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Photographers Need More Practical Camera Bags for Women

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The design of many women’s products makes functionality feel like an afterthought. The front pocket of the jeans that I’m wearing won’t even fit half of my hand. (Forget about actually putting anything useful in them, like a phone or keys.) Men’s razors often have more blades for less money. Similarly, the vast majority of camera bags for women puts atheistic over function. I’m bombarded by Facebook ads for purse-like camera bags that place the weight of heavy gear on dainty straps. That’s fine for compact, lightweight gear, but what about a girl with a full-frame camera and an f2.8 zoom? There’s nothing dainty about carrying heavy lenses on a small slice of one shoulder. Women need a practical camera bag that carries lots of gear too.

Female photographers need more options for camera bags that are ergonomic and functional. When I say more camera bags for women, I’m not talking about fashion. I’m a down-to-earth country girl that would rather buy a new lens than a $500, designer-label purse. I spent $18.99 on my last purse. I buy men’s razors. (But I draw the line at men’s jeans.)

I’m a petite woman carrying a camera bag that weighs more than ten percent of my body weight. (And that doesn’t include my lighting gear.) I gave up trying to carry that much weight on a single shoulder long ago. I’d take a backpack with a gaudy waist belt over purse-like straps that aren’t made to carry more than five pounds any day.

Even for women willing to forego style, camera backpacks seldom fit properly. I wear most with the straps in the smallest position or close to it. The shoulder straps often don’t hug quite right. Every single backpack I’ve tried chafes my skin if I wear a tank top. Some of them even do that while wearing a women’s cut t-shirt. The ultimate deal-breaker? A sternum strap that runs right through the middle of the breasts. Even adjustable sternum straps don’t always have enough room to accommodate them.

Camera bags list what will fit inside. But what photographers really need is a size guide that also defines who the bag was designed to fit. Backpacks are not one-size-fits-all.

I’ve given up on wearing my gear in a backpack for more than an hour or two. If I’m carrying gear all day, I skip the not-quite-right backpack and use a waist belt with lens pouches. It’s a change that I had to make while shooting a wedding seven months pregnant that I’ve stuck with for comfort and fast access.

It would be sexist of me, of course, to assume that every woman is short and petite with narrow shoulders. I know many beautiful women who are tall, broad-shouldered, and curvy. Many men are thin, with narrow shoulders. And that’s not even including the photographers starting out as teens. Finding a practical camera bag is a seemingly impossible task that often plagues both sexes. The entire Phoblographer staff was just talking about how difficult it is to find a bag that’s comfortable and well organized but still looks great.

I just tested a camera backpack that was designed by a hiking company — and that’s, in part, where a potential solution could be found. If you buy a hiking bag from a company like REI, the specification will list the range of torso lengths and waist-hip measurements that the bag is best suited for. This is exactly what camera backpack companies need to start doing.

A bag that’s designed to fit your specific torso length is going to do a better job transferring weight to the hips rather than the shoulders because the waist belt is going to sit at the correct spot. A bag that’s designed for a narrower torso is similarly going to have that ergonomic padding placed on the correct pressure points. Adjustable harness height helps, yes, but the fit and comfort of a bag comes from more than the height. Width matters too.

Camera bags list what will fit inside. But what photographers really need is a size guide that also defines who the bag was designed to fit. Backpacks are not one-size-fits-all. The bag that is comfortable on a tall, broad-shouldered man isn’t going to fit the same on a petite woman. Bag companies already often make bags with varying capacities — why not do the same for the fit?

I would eagerly try a bag that comes not just in sizes to accommodate different lenses, but to fit comfortably on different body types. I’ll be over here in my jeans with non-functional pockets waiting on bated breath.