Gear Review: Gura Gear Kiboko backpack

Kiboko with a box of Quickload's in the outer accessory pocket

Holy cow! A gear review here? Indeed, you’ll notice that in the three-and-a-half years of this blog’s life, I have stayed far away from gear discussions and/or reviews because many other websites and blogs discuss these things at great length and with much more enthusiasm than I ever will. This being said, I offer here a brief review of the Gura Gear Kiboko backpack. I believe that this pack may prove as useful for other 4×5″ view camera users as it has so for me.

My chief complaint about ANY backpack (photo or backpacking/climbing) is that they tend to be grossly overbuilt and overweight. With more than two decades of experience in backpacking and technical climbing, my preferred packs have always been stripped-down, lightweight, and hopefully made of ballistic materials (I’m rough on gear because that’s what it’s for). The rucksack system has always worked just fine for me; shove it in a top-loading mouth, draw the cord, and call it good! Bells and whistles are nice for those who like bells and whistles; I’d rather cut them off to lighten the load.

I’d recently had my two LowePro packs (primary and backup) suffer from complete zipper failures, so I was in the market for a replacement. Lowepro’s packs have always been heavy and overbuilt (Lowepro calls their 7.2lb/3.3kg Pro Trekker 400 AW “lightweight”), so I began looking at alternatives. Well, there aren’t a lot of good alternatives for the photographer who does his photography off his or her back. And then I remembered my friend Andy Biggs and his company’s offering (Gura Gear): the Kiboko backpack. Given that Andy is primarily a wildlife shooter who leads acclaimed African photo safaris, I had assumed that the pack might not work for me and was best intended for D-SLR’s and long lenses. Boy, was I was wrong.

The unique butterfly lid design on the Kiboko

Because the Kiboko utillizes a unique butterfly opening (left), I first had to submit my camera measurements to Andy to make sure that the camera could safely fit inside the pack without stressing the zippers. Andy assured it would work, and indeed, my Chamonix 045n-1 fits effortlessly and well (that’s the Chamonix in the bottom).

I doubt that Andy had considered large format photographers when he designed this pack, so he may be surprised to learn how well it can work for 4×5″ users. Seen in the photo at top, a box of Quickloads fits very comfortably in the outside accessory pockets, with cut-sheet film holders working equally well (there are five holders in the red pouch in the photo at left).

The Kiboko is made of outstandingly durable and lightweight material (Gura Gear calls it “sail cloth”), which greatly reminds me of the very same material used in my lightweight Wild Things Andinista climbing pack. Especially great is that the pack fits any North American flight’s overhead storage, and the unique harness system can be stashed away inside a zipped compartment. You’d think that a modular pack like this might have an unworthy harness system; not so. The shoulder straps, back, and waist belt are all sufficiently padded and quite comfortable.

Seen here: Quickload holder, filter pouch, four lenses, and lots of accessories

Despite the great storage capacity and physical size, this trim pack comes in under four pounds. I doubt you’ll find another pack that even comes close to being made this well, with these materials, and with this capacity. Andy was thinking ahead when he designed this pack: the zipper pulls are quite unique and can be operated by a gloved hand and single finger; it comes with a rain cover that has its own zipped compartment; and again, the hide-able harness system was a great inclusion for travel purposes.

I can’t say enough good things about this pack. I worked from it yesterday while on assignment, and look forward to taking it on its first long hike next week. Andy, THANKS so much for a great pack! You can read more about the Kiboko and see more photographs at the Gura Gear website.

The apparently necessary disclosure: Andy is my friend, but I paid for the pack and he did not bribe me for this review (retroactive bribes will be considered, Andy :)).

Michael wears the Kiboko along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.

UPDATE – 07 June 2010: Having now used this pack for a number of lengthy hikes, peak ascents, and a 16-mile bicycle ride (yes, I bicycled while wearing my camera pack!), I can heartily recommend the Kiboko as a comfortable and durable photo pack. Despite the lightweight-looking harness system, it is a surprisingly comfortable carry, even while bicycling. I have absolutely no issues with the fit or function of this pack. The one downside I can think of? You’re not going to find a much higher priced photo pack at $399. It’s a steep price, to be sure, but if lightweight, durable, comfortable, and functional are necessities, then you might find this pack to be priced just right for you.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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