As a photographer, one of the most alluring siren songs of all isn’t new camera bodies or lenses — it’s bags.
Yet, as I developed my own collection of gear to carry around over the years, I somehow managed to mostly resist the temptation. For years I used nothing more than a humble leather messenger I purchased off of Etsy — a bag that was nothing special but nonetheless managed to last a (fairly) respectable amount of time. To turn it into something able to carry my camera gear, I used an insert that had just enough space to hold my camera and a single additional lens. But if I wanted to carry any more than that, I was typically in trouble.
Before too long, the lack of quality began to show and (quite literally) the bag began to fall apart. This is an unfortunate example of the old adage “buy once, cry once” being true — a bag that you pick up and put through the paces on the daily requires a level of craftsmanship that comes at a price. If you don’t pay it now, you’re simply delaying the inevitable.
This is where Peak Design’s flagship bag, the Everyday Messenger, comes in. This is a bag constructed to not just hold your camera, but everything you need. And it’s clear that Peak Design has sweated every single detail you could possibly imagine. The bag is something special.
The Exterior & Main Compartment
Immediately evident upon using the bag is just how gorgeous and how durable it is. The messenger is made out of a tough waxed canvas material that manages to not only be highly water-resistant, but perfectly straddle the line between rigid and flexible. This isn’t a bag that will flop around when it’s empty, as each panel is extremely well padded and holds its shape no matter what’s inside. However, it’s not so rigid that it’s irksome to open, and Peak has found the right balance. The base of the bag feels just as durable as the rest of the body and provides a wide and sturdy space to support any weight stored within. When it lands on the ground, the bag is built to keep from tipping onto its face or back while shooting.
The Everyday Messenger comes in two color varieties — a dark grey with red trim, and a light brown with blue trim. Both of these options are lovely in person, and each shade is a perfect complement to the canvas material.
The four metal magnetic rungs on the front of the bag are striking and the bold use of color which complements the trim inside of pockets and sleeves is a great touch. Peak’s name is present on the bag but subtle — spaces such as the name on the exterior flap are embossed and printed without color.
Peak Design’s logo appears on various bits of hardware and zippers, but always without show. My favorite example of this comes when pulling down on the magnetic clasp itself: when pulled down, a logo, typically hidden away from the world, is revealed.
This is a bag that’s been painstakingly designed, and each element results in a a handsome bag that manages to not be overly rugged, modern, or metropolitan. It finds a peaceful middle-ground that perfectly complements a variety of styles and occasions.
That being said, the bag’s aesthetic certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Some have commented that the design is fairly masculine, and its sharp angles and unique body-shape might be a deal breaker for those looking for something more subtle. In a world of trim leather folios, the bold colors and canvas exterior could be too casual for certain professional environments. Peak Design has risked creating something that’s opinionated, and it’s up to you to decide whether or not you share their sensibilities.
To access the main compartment that holds the majority of your gear, you have two options. The first is to open the magnetic clasp (which uses a technology they call MagLatch) which only detaches as you pull up on the handle, meaning there’s no need to fiddle with a more traditional buckle. It’s immediately evident after using this magnetic clasp just how smart the design is — with my previous bag, I would simply keep the bag unbuckled and ‘open’ during a shoot, which made everything inside incredibly subceptible to spilling out. Unfortunately for me, that scenario did indeed happen on one fateful occasion (though my camera remained mercifully intact) — but with Peak’s bag, the magnetic clasp means that the bag is always closed with your gear safe and sound unless you’re ready to reach inside. This magnetic clasp isn’t susceptible to failing when the bag is overly full either, as the four magnetic ‘lock points’ mean that the bag will easily closed no matter how stuffed to the brim it is.
If that magnetic clasp wasn’t enough (and I assure you, for 99% of shooting scenarios it is), your gear can be accessed without opening the bag’s main flap at all. There’s a zipper located on the very top of the bag that runs the length of the main compartment. This opening allows for a thin window of access to grab anything inside (or stuff it back in) without spending precious time setting the bag down to get inside. This opening is a section of the bag where the rigid padded canvas body really comes into play, as even with the zipper completely open the bag remains closed during use, flexible enough to be opened wide only when you want it to be.
Where it all goes (or: Making origami for your gear)
Most bags I’ve seen use simple dividers with Velcro panes to organize your gear and make a space just right to fit the shape of your camera, lenses, and accessories. Peak Design takes the same approach for their bag, but adds an optional layer of complexity in an effort to hold more. The bag comes with three dividers (called ‘Flex-Fold Dividers’) that are built in a particular octagonal shape that allows them to fold at certain points to create a ‘ceiling’ for the gear, and a shelf which allows additional equipment to be stored on this newly created second layer.
If you’ve ever found yourself frustrated by traditional Velcro dividers, you might be pleasantly surprised at the versatility provided by Peak’s flex-fold versions. Their unique shape and relatively small footprint mean that they’re more flexible than might be expected, and will allow for a main compartment laid out just as you like it. One more nice touch: the Velcro on the internal walls of the main compartment only extends halfway up the bag, meaning that the dividers won’t get caught where they aren’t supposed to be while moving them around.
Each person will use this differently, but what would a camera bag review be without a gear breakdown? I typically carry my OM-D E-M5 II with a Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 ready to go, a Panasonic Leica 25mm 1.4, the incredibly tiny Olympus 45mm f/1.8, and (on occasion) a heavy duty Rokinon 85mm 1.4. When I’m shooting video, I add an additional Panasonic Gh2 (or two) and a tripod, and as of late I’ve also been experimenting with ‘connected cameras’ from Olympus and DxO.
Currently I keep all my lenses (and the incredibly small DxO ONE) tucked away on the bottom layer, with the camera itself (and an attached lens) on the second ‘shelf’. There’s more to the main compartment than just that space though. It comes equipped with a small pocket at the top of the back wall that’s great for storing small items (like your cell phone), as well as a zipper pocket that runs the length of the bag’s opening flap.
Each of these is perfect for storing small items (including your cell phone) that might need to be retrieved quickly, and the zippered pocket features a rather ingenious addition. Behind the pocket is a space that acts as a tripod carry, allowing you to push one leg through and close the bag and making the burden of lugging all your gear around even lower.
It should be noted that this bag isn’t just for photographers. Remove those dividers, and the bag becomes just another messenger, ready for a completely different set of items. One could easily take out the gear and add in a bevy of textbooks, making the bag more than versatile enough to earn its ‘everyday’ title.
The Quick-Access Pocket, Back Sleeve, & Side Pockets
Speaking of accessing items quickly, on the front of the bag (but still behind its magnetic clasp) a smaller compartment exists. It’s here that the bag shows its clear priority of photographers, with four pockets lining the front perfect for holding memory cards and batteries, and another four against the wall of the main compartment that are larger and intended for camera chargers, cables, and various accessories.
An incredible detail: These compartments feature color-coded stitching that divide the pockets in half, coded green and red. This small detail is to help the bag’s owner separate their equipment, with charged batteries and empty cards going on one side and dead batteries and full cards on the other. As someone who can never manage to keep my cards separated (and always double or triple checks which is which), this is genius. I’ve never felt so sure of which card is which in my life.
On the back is a sleeve that spans the bag’s width and length intended to hold a laptop up to 15″ (or in my case, an iPad Pro). This sleeve is well cushioned, and though your device will be slightly exposed directly against the bag’s back, the material is so thick and well-padded that it’s still well protected. Directly behind this sleeve is another sleeve (with a Velcro catch) for notebooks or smaller tablets, and two very small pockets to each side which seem perfect to hold a spare pen (but not much else).
While this compartment is certainly as large as it possibly can be, attempting to fill it with too many items causes the back of the messenger to bulge out, making carrying the bag a bit uncomfortable. This is truly the only space that allows you to sully the bag’s shape, and for extended shoots a minimal pack-out of this sleeve seems to be the best way to go when comfort is a priority.
Finally, there are two more pockets that run diagonally down the sides of the Everyday Messenger. I’ve found myself using them to absent-mindedly hold lens caps as I take them off of lenses for a shoot.
One of these pockets actually holds a small item which I had completely missed until I carefully began to look around the bag for this review: a ‘key tether’ that’s attached to the inside of the pocket. This tether features a small clip that is made to be attached to your keys (or any other small item you’d be remiss to lose) and clipped into the bag itself when in use. This practically guarantees that you won’t lose it (and will know exactly where it is if you need it quickly) and attaches and detaches with ease. It’s features like this that make the user understand just how much care has gone into the making of this product.
Adjustability, Handling, & The Peak Ecosystem
In my own particular use case, this bag won’t just be for me — it’ll also be used by members of my media team. With that in mind I’m thankful for a few of the choices made by Peak Design which make sharing it much easier.
First of all, the strap. I can’t think of another bag which makes adjusting the strap’s length any easier; on one side is a clasp with a mechanism which allows it to be quickly ‘unlocked’ with the length of the material fed through it to shorten or lengthen it at will.
If that weren’t enough, the other side features a hook made to be attached to one of two loops allowing for two standard sizes. I find myself simply moving the hook to the ‘longer’ loop, as opposed to constantly fiddling with the more granular clasp. Making the strap fit you just right takes a matter of seconds, and has never once felt like a nuisance to me.
If even more security (or stabilization) is required, hidden behind the bag’s side pockets is an additional strap meant to be worn across the body or buckled to the main strap to provide additional support. This stabilizing component also uses a hook and loop, though adjusting it is slightly less fool-proof. Initially, storing the secondary strap (or pulling it out to begin with) can feel like a slightly frustrating experience, as they fit inside of the pockets with an incredibly tight squeeze. It’s not all bad, though — once the ‘trick’ is learned on how to access them, the routine begins to make more sense and I found myself tucking them away with little effort.
My one complaint about the straps comes from the material used to make it. Made of a slick ‘tubular webbing’, it can feel almost slippery on your shoulder. That means the bag is much more stable when worn cross-body, as opposed to on a single shoulder. The bag might benefit from a little more grip, and I find myself adjusting too often for my tastes.
Once it’s settled on your shoulder, a big factor is how comfortable this bag is when loaded full of gear. The answer is ‘very’. I’ve experienced several shoots now with the bag full to the brim, and when loaded up and carried against my back, I feel like it’s barely there. The construction of this bag makes it feel extremely even when being carried, where past bags have felt lopsided or uncomfortably oblong.
If the bag needs to be quickly moved from space to space, the strap can of course be completely bypassed and the bag carried by a small handle on top. This is a bag meant to be carried however you like.
Though more often than not my camera goes into the main compartment of the bag along with everything else, there’s one more place that I’ve taken to placing the camera: on the Everyday Messenger’s exterior, attached by the genius Capture Clip also made by Peak Design. This clip (which the bag was made with in mind) attaches to the side of the messenger below the strap and allows you to holster your camera with an easily pressed (and clearly marked) red button that releases the camera right into your hand. To me, the functionality provided by this clip makes the entire bag an even more worthwhile experience. It’s a joy to have the camera holstered onto the side of your bag and in your hand in seconds, and the design of the bag is clearly made to keep the camera protected (but accessible) when used in tandem with the clip.
Peak Design’s commitment to the photography community means that purchasing their Everyday Messenger feels like you’re buying more than a bag — you’re buying into a company that’s committed to working for you. Products like the accompanying Field Pouch, clip, and camera straps feel holistic, and designed by people who take photography as seriously as you do. That’s a great feeling, as you put some of your most prized possessions in their more-than-capable hands.
Truly, Peak Design wasn’t lying when they gave this bag the ‘Everyday’ moniker. Peak Design has succeeded in creating a messenger that rises above, ready to be taken on your most strenuous shoot yet or just another day at the office. No matter where my travels take me, I’m confident that the Everyday Messenger will be there beside me every step of the way.