Like many men and women these days, I carry a bag. I carry a bag when I’m in the field. I carry a bag when I’m running errands around town. I carry a bag more or less whenever I leave the house for anything more than to walk the dog or take my evening stroll. Ideally, so that I need not worry about being without some item of my essential kit as a result of switching between different bags for different activities, I very much prefer the bag I carry for all these diverse purposes to be the same bag. Consequently, if you see me out in public toting a bag the chances that I have given the selection of that particular bag a great deal of consideration are extraordinarily high. Which is why my time putting the Filson Camera Field Bag through its proverbial paces has been so satisfying; it has demonstrated that it would well serve any purpose to which I would wish to put it.

“But why a camera bag?” you may ask. After all, I’m not a professional photographer and an amateur writer; I’m a professional writer and a (very) amateur photographer. But quite frankly, calling this particular Filson bag a “camera bag” is severely to limit its potential.

The Filson Camera Field Bag doing service as a journalist bag at the Entomological Society 2014 convention.
The Filson Camera Field Bag doing service as a journalist bag at the 2014 Entomological Society of America convention.

Most camera bags I’ve previously owned have been heavily padded, semi-rigid, (semi) portable structures composed of black tactical nylon designed solely to protect whatever is put in them; being in any way aesthetically pleasing is – with the exception of a very select few – purely accidental. Should one be carrying professional grade camera bodies and lenses that cost more than my first car (and quite possibly every one I’ve owned since) this is entirely understandable. However for my part, my own daily kit doesn’t require such an extreme level of protection.

Not that I’m prone to allowing all my various items of kit merely to bang around in a single chambered messenger bag, mind you. Between my Fujifilm X100 camera, Swarovski EL 8x32mm bins (when afield), Swarovski CL 8x25mm bins (when not), and my eyeglasses, I’m always carrying rather a lot of lens-incorporating and thus rather fragile items requiring protection. Which is why I am so impressed with the Filson Camera Field Bag. It not only protects whatever I put into it while looking perfectly presentable in either town or country. It offers all the benefits of a more traditional camera bag but – and this is an important point that is often overlooked by many people when choosing a bag for their camera equipment – it doesn’t look like a camera bag.

The dark khaki version of the Filson Camera Field Bag
The dark khaki version of the Filson Camera Field Bag particularly reflects its classic Filson Field Bag roots.

Bags that look like camera bags attract attention from both the curious and the nefarious alike. Some people like to have their picture taken, some people hate to have their picture taken, and some people steal cameras. So why, whether or not you’re actually carrying camera equipment, encourage everyone who sees you to assume that you are by carrying a bag that exclaims to all who see it “I’m full of expensive camera equipment?”

The way the Filson Camera Field Bag keeps its secrets to itself is that its designers drew much of its external appearance from the classic Filson Medium Field Bag. However inside it is very much unlike its classic ancestor. It offers three moveable padded partitions that can be arranged to create cozy and appropriately sized sections for camera bodies, lenses, or whatever else is to be carried. I arranged those in the bag I tested so that I had one for my bins, one for my camera, and one for my spectacle case and other smaller items, all the while keeping a final area sized just right for the many books and journals I like to keep handy – and that was not even yet beginning to employ the two smaller snap-flap bellows front pockets, the interior zippered security pocket, full bag width back pocket, or the open top side pockets that make accessing a mobile phone as large as the iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy Note 4 quick and easy.

Yet despite all the carrying capacity possessed by the bag, it remains remarkably light – even when fully loaded. In all honesty I can’t fully explain it. At first I thought it was just that I hadn’t put everything into it that I might normally carry but checking the contents told me that such was not the case; all my usual kit was present. So I brought out another bag I have of comparable size – that in fact when empty was even lighter than the Filson when empty – and loaded everything from the Filson into it. When I slung this other loaded bag onto my shoulder it was uncomfortably heavy and cumbersome. Reloading the Filson once again and shouldering it I was astonished at how much more comfortable it was. The only explanation I could reach was that the partitions in the bag which allow for the interior contents to be held more securely work together with the position of the strap connectors and the width of the strap itself to help distribute the weight in a more comfortable way. Whatever the reason, the result is a very welcome one indeed, especially when the bag is to be carried into the field.

Filson Camera Field Bag 3
As at home in a cafe as in the field.

Of course, any bag that will be carried into the field needs to be durable and water-resistant. Which is no doubt why Filson’s designers chose the firm’s famous 15-oz. oil finish Tin Cloth and it’s 22-oz. Rugged Twill as their primary construction materials. If these fabrics are good enough for their time-tested, trusty field jackets (two of which I’ve long owned), I have no doubt they will do equally reliable service protecting my field kit. However as this bag also needs to serve my needs in the city, the bridle leather shoulder strap connection points (to which is connected a generously wide web shoulder strap that can be easily adjusted for either shoulder or cross-body carrying), closure straps, and flap trim give it the right amount of sophistication to ensure that it will look just as appropriate in a downtown office or cafe as it does out on the bottomlands along the Columbia.

For years I’ve carried a Filson Passage Dispatch Bag that is now unfortunately discontinued from production. It’s still going strong and looks great, but I know that one day it might need to be replaced. I’ve told many people in the past that I just didn’t think I’d ever be able to find one to equal it for design, utility, and appearance. However having now had the opportunity to put the Filson Camera Field Bag through its paces both I the field as well as in my daily rounds, I think I’ve not just found a bag to equal my old Passage Dispatch, I think I’ve found one that actually bests it.

Filson Camera Field Bag Catalog PhotoProduct: Filson Camera Field Bag

Manufacturer: Filson

Model Number: 70147

Dimensions: 15″ W x 11″ H x 4-1/2″ D

Material: 15-oz. oil finish Tin Cloth and 22-oz. Rugged Twill

Color(s): Otter Green or Dark Khaki

Price: $320.00


Shortly after the publication of this review, a reader noted that the price was far too high and that a much less expensive bag could be bought in a surplus store. While it is indeed true that there are a multitude of shoulder bags, some of which are also camera bags, that can be purchased for much less money, none of them would be the same bag as the Filson Camera Field Bag. In fact, I have had the opportunity to review a number of other bags over the past few years that have had an even higher price at retail than the Filson but about which – either due to their lack of sufficient utility or due to their being of a level of quality that I did not think justified their price – I chose not to write.

What’s more, unlike those previously mentioned bags, the Filson Camera Field Bag is made in Seattle, Washington. Quite frankly, as a U.S. citizen, I rather like the idea of the things I buy being made in the U.S. – and as a life-long resident of the Pacific Northwest, I’m particularly pleased when they’re made by a company that’s been doing business for over a hundred years just up the highway from where I live. And if that wasn’t enough, this Filson bag, like all Filson products, is guaranteed for life:

We guarantee every item purchased from Filson. No more, no less. We believe in our products and stand by the quality of workmanship, craftsmanship, and materials in each one. We guarantee the lifetime of each item against failure or damage in its intended usage.

Very few companies will make such a guarantee anymore; which is why the ones who do – and who have a well-proven record of standing behind such a guarantee – are worthy of respect.

So yes, the Filson Camera Field Bag has a $320.00 price tag, but for a U.S. made bag that does everything you want it to while looking good doing it and that comes with a lifetime guarantee, I’d say the price is well worth it. I wouldn’t have even bothered to review it if I didn’t.