everyday Backpack is one of the few bags that feel as good as they look. Excellent ergonomics start with a good fit, and the Everyday Backpack ranks among the most adjustable models we tested, with sturdy and secure adjustment straps for both shoulders. The rear padding is breathable and comfortable without being obtrusive, and the waist belt is thin but robust enough to be effective without using a ton of bulky material the way belts on larger trekking packs do; the belt also stows away for a cleaner look when not in use. The sternum strap helps to distribute the load better on your shoulders and center the bag above your hips. This bag is even comfortable to carry by hand, thanks to the thick, padded grab handles on the top and either side.


The straps automatically adjust to accommodate a variety of shoulder widths and torso shapes.

I used the bag on a five-day trip to Austria in early December, and while I didn’t exactly go trekking through the Alps with it, I did carry it during many hours of urban exploration in Innsbruck and a multihour photo tour of a nearby peak, in addition to the usual hours spent racing through airports. The bag stayed comfortable throughout the adventure, without ever digging into my shoulders uncomfortably.


A close up on the peak design everyday backpack's sternum straps.

The sternum and hip straps make the Everyday Backpack more comfortable for long days. You can position the sternum strap, shown here, at multiple points on the shoulder straps. Photo: Eric Adams


You can choose from four latching points at various heights to accommodate larger and smaller loads.

To confirm that it wasn’t just my perfect bag, I had several bag-savvy friends of varying sizes and genders try it out, and they agreed that it was a great fit and exceptionally comfortable. (Peak demoed the two sizes on a variety of people as part of the bag’s Kickstarter campaign.) Some friends noted that the smooth texture of the materials helped the bag slide easily into position, and some appreciated the straps’ padding and weight-distributing width. Others picked up on how the straps, which can swivel easily at their top attachment points, automatically adjust to accommodate a variety of shoulder widths and torso shapes. The bag settles in immediately against whoever is wearing it, with only a few adjustments.


Pockets and organization: The Everyday Backpack has well-thought-out pockets overall, but its fold-top camera compartment stands out in particular. Sealing the compartment is a combination magnetic and elastic mechanical latch that Peak Design calls MagLatch. The system sounds complicated, but in practice it provides the fastest camera access of any bag we tried. And depending on how much stuff you’re carrying, you can choose from four latching points at various heights to accommodate larger and smaller loads. This flexible design allows you to increase internal storage as needed instantly, without having to make any physical adjustments. And compared with the pockets on other bags we looked at, such as the Manfrotto NX and the Tamrac Hoodoo 20, its openings are better placed and easier to get into while you’re on the go.

The front panel of the peak design everyday backpack, with the main compartment open to display closing brackets.

The Everyday Backpack’s multiple brackets allow it to close tightly regardless of capacity. Photo: Eric Adams

The internal compartment features flexible hook-and-loop-secured dividers that you can reshape to contain or conform to a variety of items. The dividers are among the smartest I’ve ever seen, with stiff construction and firm anchoring, and each has two-layer wings that can each lie flat or fold up to create small additional dividers on each shelf (you can see that in action here). You can make space for a giant telephoto lens or open up all the dividers for a bunch of smaller lenses and gadgets. This design is markedly superior to that of some other bags, where the dividers have a bit too much play and don’t hold their place as firmly.

On my own travel with the bag, I carried the Sony a7R II mirrorless camera with its compact 24–70mm lens, the additional Sigma lens, a pair of compact binoculars, a battery backup for my smartphone, a GoPro on a small handheld mount, my 13-inch Microsoft Surface Book laptop, chargers for the camera and my laptop, a wool pullover, and assorted snacks and travel miscellany such as earbuds and an inflatable neck pillow. It was a tight fit inside the bag—hence my likely preference for the 30 L version—but everything got in, stayed in place throughout the trip thanks to the dividers, and remained easily accessible.

Interior of the Peak Design everyday backpack, open to display storage compartments.

The internal dividers are firm, strong, and easily reconfigured. Photo: Eric Adams

The laptop sleeve holds models up to 15 inches—plus a magazine or tablet—and you also get a large pocket at the front of the sleeve for some bigger stuff like snacks, a GoPro, and sunglasses. In the main compartment, you’ll find a small magnetically sealed sleeve for a notepad, a thin wallet, a passport, or the like. The dual side-access panels, which you can open with a quick zip, include pockets for small accessories. You also have 10 discreet anchor points on the outside of the bag, with stowable tension straps, that allow you to securely affix tripods or other gear externally. The side pockets expand to accommodate water bottles or tripods—cinched at the top with the tension straps—and retract snugly against the pack when not in use, so they don’t look like empty bags hanging off the side.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The side-access zippers unzip from either the top or bottom, which introduces a mild worry factor when you have too many openings and you might accidentally leave one ajar. It’s great to have the panels unzip from both points, and while the zippers are quite firm when seated in the fully closed position, if they aren’t fully closed and your bag is stuffed, they can tend to creep. If the zips loosen over time, that might become a greater issue. Fortunately, if you typically don’t use the lower zippers and would like to anchor them, you can lock them by undoing the fabric zipper pulls and threading them through the adjacent exterior gear loops.

Close up image of the zipper and closure anchor on the Peak Design Everyday Backpack.

A design with zips on both ends of the pockets means you have to be twice as careful to close things properly. This photo shows the zipper slightly open but also anchored. When fully closed, it does tend to stay in place. Photo: Eric Adams

All the smaller pockets distributed in the side panels and the top pouch are basically flat storage, so if you own accessories that have any sort of dimensionality—a GoPro camera or a smartphone lens, say—they might be awkward fits. The pockets do stretch, which helps considerably, but they bulge out if you fill them with bulkier items and might make the overall fit a bit too tight, particularly because the horizontal interior dividers are so stiff.

I prefer bags where the upper area is completely sealed off from the lower, divider-friendly storage space, but the Everyday Backpack has only a movable divider. I like that this design allows you to adjust the amount of storage between the top and bottom, but it leaves small gaps where small items you put in the top—coins, keys, lip balm—might slip southward.

Also consider: Pacsafe Camsafe V17 Anti-Theft Camera Backpack

A person wearing the Pacsafe Camsafe V17 backpack.

Photo: Eric Adams


The Camsafe also has a built-in rain cover and an option to insert a hydration bladder instead of a laptop, with an opening for the tube and mouthpiece.

Pacsafe specializes in security-oriented bags with multiple theft-deterrent components, including cut-resistant straps, slash-resistant fabric, and zippers that can lock in place via metal-cable loops on the pull tabs. This last feature is great to help prevent theft, of course, but I mostly like it because of my (apparent) anxiety about zippers accidentally opening where I can’t see them. Anti-theft features aside, the Pacsafe Camsafe V17 Anti-Theft Camera Backpack is simply a smart, affordable camera bag, with easy side-access storage for your mirrorless or DSLR camera—as well as top access, if you choose to stash your camera there—separate laptop storage, and a solid amount of space for personal items and extra lenses. I was able to tote the same gear in the Pacsafe as I was in the Peak Design pack, including the extra lens and the GoPro, and a bulky external flash in place of the binoculars. This bag is nearly as comfortable as the Peak Design pack, but it doesn’t conform as well to the user’s frame or fit quite as much gear. For instance, I couldn’t fit a folded-up light jacket or fleece in the Camsafe, but I could usually get one into the Everyday Backpack—or even roll it up and anchor it to the outside with that bag’s included tension straps.


Detail image of the anchored locks on the Pacsafe Camsafe V17 backpack's zippers.

Anchored locks for zippers prevent thieves from surreptitiously opening your bag. Photo: Eric Adams

The Camsafe also has a built-in rain cover and an option to insert a hydration bladder instead of a laptop, with an opening for the tube and mouthpiece. It’s a bag you can take with you on a simple excursion into town for a day—or on a big adventure abroad, with the bonus of peace of mind. I used the bag for my week at the CES trade show in Las Vegas in January, and it proved to be a reliable and larger-than-it-seems travel companion. My only major complaint about the Camsafe is that slipping your laptop into its dedicated sleeve stiffens up the back panel, making the bag slightly less comfortable on your back. This problem crops up with many packs, however, particularly models that are a bit light on the rear padding.

An affordable backpack

The AmazonBasics backpack sitting upright on a colorful blanket.

Photo: Erin Lodi

Who it’s for: The AmazonBasics Backpack for SLR/DSLR Cameras and Accessories is ideal for a growing photographer who needs an affordable and flexible option for protecting and transporting their gear while they’re still honing their kit. This bag holds all the basic necessities with plenty of padding for a comfortable fit.

Why it’s great: The affordably priced AmazonBasics Backpack is deceptively small but holds a great deal of gear. We were surprised to find it easily fit a 13-inch laptop, a DSLR, two lenses, a flash, and lots of extras, including batteries, business cards, tissues, memory cards, lens cleaner, personal items, and more. A set of adjustable side straps can also hold a tripod, and an elastic cord at the front lets you tuck in a light raincoat or scarf. All materials and closures look tough enough to stand up to some wear and tear, with generous padding on the back and straps.

A smiling man wearing the amazonbasics backpack.

The AmazonBasics bag runs small. Photo: Erin Lodi

The bag rests rigidly against your back but is small enough not to be uncomfortable, like wearing a typical school backpack. The shoulder straps are close enough to comfortably fit a smaller person without slipping, and adjustable sternum and waist locks let you secure the bag further around your body. Breathable mesh keeps the back and strap padding comfortable against your skin, and the weight feels well distributed even when the bag is fully packed.

You won’t be making a style statement in the AmazonBasics Backpack—it’s simple and nondescript, maybe even a little awkwardly small. I’m a tallish, 5-foot-8-inch woman, and I thought it looked a bit small on me; it could be comically small on a larger man.

The AmazonBasics Backpack can stow under an airline seat and attaches to a rolling-suitcase handle easily.

The amazonbasics backpack, unzipped to display the internal storage packed with camera gear.

For a small, cheap bag, the AmazonBasics holds a surprising amount of gear. Photo: Erin Lodi

Pockets and organization: The AmazonBasics bag has internal dividers, attached with Velcro, that allow you to change its layout along with your gear. While the bag is not overly large (its exterior dimensions are 11.5 by 7.2 by 15.6 inches), you could readily fit two camera bodies and a handful of lenses inside if you needed to.

Inside the main compartment are two clear zippered pockets, each half the size of the front of the bag, that are useful for holding spare batteries, cables, and other items. The laptop compartment in the front flap of the bag offers one stretchy mesh pocket plus other open organizational pockets without closures, the latter of which are less useful for smaller items that might shift and get lost. A zippered front pocket on the outside of the bag is good for holding snacks or other items you want to keep handy and away from your camera gear, and two additional small side pockets with Velcro closures fit things that you might need to reach quickly, such as business cards.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: While we didn’t experience any problems, many customers on Amazon report that the top handle of the bag ripped when they tried picking it up. Even when we had the bag fully loaded with our testing supplies, this didn’t happen to us, and a Wirecutter staffer who had purchased one years ago hadn’t encountered the issue either—but just to be sure, we recommend picking the bag up by its shoulder straps whenever possible. Though we haven’t yet put the current iteration of this bag through the rigors of long-term testing, we suspect it will handle normal wear and tear, especially for an occasional photographer carrying a lighter kit and not putting it to use every day.

In the past, the bag has sold out for months at a time. These sorts of fluctuations are impossible to predict, but each time the bag has eventually returned.

An experienced photographer may find that the AmazonBasics Backpack doesn’t have enough pockets and organization. We think this bag is ideal while you’re still exploring and expanding your camera knowledge and requirements, but as the number of dongles, cards, and accessories you need to carry expands, you may find yourself wanting more small and easily accessible pockets that can help you quickly find what you’re looking for and assure you that you have everything you need before setting off to a shoot.

Although this bag is not rainproof, you could purchase a rain cover for it and still spend far less on both items than you would on any similar bags. We found one option for under $10.

Also consider: Evecase Large DSLR Camera Travel Backpack

The Evecase large dslr travel backpack sitting upright on a colorful blanket.

The Evecase is bigger and pricier than the AmazonBasics. Photo: Erin Lodi

If you’re concerned about the small size of the AmazonBasics Backpack, either because you’re a physically larger person or you prefer to carry more gear, the Evecase Large DSLR Camera Travel Backpack with Rain Cover is a bigger basic backpack with a few more niceties for about $50 more. Measuring 18 by 12 by 8 inches, this pack can hold a 15-inch laptop, as well as a few more lenses. The light gray interior makes it easier to find what you’re looking for, and numerous Velcro dividers let you customize the bag to your gear. Offering a few more and bigger pockets, the Evecase feels a bit more professional than the AmazonBasics model. It offers plenty of padding on the straps and back, covered with a breathable mesh fabric for comfort.

It also comes with a rain cover and an additional internal protective liner to guard against inclement weather.

A bigger backpack

The Think Tank Photo StreetWalker HardDrive sitting upright on a wooden table.

Photo: Erin Lodi


I kept coming back to the Think Tank to lug my gear around downtown Seattle while capturing engagement sessions, and for studio shoots.

Who it’s for: A professional photographer who needs to carry large volumes of gear in one bag will appreciate how much the Think Tank Photo StreetWalker HardDrive can hold without feeling bulky. An advanced enthusiast photographer might also be ready to step up to a much larger bag such as this if they prefer to have a lot of gear at the ready. Whereas the Peak Design Everyday Backpack can hold a 15-inch laptop, a full-frame body, and a couple of lenses, the StreetWalker HardDrive has enough space for a 17-inch laptop, multiple full-frame bodies with battery grips, and a couple of extremely large high-end zoom lenses.


Why it’s great: Unlike many other large-capacity camera bags, the Think Tank StreetWalker HardDrive can hold a lot of gear but doesn’t scream “big camera inside!” It has enough space for a 17-inch laptop, two DSLR bodies, a telephoto 70–200mm and three other lenses, two flashes, and all the additional accessories you might want. While the competition starts to appear bulky and awkward when loaded with enough gear for a wide range of shoots, this Think Tank model maintains a comparatively slim profile. It was so comfortable for me that even with a couple dozen bags at my disposal during testing, I kept coming back to the Think Tank to lug my gear around downtown Seattle while capturing engagement sessions, and for studio shoots when I might be bringing more gear than usual onto set.

A thick, cushioned back and straps keep this bag feeling good even on an all-day shoot wandering around a city, which is essential given how much gear it can hold. The back also has venting, which helps stop you from overheating when lugging the bag around. The straps are close enough to fit a smaller person, with adjustable sternum straps and a removable waist belt to keep the bag secure and stable on your back while you’re moving around, as well as to distribute weight evenly.

This Think Tank bag would be easy to tote as a carry-on when you’re flying, and it comes with a rain cover that is simple to slip on.

The Think Tank backpack's front storage pockets unzipped, displaying small-scale storage options.

Individually divided pockets make finding small accessories easier. Photo: Erin Lodi

Pockets and organization: The StreetWalker HardDrive is roomy enough to hold larger lenses, camera systems, and accessories easily. You can customize the cavernous main compartment using Velcro dividers to accommodate nearly any permutation of zooms, macros, primes, and tilt-shifts, and even a backup camera body.

The main storage compartment of the Think Tank backpack, loaded with camera gear.

Photo: Erin Lodi

A separate laptop compartment can fit up to a 17-inch laptop (if your camera gear is smaller) or a 15-inch laptop (with a larger DSLR). Two interior zippered pockets, large and clear, are useful for most accessories, such as memory cards and spare batteries, while four exterior zippered pockets can keep other items at the ready and apart from your camera gear. One of those exterior pockets offers a few more divided pockets and pen sleeves. A couple of elastic sleeves on either side of the bag prove perfect for sliding in a smartphone or some other item you might need to have handy, and similar small sleeves on the straps of the backpack can fit other small items, like some cash or your ID. Additional straps and a pullout pocket let you affix your tripod to the front of the bag.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Although the total capacity across all the pockets met our needs, we’d like even more tiny places to stash cards and batteries, keeping those accessories neat and compartmentalized for quick access. Having them loose in large, dark pockets can make them more difficult to find, since they’re also often black or dark gray.

Also consider: Lowepro Pro Runner BP 450 AW II

The Lowepro Pro Runner backpack standing upright on a wooden table.

Larger still, but with even more bulk. Photo: Erin Lodi

If you’re looking for a bigger bag that can hold even more, the Lowepro Pro Runner BP 450 AW II can carry a couple more lenses, flashes, or other gear, though with a bulkier appearance, for about $70 more.

With the Lowepro, you can use Velcro walls to structure the bag to fit your kit, and it has plenty of little pockets for staying organized, including specific slots for memory cards. Thick padding along the back and straps keeps the bag comfortable even with a full load. However, the ergonomics of this pack aren’t as smart as those of the Think Tank: The laptop pocket is part of the front flap of the backpack, placing that weight on the outermost portion of the bag, which might throw your balance off if you’re using the pocket at its full 17-inch capacity.

This Lowepro pack feels a bit like you’re wearing a small suitcase, and handles on the side and top add to that effect. If you have to carry a large amount of gear, this bag can handle the load, though it’s not one we would want to wear for long periods. It’s also heavier than the Think Tank bag (6.4 pounds empty versus 4.6 pounds empty).

The Pro Runner also comes in a slightly smaller size and a slightly larger size. Go much bigger, though, and you probably should consider something with wheels instead.

Our favorite camera messenger bag

The peak design everyday messanger and tenba cooper messenger bags sitting side by side on a wooden fence.

The Peak Design Everyday Messenger (left) and Tenba Cooper 13 Slim. Photo: Mike Perlman

Who it’s for: A messenger bag is ideal for when you need something less bulky than a backpack but still want to take a camera, a laptop, and a couple of extras. The Peak Design Everyday Messenger combines the same strong design and thoughtfulness that we enjoyed with the Everyday Backpack, but in messenger form. It’s a comfortable bag that lets you get in and out easily and access your gear quickly. Perfect for one DSLR or two mirrorless cameras (depending on size), as well as a few lenses and accessories, it also has room for a laptop and tablet. But keep in mind that you’ll be putting all that weight on one shoulder, so it’s not as well-suited as a backpack for extended use.

Why it’s great: The Everyday Messenger is the predecessor to the Everyday Backpack, and many of the same design strengths that we like in the backpack are equally appealing in the messenger bag. When people ask about camera bags, they often ask for something that “doesn’t look like a camera bag,” having conjured up mental images of boxy shoulder bags covered with logos and attachment points. The Everyday Messenger is the antithesis of that, and is a handsome and well-made bag with subtle branding that looks like a normal messenger bag. The only reason someone might see this bag and know that you’re lugging around an expensive camera is that it’s so well-loved that the design sometimes gets recognized on the street.

The first thing you’ll notice when using the Everyday Messenger is that the closure is a step above the competition’s for getting your camera out quickly to grab a shot. The stainless steel latch mechanism hooks and unhooks easily and one-handed, so you can rapidly retrieve your gear without fiddling. But it’s not just the latch that impresses: Every part of the Everyday Messenger is constructed from high-quality materials. Its waxed weatherproof shell protects your items from the elements, and high-density foam padding cradles your valuable equipment. Its seat-belt-style straps are extremely tough, and double-stitched stress points add to the bag’s overall durability. It’s as comfortable as you can hope for with a messenger bag, but if you load it up to its capacity, you’ll definitely feel it on your shoulders.

This bag offers more configuration options than most messenger or shoulder bags, thanks to a second strap on the back that you can stow when you’re not using it. As demoed on the Peak Design site, the “stabilizer strap” can either hook to the main shoulder strap to create a three-point attachment system so it doesn’t slide (a major bonus if you’re biking anywhere) or hitch around your waist to distribute the bag’s weight better.

Photographers and journalists we talked to almost universally recommended the Everyday Messenger. Photographer Mason Marsh said it offered “the very best combination of materials, construction, utility, and style.” Wirecutter writer and professional photographer Jeff Carlson explained: “I can tote my Fuji X-T1 around in it without feeling like I’m carrying a camera bag.” And Popular Photography named the Everyday Messenger as one of the best pieces of gear of 2015.

The peak design everyday messenger, sitting on a concrete floor, with top open to display interior storage.

The Everyday Messenger’s modular inserts can fit almost any camera. Photo: Michael Hession

Pockets and organization: A main highlight of the Peak Design Everyday Messenger is its organization. Looking at it, you might never guess that it could fit up to a full-frame DSLR with three lenses and accessories, as well as a 15-inch laptop, an iPad, batteries, cables, tools, and accessories. The 13-inch model is ideal for a mirrorless kit and a 13-inch laptop with accessories. You can strap a medium-size tripod to the outside of either model without having it look strange.

In place of conventional modular Velcro pads are slim, origami-style foldable inserts that you can arrange in numerous patterns and configurations—each insert can fold in on itself in a number of ways to fit a variety of camera bodies and lenses, and save space. A weatherproof access pocket at the top of the bag holds a laptop or tablet, and another zipper enclosure reveals the entire top compartment of the bag for quick access when you don’t want to lift the whole main flap.

A smaller zip pouch on the inside of the top flap holds memory cards and other small items. The larger pouch directly underneath the top flap zips open to reveal eight stretch sleeves for phones, hard drives, keys, batteries, and more. Peak Design even went as far as color-coding each half of the stretch flaps green and red to help owners keep track of accessories, such as full and empty memory cards or batteries. For travel, the bag is carry-on approved, and you can mount it to the telescoping handles of a suitcase using the stabilizer strap.

Wirecutter photo editor Michael Hession has been using the Everyday Messenger on and off for around a year, and he noted that if you put a large laptop in the laptop sleeve, the bag won’t stand freely on its own. He also pointed out that the shoulder strap loosens with use, so you’ll need to retighten it every now and then.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The small side pockets aren’t very functional or easy to access. Things like keys and parking-garage tickets will do fine in there, but larger and bulkier items will struggle to fit—this was an area where Peak Design could have baked in more storage.

After roughly 30 minutes, the strap began to make its presence known to my left shoulder. Although the support strap that connects to the main strap helped, my shoulder was still a little sore after prolonged use. This problem crops up with any messenger bag, but you should keep in mind that even though you can load a huge amount of gear into the Everyday Messenger, after a long day of shooting, you might regret it.

Also consider: Tenba Cooper 13 Slim

A person wearing the Tenba cooper slim messenger bag, in front of a building and foliage.

Photo: Eric Adams

The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim is sized for a 13-inch laptop, as well as a camera body, two to five lenses, and some accessories. A quick-access top zipper lets you dig in for your camera or lens without opening the main flap, and the Velcro that secures the flap features nearly silent hook-and-loop operation when you pull down slightly before lifting the flap. This design gives the bag a significant speed advantage over the similarly styled (and more expensive) Ona Brixton, which is important since even a few seconds can make the difference between getting or missing your shot. If you’re concerned about security, the Cooper 13 Slim has an additional internal zipper you can use to secure the main compartment.

The tenba cooper 13 slim messenger bag sitting upright on a wooden chair, with main compartment unzipped to display internal storage.

The Tenba Cooper 13 Slim is easier and quicker to get into than the Ona. Photo: Eric Adams

You’ll find two front pockets and, directly behind those, a bag-length zippered pocket that has several interior sleeves for memory cards, cables, and the like. A rear zippered sleeve lets you quickly access your laptop at airport security or when you’re plopping down in a coffee shop to get some work done.

It also has a rain cover, a durable leather base panel, expandable side pockets for water bottles and shades, a pass-through sleeve for a luggage handle, and a removable interior camera compartment that can convert the bag to general use—or if you’re just toting a camera without an additional lens and you want the extra space. In fact, there’s really not much to complain about with this bag. The compact size means it’s a tight fit to carry enough stuff for a daylong excursion, the interior divisions aren’t as precise or as smartly designed as the Peak Design bag’s, it lacks the stabilizing second strap of the Everyday Messenger, and it has a slightly weathered-feeling selection of materials, from the dull fabric to the oversize exterior zipper on the front panel. But those are minor complaints, and the truth is, this is a great messenger bag if it fits your criteria.

A super-affordable messenger bag

The ape case envoy messenger bag sitting upright on a wooden table.

Photo: Erin Lodi

Who it’s for: If you want a messenger bag that’s very affordable, the Ape Case Envoy Large Messenger DSLR Case is one of the few budget models we found that will hold your laptop as well as your camera. This simple but well-designed messenger bag is a perfect fit for a photographer with a slimmer kit. Offering a practical, understated, squarish shape in a thick black canvas, it reads as a simple and utilitarian camera bag.

A single-strap messenger bag slung across your shoulder will always be less comfortable than a backpack-style bag, which more evenly distributes weight between two straps and two shoulders. But the messenger style also allows you to more quickly access your gear, and if that’s, ahem, your bag, this Ape Case model offers a decent amount of padding on the strap to keep you comfortable for quite some time.

Why it’s great: For just $40, this bag snugly fits everything you could need for a shorter shoot, including a 13-inch laptop, a DSLR body, three lenses, a flash, and all your accessories. It’s comfortable enough to wear for long periods even when fully loaded, thanks to heavy padding along the back portion and mesh fabric that keeps you from feeling sticky. The removable single strap offers a wide shoulder pad lined with a rubbery material to keep it from sliding around your shoulder.

Cushioned dividers in a wide range of shapes and sizes let you customize the bag to fit your specific gear. The interior is a bright yellow color, which might not be to everyone’s taste but makes sorting through your assortment of black camera gear easier. A plastic buckle holds the messenger bag’s flap shut, or you can access your camera more quickly via a top zipper. You can undo a zipper around the main body of the bag to expand its girth a bit, giving the contents more wiggle room.

A rain guard is included as an extra, but in our tests the bag’s thick canvas material repelled water rapidly with no soaking into the inner lining, even when we subjected it to the full force of a kitchen faucet. Four plastic feet on the bottom of the bag further protect its contents from a soggy sidewalk.

The Ape Case could easily stow under an airline seat, and it has a pass-through sleeve to slip over roll-aboard handles.

The yellow interior of the Ape case messenger bag, carrying various camera equipment.

The bright yellow interior makes finding your stuff easier. Photo: Erin Lodi

Pockets and organization: The Ape Case has enough pockets to provide storage for spare batteries, cables and triggers, lens cleaners, and more—it even has a tiny pocket labeled for memory cards. We appreciate the variety of pocket types, from mesh zippered pouches that will keep small items safe to open sleeve-style pockets that will let you quickly grab their contents. The more time we spend poking around the bright yellow interior, the more we wish every camera-bag manufacturer followed suit: The color contrast makes searching through the bag’s contents easy and lets small black objects such as a spare battery stand out.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: When we point out that this bag offers a snug fit for a laptop, camera, and a couple of lenses, think of it as you would a tight pair of skinny-fit jeans. If you’re very organized about your gear or you’re sporting a smaller system, the tight squeeze likely won’t be a problem, but if you’re used to more room or you’d like to pack your bag to capacity, it could be annoying. You can undo a zipper around the outside of the bag to allow for more breathing room without adding much bulk.

With its shape, padding, and bright yellow interior, the Ape Case is very clearly and visibly a camera bag—and some people don’t want to advertise that they’re carrying expensive gear. In that case, we recommend looking instead at our main pick, the Peak Design Everyday Messenger, for a more understated look.

If you already have a messenger bag you love

If you’re already attached to a messenger bag, you might not need to buy a dedicated camera bag at all. Ona, Tenba, and Timbuk2 all offer messenger-bag inserts that can drop into any bag (assuming the right internal dimensions). We didn’t test these inserts, but we firmly believe in using what you already have, so if grabbing such an add-on gets you out of needing to buy an entirely new bag when you already have a perfectly good one, we’re for it. Wirecutter and Sweethome staff writer Kevin Purdy, who uses a Timbuk2 insert in a Fjallraven bag, told us it fit his needs perfectly for a small DSLR, two lenses, a battery charger, and cleaning gear.

A camera purse

A person removing a canon camera from the kelly moore camera purse.

A photo purse isn’t as great for heavy loads of gear—but it does offer a more stylish look. Photo: Erin Lodi

Who it’s for: The Kelly Moore 2 Sues 2.0 bag is our favorite purse-style camera bag for carrying a photographer’s essentials to a shorter shoot. It offers easy access to the main compartment and plenty of tiny pockets for stashing everything from memory cards to a smartphone. The bag looks like leather but is a “vegan-friendly” material of the company’s own devising called Cambrio; the gold hardware accents look shiny and high end. A longer strap offers considerable padding to carry the bag across one shoulder, or you can use a single, shorter handstrap.

Why it’s great: A stylish alternative in a sea of blocky, black camera bags, the Kelly Moore 2 Sues 2.0 bag is a colorful, feminine purse with all the padding and pockets of a traditional camera bag. Its soft sides are flexible, so you can keep filling it with camera accessories and personal items.

Professional photographer Caitlin Cathey told us looks were a major factor when she chose this Kelly Moore bag. “I want something cute and functional if I’m going to use it all the time,” she said. “If I’m going to invest in something, I want to like it.”

The Kelly Moore 2 Sues 2.0 bag is a colorful, feminine purse with all the padding and pockets of a traditional camera bag.

She also told us she uses the bag a bit differently than a traditional camera bag. “I don’t like to be weighted down while I’m shooting, I just set my bag down and switch lenses when I need to,” she said. For this Maui-based photographer, that means sitting her bag in the sand while she shoots nearby. A hot climate also factors into her approach: “It’s too hot on Maui to wear extra stuff on your body while you’re shooting.”

We looked at this bag in orange, but it’s also available in shadow, saddle, and stone.

A top-down view of the kelly moore camera purse, displaying the grey internal storage.

A smartly designed interior protects your gear. Photo: Erin Lodi

Pockets and organization: To protect your camera and lenses, the 2 Sues 2.0 uses a removable insert that is large enough to hold a camera with lens attached, as well as two additional midsize lenses (or one lens and a flash). Padded Velcro dividers let you tailor the insert to fit your gear. If you don’t want to use the insert, you can always remove it and use the bag for other camera accessories or non-photographic gear.

A hand holding open the front pocket storage of the kelly moore camera purse.

Pocket subdivisions make it easier to find specifically placed items. Photo: Erin Lodi

We were impressed with the amount and variety of pockets on the inside and outside of this bag. An organized camera bag helps you find a fresh memory card or a new battery when shooting, and lets you quickly take inventory before heading off to your location. We also liked the assortment of closures, from snaps to zippers, and the mix of materials, including clear plastic pockets and black mesh, all of which help to keep camera accessories contained and identifiable.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Fashion takes precedence when it comes to camera purses, so these bags don’t prioritize weight distribution and body contouring. Like a messenger bag, this Kelly Moore purse comes with a single strap that offers plenty of padding, or you can use the handle as you would on a typical purse. But either way, that’s a lot of weight to put on a single side of your body, whereas a backpack would spread the weight between two shoulders. People practiced at using purses will be used to this unbalanced load, but even a heavy purse is likely far lighter than a typical camera kit. If you find you need to carry a substantial amount of gear for long periods, you might be better off forgoing fashion for function.

Also consider: Jo Totes Missy

The jo totes missy camera purse sitting upright on a wooden table.

The Jo Totes Missy is more rigid, but lacks the well-divided pockets of our preferred pick. Photo: Erin Lodi

The Jo Totes Missy is another great-looking option with plenty of protection for camera gear, though we preferred the number of pockets on the Kelly Moore bag. The Missy really offers only about the same pocket structure of a standard purse this size, without much consideration for a photographer’s more specific needs. It’s comfortable to carry via two rounded handles, or a single optional strap with cushioned padding.

This bag is a bit more rigid, with a wider base than the Kelly Moore bag. Instead of a cushioned insert for organizing camera gear as in the Kelly Moore, you get a few simple Velcro dividers to design the interior as you wish, so it’s just a bit more flexible overall.

In faux leather with soft gold-tone hardware, it looks high quality, but time will tell how well the synthetic material wears. I got a lot of compliments when sporting this bag, as its classic shape and alluring pale green color stand out, and no one suspected it was a camera bag. We looked at this bag in mint, but it also comes in chocolate and black.