Gura Gear Bataflae 32L Backpack
A Review

      My first camera backpack was a Lowepro Vertex 300, which turned out to be too heavy and not quite large enough. I did not want to make that mistake twice. So, after much pulling of hair, gnashing of teeth, and furrowing of brow (i.e. researching the web, reviews and forums) - not to mention pondering of finances, I finally pulled the trigger on another large camera backpack. I looked at the F/stops, Think Tanks, Lowepros, Tamracs, Tenbas, Katas and anything else anyone suggested on photography forums, but in the end the Gura Gear Bataflae won out. It was not an easy decision, considering the hefty pricetag it carried. (No one does as much do-it-yourself as I do if they have piles of excess cash lying around.)

Immediate First Impressions (good and bad):
     • The box it arrived in looked much smaller than I had envisioned. That really worried me. Could a backpack that fits in that box possibly hold all my gear?
     • The zippers on the main compartment seemed overly hard to zip. This was noted in some reviews so it wasn't a complete surprise, though initially disappointing.
     • Workmanship and materials looked of good quality.
     • The weight (including all dividers, rain cover and storage bag) checked out at 5 lbs., as advertised (4.2 - 5.3 lbs.).
     • The simple, clean design really does look more like luggage than a camera bag. The gray color I chose certainly adds to this illusion.
     • The thin dividers inside save space (and weight), unlike the overly thick dividers in most bags, yet they are perfectly sufficient for padding and keeping gear from rubbing.

     Okay, so much for first impressions. My main concern was "Will my stuff fit?" After all, that's the whole purpose of the bag - to hold my stuff! Despite the fact that the Gura Gear web site shows the Bataflae 32L holding a Canon 500mm f/4 L IS II mounted to a body, it turns out my version I 500mm would NOT fit with a pro body. With the 1DMkIV attached, the 500mm simply would not fit.... well, if you really forced it, it would go, but it completely distorted the shape of the pack. With that sort of stress on the zipper, or equipment, or both, something would have to give. I'm not talking about "with" the 1.4x TC attached AND the body. I already knew that wasn't going to happen, based on the Gura Gear web site image. If only there was one more inch width, one more inch length, one more inch depth to the bag, all would have been cool. That was my first disappointment.
     After several tries (ripping out all the dividers and starting over) I finally managed to get everything in that I needed to carry. However..... there was no way I could have anything assembled and still get it in - no bodies mounted, and two lenses separated from their hoods. That was my second disappointment.
     I had truly hoped I could have all three bodies mounted to something, but there was just no way that would happen. In any event I was disheartened, and I lost all enthusiasm for this carefully considered purchase. I will not be able to use it in the manner I had planned. My quest for the "right" camera backpack is ended, as no such backpack exists that meets my requirements or handles what I want it to. It would be a waste of time to continue looking and hoping. Maybe my expectations were too high. Is there any wonder why I end up making most of my own equipment accessories? With the honeymoon over, I settled into considering the other features that led me to this particular backpack, which took the sharp edge off my initial disappointment.
     So, exactly what did I manage to cram in there? The photo at right is labeled, but it does not include the items I have in the outer pockets on the lid. Here's the full listing:

Main compartment • Three bodies- 1DmkIV, 7D, & 5DmkII • Canon 24-105mm L IS without hood • Canon 17-40mm L without hood
• Canon 500mm f/4 L IS & 1.4 TC attached • Canon 300mm f/4 L IS (integrated hood)
with tripod mounting ring & plate
• Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS & hood
• a second 1.4x TC • 3 stacked Kenko auto extensions • cable release
outer lid
• three LP-E4 battery packs (mkIV) • lens hood for 17-40mm • lens cloths, memory cards, lens brush
• four LP-E6 battery packs (7D, 5D) • lens hood for 24-105mm • GPS and download cable
• Circular polarizer • spare lens/body caps • small flashlight

The 32L stuffed to the gills
     In order the get these lenses and bodies to fit, I had to deform and bend some of the dividers in ways that would not be possible with most backpack dividers I've seen and used before. Other dividers are just too thick and stiff. The Gura Gear dividers are slimmer, more flexible, and waste much less space, making it possible to fit more gear. Had these dividers been like others I've seen, this amount of gear would NOT fit this bag. It totals 36 lbs. (pack - 5 lb., gear - 31 lb.), and that does not include a tripod strapped on. I admit that seems an excessive load, but the 500mm lens alone is 1/4 of that weight. Without it, the load would be quite manageable. The pack has no compression straps to use as strain relief for the zippers. Of course, those would add to the exterior clutter, which I prefer to keep to a minimum.

1 - Unzip cover

2 - Pull out corner of waist belt

3 - Pull out shoulder harness - cover
now tucks underneath

4 - Pull out belt and harness from other side
5 - Pull buckle clips from corner
openings on all four corners

6 - Clip load lifter buckles
and shoulder harness

7 - Clip shoulder harness
adjustment buckles at top

     There are reviews on the web, including video reviews, which explain a lot about this backpack, so I won't repeat most of that. One thing those reviews don't explain well is how the harness system works. It can be stowed away inside a cover, so I thought you might like to see how this works via the step by step images above and right.
     The unzipped cover simply opens around the harness, which is attached up the center, coinciding with the heavy center divider inside the main compartment. This provides the shape and support for the whole pack. The two sides of the cover tuck away neatly behind the harness so it seems to disappear. All the buckle clips are stowed behind the harness cover as well, slipping into corner cutouts so they're out of the way when not used. The shoulder harness buckle has a safety catch, which has to be pushed along with the usual buckle side releases to unsnap that particular buckle. It is a neat and ingenious system. The hip pads are very wide but thin so they stow away with minimal bulk. This all adds greatly to the illusion that this is really a piece of luggage, and doesn't scream "Hey, expensive camera gear inside." I also noted that the waist/hip belt is removeable (heavy duty velcro).
     With the harness now set up I put it on to see how the waist belt feels. It felt pretty good with the static weight. It actually felt manageable, all 36 lbs. of it. That is hardly any real test of comfort on the trail though, which will have to come later. I looked in the mirror at this thing on my back, and it looks HUGE. Viewing it that way, it appears it could swallow all my gear and ask for more.

     My first three concerns have been addressed:
     • 1 - Will it hold my 500mm lens with body attached? Yes, but not with the pro (gripped) body I wanted to attach. My 7D will go in attached to the 500mm, but I'd just have to change it out for the MkIV anyway.
     • 2 - Does all my gear fit? Yes, but not with bodies attached to lenses. All three bodies with "a" lens will fit, but that leaves little room for anything else in that configuration. With everything disassembled, including some lens hoods, all the gear fits. I suppose that is an accomplishment, but it's still disappointing.
     • 3 - What about the stiff zippers? Once the pack had some gear in it, and thus some weight, the zippers were easier to pull. They're still a little stiff, but perhaps that will work out with use. One of the outer pocket zippers wants to bind at a particular point in a curved corner every time I use it, but I'm hoping that too will ease up with use.

The 32L strapped on
Side view of the 32L
     So, will I keep it? Yes. At this point I don't see there is anything better out there at any price. The Bataflae has more of the features I want than anything else I could find. Nothing else offers the "butterfly" openings except the smaller Gura Gear models. I am confident it will serve me as well as, or better than anything else I might find.

Those great features are:
     • a clean, uncluttered design,
     • with stowaway harness that eliminates that annoying clutter when used as a "bag",
     • looks far more like luggage than most packs,
     • is lightweight (only 5 lbs.),
     • has dividers that are slim and flexible allowing more gear to fit,
     • holds a great deal of gear, certainly as much as, or more than I can handle (or wish to),
     • and has the "butterfly" style openings that I believe will prove very useful,
     • while allowing a full open lid for those times when you want to get to everything at once.

Duffle bag storage pouch
zipped fully open
Accessorizing My Backpack -

My buckle-on "pocket" -
left view and right view
Short webbing straps with buckle sewn to pouch

A utility pocket:
     Okay, so I couldn't ignore the urge to "improve" on my new backpack. One of the things I would have liked is an "expandable" outer pocket that could hold lightweight items such as a rain jacket, boonie hat, gloves, spare socks and other such items that the accessory pockets on the backpack were not designed for.
     I had a slim storage pouch such as comes included with many brands of large canvas duffle bags, in which you can fold up the duffle and carry it or store it. I didn't need it for the duffle, so I put it to use as a clip-on "pocket" of sorts. These pouches have a zipper that wraps around three sides, giving a wide opening, but if it's not lying on it's back then the contents would just fall out. It wouldn't be useful at all attached to a backpack like that. To solve the problem, I opted to attach it "sideways", with the right side turned facing up. This way I can just unzip along one edge providing a top-only opening .... problem solved. The actual attachment is provide by two short straps of 3/4-inch nylon webbing with plastic snap buckles. I obtained both the webbing and buckles from my local REI, or you can order it online as well. Total cost - about $3.50.
A waterproof camo cover project
     The right photos show the short buckling strap I sewed to the top and bottom of the pouch. That sounds odd, but remember, it's turned sideways so one side is up, and the top and bottom are now the sides. These straps simply buckle to the webbing on the backpack designed for accessory attachment. Almost all backpacks have these sort of attachment points or loops of one style or another. With it attached near the top of the backpack, all I need to do is flip the pouch up over the carry handle, and it's out of the way for access to my gear. It's easily removed and usable by itself.

     I also made a waterproof camo cover for this backpack shown at left, described in this article.