Wednesday, 10 October 2018

mini-guide: waterproof roll top backpacks

Dedicated ‘audio bags’ can be expensive and whilst convenient for location recording for productions more and more recordists want to be less visible or have a wider range of sonic interests. Indeed most rarely have need for a specific audio bag. I’m always interested in finding other solutions for carrying equipment (see: and myself tend to travel light and with everything packed into a crumpler camera backpack. 

With the rise of professional level lower cost and smaller recorders (such as the Sound Devices Mixpre 3 and 6), the increasing use of small profile microphones (omni pairs such as DPA4060 etc), a backpack is an obvious solution. Most of the camera style designs have compartments for keeping things organised and are rain proof to some degree - the crumpler that I use for example. However there are times when we might want to think about a more waterproof solution, particularly when in humid or freezing conditions. There are, of course, lots of these on the market and I haven’t been able to test them all. Additionally the range varies in each country. Here are 3 widely available brands:

key things I was looking for:

. how waterproof they really were in practice
. amount of condensation build up inside the bag
. ergonomics / comfort
. durability
. cost vs quality

1) The Friendly Swede 33 litre
at £29 or so, this is a decent bag for the price + it does have a mesh pocket inside as well as one for a 15inch laptop and a pocket on the front. So far it’s performed well - no major complaints, though it does seem to be a bit more susceptible to condensation build up on longer walks - especially from contact with ones back. In short, whilst it's ok some of the other options simply felt a but more rugged and comfortable.
rain: no leeks in light of heavy rain when properly closed.

2) Overboard 30 litre 
I have used overboard waterproof ‘tube’ bags for carrying around spare equipment on workshops when out in the field - handy for cables etc. and have always found them to be very well made without being excessively expensive. The same can be said for this backpack. So far its stood up well to light and heavy rain, reasonable humidity and a series of stress tests to ensure straps and seems hold up. As with most of these style bags they are basically one compartment and with a roll-over style top opening. It’d be nice perhaps to have an inner pocket for a laptop when travelling & using it as cabin baggage for example, but with a decent sleeve & careful packing this isn’t a massive problem. Having done a fair bit of research into these bags it seems to be that the ones that do have a pocket for a laptop inside tend to be less rugged, generally speaking because they’re not made for the outdoor / heavy duty / extreme sports side of the market. There isn’t a waist strap though and this can be an issue when carrying enough equipment to fit the large 30 litre capacity. After a few weeks of testing that is the only downside to this one that I keep being reminded of when using. At between £39-£50 though it is very good value.
rain: no leakage in light or heavy rain, when properly closed

3)    lomo 40 litre
This is big ! I mean at 40 litre capacity you can fit lots of kit in here, along with clothes for a trip of a few days. On some airlines it might not squeeze into their cabin bag rules but for most it can be possible, if one pays attention to the depth (28cm max whereas most cabin bag regs are 25cm max). Again, so far it has survived testing well - no problems to speak of and it also has a waist strap for a bit more support when walking distances. With both this and the Overboard bag I also tested for condensation build up by placing a warm-ish recorder and battery pack into the bag, sealing and checking after 5mins, 10mins and 15mins. With a small silica pouch in the bags at 5mins both felt slightly as if condensation might be on the way - none there but a change in the feel of the material near to the recorder - but at 10mins this had returned to normal. I also tested in a similar manner but with the recorder and battery pack first placed in the small protective sleeve / bag that I use. This led to no problems at all in both the lomo and the overboard bag. This lomo is around £35 so again, good value.
rain: no leakage in light or heavy rain when properly closed

* caveat: all of the bags still need to be tested in an area of very high humidity and full snow / ice conditions.