I've been searching for the perfect camera bag for I-don't-know-how-long; everytime I think I've got it nailed I'll add another piece to my kit, or change my shooting behaviour and throw my photographic universe all out of alignment. For the past several years I've toted out a) a Lowepro Micro Trekker, b) a Crumpler 7 Million Dollar Home (that I was convinced would be the last case I would need), c) a Kata 3-in-1 30 ... and now my newest addition, the Clik Elite 'Escape'. Clik Elite is a relative new-comer to the world of photo packs, having first been introduced 13 months ago at the 2009 PMA show, with a product line-card offering directed specifically to the outdoor photography enthusiast. So new, in fact, that I only stumbled on the recommendation while doing some pre-purchase product research on one of the photo forums I check out; unfortunately their distribution network in Canada is just in the early stages of development so I wasn't able to actually see one in person before buying, so my assumptions were based solely on their website images and those others scattered out on the web. At the end of the day my choice came down between the 'Escape" and the 'Pro Elite'; I envisioned the latter as being able to load all my gear plus my Ranger Quadra lights for one entirely self-contained pack, but I doubted that it would be used always in that fashion more than occasionally. The 'Escape' afforded me more mobility and a smaller footprint, and possibly the added motivation to get off my butt and get outside more often as the weather turns nicer.
My first impression was how "substantial" the bag seemed - the 1680D ballistic material definitely made me feel confident loading gear into this pack. The build quality, finish and components appear to be of very high quality, where I'm not worried that I may have a failure while in the field. The inside of the pack is well designed to accommodate a larger (ie. 70-200mm) lens down the middle, a couple or three smaller-type lenses on the sides, and room left over for a speedlight or 2. The included dividers (there are 4 of them) are concave by nature to accommodate the lens, but can also be utilized for storing smaller items such as lens and body caps. Just below the main compartment is a smaller (approximately 1" in height) compartment that includes a removable mesh accessory pouch for cables and such.
Inside the top flap is a cradle for a camera body (either by itself, or attached to the lens in the middle section); for me this was one of the bigger selling features, as it allows me to get the camera out of the pack without having to open the entire front face and potentially exposing my gear to the elements. The inside top of the flap has a couple of sleeves for memory card storage, and two smaller zippered pockets where I can stash some business cards and a WhiBal card. On top of that there is another small area for quick access items, like a granola bar or a light jacket. The front pack pocket has another area in which to store light clothes, etc - I currently have some pens, a flashlight and air blower in there.
The shoulder straps and support system are very sturdy, and balance the bulk of the weight onto your hips, reducing the fatigue that many other packs exhibit. There are also a number of attachment points on both the shoulder and waist straps to allow for future expansion of lens holders and smaller packs, if necessary. The back panels are extremely comfortable and offer storage behind them for a hydration back if desired.
My only qualm with the pack is the representation of the tripod holder; it is certainly designed with the travel tripod size in mind – I can get my larger Benro CF tripod in there but it is not held as solidly as I would have liked it.
My conclusion? A well-designed backpack made of quality materials and components that provides enough room and comfort for a day trip on the trails or in the urban jungle. Hopefully this will be my last camera bag purchase for some time.
Note: I've posted some very quick and dirty photos of the bag on flickr here.