I recall visiting Weinreb’s shop when it first opened in New York City and being impressed by him, the quality of his bags and his dedication. As a professional photographer, he was well aware of what pros needed – and he'd delivered.
It’s been awhile since I’d reviewed a Tenba backpack. So I thought a review was long overdue, and chose the Tenba Roadie Backpack 20. Unofficially, this is version 3.
How has my impression of the Tenba pack changed over the years, or, for that matter, did it change at all? Read on…
At the outset, I should point out that this pack is as sturdily built and crafted with the same integrity as the original Tenba packs. One key difference: back then Tenba, along with other manufacturers, used a DuPont Cordura nylon-like fabric shell, if not genuine Cordura itself. Either way, it was a material that was so tough, even my cat couldn’t damage it when she used it as a scratching post.
Today, most quality bags are still made of nylon, but with a different weave and texture. The chief problem with Cordura and its ilk, aside from the added weight it tacked on to a pack, was that the texture was rough and scratchy. Ripstop nylon (aka parachute nylon) had been used in the past – and continues to be used today, as a lighter-weight alternative, yet with enough lasting power to go the distance – and with a fashionable edge, to boost. Then ballistic nylon came along. It was practically on a par with Cordura in terms of durability but without that annoying scratchy quality, and arguably a touch less fashionable. Cordura, today manufactured overseas and no longer an arm of DuPont, is currently taking a backseat to ripstop and ballistic nylon.
Where can I get more info and tech specs?
Tenba Roadie Backpack 20 - How much is it?
Who Should Use the Tenba Roadie Backpack 20?
Nature & wildlife photographers.
On the Inside
A trademark of every bag worth its salt back then was a fully padded shell, usually closed-cell foam, with a fully customizable interior that took advantage of padded dividers, again largely, if not entirely, closed-cell foam. These dividers were locked in placed using Velcro or similar hook-and-loop material.
That hasn’t changed. This pack is fully customizable.
I didn’t want a big bag, so I opted for the smallest pack in this series. When I received the pack, the first thing I did was test to see if it would hold my bird photography outfit without squawking.
I pulled out a bunch of dividers and made room for my Tamron 150-600mm on its own and even attached to a Nikon D610. No problem either way. But in the end, I revised the layout so I could comfortably carry a Nikon D500 with mounted Tamron 100-400mm zoom, with sling strap attached to the bottom of the camera. There was room for a Nikon SB-700, a macro lens – and much more. I then played around with other configurations. I still found myself with room to spare, no matter which outfit I’d designed the interior around.
This bag is deeper than most I’ve worked with in recent years. That makes it easy to store lenses on end, and to store lots of them. There are plenty of padded dividers. And to sweeten the deal, there are also Velcro-style bands to secure gear so it doesn’t bounce around, if you find your items surrounded by too much air. You can also use spare dividers for this purpose, removing them once you arrive at your destination, so you’re not impeded in any way. If you’re seriously into wildlife photography, you’ll want as much space as you can reasonably get – and still be able to bring a bag onboard a plane as carry-on. (But check airline restrictions for each leg of your journey, just to be safe.)
The Tenba Roadie Backpack 20 is built to last. It will carry practically any gear you need on a wildlife adventure. The neutral-toned interior makes gear readily visible and quite accessible. It just could be the only photo backpack you’ll ever need.
The Backpack Harness System
The Roadie Backpack 20 employs adjustable, padded, contoured shoulder straps as the linchpin to its backpack harness system. Complementing that is a waist belt (padded just right) that hugs your hips and an adjustable sternum (chest) strap. The chest strap is stretchy for added comfort, so it won’t feel as if it’s restricting your breathing. The shoulder straps also have load-lifters and even the removable waist belt has compression straps, both designed to better adapt the pack to your body type.
One thing I should point out about the shoulder harness is that the straps are spaced a bit wider than on other packs I own. This is by design, as I understand it, allowing you to pivot the straps for a more ergonomic fit.
A Few Extras
Originally every camera backpack opened outward. Walk onto a crowded thoroughfare and there's always the fear that prying hands will find their way inside your pack. Not so with this bag. Increasingly, today’s photo packs feature rear entry, beneath the shoulder straps. Which means, the access panel lies against your back, making it essentially impossible for anyone to unzip it and get to your gear. Added to that, the industry-standard YKK zippers used here have a locking feature (small, TSA-compliant lock optional), so even if you leave the bag for a moment, it stays shut. Other zippers on the bag are also YKK, but without this locking feature (but there’s always a way to lock them).
If you like to carry a laptop, this pack will heft a 17” notebook in an outside front sleeve. There is an organizer pocket that fronts that, which is nearly as spacious, with room for a light jacket.
Do you carry a tripod? There’s a dedicated outside pocket with compression strap that will hold practically any inverted-leg-style tripod with compact ballhead attached (larger heads should be stored in the bag, where you should have ample space). If you prefer to leave the head attached or if you use a compact tripod without inverted legs, no problem – just store the tripod normally. As with any tripod carrying system: two legs in, one outside - to ensure a good fit. Don’t carry a tripod? You might be able to carry a lens here, securing it with the compression strap. Or just keep this pocket zipped shut, with maybe a Rocket Blower and other cleaning aids inside.
Finally, running practically the width and depth of the bag, the topmost zipped compartment is for those extras you may need to immediately get your hands on. It’s padded, so like the rest of the bag, that means it’s insulated and well suited for battery storage. I also keep first-aid supplies in here, along with other small items I may need on the spur of the moment, along with the included rain cover.
Tenba Roadie Backpack 20: What I Liked
What I’d Like to See…
Built like a tank, the Tenba Roadie Backpack 20 has undergone improvements since it was first introduced. As Tenba pointed out…
“The bag you have is the third iteration of the original Roadie backpack. It’s improvements were driven by the users who have the last two versions: better/quicker tripod carrying, more comfortable harness, removable waist belt, stiffer internal dividers and overall construction to support heavy pro cine/photo lenses, along with better maximized overall storage so that this is truly the most gear you can bring on a plane for an international flight. Here is the video for the Version 3 bag that you have: https://youtu.be/CNLZkEFD7f0.”