Gura Gear acquired the Tamrac brand and merged the two together. Gura Gear as a standalone brand is gone, and all of their bags have been renamed to be sold under the Tamrac name in the G-Elite collection. Aside from small aesthetic changes to use the Tamrac logo, the bags have remained the same. Throughout this review, I have used the name Gura Gear, but when searching for more info on these products, or searching to buy them, you should now search for the Tamrac G-Elite bags instead.
Design & Features
Exterior Dimensions: 14x18x9 inches (35.6 x 45.7 x 22.9 cm); 22 Liters useable
The Kiboko 22l+ continues on from the popular 30L with a the same butterfly opening design. The benefit of this is that you can selectively access your gear whilst keeping other parts of it away from the elements. The downside is that you have to lay the bag with its back on the ground when you do this and padded back panel picks up a lot of dust and dirt. The outside of the bag is made from VX-21 , a lightweight yet tough and abrasion resistant material which is often used to make sails. It is expensive but it seems to do a decent job and designing a bag that was lightweight was a top consideration. If we’re all going to have to deal with reduced carry-on allowances there’s little point using up half our allowance with the weight of the bag. It’s a theory that I very much like.
For the 22l+ Gura Gear added a dedicated laptop sleeve which sits extremely discreetly between the back padding and the main camera compartment. A useful set of flaps and clips means that you can actually easily forget it is even there. It will take pretty much any 15″ laptop and even a 17″ Macbook Pro.
The back of the bag features very thick padding and thick memory foam shoulder straps. Whilst there are gaps in the padding on the back, and so it is listed as vented, realistically this sort of ventilation does little or nothing in my experience. Not meaning to pick on Gura Gear at all, I haven’t found a single photo backpack that has ever solved this problem. On the Kiboko 30L there was a zippered cover that extended over the back to cover up the shoulder straps during travel or storage. These are missing on the 22l+ and a fiddly system of un-clipping the straps and pushing them behind the back panel padding is employed. It’s not the work of a moment, and far less user friendly than the system used on its larger brother. There is also a removable waist belt which lacks any padding at all.
This is really the Kiboko’s forte and there are far too many configurations to talk about. What you need to know is that either side is big enough to hold a Canon or Nikon 500mm f4. A 600mm, 800mm or 400mm f2.8 will NOT fit. 200-400 f4s are not a problem either. This means that you could in theory carry both a 200-400 and a 500m in the same bag if you were just that crazy!
The interior depth of the Kiboko 22l+ is slightly shallower than that of the 30L in order to accommodate the laptop sleeve and this means that actually it is not as deep as a pro-sized DSLR body is tall. It seems an odd design decision when you consider the types of customers the bag is aiming at are VERY likely to own a Canon 1D or NIkon D3x/D4. I wish that they had limited the length of the internal laptop pocket somewhat in exchange for a variable interior depth that at least let you comfortably fit one pro body at the bottom of the bag or something like that. Nonetheless the large bodies DO fit in the bag but they have to be arranged sideways near the center in order for the bag to zip up easily. If you take two pro bodies then you start to find yourself a bit limited in how you can arrange your smaller lenses if you have a long lens taking up one side.
It’s worth noting that the bag’s front pockets are quite deceptive. They appear shallow and of little use but in practice you can easily fit things like flashes, teleconverters and large numbers of filters and filter holders in there, leaving the interior solely for for lenses and cameras. If you are using the 22L+ as an all-in-one bag with a laptop then you’ll easily be able to fit your external hard drives and all your cables in one of these front pockets. I tend to keep accessories for photography on one side and the other side keep some snacks and a packable rain jacket. The mesh pockets on the inside of the lid are ok for small things like memory card holders but if you are using tall-sized camera bodies then you’ll be best to leave those pockets unused.
If you do plan on using it out in the field on a long hike then you will want to take some liquids with you. You can either use the laptop sleeve, but a full 3L Camelbak does create discomfort by pressing into your back, or you can put it in the side pocket. If you choose the latter then a bottle will be needed instead of a bladder. A specifically designed method of carrying water is lacking on this bag and no doubt comes from the intention for this to be a safari bag where water is carried in the vehicle.
What about the laptop pocket ? I personally don’t find it to be of any use as I also travel with the Chobe shoulder bag. The padding in the laptop sleeve is not removable so you are forced to carry that extra bulk even when you don’t need it.
Pros & Cons
- Efficient use of space means you can fit a lot in this bag
- Well within international carry-on regulations
- Tough & lightweight materials
- Comes with huge number of dividers
- Comes with a rain cover
- Can hold a 500mm and a 200-400 simultaneously
- Can hold two cameras in a ready-to-go state with lenses mounted
- Price – nearly $400 is a tough pill to swallow for many
- Shoulder straps are overly bulky and thick
- Not enough (any) padding on hip belt
- Hiding shoulder straps is a fiddly task compared to doing it on the Kiboko 30L
- Laptop pocket padding is not removable
- No provision for using a water bladder
- ‘Tall’ camera bodies are a very tight squeeze and limit how you can arrange things
- Difficult to adjust to a comfortable state when hiking
The process of buying a Gura Gear bag goes in three distinct phases:
1) Lust – You see the bag on the internet or in the hands of a fellow photographer who is confidently carrying multiple huge lenses in relative comfort. You purchase one.
2) Buyer’s remorse – Immediately after your purchase you wander why you spent more money on a bag than some of your lenses are worth. The bag arrives.
3) Realization – As soon as you un-box your Gura Gear bag you instantly appreciate why the bags cost much more than other options (except perhaps F-Stop which are equally expensive). Satisfaction and excitement returns.
I guess some might also throw a fourth one on the end here: 4) You throw away all your old camera bags.
Now having said all of that it isn’t ALL positive, otherwise I would be calling this the best photo bag ever and as a photographer it is my moral obligation to eternally continue the quest for the one bag to rule them all. If you carry big lenses, and by big I mean at least a 200-400 f4, then you should by all means begin by looking at both the Kiboko 22l+ and the 30L. To my knowledge there are no other bags on the market that can accommodate two large lenses in the way the Kibokos can. The result of sticking to this capacity necessity though is a boxy and slightly uncomfortable to wear design. You really do feel like you are wearing a massive bag on your bag. Some other large packs like the excellent F-Stop Satori EXP have a much more contoured design and hugs your body, feeling much more comfortable. The Kiboko on the other hand feels like it is perched right on your spine in a slightly clumsy fashion.
For safari vehicle usage of course this isn’t a huge problem but I would shy away from using this pack on extended outdoor hiking trips and instead go for for one of the F-Stop packs. On such trips you are unlikely to be carrying two long lenses anyway. A sturdy hip belt system would go a long way to helping this comfort issue I think. Currently the bags feature extremely thick shoulder straps, heavily padded back panel but very thin hip belts of regular material with no real padding. The weight of a heavy load needs to be distributed through the hips on a long walk as it would be done with any good hiking pack and I found it hard to do this with the Kiboko.
So what about the 22L+ Vs 30L ? If you aren’t using a 600mm or an 800mm then I’d still recommend the 22L+ over the 30L for most people. It is significantly smaller to travel with and I believe you are less likely to run into problems with the airlines. I’ve always find that if I skirt around the limits of carry-on rules I get weighed and that is a can of worms, but if I stick to something that is visibly clearly under the regulation size then I have no issue. As photographers we’ll often take every opportunity we are given to take more gear with us but realistically if you can fit your long glass on one side and two bodies plus a 70-200, wide zoom and a specialty lens (macro, fisheye or tilt shift) on the other side then it’s going to do the job for 99% of your work.
If I was traveling on a safari of some sort then this would hands down be my bag of choice where the majority of travel is by vehicle but I would still go with something else for extended hiking and landscape photography sessions. I’ve also made good use of this bag on some sports photography missions where I typically need only haul the gear to a press room and unpack it there. Its ability to hold a ton of gear in a relatively neat package is useful in that situation as well.
Purchasing a Kiboko 22L+
I would recommend purchasing directly from Gura Gear, that way if you ever have any problem it will be easy to deal with. The guys run a tight ship, I’m sure you’ll love their service. Alternatively you could purchase from Amazon as well HERE.