Choosing a camera bag usually gives me a headache. While laptop bags and backpacks are fun to shop for, finding a really good photo gear bag can be a nightmare. Plus I need more than one–my fabulous GoBODA wedding bag isn’t a good hiking or walkabout solution.
The Customary Barge is an immediate charmer, and great for carrying a lot of gear comfortably. This giant green bag fits well, allowing you to throw your weight forward as you walk up inclines (unlike many bags I’ve tried, which feel like I’m towing a trailer instead). The waist and chest straps keep the weight off your shoulders. The back padding feels great, and it’s one of the first camera bags I enjoy hiking distances with. There’s even a tripod holder on the side, built for a small or medium-sized tripod (my larger Gitzo flops around a bit). Be careful going through doorways, and watch out behind! The bag comes out a good 12 inches from your back at the widest bit.
As for room, this is a novel concept to me: all of my usual gear was loaded, plus a Ray Flash, an extra camera body, my 17″ MacBook, my iPad and my lunch–and I still had room. Weight becomes the limiter, as opposed to capacity. The organizer systems are easily customized to hold lenses and accessories securely, and can be pulled out to leave a basic backpack with two cavernous compartments. There is a small stretchy pocket inside for the important bits like keys, memory cards, wallet, business cards, etc. You can hang, dangle, strap, tuck in and loop just about anything to the outside of the bag by its various hooks and pockets.
Accessing gear while the bag is on your back is a bit challenging. Crumpler recommends you swing the bag around on one shoulder and the pocket placement allows access. I found this difficult and largely impractical, especially when the bag was loaded and the tripod was attached. It’s easier to find a bench or rock to park the bag on while you dig.
The construction appears to be industrial, and Crumpler promises the bag is designed to outlast its lifetime guarantee. The outer fabric and ripstop lining is tough, the zippers are big and solid, and it’s rain-resistant. There is no built-in rain cover, and I haven’t tested just how rain-resistant it is–we have high standards here in the Pacific Northwest.
CORRECTION: The Customary Barge does indeed include a rain cover. We regret the error in the original review.
The Customary Barge comes in two sizes (regular and deluxe, $275 and $295 respectively) and two colors, green/orange and black/red. It’s certainly a fashion statement: I’ve never been stopped so often and asked about my turtle, er, bag. To see all the bag’s features, take a look at Crumpler’s Customary Barge Deluxe page.