In November I got contacted by Jan Goddefroy, owner of MrJan Gear, with the question if I would be interested in testing some of the gear they produce. I already had been looking at their photo backpacks for some time and was more than interested to test them and give my feedback. Jan asked me to really put the equipment to the test in the field and to not just have it lying next to me in the car. Of course I'm more than happy to do this. In December I received the photo backpack "Boris" from MrJan Gear and now I have been able to take it with me into the field for the first few times. These are my findings so far.
The bag looks huge! Which is a great thing for me because I always bring a lot of gear with me. I was afraid that the bag would be too large to take it as hand luggage on the airplane, but all measurements fit well within the regulations. Because the bag is completely square, you can maximize the amount of gear you can take on the airplane (when ignoring the maximum allowed weight of course).
The material looks and feels sturdy and solid. Large zippers and large strapping clips able you to get easily into the bag and easily close it off again. Several straps are found around the bag, enabling you to attach things. The carrying straps are easy to adjust to the right length and fit comfortably around my shoulders and back. With my previous bags, the straps often got caught everywhere and were always flapping around while walking or skiing. But at Mr. Jan Gear they came with a great solution to this. Small elastic bands are fitted around the end of each strap, preventing them of getting caught or flapping around. Great idea!
There are two side-pockets and one large front pocket. One side-pocket contains the rain cover for the bag and the other one empty, ready to be filled with your own stuff. The large front pocket is large enough to fit a laptop. However, Jan explained me that you should not use this pocket for transporting your laptop. When the bag is filled and you carry it, there will be too much stress on the laptop with a big chance of breaking it. For me this in not a problem, since I don't bring my laptop into the mountains and forest. And when traveling by plane, I prefer to have my laptop in a separate bag.
The main compartment is, just like many other photo backpacks, entered from the backside of the bag. Great to have this feature, but nothing special anymore. But the main compartment in this bag is split in two, which is different from several other bags on the market. For each side you use a separate zipper. So it is not possible to open the entire main compartment of the bag. It is possible to remove the "wall" separating the two compartments to create one large compartment. For during bad weather conditions I definitely see the advantage in having the bag split in two, keeping the gear on one side dry when opening the bag on the other side. But if the bag would be able to open up completely, you would be able to get quicker to your gear. I'm not sure yet if I would prefer to be able to open the whole bag, or to have it divided into two.
With the backpack I received bags full with "dividers" in all sizes, which can be fastened with velcro. The entire backpack is velcro-looped on the inside. This enables you to create smaller compartments in the bag, customizing the bag to the gear you own. For me this is great, since for each trip I want to bring different gear. Now I can always customize the bag from trip to trip.
How much fits into the bag?
For the Christmas holidays I went to the Netherlands and wanted to bring as much gear as possible. So what did I manage to fit into the backpack?
In the left compartment of the bag I had:
Canon 500mm f4
Canon 1DX (fitted to the 500mm)
In the right compartment of the bag I had:
Canon 1DMKIV (fitted to the 100-400mm)
Canon 17-40mm f4
Sigma 80mm f1.4
Sigma 15mm f2.8 fisheye
2 Batteries for the 1D model camera's
2 Lens and body caps
In the front compartment I had:
2 Photo calendars
2 SD cards
I'm sure I would have been able to fit some more stuff in there if I would have taken the charger to the front pocket. I don't think that this would have created enough space to add one of my other lenses into the bag.
How comfortable is the bag?
To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about how comfortable this bag would sit on my back, when completely filled. This due to the bulky look of the bag and because previous experience with other photo bags. I have tried some other brands before and they were never really comfortable when they were heavy. The main problem I had with the other bags, was that the straps dragged into my shoulders. Which is very unpleasant when you have to walk many hours per day. Because of this, I have always used a larg backpackers backpack in the previous years. This bag sits perfectly on my shoulders and back, but it is far from ideal for the photo gear. I alway had to wrap clothing around the lenses and bodies to keep them from getting damaged. And it was a disaster to get to the gear.
To test how comfortable the MrJan Gear "Boris" backpack is, I walked for 6 hours through the mountains with in the bag:
Canon 500mm f4 (old model)
Canon 100-400mm (old model)
Canon 17-40mm f4
Sigma 85mm f1.4
1 Liter of water
Base layer clothing
For a part of the trip I also had a pair of large snow shoes and a winter parka jacket attached to the backpack. The straps on the side and top of the bag enabled me to easily attach and detach the snowshoes and jacket. So I think we can agree that the backpack had some weight to it.
It completely surprised me how comfortable it was to carry this bag up and down the mountains! I didn't get sore shoulders, also not on the end of the day. The straps, which go around the waist, sit very comfortable and take away a lot of the weight. They don't slight down the whole time and didn't create sore spots on my waist. Only the strap which goes around the chest was positioned too high, cutting almost into my throat. Luckily it was very easy to adjust the height of this strap.
Comfort is not all about weight, but also about how easily you can move around with the backpack on. To test this, I took the bag for a skiing trip. When skiing you move your upper body a lot, swinging your arms back and forth. The bag should sit firm attached to your back, not moving from one to the other side. I didn't want to bring too much gear with me because on a normal skiing trip I would not bring that much gear anyway. I had with me:
Canon 17-40mm f4
Sigma 85mm f1.4
Once again the bag surprised me. The bulky figure would not give you the impression that it would be easy to move around with this thing strapped to your back. But it didn't unable me to make any movements I needed to make and it sat very comfortable the whole way.
So far I'm really happy with the backpack "Boris" of the brand MrJan Gear. It performed much better than I initially had thought. Find below the "pros and cons" of the bag.
Sturdy and solid materials used to make the bag.
Handy straps to attach extra gear which don't get caught everywhere.
The interior is completely customizable to your own equipment and from trip to trip.
It is a large bag, fitting a lot of equipment.
It sits surprisingly comfortable, as well when fully packed as during skiing trips.
Comes with a rain cover.
The bag opens up in two compartment, protecting the gear better in bad weather conditions.
The bag opens up in two compartments, hindering you to get quickly to all the gear in the bag.
These are my first findings. My touring season starts next week and I will take this backpack on 9 tours in 12 weeks time. After these tours I will write a second review with my new findings.