Tenba Solstice 10 l sling pack
As a real-world proof that there is no such thing as a perfect camera bag, during the years I have purchased camera bags at least three times more often than cameras. My normal photography kit for outdoors use, as well as my willingness to carry a heavy backpack, have also changed drastically through the years. In my current phase, which is very unlikely to swing back in the opposite direction, I have been using lighter and lighter kits.
My usual bag immediately before purchasing the Tenba Solstice 10 l sling pack was a military-style generic backpack with Molle fittings from Wisport, containing a Lowepro GearUp Pro Camera Box XL II and sometimes one or two Tenba lens cases for extra lenses I don't always carry. A good thing with this system is that, besides containing all the kit I need, its external appearance does not scream "expensive camera inside!" However, the two main faults I found with this system are that
My daily outdoors kit contains:
The whole point with a sling pack is that it is worn much like a backpack on one's back, but can be quickly slung to the front of one's body with its side hatch uppermost. This means that a sling pack only has one shoulder strap, which sits diagonally across the front of one's body while carrying the pack. An additional, security strap may be available to keep the pack steadily in place on one's back even while walking on uneven terrain, and must be unbuckled before swinging the pack to the front.
Sling packs have neither a sternum strap nor a hip belt. The security strap replaces both sternum strap and hip belt. If you need a camera bag with a harness that keeps it tightly strapped against your body and completely prevents the bag from sagging or moving around, e.g. when climbing or running, a sling bag may not be your best choice.
There are dozens of types of camera sling packs, of different sizes and designs. The most common design has the interior of the pack subdivided into two compartments on top of each other, one for camera stuff and the other for trekking gear. A reasonably sized (read: small) sling pack of this design prevents me from packing the 300 mm, 2x teleconverter and camera assembled together, which is not acceptable to me. I want to be ready to pull out the completely assembled camera in seconds to shoot passing birds in flight. Also, a sling pack of the common design has only a small side hatch for the camera, and a long lens does not fit sideways in the pack. So I need a sling pack with a side hatch the whole height of the pack, as well as a single internal compartment as high as the pack. In addition to a 35 cm long lens, the pack must also have space for three medium-sized lenses like those listed above, and one camera must fit in the pack attached either to the long lens or one of the other lenses (in order to be immediately usable), or alternatively without attached lens (which is safer for the equipment during travel and extensive trekking).
My choice fell on the Tenba Solstice 10 l sling pack, which, among the many types I looked at on the web, was the only one to satisfy all my requirements. This pack is designed for a medium-sized DSLR and lenses, rather than mirrorless. Tenba's Solstice series also contains a 7 l sling pack of a similar design, but sized for a mirrorless system. It is, however, a little too small for my requirements. Additionally, the Solstice series contains a 12 l backpack that cannot be used as a sling (some backpacks are meant to be turned around their waist belt to access their normally front-facing hatch, but this does not work for me), as well as 20 l and 24 l backpacks completely out of my size range. Besides, I already have a Tenba Axis 24 l for when I really want my back to ache (actually, I use it for lens storage at home or when moving equipment by car, rather than carrying it on my back in the field). The Solstice series is available in black or light blue, albeit the blue Solstice 10 l was not available anywhere on Amazon EU when I placed my order. For once, Amazon prices were significantly lower than Tenba's recommended prices, and not higher than normal mail-order prices from Swedish camera retailers.
The Tenba Solstice 10 l sling pack offers a slick, slim (25 cm from side to side at the bottom of the pack, and 18 cm from front to rear) and understated appearance that can easily be mistaken for a commuter daypack. It is also both lightweight (730 g) and well padded. The hatch of its main compartment is triangular, with a very long zipper, and the flat rear pocket is almost as wide and high as the pack. Naturally, there is no space for a laptop in this pocket, although a small tablet up to 10" or a large phone does fit. I use the rear pocket for small extra items, and moved the rain coat from its pocket in the main compartment to the rear pocket, to free up as much space as possible in the main compartment (additionally, when it starts raining, it does not make sense to me having to open the upward-facing camera compartment to retrieve the rain cover).
There is no hidden pocket for an Apple AirTag.
Four ribbon eyelets are sewn into the rear surface of the pack, and can be used to tie a wind jacket at the back of the pack with an elastic string (not supplied with the pack). I clipped a musketeer into one of these straps, to hang my hat when not wearing it.
A pocket and a security strap for a small tripod, or a water bottle, is located on the left side of the pack. This pocket is kept closed by an elastic ribbon, and barely allows a bottle with a 5 cm diameter to be inserted, so you cannot use it for a large water bottle or thermos.
Although the topmost part of the main zipper runs across the whole bag width, the main hatch does not completely open along its top side. A patch of unpadded lining allows the door to open only partially here, and prevents small items from falling out of the pack when the latter is slung forward and the hatch is open.
The cover of the rear pocket carries a gray Tenba label and logo. I don't see anything good coming from advertising to all passers-by that I am carrying expensive camera equipment, so to make the bag less recognizable, I attached a self-adhesive Velcro patch onto this branding. Additional Tenba logos are displayed on the zipper handles of the main hatch. My bag was supplied with two sections of sturdy nylon string, conveniently heat-sealed at both ends, as part of the packaging. I replaced the Tenba-branded zipper handles with these strings. The zipper of the rear compartment came already equipped with a similar knotted string, instead of a Tenba handle (above figure).
The breathing net that rests against one's back carries a large Tenba logo. However, this logo is invisible while wearing the pack (even when the pack is slung forward), so there is no need to cover it.
The rain cover is only sized to cover the pack, but is too tight to cover a tripod attached to the left side of the pack. The rain cover carries a large Tenba label and logo, which remain visible if you turn the rain cover inside out. You may wish to use a third-party generic rain cover if you don't want to let everybody know that you are carrying a camera bag, and/or if you need to cover also an attached tripod.
The bag comes with four dividers of different sizes, two of them foldable in the middle. Suitable additional third-party dividers are easy to find. Both the interior of the main compartment and the dividers are medium gray, like the zipper of the main hatch. The interior of the main compartment has a Velcro attachment lining on most of its front and rear surfaces, except for the topmost 9 cm, which only has a sewn Velcro strip in the middle. A blue pocket for the rain cover is sewn on the inside of the main hatch, near its bottom.
The rear pocket contains a blue fixed partition with a lightly padded pocket and two unpadded ones, and the outer wall of the rear pocket is lightly padded, too. There are no internal pockets sized for SD cards, and no internal zippered pockets. A ribbon ending in a small plastic musketeer is sewn to the inside of the rear pocket, and can be used for attaching a card wallet or battery pouch.
The nylon cloth covering the rear of the pack and the main hatch has a rip-stop texture. The bottom and sides of the pack are covered in a stiffer, featureless nylon cloth. The pad resting against one's back and the inner side of the shoulder strap are covered in the usual breathable netting. Hopefully it is more durable than the netting used on some other backpacks (e.g. the Lowepro Primus, which started unraveling after less than one year of light usage - this pack was promoted as largely made from recycled materials, which made me think along the lines of "garbage in, garbage out").
The padding of the shoulder strap is lightweight and neither very thick nor very resilient, but given the limited volume of the pack it should be enough for comfortable carrying.
The security strap is attached along the shoulder strap with a plastic "anchor" fitting into one of five available eyelets. The multiple eyelets allow the best fit of the security strap against one's body, but the anchor is not meant for quickly unclipping the two straps from each other. The free eyelets can be used for a musketeer and/or a very small pouch.
Wearing the pack
The Tenba web site shows the Solstice sling pack being worn with the shoulder strap on the left shoulder of the wearer. In principle, it is possible to switch to wearing it on the right shoulder instead (e.g. to rest the left shoulder). The pack does not sit straight on your back and does not fit as well as on your left shoulder, but you still can carry it. However, with the shoulder strap on your right shoulder you cannot use the security strap, and cannot sling the pack forward with the main hatch facing upwards.
In brief, do not sling the pack forward while wearing the shoulder strap on your right shoulder. Take it off and wear it on your left shoulder first.
Putting on the pack
Both the main shoulder strap and the security strap can be released with clamps. It was not immediately obvious to me how to put on this pack. It turns out that there are two different ways: the right way and the wrong way:
Slinging the pack forward
If the security strap is used, it prevents you from slinging the pack forward to open it. Opening the clasp of the security strap while the back is on your back requires you to feel its clasp with your fingers. Especially when wearing heavy clothing and a heavy pack, you may not be able to see this clasp.
Once the clasp of the security strap is open, it is a simple matter to swing the pack forwardalong the right side of your body, with its main hatch uppermost. It is also easy to open and close the zipper of the main hatch, swing the pack back to the rear. The difficult part is to close the clasp of the security strap. Sorry, I don't know an easy way.
When you not wearing the pack, you must lay it down on its left side in order to access the interior. Equipment can easily fall out of the main hatch or rear pocket if the pack is opened while vertical.
When sitting down on a bus or train, the pack can be slung forward in the usual way and rest on your legs. To sit comfortably, you may need to increase slightly the length of the shoulder strap. Unless you want to lay the pack on the floor between your legs, you should not need to take the shoulder strap off your shoulder, where the pack sits safest.
Details of the strap
A tab of the same material as the shoulder strap protects your clothes from wear against the clasp of the security strap near the bottom of the pack (see above figure, left image). This protective tab, however, may fold against your back, and after clasping the security strap you should check that the tab is in its intended position. A similar tab protects your clothes against abrasion by the clasp of the shoulder strap.
I am considering replacing the original security strap with one equipped with an additional clasp where the two straps join. It is the only way I can think of to make the two straps easier to clasp together. In the mean time, I usually store the security strap, detached from the pack, in the rear pocket. Even without this strap, the pack feels sufficiently stable for a normal walk, and is easier to alternate between the left and right shoulders, as well as to swing forward for sitting on public transportation. In addition, the smaller 7 l Solstice sling pack does not have a security strap, which suggests its use is not essential for the 10 l model.
Tenba does not seem to provide detailed instructions on how to wear their packs and bags. They only give instructions on how to use a few unusual features, for example how to change the attachment points of the shoulder straps of their Axis backpacks. Probably they assume one also knows how to use a sling pack. However, I have used plenty of backpacks and shoulder bags in my time, but this is my first sling pack. As this page describes, it was not immediately self-evident to me how to use it.
As a service to customers, Tenba could carry a video on their web site, of a model putting on a Solstice sling pack, slinging it forward and backward, and taking it off. It would need to be only a few seconds long, and would certainly be more useful than their present video showing a sumo wrestler attempting to tear an assortment of Tenba bags to pieces with his hands. A more informative Tenba video, starting with the same sumo wrestler clip, is available on YouTube. However, it does not show the security strap being closed and opened.
The Tenba Solstice 10 l sling pack fits my current Micro 4/3 photography kit, and (if its security strap is not used) can be quickly slung forward around its single shoulder strap for immediate access to the camera equipment while standing, with no need to kneel down and/or to lay down the pack, then slung back to the rear for comfortable carrying like a backpack. It can contain up to three medium-sized pro lenses, plus a 300 mm f/4 telephoto lens with attached 2x teleconverter and attached normally-sized mirrorless camera.