equipment reviews

golite jam 2

With only 820 g of weight and with the volume of 54 l, Golite Jam 2 is one of the lightest backpacks in the world. This was the main reason why I purchased it. Actually, the need to carry some extra kilogrammes only because my equipment should be in a bag for me to be able to carry it had been annoying me long before that. However, till 2009, my largest photo bag was Lowepro Vertex 300 AW that weighs 3.7kg with only 26.6 l volume. I had bought it 2008 because it was large enough for the equipment that I was either already using or was going to get in the next future. The bag had also to fit the dimensions allowed by airlines for hand luggage (usually maximum 115 cm for width, height and depth combined). I also was meaning then that a photo bag has to be well padded to provide the best possible protection for the cameras and lenses in it. And, of course, if it is a backpack, it should be convenient to carry. The Vertex 300 AW complies to all these requirements but with 3.7kg of empty weight is very heavy. By the time when I was choosing a bag, better and lighter bags weren't available in Germany. The only alternative could be the Photo Trekker AW II by Lowepro which had the same weight but wasn't large enough for my equipment. So the Vertex 300 AW was probably the best choice by that time.

My opinion about the methods of carrying photo gear in the field radically changed after a trip to Cuba in 2009 when I was hiking in tropical montane forests with two cameras that I always needed to be ready for immediate use. To be able to change lenses quickly, to quickly attach or remove flashes, etc., I was carrying everything in pouches on a belt and a harness. In the field, I didn't need a big backpack that were capable to accommodate my entire equipment. With the subjects that I was photographing I simply never had time to take the bag off my back, to open it, to take a lens out of it or to put another one into. Instead I needed a simple light backpack to carry some food, water, rain poncho and similar items. I could also put one or two pouches with lenses or with a flash in such a bag. Unfortunately, I didn't have one because I brought all my equipment on this trip in only one big bag. Of course, since the Vertex 300 AW filled up with equipment was almost 18 kg heavy, I was taking with me in the field only those items that I needed on that particular day. The rest was remaining in the Vertex 300 AW that I was leaving back in the hotel room. To be able to do this, I also brought all those pouches with me on that trip. They were also well padded but for transportation in an airplane, I had put them into the Vertex 300 AW. So they were actually doubling the function of a padded photo bag. The combined weight of padded pouches and small boxes that I had to put the equipment into, even when I was putting everything into a big bag, was around 1500g. So together with the bag (3.7kg) it was at least 5 kg of useless weight that I had to carry on my back.

In Cuba, I also had to fly by national airlines Cubana, that were allowing only 20kg of all baggage — i.e. of checked and hand baggage combined! As I mentioned above, the backpack with the equipment alone was 18kg. Of course, since I was going to travel for 3 weeks, I had at least 10kg of other stuff, such as cloths, shoes, etc. Since only 15kg were allowed, even if I weren't afraid of sending lenses into checked luggage, it could be only maximum 5kg, but the Vertex 300 AW was much heavier. Fortunately, in Cubana they don't control the weight of hand baggage unless it appears big and heavy. In my case, I had a difficult task to make my 18kg of equipment look like 5kg. I took all lenses and both camera bodies out of the Vertex 300 AW. I put one camera body and two lenses (one of them was 2.8/300mm) in pouches into a small day rucksack which my wife was carrying. Since I was wearing the same photo belt and harness as usually in the field, I attached pouches with the rest of lenses to it. I also had a small top-loader camera bag. I put the second camera body with one lens into it and was carrying through the security control on a strap on my shoulder. The Vertex 300 AW was almost empty after that, and I added it to the checked baggage, so that it wasn't heavier than 15kg all together. Having all these troubles with packing my equipment, I was again missing a lightweight and compact backpack.

After I returned home, I was looking for a better solution for carrying equipment. I started with comparison of various models of photo bags that were available on the market. The bags that I was taking into consideration are listed in the following table:

Manufacturer Model Weight, kg Volume, l
Lowepro Nature Trekker AW II 2.9 18.5
Lowepro Photo Trekker AW II 3.8 22.1
Lowepro Pro Trekker AW II 4.3 23.8
Lowepro Pro Trekker 600 AW 3.8 38
Lowepro Vertex 300 AW 3.7 26.6
Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted V2.0 2.0 28.7
Think Tank Photo Shape Shifter 1.73 29.4
Think Tank Photo Streetwalker Harddrive 1.7 31.2
Naneu Sahara 217F 1.27 24.7
Kata Pro-Light Bublebee 220 1.8 28.8
Kata Pro-Light Beetle 282 2.0 26
Gura Gear Kiboko Bag 1.8 26

By the time when I was choosing a bag, only Lowepro and Kata products were available for purchase in Germany. However, Kata released its backpack models suitable for big gear a little later — in 2009-2010. At that time also Think Tank Photo came to German market. Unfortunately, when I was writing this in 2010, products of Naneu and Gura Gear weren't yet available in German shops.

To fit the size limits of airlines a bag should have a volume of about 26-30 l. Therefore, the new Lowepro Photo Trekker 600 AW may be too big in some situations, for instance, with companies that have small aircrafts. On European flights, cases and bags whose size doesn't exceed the official limits for hand baggage but in fact are too large to fit under the seats or into the shelves over them, are collected at the entry and returned upon arrival. Some airlines, such as Costa Rican, allow only hand baggage, i.e. there is no checked baggage at all. So, to be taken on board, your entire baggage has to fit their size and weight requirements for hand baggage. Otherwise you'll have to fly without it.

If I could get a photo backpack whose empty weight were up to 2kg and could carry bare equipment in it (i.e. without pouches), it would have been a nice solution. However, the weight that is given in the above table is of the shell only, i.e. without internal deviders. In reality, a bag where you can carry your camera bodies and lenses would be much heavier because you will have to use padded deviders to create compartments in it. But I was looking for a backpack that would weigh, with all parts included, only about 2kg.

If the bag wasn't padded or had no internal compartments, I still needed pouches with combined weight of 1300-1500g. So if the weight of the bag alone was 1.8kg, its weight together with pouches was about 3100-3300g. But what was a padded shell for when everything inside it was already protected from all sides by padded pouches? Even if there were a bag that had deviders but nevertheless was of light weight, I needed pouches for use in the field as I described above.

When these items are in a Golite Jam 2, its size and even weight still meet the rules of most airlines

Finally, I turned my attention to outdoor backpacks. Their walls are made only of fabric and have no padding. This makes them lighter than photo backpacks. Very many companies produce outdoor backpacks with a great variety of shapes, sizes and features. Of course, I didn't look in detail at every model available on the market. Thus I am not claiming to have found the only one suitable bag. I just looked at descriptions of those bags that are sold by otdoor shops and read reviews in the Internet. I ended up with Golite Jam 2 just because it was satisfying my requirements for size, weight and volume.

The maximum size of the bigger version "L" that I use is approximately 70 x 36 x 24 cm. It can accommodate an object with maximum length of approx. 68 cm, hence it can be a large tele lens like 500 or 600 mm even with a hood attached! With not so large photo equipment, one can use it as main backpack, having put everything else into it.

My Jam 2 bag with the size reduced to the volume of approx 18-20l.
Reduced to the size of approx. 40 x 30 x 20 cm, a Golite Jam 2 can be a perfect for use in the field. You see it here with walking sticks (Novoflex Quadropod legs — approx. 57 cm) and water bottle attached.

If a small size matters, the size of Golite Jam 2 can be reduced to as little as approx. 40 x 30 x 20 cm. Then it can be used as daypack in the field — for carrying food, water, cloths, as well as some photo equipment that doesn't need to be constantly ready for use (for instance, parts of a tripod and similar).

Finally, depending on how much equipment you put into it, Golite Jam 2 can meet hand baggage regulations of any airlines. With some creativity, I can even achieve that its weight won't exceed allowed limit.

When the front pocket is empty, the Jam 2 is only 20-25 cm deep.
Here you see my Golite Jam 2 in a hand bagage shelf of a KLM aircraft. Most of my photo equipment was inside this bag but was still looking quite small. (I took this photo with my Blackberry smartphone.)

Till now, I have been carrying my Golite Jam 2 as hand gaggage on Lufthansa and KLM flights. With the equipment items combined as shown in the following pictures, I managed to meet hand baggage regulations of these companies:

2 camera bodies (EOS 5DMkII and EOS 30D), 5 lenses (2.8/300 w/o hood, 4.0/17-40 w/o hood, 2.8/150 Macro with hood on, 1.4/50 with hood on, 2.8/15), 2 teleconverters, 1 macro extension tube.
2 camera bodies (EOS 5DMkII and EOS 30D), 5 lenses (2.8/300 w/o hood, 2.8/70-200 with hood reversed, 4.0/17-40 w/o hood, 1.4/50 with hood on, 2.8/15), 2 teleconverters, 1 macro extension tube.
2 camera bodies (EOS 5DMkII and EOS 30D), 5 lenses (2.8/300 w/o hood, 2.8/70-200 with hood reversed, 4.0/17-40 w/o hood, 2.8/150 Macro with hood reversed, 2.8/15), 2 teleconverters, 1 macro extension tube.
1 camera body (EOS 5DMkII), 6 lenses (2.8/300 w/o hood, 2.8/70-200 with hood reversed, 4.0/17-40 w/o hood, 2.8/150 Macro with hood reversed, 1.4/50 with hood on, 2.8/15), 2 teleconverters, 1 macro extension tube.
Useful accessories: PacSafe mesh — for theft protection — and Tatonka rain cover — against rain and dust.

why golite jam?

You may be asking already why not any other lightweight bagpack? Indeed the choice of small backpacks for various purposes — street, outdoor day walks, biking, etc. — is very large. Most of such bags are light and compact as well. However, the Golite Jam 2 has some advantages in comparison to other bags that are made for similar purposes:

Of course, being designed and manufactured so minimalisticly, the Golite Jam 2 suffers some disadvantages, too:

July, 2010