While looking for a new shoulder bag to use for family sessions and travel assignments, I came across Gura Gear's Chobe 19-24L expandable bag. It checked all the boxes I needed; airline carry-on-friendly, reasonably lightweight, laptop sleeve, configurable dividers, plenty of storage pockets, and room for things other than camera equipment. I have now taken it on several sessions here in Korea, and on my recent trips to Myanmar and Malaysia. For carrying a small kit, it has been a great bag. Here are my thoughts so far.
The Chobe is made with sailcloth material, which is extremely tough and durable. Walking through the forests in Myanmar and Malaysia did not leave a single scratch or ripped fiber on the bag although it does seem to be somewhat of a dirt magnet. The zippers are high quality and open quickly and easily. My only suggestion for the construction would be an extra waterproof base. The bag has a flat bottom and can easily be set on the ground when needed, but one must constantly search for a relatively dry place to put it down. A dedicated rain cover would be great as well to cover the zips.
Pockets and Storage
When the Chobe is contracted, the optional photo insert does not fit inside, and the bag becomes more like a day bag. I will look at from the expanded standpoint as a photography bag, as that is my primary use for the bag. Below is the size difference when expanded versus contracted.
Starting from the outside, the front of the bag has two large zippered pockets. Inside both of these you can find a number of smaller pockets for storing phones, tablets, notebooks, pens, or whatever else you may need during the day. There's even a carabiner to attach your keys. I find myself using these pockets for the things I need most frequently like my passport and notebooks while traveling, or memory cards during and batteries during a shoot.
On the back of the bag is a laptop sleeve that can hold up to a 15" laptop, or magazines and documents if needs be. Behind this is another document sleeve with a zipper at the bottom, allowing it to be sleeved onto the handle of a rolling bag. This was great going to and from airports over the past few weeks.
On each side, a small pouch can be found. On the right is a stretchable piece that I use to hold my LED flashlight, and on the left is an expandable holder for a drink bottle. These were extremely convenient when traveling with the bag.
Inside the main compartment are yet more small zippered pockets for memory cards, cables and batteries. The compartment itself is quite deep, and the photo insert sits at the bottom, taking up roughly half of the vertical space in the bag. My trip to Myanmar was a personal one, and this extra space proved invaluable. I like to travel with just one bag where possible, and I was able to pack my extra clothing under the photo insert while moving through airports and then unpack it at hotels to lighten my daily load.
The photo insert itself uses a configurable Velcro divider system, but I have found the default configuration to be enough for my needs. During my trip to Myanmar, I carried my Fujifilm X-T1, Fujifilm X-E1, XF 10-24mm f/4, XF 16mm f/1.4, XF 35mm f/1.4, XF 56mm f/1.2, and Nissin i40. With one camera in hand or wrapped in a cloth, I also had space for my Canon Selphy printer with its battery pack. This same configuration can also hold my Nikon D800, Fujifilm X-T1, and two lenses for each when I shoot an event.
The included strap has a nice, padded shoulder that makes the bag easy to carry and doesn't allow it to slip around on your shoulder. For days when extra weight is added to the bag, I do wish there were a little more padding, but this is minor for me as I mostly carry only a small kit in this bag, and prefer to use a rolling bag for larger kits. The bag's soft construction also means that when you don't have something rigid, like a laptop, in the back sleeve, it will mould somewhat to the shape of your body to keep it from slipping around as you move.
What I liked
- Tough construction
- The number of pockets and storage spaces
- Extra space for things other than camera gear
What I Feel could be Improved
- Additional waterproofing on bottom
- Inclusion of a rain cover
- Need for slightly more padding on shoulder strap
- A smaller insert to cater for the contracted configuration of the bag would also come in handy when such a large bag is overkill
Right now, I'm happier with this purchase than I've been with a lot of shoulder bags. They're usually not a fit for my gear, either being too large or too small. It's lightweight and durable construction with plenty of storage places for accessories make it useful for a variety of jobs both close to home and when on the road. I'll be looking out for a smaller set of dividers from a third party manufacturer to slim down the bag, and a rain cover, but otherwise it gets my wholehearted recommendation.
I brough a Chobe on a 3 month photo trip back in 2012. The shoulder strap attachment point ripped halfway down the bag in the third week of the trip. I was in Norway at the time, and heading to Jordan in a few days. After a quick email exchange with Gura Gear, they shipped a new one to the address where I was staying in Jordan free of charge. Incredible customer service. They wanted to know exactly what had happened so they could improve the bag construction as well.