Mountainsmith Borealis Camera Backpack Review

Solid camera backpacks are hard to find. Most photographers are always on the hunt for the best camera bag or backpack. 

Part of the problem is that no bag fits every situation. A shoulder bag for a fancy event won’t last 5 minutes on a rainy hike. A large bag that fits enough for 2 days in the backcountry far too big for a couple hours of street photography in the city. 

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The Mountainsmith Borealis Camera Bag

Spending most of my photography time out in the woods, I’m always looking for a tough camera bag that can carry a camera, lenses, a tripod as well as the other essentials that day-long adventures require. Water, food, a couple of layers, GPS and a first aid kit are always in my pack no matter where I’m going. 

The Borealis camera bag from Mountainsmith accomplishes all these things well. The 35 liters of space is plenty for my camera gear and hiking essentials. The camera organizer at the bottom of the pack can hold a body and 4 medium sized lenses.. The dividers are very configurable and can hold longer lenses or other things by moving them around. 

Lots of pockets on the top of the bag organize everything with lots of room. There’s a large pocket on the top and a couple pockets inside that one. There’s a zip pocket on the front as well. A large laptop pocket against the back panel easily fits 17 inch laptops. 

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The outer nylon on the Borealis is thick and very durable. I wouldn’t hesitate to drag this back around on the ground. After a testing trip sliding down steep dirt and rock, scraping the pack on trees and thorny pushes, the pack was covered in a dirt but wasn’t scratched at all. The nylon is water resistant up to 5000mm.

Mountainsmith teamed up with Andy Mann for the series the Borealis is in. Andy Mann is a professional photographer who travels the world climbing, diving and exploring the arctic. This series of bags was built to survive those adventures. 

Specs of the Borealis camera bag

Here’s the details of the Borealis.

  • 5000mm water resistant fabric

  • 630d Cordura HP fabric

  • YKK zippers

  • 35 litre capacity

  • Up to 45 pound capacity

  • 5 lbs 10oz 

  • large side pockets and straps for tripods

  • $249.95 USD

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Pros and Cons to the Borealis camera bag

The first thing I noticed with the Borealis is how thick and sturdy all the fabric is. Through testing I’ve tried to drag it through the dirt and scrape it on rocks and trees and it’s yet to tear or even scratch. Because of the thickness of all the fabrics, it’s heavier than a standard hiking bag.

The camera organizer is easy to arrange and use. It does open to on the front of the bag. If the ground is muddy or dirty then you’re putting your back panel into the mud to get at your camera gear. I’d prefer it open on the back panel where the backpack straps are and put the front of the pack into the dirt and keep the back panel clean.

The bottom of the pack is extra well padded and flat so the whole pack stands on it’s own very well. The edge of the bottom dug into my back a bit while testing. It would be nice if this part was a bit more padded or rounded more. I may be shaped different than you so try it on before buying. Obviously Andy Mann had no problems with the fit.

Pros

  • stands up on it’s own

  • very burly, durable fabric

  • strong velcro in the camera organizer

  • well padded straps and back panel

Cons

  • camera organizer opens out the back

  • rigid bottom cans dig into your back

  • no hydration pocket

  • heavy

  • no way to increase or decrease the camera storage area

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Alternatives

Atlas Athlete camera backpack

The Atlas Athlete has a more comfortable hip belt with a camera organizer that opens out the back panel. The fabric is lighter and thinner than the Borealis. For light and fast I’d take the Atlas. For bashing around in the woods, I’d probably take the Borealis.

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Verdict

The Borealis is a niche product but does a good job at being a very durable camera pack for adventure. It’s going to hold up through anything for a long time and keep your gear safe inside. Check the fit before you buy to make sure the back panel is comfortable and if it is, you’ve found a solid adventure bag.

Verdict: Recommended for those looking for a very durable camera day pack.

Buy from B&H Photo

Buy from Mountainsmith.com

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