When it comes to affordable backpacks that are designed to hold both a notebook and a photographer's camera kit only one word usually comes to mind: uncomfortable. But Slappa comes to the rescue with one of the best photo/laptop bags we've ever reviewed. This isn't an ordinary notebook backpack, folks. This backpack has padded storage and dividers for all your digital lifestyle needs; from notebooks and digital cameras, to iPhones and USB flash drives. Is the Slappa Ballistix Aura Pro-Tour Backpack as good as it sounds? We put it to the test to find out.
The team at Slappa was kind enough to actually read our reviews of laptop/camera bags over the years and they realized many people want an affordable bag that can safely (and comfortably) hold all their digital gear. Maybe you need to carry a 15.4 inch notebook, iPhone, and a DSLR with lenses. Maybe you just need something to haul a netbook, an external hard drive, and a couple of days worth of clothes. Whatever your personal travel needs require there's a darn good chance the new Slappa Ballistix Aura Pro-Tour Backpack is perfect bag for you.
Design and Construction
The Slappa Pro-Tour backpack comes in just one size at the time of this writing, a 17x12.5x9.5 inch backpack designed to hold an entry-level or mid-grade DSLR and a laptop with up to a 15.4 inch screen. The Pro-Tour backpack is one of the more unique laptop/camera bags because it uses a removable camera compartment. The backpack is available in either black/gray or brown/tan and features a traditional "rucksack" style profile, with the laptop storage inside a top-loading pocket behind protective flap on the front of the backpack and the camera compartment located inside a massive top-loading compartment protected by heavy-duty zippers and a "Cush-Pad" retractable handle.
I find the Pro-Tour's tough looks quite appealing. Stylistically, the bag looks like a smaller version of a camper's rucksack or soldier's field gear which helps send the message that his backpack means business. The water- and tear-resistant Nylon, industrial strength alloy zipper pullers, and rugged plastic runners on the bottom of the backpack all serve to keep this bag looking great regardless of how you abuse it. During the course of the review process I spilt an entire cup of black coffee all over the outside and part of the inside of the backpack. Two paper towels with a little soap and water was all it took to restore the Pro-Tour to like-new condition.
In terms of build quality, Slappa is well known for high quality standards, and the Ballistix Aura Pro-Tour Backpack is no exception. In terms of padding, Slappa provides ample padding around both the laptop compartment and the camera compartments; with a camera, several lenses, and a laptop packed away, everything feels safe and secure. In fact, Slappa even included some additional light padding in the main accessory compartments in case you have some fragile accessories.
A relatively minor omission from the design of the Pro-Tour is the lack of either fully weather-sealed zippers or an accessory rain cover. Since I suspect nature photographers and urban photojournalists are likely to use this backpack I would have liked to see even more weather-resistance in the design. However, the water-resistant 1680D Nylon and heavy-duty zippers do provide some protection, and full weather-proofing would have substantially increased the cost of this backapck.
Cargo Space and Capacity
Internally, the Pro-Tour Backpack offers an impressive 1,700 cubic inches of storage space. To put that in perspective, that's enough room for a 15.4 inch notebook, accessories, a nicely equipped camera kit, and snacks. If you take out the removable camera compartment you have enough room for several days worth of clothes and a toiletry bag...or two twelve packs of soda. There is also abundant padding between both camera gear and the notebook compartment to keep expensive items from banging into one another.
The main notebook compartment is nice and well padded and located between the camera/cargo compartment and the main accessory compartments. The main accesory compartments on the front of the backpack are all nicely padded as well and have plenty of room for external hard drives, mice, power adapters, battery chargers, and more.
In terms of size, the removable camera compartment in the Pro-Tour is deep enough to easily hold one mid-size DSLR body (such as the Canon Rebel XSi, Nikon D90, Pentax K2000, or Olympus E-30), two or three lenses, a flash, batteries, and a charger. Larger camera bodies (such as the Canon EOS-1D series) or cameras with large battery grips attached will not fit inside the storage compartment in this backpack.
Overall, the camera compartment is perfect for amateur photographers or working photographers who want to travel light. However, the camera compartment could use additional Velcro strips at the bottom of the dividers to hold the dividers in place even better.
Over the shoulders, the Pro-Tour's heavy-duty horse-shoe collar straps offer the perfect amount of padding for a bag of this size. One additional note about the straps is that the adjustable chest strap helps keep the backpack in place if you're loaded down with lots of gear. The straps also have several areas where you can connect additional storage pouches, such as another cell phone pouch if you need even more storage.
The back padding, like the shoulder strap padding, is very nice. As mentioned previously, most laptop/camera backpacks place the laptop storage compartment directly behind the back pad, which makes those bags uncomfortable to wear as a backpack when a full-sized notebook is inside. The Pro-Tour backpack doesn't have this problem since the laptop is sandwiched between multiple padded layers and compartments in the middle of the backpack. You can easily carry a 15.4 inch notebook, a DSLR, several lenses, and an external flash inside this backpack and never know any of those items are inside the bag...other than feeling the weight.
The extremely roomy and numerous compartments give you quick access to both small and large accessories: business cards, pens, USB flash drives, phones, and just about anything you can think of will find a home inside one of the compartments in this backpack. On that note, it was a little odd that the Pro-Tour only has a spot to hold a small travel tripod rather than a retention strap for a full-size professional tripod. Sure, most people don't haul a massive, professional-grade tripod with them when they travel, but we suspect a fair number of professional photographers or videographers might end up buying this bag to carry all their digital goodies.
The only other minor annoyance that I encountered while testing the Pro-Tour Backpack is that the padded laptop compartment is a little too small for the fantastic Slappa Ballistix Aura laptop sleeve if you have a 15.4 inch notebook inside the sleeve and try to put it into the backpack. If you don't use a sleeve or use a 14 inch or smaller notebook inside the sleeve then this isn't a problem.
If I had to pick one bag to carry all my important electronics (notebook, camera, and accessories for both) then the Slappa Ballistix Aura Pro-Tour Backpack is the only one I'd choose. For those people who like to travel light, this backpack might be a little overkill, but if you can't live without all your electronics then this is the bag for you.
Photographers using larger professional SLR bodies and large zoom lenses or telephoto primes will likely find the Pro-Tour's space a little cramped. Short of that, however, most gadget geeks should have more than enough room for their toys inside this backpack. The storage flexibility and comfort combined with a less than $150 street price make the Pro-Tour Backpack one of the best options for our modern digital lifestyles.
Price and Availability
The Slappa Ballistix Aura Pro-Tour Backpack ($149.99) is available direct from the Slappa website. As a special offer to our readers through our sister site, NotebookReview.com, you can get an additional 10 percent discount by using the discount code "notebookreview" during checkout.