In times gone by choosing a backpack to hold all your photography gear was a fairly simple process. You had a few brands to choose from and a rather limited but functional set of features. As with everything, the emergence of new technology has changed everything.
Now, when searching for that new photography backpack, you will find dozens upon dozens of different brands, each with their own variety of ranges and many boasting similar features but at wildly differing price tags. Where do you even start?
It's always good to shop around of course, but I've found that spending a little bit extra is often well worth it. Remember - you're protecting your expensive equipment from the elements, and a top quality backpack is likely to last years rather than months.
So, how does the Tenba Solstice range stack up against the more well-known competitors on the market?
Tenba are by no means newcomers to the photography market - The brand has actually been around for over 40 years now, but back in 2011 they underwent a full rebranding following a takeover deal.
That takeover saw the MAC Group acquire the brand after years of partnership, and it delivered Tenba into very capable hands indeed.
MAC Group may not be instantly recognisable to many photographers, but the brands they're involved with most certainly are. The likes of Sekonic, x-rite, Benro, and Ilford are all part of the group, so you're pretty much assured of quality straight off the mark here.
Tenba Solstice Backpack Features and Specs
So, what does the Tenba Solstice range offer us as photographers? The answer to that question is simple - Pretty much everything you could need for a day out shooting. The features list is a lengthy one, so we'll get that out of the way before I delve into the practical side of things:
- Reflective piping for visibility at night
- Expanding pockets on each side for tripod, hiking poles, or water bottles
- Webbing points at the front to allow attachment of straps or carabiners
- Padded front accessory pocket
- Air mesh back panel and shoulder straps for breathability
- Waistbelt for weight distribution and for swinging backpack around to open (also includes loops for attaching additional pouches)
- Height adjusting sternum strap for weight distribution
- Zipper pockets inside camera compartment to safe storage of small accessories
- Back opening door to allow easy access to equipment
- Fully customisable interior with velcro dividers
- Waterproof bottom panel
- Top compartment access
- Water resistant materials used throughout
- Included weather cover
In the Field with the Tenba Solstice 20l
Let's be honest - It's easy to come up with an impressive looking specification list if you try hard enough. The real test comes when you take a backpack out on a photography trip. Only then can you know if it's practical enough for everyday use.
There are a few pressing questions that I ask of any camera backpack, and I'll attempt to answer all of them here:
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Does the Tenba Solstice 20l hold enough?
This is my first pressing question when buying a backpack. I want one that is capable of holding all my photography gear, mainly because every time I decide to leave a lens at home I end up wishing I had it on that very same trip.
Tenba claim that the Solstice 20l holds a Mirrorless or DSLR camera with 4-6 lenses, but when I took it out of the box I was a bit dubious of this claim. It's a pretty small bag by my standards, but I soon found out that they make very good use of the space inside. The Solstice 20l easily held all the gear I usually take out on a day hike:
- Nikon D810 with lens attached
- Four additional lenses (one of which was the bulky Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS)
- NiSi Filter Holder and polariser (reviewed here)
- Haida 10-Stop ND filter (reviewed here)
- Flask of coffee
- Water filter straw (as recommended here)
- Waterproof jacket (attached to front using additional straps)
That was all stored without even making use of the front pocket, which can easily hold the likes of maps, extra filters, or small electronics such as tablets.
So, does the Tenba Solstice 20l hold enough? A resounding Yes.
Is the Tenba Solstice comfortable?
This is an aspect of photography backpacks that is all too often ignored by photographers and manufacturers alike. Everybody focuses on the storage facilities and equipment, but forget that they'll be lugging this thing around on their back all day. It needs to be comfortable. If it's not then it will undoubtedly be a chore to use.
I've had more than a couple of backpacks with absolutely no thought put in to the comfort of the user. We're talking a lack of breathability, uncomfortable shoulder straps, a lack of belts to improve the weight distribution. The result? A couple of outings with sore shoulders and sweaty backs followed by me throwing the backpack away and learning my lesson.
The most crucial part, in my opinion, is the use of a breathable material on the back of the backpack, something which the Tenba Solstice provides along with breathable webbed material on the shoulder straps too.
The result is a perfectly comfortable backpack. I walked around all day with it on my back and never once felt too hot or uncomfortable. The breathable material worked a charm despite the relatively warm conditions and the waist and sternum belts provided excellent weight distribution. Despite the rather heavy load, it was a breeze to hike all day with it.
So, is the Tenba Solstice comfortable? Again, yes.
Is the Tenba Solstice easy to use?
You can have all the exciting features and gizmos as you like, but if the result is a camera bag that's cumbersome and fiddly to operate it will quickly end up sold or binned.
These are backpacks designed to be used outside, and quite often in fairly poor weather conditions. Fiddly actions become nigh on impossible in the finger-numbing cold of winter, and stuck zips are frustrating beyond belief when you're rushing to get the camera out of the bag.
Like most camera backpacks these days, the Tenba Solstice offers a fully openable back door for quick access to all of your gear. No more blindly rummaging around for the piece of kit you want. This works perfectly well, but then again that's no surprise considering pretty much all bags follow this design now.
They also feature small, secure compartments in various places around the bag for those easy to lose items. How many times have you ended up rooting around the bottom of your bag for memory cards? For me, the answer is all the time. But not anymore!
Like many backpacks, the Solstice comes complete with an added weather cover for when it's raining. Happily I found that this is tucked away neatly in it's own little pouch in the bag, which is a welcome change from those that just have the covering loose and getting in the way.
There are two parts of the Tenba Solstice that aren't so widely used, and they're ones that can truly make your life easier when out in the field:
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Waist Belt Redesign
The first is their excellent use of the waist belt. This is becoming increasingly popular now, and was brought to the market by Lowepro a while ago. Basically, with the waist belt clipped up, you can release your shoulders from the bag and swing it around in front of you. From there you can open up the back panel and access all your gear without ever needing to put the bag down.
This may seem a trivial thing, but it truly is one of those game changing features that can make your life so much easier. Take seascape photography, for example. Without this feature I constantly found myself having to precariously hold my bag in one hand while trying to rummage around for what I needed. It was either that or lay it the sand in inch deep seawater, so I chose the lesser of two evils.
However, with this feature I can stand shin deep in the ocean and still have full access to my gear. If it's muddy my backpack doesn't end up caked in dirt, and if I'm stupidly balance on the edge of a precipice I don't have to find somewhere safe to put my precious gear down. It's a gamechanger, like I said.
The Tenba Solstice feels sturdy enough when suspended solely by the waist strap, and thanks to the cushioned, webbed material at the base of the waist belt it's actually pretty comfortable too.
Top Access Compartment
Not many camera backpacks actually allow you to open them from the top, but this simple addition is actually hugely beneficial.
The Tenba Solstice features a segregated section which is still accessible from the back door, but also acts as an easy-to-access compartment from the top door. Tenba actually say this is designed for miscellaneous belongings such as keys and mobile phones, but it happens to fit a DSLR with a modest sized lens perfectly, so I used it for that.
So, if I wanted to quickly grab my camera out of the bag without having to swing it around or put it down I was able to just unzip the top compartment and voila!
It's a small feature, but it's the small things that make top quality backpacks stand out from the raft of would-be copycats that are on the market.
So, is the Tenba Solstice easy to use? Yes. Not just easy, but an absolute pleasure.
Is the Tenba Solstice durable?
Durability is key for a camera backpack. They're faced with the elements every time we head out on a shoot, and charged with the huge responsibility of protecting our expensive and beloved camera gear.
I haven't used the Solstice enough to truly know that it will stand the test of time, but from my limited experience it's got a high chance of doing so.
The materials used in the Solstice feel high-quality and rugged. A firm pull on any of the straps didn't yield so much as a loose stitch, so I have high hopes in that regard.
While it does come with a rain cover, I often find myself trusting in the weather resistant materials to keep water out during light rain. I generally don't resort to the rain cover unless it's absolutely lashing it down, so I was actually happy when some light rain started to fall on one of my outings.
I was out in some light rain for around an hour, and when I eventually opened the bag up after it had stopped raining I was happy to find it devoid of any moisture. Bone dry, and all my equipment tucked up nice and warm and dry.
Testing out the rain cover was a must for me as well. Generally they're pretty good, but I've had a few that strangely managed to let water seep through them. I decided to test it out to the extreme, so I put the rain cover over the backpack and turned a hosepipe on it (camera gear was safely inside the house at this point.) The rain cover did it's job commendably, so you can be safe in the knowledge that a downpour won't ruin your equipment with this bag.
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Having thoroughly tested the Tenba Solstice I can say that I would definitely recommend it. It may not be the cheapest camera bag on the market, but it's definitely not the most expensive either.
The price is well worth paying if you're in it for the long haul too. The materials used feel of an extremely high quality and, while not tested over time, the bag as a whole feels durable and long lasting. The bag, while looking relatively small, holds a surprising amount of gear while retaining it's ease of use.
If you add the level of comfort that the breathable materials and hiking straps bring and the extremely handy features such as the swivelling waist strap and the top opening hatch then it becomes very good value for money.
If you're looking for a camera backpack to take out on day-long hikes and adventures then I can truthfully recommend the Tenba Solstice range.