Categories: Accessories, Opinions, Reviews - Tags: Recommended
Gura Gear Kiboko rain cover
Well on Friday I did a short review of the Gura Gear Kiboko and I promised you a full review as the next post. So, true to my word, here it is! You should read the two posts consecutively to get the full picture, as this review will look at the points I didn’t cover in the last one.
I’ve already told you about the weight (only 1.8Kg for the bag when empty – trust me, that’s very light!), the harness (comfortable even for someone my size despite not being adjustable in the back length), the build quality (first rate) and the padding (thin, light but seemingly tough and absorbent!). So now we come to look at some of the other aspects of the bag, the pros and cons, and how much it will hold.
Gura Gear Kiboko top handle
The bag opens in a different way to most rucksacks. While the usual opening method is for the whole front flap to open out (or in the case of a Crumpler rucksack, the back), the Kiboko takes a different approach. It uses what they call a ‘Butterfly’ opening system. This means that the front flap is actually two flaps and the bag is divided down the middle by one long, non-removable divider. This effectively segregates the bag in two sections. There is one potential issue with this, but in reality, I don’t think it’s a problem – it’s one of weight distribution. Separating kit into two separate sections is great, but let’s say you put a long lens (like a 500mm f/4 with body attached) down one side of the bag, and your other kit down the other side. Now, if you take out the 500mm lens, you’ve got a very lopsided camera bag. The reason I think it’s not a problem? The harness is very good and spreads the load, and also, it’s not often you’d be walking long distances with half the bag empty – or if you were, the lens could go over the shoulder of the side that’s empty to rebalance you. However, there are two big advantages to having the bag setup like this. The first one, and possibly the least important, is the ability to separate your equipment. Currently I have all my cameras and lenses on one side of the bag, and all the lighting and audio kit on the other side. This makes it easy to find stuff and keeps it nicely organised. The second advantage, and the most important that I can see, is the footprint size of the bag. As a wildlife photographer, especially when working abroad on safari, it’s likely you will be working from a car at some point. With a ‘normal’ rucksack, that opens the whole front flap, this can be a pain – to open the bag, you have to double to footprint of the bag – either the flap has to lay over another seat, or it stands up in the air (awkwardly as you prop it with a third arm!) or it lays across your lap in an uncomfortable position while you remove stuff. With the Kiboko, opening the flaps means no increase in footprint size – the size of the bag is the size of the bag. This could prove very useful. It also means that when you have the bag lying flat on its back, you can open a flap, lift out what you want and it will then sit back down again helping to keep dust and dirt out of the bag – all without taking up extra space.
As well as the main compartment, each butterfly ‘wing’ has another pocket. These expand a little and allow you to fit most of the small bits and pieces you’re likely to be carrying with you – remote cables, filters, plasters, penknife, torch etc.
If there is a downside to this butterfly arrangement, and nothing is perfect so there is always an issue somewhere, it’s that I can’t find a way of carrying a reflector. While I don’t always use a large reflector, I do like to have one with me for when I use flash. It’s a 5-in-1 reflector so it gets used to bounce or diffuse flash or ambient light as needed. With no large central compartment I can’t see how to carry one, but I’m sure over time I’ll figure something out, even if it’s just strapping it to the outside of the bag!
Gura Gear Kiboko side handle
The bag is full of clever little touches. Take the handle on the side of the bag – it’s not placed along the edge, but at a diagonal angle. While this looks odd, fill the bag with kit and pick it up and it immediately becomes clear why it’s such a good idea – the bag hangs naturally without banging into your legs or putting extra strain on your arms by twisting. Simple and yet oh so effective. There is also another feature, one that is so small and yet when I noticed it (it’s not something I’ve sen mentioned in the marketing blurb and yet it should be shouted from the roof tops) I practically yelped with joy at
Gura Gear Kiboko strap ties
the simplicity and brilliance of the idea: You know all the straps on camera bags? Specifically the ones that come down from the shoulder straps? Well, you know how they can be really long and get caught on everything? There is a solution and the Kiboko has it! Velcro. Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well, this velcro is different. Instead of just a free bit of velcro to wrap the strap with, it’s captive. In other words it’s sewn onto the end of the strap. A bit of male and female either side. All you do is wrap the strap up to take up all the excess and then velcro it in place. Genius.
What else is there? Oh yeah, the zips. Firstly they seem nice and tough. Secondly, the zip pulls have great little bits of cord on them with molded rubber grips. Sound like a good idea? Oh yes.
GuraGear Kiboko molded zip pulls
You don’t have to go to the poles to be photographing in cold weather with gloves. Small zips can be a right PITA trying to open when you’ve got gloves on, but these will be oh so simple. If I could make one suggestion to improve them though? I’d like the zips for each section of the bag to be a different colour. There are quite a few that sit together at the top and since they all look the same, a quick glance doesn’t tell you if they’re all closed. If each zip had a different colour it would avoid the potential (and to be honest boneheaded, but we’ve all done it) scenario of picking up the bag – and either just realising in time or not quite realising in time – without it being properly closed. Another plus of these large pullers and the ability to put the ones for the main compartment in one place, is that you could easily run a padlock through the lot of them if you wanted. It’s not going to be really secure as someone could just cut the cord, but it might deter an opportunistic thief in a hurry.
There’s also a water bottle pouch on the outside. So many times I’ve not taken a drink with me because I don’t want it leaking in the bag. Having a pouch on the outside that will hold a bottle will avoid me going dehydrated again and is another of these thoughtful additions. The other side of the bag has a similar pocket and a strap for attaching a tripod to the outside. Now personally I don’t carry a tripod on the side of the bag, preferring to keep it in my hand ready to use if needed, but for a trek when you’re not shooting it’s useful, or it could also be used for some other item of a similar shape – lighting umbrella, flash stand etc depending on what you’re doing.
I’ve already mentioned the harness in the previous post, but I didn’t talk about how well it fits away. When you’re putting a bag in the overhead locker on a plane, having straps all over the place can be a real issue – they get trapped, stuck, caught, hooked, yanked and generally cause a nuisance of themselves. Being able to fold the harness away is not a new thing on rucksacks, but this bag does do it particularly well. On the back is an extra layer of the outer material that forms a pocket for the harness to fit into. All the pictures above show the bag with it folded away. You can see how neat and tidy it is, and remarkably, it’s not a huge hassle to do – there is enough material to make it a 30second job without having to fight and struggle. Once it’s all behind the material, simply zip it closed (with another zip that has the nice puller on it!) and you’re good to go.
The rain cover is another nice touch. While the material itself feels pretty waterproof and protecting, it’s the zips (as good and sealed as they are) that will let water in on any bag in a heavy downpour. As such, the bag comes with a waterproof cover that folds up into a tiny little pouch on the side made specifically for the job. The best part of the cover is that it’s not needlessly over-engineered. Most bags come with a cover these days, but this is lightweight nylon with an elastic edge. Nothing more, nothing less. It feels sturdy, is nice and waterproof and weighs next to nothing so it’s in keeping with the ethos of the bag and means you’re not likely to take it out to save weight! You can see where it’s stored in the image at the top of the post.
OK, now we’re down to the real crux of the matter. How big is it and what does it hold? Externally, it’s 21.6 x 35.5 x 53.34cm. That’s airline carry-on for the majority of airlines I found. And those it’s not, it’s only a 1cm or 2cm too big – not a major issue since you can squash the bag a little! Internally, it’s bl**dy enormous. It just keeps going.Here’s two shots of it side by side with other bags in my cupboard. On the left it’s with a ThinkTank Airport Acceleration (the older v1) – itself a fine bag that will stay in my armoury as it suits urban travel and fulfils the need of carrying a laptop when presenting or giving seminars around Europe – and on the right with a Kata HB-207 – another excellent bag that will also take a laptop, carries a reflector easily and has a great harness, but is too big to get on a plane and heavier than the Kiboko.
Here’s a list of kit I put in it…. read through and then I’ll tell you how much space is left over:
EOS 5D Mark II
EOS 5D Mark II
EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM with tripod collar
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
EF14mm f/2.8L USM II
EF35mm f1.4L USM
EF135mm f/2L USM
EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM with tripod collar
EF12 + EF 25 extension tubes
3x flash shoes
2x Honl Grids
3x Honl light modifiers
Selection of Honl lighting gels
8x spare AA batteries
2x spare LP-E6
Lee filter holder with 105mm adapter
Lee ND Grad set
Heliopan 105mm circ polarizer
LED Lenser LED Torch
Plasters and antisceptic wipes
Lens/Camera sensor cleaning kit
CD marker pen
Radio Mic transmitter/receiver
Impressed? The best part is, half of one main compartment is still empty. Yep, half. In other words a quarter of the total bag is still not used. Now that’s just insane. Better than that though, the huge weight saving the bag offers (due to the advanced Polyant VX21 material) means the bag even feels light. No, honestly, it really does!
Just a little more about the harness – Although it isn’t fully adjustable in back length, it fits me fine. It also features a very good load control system and just the right amount of padding on the straps – not too much to be soft and loose, and not too little to be harsh and cutting. There is also a good lumbar support pad and a movable sternum strap to get it where you need it to be. If you don’t use the sternum strap on your rucksack, you’re missing a big trick. It really does help and should be used if you have one. The only possible issue with the sternum strap is one of length – I’m a 42inch chest and it’s more than enough even if I put a thick jacket on, but a wider bodied friend of mine tried it on and had the strap at full extension with only a shirt underneath. Ok, so he may be a 50+inch guy, but we know there is the great trick of velcro to keep long straps short, so maybe the designer could have given us a bit more here. The hip belt is also comfortable and really does move the weight down to the hips and off the shoulders.
For now, I’m not sure what else there is to tell you about this bag. It’s still so new that I’m sure there will be other things I come across, but they will be found out through more extensive use. As you can see, it’s not perfect, there are little things I’d change, but on the whole, I think for wildlife and travel photography, this is about as close to the perfect bag as I’ve yet found. OK, so it won’t carry a laptop, but when I’m out and about, that’s not a problem. The only time I’d be carrying a laptop is through an airport lounge so it can go in a separate bag.
For those that have not seen enough pictures, here’s some more showing one of the outer pockets and the two main sections with kit in and the small pocket/pouches in the wings of each of the main compartments, as well as a shot with the harness out:
The question most of you will ask is “how did I get the bag?” Well, the designer, a Mr Andy Biggs, will ship you a bag to anywhere in the world using a selection of shipping methods actually at very good prices.If you think you might be interested in buying one of these bags, then go take a look at the website. If you do get one, I can pretty much guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Has anyone else tried one? If so, what did you think?
If you want to see one in the flesh before maybe buying, come along to one of our outdoor days and you’re more than likely to see this bag being used by me as it will be my bag of choice for most situations from now on.