Kiboko from Gura Gear
The Best Bag Ever For Photographers Who Fly!
Most photographers I know have many different bags. However, choosing which to use, depending on the type of travel or shoot planned, can be a real hassle. The perfect bag can make the difference between carrying the right gear for the task, or not. Also, comfort and convenience are big factors in choosing a bag.
For photographers who fly, increased security, increased carry-on weight and size restrictions, and the inability to securely check locked bags (in the US), all make flying with photo gear difficult.
The solution is to travel as light as possible, carefully selecting the camera and lenses needed, and then carrying them onboard. Which bag to use then becomes the next question, and the brand new Kiboko from Gura Gear is the best solution that I've yet found
Disclaimer & Background
Gura Gear is owned and operated by Andy Biggs, a good friend of mine. Andy is an acclaimed wildlife photographer who operates photographic workshops in Africa and elsewhere. Andy and I have conducted workshops together in Tanzania, Namibia and recently in Botswana.
Andy is constantly flying back and forth between his home in the USA and somewhere overseas, as many as six to eight times a year. His photography includes the use of long lenses for wildlife shooting, wide angle lenses for landscapes, backup camera bodies, flashes and all of the paraphernalia that shooting in remote locations after long international flights entails. However, while the genesis of Andy's design was his own requirements, this bag works as well traveling across town as it does traveling around the globe.
Over the years Andy has tried just about every bag on the market, and ultimately found them all wanting in some way. This lead to the creation of Gura Gear and the development of the Kiboko bag.
I've now been testing the Kiboko for several months, which included a two week long trip to Africa this past September. Based on that experience I am comfortable in writing that I have not seen another bag that can carry as much gear as securely and comfortable – both through airports and in the field.
Design and Materials
There are camera bags and there are camera bags. By this I mean that there is no end of bags that can be used to carry gear, including literally hundreds of models from dozens of manufacturers. Like many photographers I own quite a few. I'm partial to some of the Lowepro Trekker series and also have been using the Think Tank series successfully as well.
But every bag represents a compromise of some sort. Some have wheels, making them easy to schlep through airports, but are ungainly in the field. Others will nicely protect gear when checked as baggage, but the protection afforded means that the bag itself is so massive that it often feels (and is) as if 25% or more of the weight one is carrying is bag, rather than equipment.
From discussions that I've had with Andy I know that he spent more than two years researching and sourcing materials that offered the optimum combination of weight, protection and durability. This meant that often the third variable, price, had to be the one with give, but when your goal is to design a bag that is optimized for both air travel and field use, only the lightest, toughest and highest quality materials will do.
I believe that the Kiboko bag meets that end. Claimed to use a highly durable sail cloth material, the stitching, zippers and internal fittings of this bag are as good as I've ever seen. It is constructed to standards normally seen not in photo backpacks, but in mountaineering packs. I was also pleased to note that the bag comes with a considerable number of extra dividers so that its internal storage space can be customized to ones own particular needs
Kiboko showing its side mounting system for carrying a tripod in the field
Weight and Size
The Kiboko weighs just 4 pounds (1.8 kg), and includes its comfortable backpack harness which can be zipped away when not in use. The Kiboko bag also includes a rain cover and extra internal dividers. This is less than half the weight of some competitors. The Kiboko bag can carry a little more gear than a Lowepro Pro Trekker, and the Lowepro weighs in at an astounding 10 pounds and costs the same. And the Moose Peterson MP-1 bag is $365, yet has minimal protection, no capability for a tripod, no water bottle holder, no rain cover and outdated materials. But, for all of its light weight, the Kiboko appears sturdy enough to allow it to be gate-checked when traveling on regional jets and small charter aircraft which offer little to no overhead bin accommodation. This is something that I have been loathe to do with the Moose Peterson MP-1, which in my view doesn't have enough protection for rugged handling, either by airport ground staff, or bouncing around inside a baggage hold. The Kiboko on the other hand gives every indication that it will.
As for size, it measures 8.5x14x20 inches, making the Kiboko carry-on legal on just about any and every airline in the world. Gura Gear makes no specific claim that the bag conforms to all airlines restrictions, so you should do your own research to see if the airlines you frequent will have overheads that can accomodate the bag.
The Kiboko is symmetrically divided down the center into
two compartments which can then be further subdivided as required using the
available dividers, which attach in the familiar way using velcro.
This design allows for one or even two very large lenses, (like a 500mm or 600mm) to be carried. The depth of the bag also allows for large pro camera bodies, like a Canon 1Ds MKIII or Nikon D3, to be loaded upright, or even with a lens attached.
The dual compartment design with separate compartments also allows for organization so that items can be grouped together depending on anticipated usage. Opening up half of the Kiboko bag is much easier than opening a traditional bag which require that the entire zipper be pulled, and then the front of their bags need to go somewhere. The Kiboko bag openings just fold over onto themselves. There's nothing more frustrating that fumbling through a bag trying to find something that isn't where you expect it to be.
The Kiboko bag is well suited to having your cameras attached to lenses when you get to your destination. This makes the bag easy to work out of, which is a huge bonus for all types of photographers. Gura Gear seems to have found the elusive holy grail, a bag this is both well designed for travel and well designed to work out of.
A Real Backpack Harness
One of the problems with very light weight bags is that they aren't very good backpacks. The Moose Peterson MP-1 is one example of this. Other than for slinging it over your shoulder when hiking through an airport the MP-1 harness system is abysmal.
The Kiboko provides a true backpack harness system, with lumbar padding, proper cinch straps, and wide webbing. I wouldn't hump 30 pounds across a mountain trail for 6 hours with it, but for casual day hiking and airport walks it's just fine, and for typical forays away from a vehicle when shooting it's more than adequate. It's not a fully adjustable mountaineering suspension, but its more comfortable than most photo bags on the market.
What I particularly like about the design is that in addition to the required comfort and support, when not in use all of the belts and straps tuck away out of sight so that they can't get caught on airline conveyor system if the bag is checked. Very nicely designed.
I'm Sorry Sir, But You'll Have To Check That!
You approach the check-in counter confidently, knowing that your Kiboko bag is going to fit inside the airline's carry-on template for all aircraft but regional jets. But the agent is having a bad day, doesn't like the cut of your jib, and asks you to put your carry-on bag on the scale. Uh oh! It's 10 pounds over the limit.
Don't despair. What I do is simply take the heaviest body and lens and sling it over my shoulder, also putting a lens or two in a vest pocket (wearing a shooting vest when flying helps with this).
Since you're allowed to carry a camera, and the contents of your pockets and person aren't subject to weight restrictions (at least not yet), you're given a dirty look and then sent on your way. Round the corner and stop, put things back in the bag, and as the Brits say - Bob's your uncle. I have no problem doing this because enforcement of this particular rule by airline personnel seems to be both arbitrary and capricious.
With any luck the new Kiboko bag and a bit of chutspa will get you where you're going.
The Gura Gear Kiboko bag sells direct for $399, and Gura Gear ships anywhere in the world with attractive shipping rates.