Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gear Review: Clik Elite's Probody Sport Backpack

Photographers, it seems, are forever in search of the perfect backpack to haul around their gear or at least a subset thereof. I know I am, and I've collected quite a few over the years. I've collected so many because I just can't seem to find that one design that does everything I need. Of course, I now realize that no such pack exists, especially when it comes to outdoor photography. This is because of the many different situations that can dictate how much gear one can/should bring along and what non-photographic gear is needed as well. For instance, photographers that shoot near a vehicle can afford to bring along large packs that'll stash most, or all, of their mammoth collection of photographic gear. Meanwhile, day hiking photogs that tend to spend half to a full day in the field will most likely pare down their gear into a smaller pack, unless they are the superhuman sherpa types that enjoy pain and suffering. Backpacking photographers will have different requirements yet. What I've found to be the best approach when buying a backpack is to first identify the specific set of needs that will be required of it. Be careful not to define your criteria too broadly as it will most likely result in a purchase you won't be completely happy with and probably cost you more money in the process...believe me, I've been there!

When I decided to enter the market for yet another backpack (which had my wife rolling her eyes when I proudly proclaimed my intentions), I knew exactly what I was looking for. I had packs to my liking that covered both the near the vehicle and backpacking shooting situations. What I found a glaring need for was something for those longer day hiking expeditions. Camera specific backpacks just don't cut it for me. While they store and protect camera equipment and tripods pretty well, they don't leave much, or any, room for clothing, food, water, etc. Also, their strap systems seem to be designed by kindergarteners as they just never fit right and always get uncomfortable over time. The closest I've come to a usable system for day hiking was with my previously reviewed Think Tank Modular system. However, moving to Arizona has revealed its biggest weakness...the inability to carry enough water for long outings in the desert. I found that I had to also carry a Camelback backpack (for hydration purposes) in addition to the belt and chest pack and strapping on all that stuff became a royal pain. In the end, what I really wanted was some sort of happy medium between a Camelback and a conventional camera backpack. Well, enter Clik Elite and their line of photographer-centric adventure packs. 

Clik Elite packs are designed by photographers who are also avid outdoorsman. They "get" the need to create a comfortable and ergonomic backpack that'll safely and securely store camera equipment, yet still have a separate section for miscellaneous gear. And above all, they "get" the need to have a means of hydration built into the pack by integrating a sleeve compartment to house a water bladder (although a bladder is not included). There's even a mechanism to lash on a small tripod on their newer models. Once I saw these specifications I was hooked. It was just a matter of determining which of their various sized pack offerings would suit my needs best. In the end I settled on their Probody Sport model...thus the topic for this review.

Back View of Clik Elite Probody Sport

The Probody Sport is just the perfect size for me. It will hold my Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 70-200mm f/4 lens attached in the lower camera compartment and still have room for two additional lenses in dedicated compartments (I've been able to fit both a Canon 17-40 f/4 and 24-70 f/2.8 lens into these compartments. This was more than I really needed since I usually carry my camera with a lens attached in a front chestpack for easy access when I day hike. Thus, I have additional room for filters and other miscellaneous camera gear. On a side note, I should mention that Clik also offers a chestpack that nicely integrates with all their backpacks. Had I not already owned one, I would've seriously considered it as well.

View Into Camera Compartment (Canon 5D2 with 70-200 f/4 attached, 17-40 f/4 and 24-70 f/2.8)
The upper compartment is separate from the camera compartment although the separator can be removed...a nice touch that enhances the pack's versatility. It's just a single storage area that's good for stashing food and clothing in. It's large enough to hold a couple of clothing layers (or rain gear) and an assortment of snacks to get you through the day. I've got my rain gear stuffed in there on the pictures above. Then there's the integrated sleeve that runs along the back which houses up to a 100 ounce (3 liter) water bladder. While I really thought Clik should've included a bladder with the pack, it didn't really matter in my case as I already had a 3 liter bladder from a Camelback pack that I could utilize.

Another nice touch in the pack's design is the inclusion of a small zippered pouch on the top of the pack. The pouch is felt lined and perfect for quick access to a cell phone, mp3 player, sunglasses, wallet, etc. It's little details like this which really shows how much thought Clik put into creating an extremely useful pack.

Rounding out the notable feature list for the pack is a mechanism to lash a small tripod (and I emphasize small) to the side of the pack, a small outer mesh pocket to stash small items, and a zippered accessed media organizer where you can securely store memory cards, spare batteries, business cards, etc. The only real comment that I have here concerns the tripod attachment design. Here, the top of the pod is secured via a thin elastic cord that can be cinched down while the bottom of the tripod fits into a mesh pocket. While the mechanism works (as long as it is a small tripod), it is somewhat flimsy and has me questioning it's durability over the long run. Particularly the thin elastic tie down. I really wish Clik would have utilized something more sturdy here like an adjustable buckling strap. So the bottom line here is don't even consider trying to attach even a medium weight tripod and ballhead to this pack. The support just isn't there. My tripods are both lightweight so it isn't a concern for me (I own Feisol and Induro carbon fiber, four section tripods), but it may be for you.

Probody Sport with Feisol CT-3442 Tripod Attached

One last thought concerning this pack involves its overall construction. To me, it is extremely well made with beefy zippers and heavy gauge ballistic nylon. I don't have any doubts that the pack will last a good long time. My only complaint is that Clik didn't really address any real waterproofing issues in the design. While they state that the zippers that access the camera compartment are water-resistant, there's no mention that the pack's nylon material itself is water-resistant in any way. Given that, I really wish that they would have at least included some sort of a rain cover for it. It's inevitable that you'll get caught out in the rain on day long hikes (even in the desert) and protection for its precious camera cargo is a must in my book.

Side View Of Pack
Rear View of Pack


This pack has been a godsend to have with me on the longer day trips I've taken in the Arizona desert. No longer do I have to be concerned with the issue of how to carry enough water to get me through the day. I just fill the bladder and I'm good to go. Combined with my chestpack (or even without), it affords me enough room to carry everything I've needed...both in terms of camera gear and the other stuff. I've also found the strap system to be very comfortable. I'll load down the pack and hardly even feel like I'm wearing it...a good sign that Clik designed it right. My only real complaints involve the tripod carrying design and the waterproofing issues. While there's no current issue carrying my tripod, I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed  that it stays that way. As far as the lack of any type of rain cover goes, I'll have to do a little research to see if I can come up with a workable cover. This pack is just too useful to let that issue drag it down. Hopefully, it's something that Clik will address with the next iteration of this model.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Exploring Sycamore Canyon

I forgot to mention my recent explorations of Sycamore Canyon in my previous blog post so I decided to dedicate a new post exclusively for it. Sycamore Canyon is one of two major canyons that flank the Sedona area in central Arizona. The other is Oak Creek Canyon, by far the more popular and crowded of the two. In comparison, Sycamore Canyon is like the shy little sister that never gets any attention and likes it that way. While steep walled and narrow Oak Creek Canyon has a beautiful perennially flowing stream and a car-choked road leading right up its gut, Sycamore Canyon only has a seasonal stream (with the exception of the southernmost three miles where it is perennial) and no roads whatsoever. It's a designated wilderness and is THE place to be in the Sedona area if solitude in a beautiful red rock canyon is your thing and you don't mind working for it.

Over the last few weeks, I've explored this canyon a few times at various entry points in an attempt to bask in the scenery that few casual visitors to the region will ever see. My first couple of ventures involved day hiking along the only perennially flowing stretch of Sycamore Creek up to Parsons Spring, taking in a gorgeous swimming hole along the way. This hike takes you along a stretch of the creek that is bordered by inner canyon walls, thus you never get to see the entire scope of the outer canyon. Regardless, it's a beautifully riparian canyon hike that is very different from what you see in rest of this wilderness. I did this hike twice because I wanted to photograph it both with green foliage and then again with fall colors lining the creek's banks.

A Swimming Hole Along Sycamore Creek

Autumn View From Parsons Spring Trailhead

My next adventure involved a backpacking trip deep into the heart of this wilderness. My buddy, Greg Rynders, and I originally planned for this to be a three day trip starting at the Dogie trailhead on the east rim of the canyon. From there we planned to backpack the Taylor's Cabin to Casner Mountain loop, some 21 miles that descends down to the creek bed to an out-of-commission (but restored) rancher's cabin and ascends back up via the Taylor Cabin trail to Casner Mountain. However, it being late November and all, the weather usually has the final say on all plans and it turned out to be far too cold (for our liking) to consider camping atop Casner Mountain. As it was, we awoke to a snow covered tent on our overnight at Taylor's Cabin which is nearly 2000 ft below Casner's summit. We opted (wisely, we both agreed) to shorten the trip to a single night out and back from the cabin. To change things up a bit, we did choose to come back a slightly different way by hiking the dry creek bed (instead of the official trail, which followed a bench high above the creek) back to the intersection with the Dogie Trail. While this boulder hopping route was tough on my chronically bad ankles, the new viewing perspective it afforded us definitely made it worth the while.

Taylor's Cabin - Sycamore Canyon Wilderness
The target of my final adventure involved finding some Sinagua Indian ruins that I had read about when researching for the above-described backpacking trip. These spectacularly set ruins were a must see from everything I read and I had really wanted to incorporate them into the backpacking trip, but we decided that was best left for another day. Well "another day" turned out to be a week later. After doing a little research, I discovered that I could actually drive to a trailhead located less than a mile from their location. Of course, this drive would be no walk in the park. While these ruins are located about 25 miles as the crow flies from my house, it took close to three hours to get there. It was a drive that involved 20 miles of washboarded shelf road followed by 12 more miles of bone jarring 4x4 road. In the end, the payoff was worth it though. In my opinion these ruins rate right up there with the False Kiva ruins in Canyonlands National Park for their scenic surroundings. It was a great way to cap off my Sycamore Canyon experience...for now!

Sinagua Indian Ruins - Sycamore Canyon Wilderness

Happy Holidays Everyone

Ok....after a good start, I've been really bad at maintaining this blog. I apologize for this and hope to change. I guess it will be part of my new year's resolutions!

Anyway, a lot has happened in my life since my last blog entry with the most major change being that I relocated from southwest Colorado to Sedona, Arizona. The particulars of this move kept me extremely busy over a large part of last summer. Of course, I still made sure that I found time to start photographing my new surroundings as I need to keep adding to my portfolio to make a living.

View From Brins Mesa - Sedona, AZ
As many of you probably know, Sedona is a photographer's dream that is surrounded by red rock monoliths, canyons and even lush riparan areas. Our move to this paradise corresponded with the beginning of the monsoon season which added stormy skies, rainbows and lightning into the mix. It was definitely a summer to remember!

Rainbow Over The Red Rocks

Monsoon Sky Over Cathedral Rock
Click on the link below to see a sampling of the summertime images I've collected.

Summertime In Sedona

Once the summer wound down and we finally got settled in from the move, I began researching my autumn shooting strategy in the area. Autumn shooting in Arizona??? You bet!

Agassiz Peak - San Francisco Peaks
While maybe not as spectacular as what I've grown accustomed to in the Colorado rockies, there are still many fascinating areas to soak in autumn in Arizona. Because of the vastly different elevations and ecosystems found in the state, there's fall color to be found anytime from September through December. Not many states can boast that!

West Fork Canyon Reflections
Most of my first fall color shooting season was spent in the San Francisco Peaks (near Flagstaff), Oak Creek and West Fork Canyons (near Sedona), and some of the scenic drainages of the Mogollon Rim near Payson.

Oak Creek near Sedona
You can see a collection of images from my wanderings by clicking the link below...

Autumn In Arizona

One other thing to note before I sign off is that I now have my 2011 Desert Southwest scenic calendar available for purchase. You can preview and purchase the calendar here. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope the upcoming holidays are merry!!