I remember the day I picked up my Manfrotto Bumblebee-220 PL bag. It was May and I was leaving 48 hours after for Reunion Island, and from there, I would be traveling through half the summer. So I was going to be taking this bag everywhere to carry my photography gear and my computer. So it would be an understatement to say that it would be shouldering a heavy responsibility. Together, we took off on 13 planes and 4 trains, sailed away on six boats, traveled a number of kilometers by bike, on foot, by rowboat, and then by car of course some of the way too. That bag got dragged through the rain, the sand, the muck, carrying 8 to 12 kg the whole way. Despite all this, 40,000 kilometers and two months around the globe (equivalent to a trip around the world), it survived just fine, and it kept my gear safe and the bag came through unscathed too, so I had no trouble working under the right conditions.
So I started out gently on Reunion Island. I didn’t put too much gear in it: a 5dII with a 16-35, a 50mm 1.4, a 70-200, and an extender with some filters, cards, and batteries. The bag had to deal with a bit of sand and a bit of rain, but nothing too tough. I hiked a bit, went on a sleepy chameleon safari, and I sought out some nice vistas. I wasn’t particularly tough on the bag, at least not yet. On the plane home, it was just like new, not a scratch on it. The next trip put it through some tougher paces: I took off for a mountain-biking climb of La Mayenne. It went through ten days wrapped up like a sausage on the back of my bike with cords, exposed to all the mud, rain, grit and everything else that my bike kicked up on the gravel paths. It’s not the best way to transport photography gear on the back of a bike, of course. Still, given the circumstances, it was perfectly suited to meet my needs: it has modular openings so I could reach my camera easily without having to take off the cords, and it was just as easy to park the bike and go into “walking” mode.
The rain-resistant cover came in handy several times, including once under driving rains worthy of an Asian monsoon, and once as a reflector (the silver coated inside is intended for this purpose), which was a very practical advantage since I hadn’t brought my own reflector. And throughout it all, the inside of the bag remained nice and dry.
The cover was used again on the next trip. The next destination: Wadden Sea in Northern Germany. Listed with Unesco, this archipelago features fields, sand dunes, and large stretches of muck. To make matters their absolute worst, I had to endure catastrophically bad weather, with practically ten days of non-stop winds and rain.
So when I was trying to photograph the endless beaches on Amrum Island, where you get the sensation of being lost in the desert, I was really happy to have the protective cover keep the sand storm from dumping sand in my bag: there was a least one spot where I didn’t find any sand, and that was in the evening at the hotel!
A few days later, I took a hike based on a very simple plan: walk from one island to another at low tide. Not only did I end up soaked to the bone because of the rain that kept me company over the final five kilometers, but there were also some stretches where I had to take off my pants to get across. Well, whether it was set down in the muck or left exposed to the storm’s force, the cover did exactly what it was designed to do. From that point on, I knew I could have confidence in my bag’s ability to stay rain-resistant!
The beach on Amrum
At the start of the crossing, when I am still walking through dry sand, and the sky only looks threatening
I still had two back-to-back trips ahead of me before I would be able to hole up in my office for a couple of weeks, far from airport life, to do post-processing of all these pictures. So what else could I have contended with? Well, not really too much. If I trust it to stay out under the pouring rain, I would call this a truly good bag. It handles the most important job of all, to protect my equipment.
Next, I took off for New Brunswick, in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and then it was off to the Yukon Territory out west. In both instances, I packed the bag full, bringing my basic equipment (5dII, 16-35, 50, 70-200, extender, LEE filters, accessories), but also a GoPro (and everything that goes with it), sound equipment, a compact, and a hybrid that I wanted to try out. You can imagine that at the airport, with the computer in its compartment on top of everything, they weren’t too pleased with how much my bag weighed… But, it made it through! But more than any disapproving looks from a flight attendant, what I was most leery of was how my back would cope: can I actually carry a bag like this, and if so for how long?
Of course, I am certainly used to carrying heavy bags. In terms of weight, it ended up being pretty close to a hiking backpack, carrying a tent and food for a wilderness trek. Beyond the weight, it is more than anything the quality of the bag that counts, and how you distribute weight when you pack, of course. Not all straps and cords are equal, and bearing the exact same weight, some bags will feel like there’s a dead donkey stuffed inside, and with some others you’ll be able to carry the bag all day long. What a relief! The Manfrotto Bumblebee-220 PL falls into that second category. It features one of those rare designs where the straps adjust perfectly to save your pectoral muscles, and it tightens perfectly at the waist, so you don’t feel the weight bearing down on your shoulders!
A young black bear in New Brunswick
Classic landscapes of the Yukon Territory
Well, I’m heading out quickly with my bag to a new destination.