Monday, March 18, 2013

Gear Review: M-Rock Yellowstone Camera Bag

M-Rock Yellowstone
M-Rock Yellowstone

Somewhere along the line I decided I needed to lug a dSLR into the backcountry with me. My old point-and-shoot wasn't cutting the mustard. I would return from a backpacking trip and upload a bunch of crappy photos that I wasn't happy with. I needed a camera that would capture what I was looking at as accurately as possible. Enter the Nikon d3000. I took some shots around the house. I bought "Nikon d3000 for Dummies". I was determined to haul it with me, but I didn't know how. Its big, bulky, heavy, and fragile, and not very conducive to backcountry travel. After a trip to REI I returned home with the M-Rock Yellowstone camera bag.

This camera bag is the perfect size for my Nikon, with an attached 18-55mm lens, but it doesn't leave much room for anything else. The camera fits securely upside-down in the bag. It would probably fit a slightly bigger lens, say a 55-200mm, but anything bigger than that would be pushing it. It has pockets on top and in front, that I usually carry a few cleaning supplies in. I usually carry a small plastic bag folded up at the bottom of the camera bag to cover the camera in case it rains. Although it does come with an attached stuff sack, I found it pretty much worthless.

My biggest challenge initially was figuring out the best way to carry the bag. It comes with two shoulder straps, and there are six different ringlets on the bag to hook the straps to for a variety of configurations. Eventually I found that the most efficient method is to hang the bag across my body over one shoulder. For stability I buckled the belt of my backpack over the top of the camera bag strap. This way the camera hung at my hip like a six-shooter, and was easy to draw if I needed it fast.

On my hip, lid propped open.

As easy as it is to reach the camera, carrying the bag this way did come with some challenges. First, the way the bag is designed the lid opens from back to front (see above photo). The zipper is stiff, and with the camera pressed against my body, its nearly impossible to open. What I had to do was just leave the zipper unzipped (unless its raining). There is a buckle on top that will still securely fasten the lid, and its much easier to open then fighting the zipper. The other problem I have, is that over time the shoulder strap will hurt my shoulder. I found that the only way to deal with this problem is to switch shoulders every couple hours.

 With this configuration I used the M-Rock Yellowstone to carry my Nikon into the backcountry for the next  3 years. Over time I really developed a love/hate relationship with it. The constant pressure on my carrying shoulder can be a huge annoyance, especially on long days. Also, the carabiners on the ends of the strap are complete junk. At least a dozen times since I've been using this bag, a carabiner has mysteriously worked its way open. Imagine my surprise as I'm walking down the trail, and all of the sudden my camera bag falls in the dirt. It happens way too often, but also brings me to the best thing about this bag...

It protects the camera. Its been rained on, snowed on, and dropped countless times over the years, and the camera has always remained unscathed inside. If protection is your primary concern when buying a camera bag for hiking and backpacking, then definitely consider the M-Rock Yellowstone. Although the bag is not water proof, it is water resistant, and has protected my camera in sustained rain. I cant convey enough how much of a beating this bag has taken over the years, and it shows. Threads are pulling out everywhere. The zipper is coming apart. The material in the back is disintegrating. But it still works, and I still use it.

M-Rock Yellowstone
Takes a licking.

Overall this bag has served its purpose. Its near bomb proof and will keep your camera safe. The problem is that some of the components are cheap, and the bag itself isn't comfortable to carry with a backpack.

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