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Product Review: Pelican S130 ProGear Backpack

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This is without a doubt the best pro-gear backpack I have ever owned.

The test of time:

I’ve used this pack almost every day since NAB in April 2013, and it is resilient, weight-balanced to reduce fatigue, makes it easy to keep my gear organized and clean, and has even been in the rain with no problem. (In fact, it is waterproof to 3.3 feet/1 meter for up to 30 minutes.) It was amusing to see everyone scurrying around to avoid getting their equipment wet while I just walked slowly to my destination knowing that my cameras, batteries, etc., were snug and dry. Oh, and it is also TSA-friendly with fast access to the laptop compartment.

The weight distribution makes it possible to load lots of equipment in one pack and carry it around without hurting my neck and shoulders. (See my note below under “surprise features.”)

Here is the equipment I carry for remote assignments, all of which fits easily into the Pelican S130 and goes in the overhead on the plane:

Laptop compartment: My MacBook Pro 15” goes in here. The back compartment is watertight, keeps the computer from being crushed, and is padded to protect from bumping and jostling. (It comes with additional pads that can be quickly installed so you can customize the interior according to the size laptop you are carrying.) I also like that when I go through customs, I just flip open the top and pull the laptop out without having to lay the case down on its side or move anything else aside. I don’t need another laptop cover as it is protected just as it is in the compartment.

Zippered pocket: There is a zippered pocket on the top front of the bag that is perfect for my plane tickets and itinerary as well as my phone.

The top compartment opens with the adjustable, sturdy clips on the front of the bag to reveal two sections.

Top, Part One: In the zippered front half, I keep my valuables, wallet, pen, sharpie, stylus, business cards, 16 GB thumb drive, Western Digital 1TB portable external hard drive, and extra 32 GB SIM cards because they are so small they have a tendency to get lost unless you take special care with them. I actually have them in orange cases so they are easy to see. This is another reason why I love that this bag stands up on its own. You can set it on the ground, reveal the contents and work without worrying that something will fall out of the top compartment.

Top, Part Two: Open the top compartment and the main section is roomy enough to hold some rather large items, I have mine configured so that it measures 11×6 inches. I use it to carry a mini tripod or my gorilla pod, extra batteries in their own separate small case, charger, flashlight or Petzl light, my laptop charger, mouse and small keyboard and… my food supplies on the set because I sometimes am too far away from video village, especially when shooting in the mountains or a race, etc. I like that it is bright yellow so I can see the contents and not have to struggle with a “black hole.”


Main front compartment: This is the real workhorse of this unit. It is removable for those days when you might want to use this pack for a travel bag. Nice and necessary: the zippered cover for this compartment is rigid, protects the delicate gear from being bumped, and serves as a landing pad in a pinch if you need to change a lens on the fly. Like the top compartment, this one is also bright yellow and can be customized with the very sturdy dividers to fit your gear.

Here’s what I bring with me in the main compartment:
– DSLR (today it is the NEX7)
– Extra lens
– H4N recorder (in it’s own Petrol case)
– Shure SM58 microphone
– Two sizes of cable for the mic (3’ and 6’)
– Purasol – both kinds, optical and plasma, and clean cloths
– PowerEx small see-through plastic box with AA & AAA batteries
– Microfiber Envirosax (approx 14×18” with shoulder straps) that wraps into a small 2×3” ball and snaps shut
– A small plastic bag with connection cables for all my devices (mini, micro, iOS, etc),
– Bose “Quiet Comfort 15” headphones in their own hard case (either go here or in the top compartment, depending on how much other gear I have with me)
– Small roll of black gaffer’s tape
– Small roll of white paper tape

The outside: There are sling straps on the outside, underneath the bag and on the sides, that allow you to hook up a tripod, jacket, bedroll, or other extra gear. I use one of them for my waterproof roll-up jacket, but don’t use the one on the bottom since I like to be able to set the pack down firmly on the ground. I also like the comfort of the rubber handle for those times when you want to grab and go quickly without strapping on. The lumbar support and padding keeps the pack from being hot and sweaty against your back, a nice feature for those of us in the elements. And there is a water bottle pocket on one side.

Surprise additional features (that I like and that you won’t find in the specs):

It stands up on its own. How many packs have you had that fall over when you take them off and set them on the ground? Doesn’t sound like much, but when you have delicate equipment or just want to make sure you are keeping things as clean as possible, this is a great feature.

This is tailored for big guys too, but I am 5’4” tall and it is always difficult for me to find equipment that fits. This not only fits, it is so comfortable that I was able to lug around 40 pounds of gear for eight hours at a time with no fatigue and work hands-free without taking off the pack. The design of the pack allows the weight to rest on your lower back and hips rather than pulling on your shoulders and neck all day. Anyone who needs to carry gear will surely love this feature. (Note: I had a friend who was 6’3” try on this pack and it fit him as well!)

Summary:

As I noted in the beginning of this review, this is the best backpack for my gear that I have ever owned. It weighs 7.14 lbs, so is not meant for backcountry hiking, but definitely will be a must-have investment for anyone who needs to haul gear during a shoot.

The Pelican ProGear S130 is currently on sale for approximately $170 at Amazon or from Pelican and is also available through any Pelican dealer and at most photo and video shops.

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About Cirina Catania

Cirina Catania is a writer, director, journalist and former marketing executive at a Fortune 100 company with a long history of success in both the major studio and independent film environment. She is one of the co-founders and former director of the Sundance Film Festival. She has written, directed and/or shot numerous television shows and her credits include National Geographic’s “Nat Geo’s Most Amazing Photos” as writer/field producer, the ground-breaking 12-part series for Discovery Channel, “Southern Steel;” a made-for-TV movie/pilot entitled, “John Douglas-Mindhunter;” 13 episodes of Lifetime’s “ Merge,” starring Lisa Rinna; 16 episodes of “Worst Case Scenario,” for Columbia Television, 6 episodes of “Untold Stories from the ER,” for TLC; and 2 episodes of “Animal Kidding,” for Animal Planet. Ms. Catania also produces the popular weekly one-hour tech podcast, Digital Production BuZZ, which is streamed live each Thursday evening from 6 to 7 pm PdT or can be downloaded on iTunes. She writes for Technorati here: http://www.technorati.com/people/cirina