I was searching for a backpack that I could carry my photo gear in, on a three-day excursion. In researching many backpacks, I wanted to find a pack which allowed me to carry the camping gear I needed, the camera gear I needed, and allowed for easy access to my camera gear. No packs that I had found seem to fit my needs until I found the Aarn bodypack (http://www.aarnusa.com.) This pack, out of New Zealand was the first pack I found, which suited all my needs. The backpack itself, the Peak Aspiration, is a 45L pack which can hold my ultralight gear for camping including sleeping bag, Thermorest pad, tent, cook gear, other basics and food for three days. Along with it, I purchased their photo balance pockets, which does two things, first it keeps all your photography gear up front with you so that it's easily accessible. Second, by adding the weight to the front it disperses the weight from the backpack to give you a balanced bodypack.
Aarn refers to their packs as bodypacks rather than backpacks because it disperses the weight front and back. This takes the weight off your back and disperses evenly so that stresses are not placed on your back but rather due to its design carries much of the weight on your hips. The design allows you full mobility and movement as well as balance. With a great selection of balance pockets which are the front packs that allow for distributed weight, you can find different ones to meet your needs. My experience is with the photo balance pockets. (video review/demo at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0pgp1hTNrU)
The photo balance pockets are great way to access your photo equipment with easy mobility while on a long-distance hike. It will allow you to carry a DSLR camera with lens, +4 additional lenses for which they include dry bags to protect her lenses from any water damage. Pockets are easily accessible both on top and on the sides. With added little netted pockets for additional accessories such as batteries and memory cards. The photo balance pockets can also be removed from the main pack, and connected together with included straps to form a day pack separate from your main pack.
The Peak Aspiration backpack, like the photo balance pockets is made of quality construction and durable pack with variety of pockets and a dry sack to keep your gear free of water. The pack offers tie downs to clamp down equipment, and with added accessories it allows for carrying things like skis, trekking poles, and other gear on the outside of your pack. The pack design allows for compression of the pack after it is closed to reduce the size. The pack's weight is just under 3 1/2 pounds, and as I loaded my pack down with camera gear and camping gear the whole weight of the pack was about 35 pounds. Considering the amount of camera gear I placed in the photo balance pockets, I was really happy with the feel of this pack. Though I wouldn't carry all this equipment, just as a test, I loaded it with my heaviest gear. I included a 7D camera, 24-70mm lens, 70-200mm lens 10-22mm, lens, and a 100mm micro lens. Furthermore, extra batteries, memory cards, a nodal ninja for Panoramic's were added. On the back of the sack included a tripod with ballhead, which was attached with a Zeh Pod Sling Kit (www.zehpodsling.com.)
Almost all the gear I could grab without any difficulty except for my tripod, which is attached to the backpack just out of reach. If I was doing a full set up for a panoramic, I would take the pack off anyway. I carry a trekking pole with a camera mount so that if I need some sort of support I can easily grab my camera out of the photo balance pocket, put on what lens I want, mounted to my trek pole and get off some shots.
The most difficult thing on this pack is the initial set up. Because I had no help, it took me about an hour and a half, but it was worth it. The backpack forms to the shape of your back with an adjustable aluminum frame that runs down the center of the pack. After bending the frame which took a little time as I had no help, I could contour the shape of my back, so that the backpack fit snugly with the curves of my back. This makes for a very comfortable pack. Then you have to get the waist belt adjusted both in angle, and length to fit your body shape. Once this is done a majority of the weight sits on your waist. This alleviates stress on your back and allows for balanced movement with the pack located on your back. The balance packs also conform to your body with their own built in frames. However, after all the adjustments this is by far the most comfortable pack, I have ever worn, especially fully loaded. Aarn has videos on the website on how to do all the custom fitting and custom measurements, to make sure the pack fits you the best possible.
This as both a backpacker and a photographer, Aarn brings together the best of both worlds. I highly recommend this pack to those who plan on backpacking with photography gear, or even without, as balance pockets can be purchased for equipment other than photography. The people at Aarn USA were very helpful as I asked many questions. They even advised me of a shipping sale which was coming, so I could save more money on a pack that was already on sale. They're very helpful and friendly and eager to answer all your questions. Beyond this being a phenomenal pack the customer service at Aarn has been some of the best service I have received from an online service.
Video of Photo Balance pockets:
Video of Photo Balance pockets:
Video reviews by others who helped me decide to buy a Aarn bodypack: