I completed a two week voyage to the Sub-Antarctic Islands to the south of New Zealand a few years back. I needed to take a lot of gear with me and still be able to carry it on the plane as carry-on luggage.
I did plenty of online research and ended up going with the Think Tank Airport Commuter. Their blurb “High capacity, carry-on camera backpack meets domestic and international size requirements. Fits up to 400 f/2.8 attached to a body or a 500 f/4 unattached.”
I got it online for around $230 in Australia which makes it a very expensive bag but I wanted one for long term use. The bag itself is of very good quality and IMO is worth the premium. There is one main compartment that can be configured to suit your gear.
The beauty of this bag is its depth and ability to take lots of gear. I removed a few dividers to suit my needs. I believe the bag empty is around 1.5kg or thereabouts. This was one of the main benefits over a rolling bag which often weighs 3-4kg on its own. It also had two main compartments on top with one easily taking my 14″ laptop and the other for storage of documents and memory cards etc.
I had the following gear to take. Canon 1DX and 5Dmk3 bodies, Canon 300 2.8 ISII, 400 5.6L, 70-200 2.8L, 24-70 2.8 II lenses and a 2x Converter. My 14″ laptop, various batteries and charges, bins, tripod and head, 1TB Hard Drive, card reader and camera raincoats.
All the gear minus the bins and tripod were able to fit into the bag.
I was able to disassemble the tripod and placed it in my main check-in luggage. Whilst all the gear could fit in the bag it now weighed close to 15kg. The carry-on weight limit for my Jetstar International flight to NZ was 10kg and the internal domestic flights on AirNZ were only 7kg. I had to hope I didn’t get my bag weighed. 🙂
Side profile of the bag fully loaded including laptop. The beauty of the bag is it doesn’t look heavy or too big and hides its contents very well.
I decided to lessen my risk and ended up placing the laptop in a laptop bag which is an allowable extra as carry on. I also placed all the charges into my main luggage. I had a few extra kilos in my main luggage and ended up bubble wrapping my 400 5.6 and placed that in the main luggage also. My main bag ended up weighing 22.9 which was just under the allowed 23kg. My Think Tank bag now weighed around 11kg. I was prepared to wear the 1dx and 24-70 if pulled up by Jetstar. I would have also paid for the extra weight if I really got caught out.
As it turned out I took 4 flights in total and not once did I get asked to weigh my Think Tank bag. I flew Jetstar from Sydney to Christchurch and simply wore the bag and acted like it didn’t weigh anything and was overly friendly with the attendant. I did notice Jetstar were weighing all rolling carry on bags. The bag easily fit in the plane overhead compartment.
In NZ it was pretty easy as you now do your own check in and luggage drop off. They basically work on an honesty system when checking in bags. I simply left my carry on out of sight of the attendant when I checked in my main luggage and had my laptop case with me so it looked like that is all I had. I then picked up my carry on and walked through to check out. Once boarding I wore the bag and was never questioned when walking onto the plane. The bag fit in the overhead of both small planes including the small Q300 regional jet. My flight out of Christchurch went the same with Jetstar. I think I got lucky with the attendant and just being talkative and nice. The attendant next to mine was asking passengers what carry-on they had but mine didn’t ask me.
Overall I think there is an element of luck involved and you have to be prepared in the case the bag is weighed. The bag was comfortable to wear and I had no dramas with my back. I am happy with the bag and would recommend it to anyone wanting a bag for air travel.
I have now had this bag for almost 5 years and it is still going as strong as ever. I have been on many trips and flown with the bag likely 10 times. I have only been asked to weigh the bag once and that was with Jetstar from Sydney to Hobart. It was a bit of a shock and I was surprised to find out that you cannot pay for the extra weight. I was made to put my camera gear in my check in luggage until the carry on weighed 7kg. I could then pay for the extra weight in my suitcase. I left my 500mm, 16-35 and a camera in the bag. Thankfully my other gear survived. My friend saw what was happening and placed a few small lenses and a camera body under his large jacket and managed to get through.
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