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Author Topic: Towards a better travel camera backpack  (Read 2405 times)

shadowblade

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Towards a better travel camera backpack
« on: May 15, 2017, 04:11:40 PM »

Had plenty of time to think on the long flight home from Buenos Aires after being stabbed and robbed of all my camera gear, and one of the things that stands out is the lack of variety in current camera backpack offerings, and their utter unsuitability for travel photography (with equal emphasis on the 'travel' and 'photography' parts). Sure, there are lots of models available, but they are all basically the same - big hold-everything packs which work like camera packs and look unmistakably like camera packs full of valuables, or travel packs which are fine for a casual tourist who wants to bring a small SLR and kit lens, but cannot hold all the gear you'd want for a dedicated photography trip. Then there are the worst of the lot - high-tech bags which look like they're full of valuables, but do not, in fact, function well as camera backpacks at all.

What we really need is a pack that doesn't look like a camera pack at all, while able to hold all the camera gear you'd want on a shooting trip.

So I started putting together a document outlining the deficiencies in current offerings, and how to build a better one.

(Apologies for the formatting - I'm still in transit in Auckland, so this was typed on Microsoft Word on a phone and cut-and-pasted, so some of the bullet points didn't come out right)

***

Current types of packs


•   Dedicated camera pack. Boxy pack with large internal capacity, external tripod straps, e.g. Thinktank Airport Accelerator, Lowepro Pro Trekker. Often has a laptop sleeve. Looks like a camera pack – a target for thieves.
•   Non-camera pack. Basically a normal daypack with a padded camera sleeve thrown in, capable of holding a small SLR with attached kit lens. Usually does not look like a camera pack.
•   ‘Hybrid' pack. Two-compartment pack, with one compartment dedicated to camera equipment and the other for general storage. May or may not have external tripod storage. Appearance varies.

The problem


Dedicated camera backpacks have a giveaway appearance which marks them for theft or robbery. Non-dedicated camera packs lack the equipment or load-bearing capacity for many dedicated travel photography uses, including the ability to carry a tripod. External tripod carriage instantly marks any backpack as containing camera gear.

The requirements


A pack with the following features:
•   Can carry a basic, but comprehensive kit that includes:
o   Large SLR body
o   11-24mm f/4, 14-24mm f/2.8 or 16-35mm f/2.8 UWA zoom
o   24-70mm f/2.8 normal zoom
o   70-200mm f/2.8 or 100-400mm telephoto zoom
o   1.4x and 2x teleconverters
o   Room for 1 or 2 other special-purpose lenses, e.g. macro and tilt-shift, or another 70-200mm or 100-400mm-sized lens, or a flash.
o   Alternately can be configured to carry a long telephoto lens (e.g. 200-400mm f/4 zoom or 500mm f/4 prime)
o   Internal stowage of tripod and tripod head
o   Filters, filter holders, batteries, memory cards and other accessories
o   Multiple versions can be produced with or without laptop storage
•   Fits in airline carry-on luggage
•   Must look like a regular daypack or hiking pack rather than a camera backpack, or a pack containing other valuables.
•   Must have the load-bearing support structures needed to comfortably carry all the contained gear.

Current issues


•   Appearance
o   Boxy or bulky, padded shape (for maximal capacity) marks it as a camera pack, or a pack for other electronic valuables.
o   Presence of logos, tripod mounts, etc. gives it away as a camera pack.
•   Function
o   Many dedicated camera packs have a capacity far in excess of that typically carried for travel or landscape photography. This capacity can be reduced to eliminate the boxy appearance, while still allowing sufficient space for gear.
o   Harness and support system. A camera pack will typically hold a lot more weight than a non-camera pack of the same size - 10kg or more. Most packs have poor harness systems not suited to such weights.

Design elements

As per the requirements, any alternative pack design will need to contain the following design elements:

•   Stowage - elements allowing the internal storage of all required equipment, without exceeding airline carry-on dimensions or giving the pack a boxy, camera-bag appearance. This may require collapsible compartments to meet dimensional requirements in flight while having the length to internally stow a tripod at the destination.
•   Support - elements allowing the comfortable carriage of heavy equipment, while keeping weight down. This will likely include a lightweight frame, 10-point adjustable harness and removable waist belt.
•   Camouflage - elements to disguise the pack as a daypack or hiking pack rather than a camera pack. These may include elastic bungee-cord webbing to hold snowshoes or crampons, side pockets for drink bottles, loops for ice axes or stowage for hiking poles. These will also increase the pack's functionality as a technical hiking pack, rather than purely a camera pack. Alternate pack materials from the usual black technical nylon will also play a role.
•   Security - elements to impede attempts at theft.

***

Any thoughts? What would you want in a travel photography backpack? A viable product, or too little demand?

Thinking of putting together a design and having an outdoor gear/gear repair company make a prototype.

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nma

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2017, 04:24:03 PM »

Hide by blending in. It is relatively simple to modify a backpack made for hiking or trekking. For example, there are Dueter packs that have front and back openings, allowing you to access a customized camera/accessory module to hold your gear. The charm of this approach is that you can use a real hiking pack with a frame and proper suspension, instead of strapping a box to your back. Als, tend to be cheaper than photo packs.
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E.J. Peiker

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2017, 04:48:40 PM »

The Mindshift Backlight 25L might fit your requirements....
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NancyP

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2017, 07:25:23 PM »

You should look into inserts for hiking packs. I just can't carry a standard photo pack for very long - suspension and transfer of weight to hips is nil for me. Consider panel zip packs (as opposed to top-loading only). Plus, an inconspicuous way of carrying a tripod. Here's where you could 1. get more sections or shorter total height for your travel tripod, stow it inside pack 2. stick it into a roll-top generic long narrow bag for kit - I happen to use an f-stop tripod bag because of its great daisy chain selection - you can lash that thing to the outside of the pack any which way. I think that Outdoor Research may have a long thin dry bag. Tents come in long thin bags. I also researched "cantle bags" (soft tubular bags with a zipper, meant to be wrapped around a saddle). I didn't research possible fishing units that would hold rods/tripods, but I do use a reel case at home as a nice padded storage unit for lenses - Cabela's, 20 bucks.  Or - DIY something out of PVC pipe. 3. I don't know what to do about airline requirements. What size do you need?

Research the types of packs available, and find out if there is a used gear swap near you - outdoor outfitters often have this service because it brings new customers to the store. Why buy used? If you dress like an ordinary tourist and carry your gear in a pack that looks like it is used for camping, you are of less interest than the next guy with a cleaner pack. FleaBay, if you know your pack sizing and models well.

I don't know how to appear professional AND like an econo-tourist at the same time.

Finally, if you have design chops and time, you could work out your own pack - there are a lot of cottage manufacturers out there who will do custom packs. Even the most expensive custom pack will cost less than one of your lenses. I know of a fellow who designed a large-format backpack using  custom-made version of back-panel support as a place to attach lens holders or camera insert. He made a small business out of it (now defunct because he's fully retired).

Start studying up on backpacks. Internal vs external frame? How to fit harness?

 Remember, the military uses backpacks too. They tend to have packs with standardized outside strips (Molle type) that you can use to attach stuff, first aid kit, tools, ammo cassettes. Hunters use packs, and those packs can take enormous amounts of weight because these are designed such that you can hike out with your deer/sheep/goat/moose meat. Most of the military / hunting packs are in drab, look rather military, danger there is that the ordinary thieves won't want to tangle, but you are more likely to get attention from police and from folks looking to steal guns.

Relatively Cheap - Boy Scout type external frame packs - there are adult versions - Kelty has always had an external frame option.

Me: off the rack women's proportioned harness pack: Osprey Ariel 55L for overnight, Gregory Jade 38L for day + f-stop padded insert + on the outside the f-stop tripod bag.

Logo issues - used-looking pack plus zipstop nylon repair material/tape over the logo.
https://www.rei.com/product/783045/gear-aid-tenacious-tape-repair-tape


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hogloff

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2017, 08:11:46 PM »

My travel pack is an Osprey trekking pack into which I put my camera gear in camera and lens wraps. I also carry with me the necessities of travel in this same pack...it is beat up from all the travel I do...I dress down and look like a world trekker living from hostel to hostel.

I've tried all the different camera specific packs and they are all overly padded, too heavy and have a very lousy support system which makes my shoulders and back ache after just 1 day...forget about 3 weeks of travel.

My suggestion is to get a trekking pack that fits you comfortably and has a great support system for you, then make it into a pack that can carry your equipment. This will not only make you look like a broke world traveler carrying his unwashed clothes in your pack...but also it will allow you to carry your gear and other necessities on your back for extended time without getting pains in the shoulders, neck or back.
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rdonson

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2017, 08:32:37 PM »

Have you considered something like the ThinkTank Airport TakeOff V2.0???  It doesn't look like the standard photo backpack.  It is carryon size.
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Ron

armand

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2017, 12:03:27 AM »

Mindshift professional 180 has a pretty good suspension. It does waste some space with the rotation module but it's convenient when you need it. I took out the insert from the top and you have about 30 liters available for stuff if I recall correctly.
It is however a nice looking backpack and a keen eye could make it that it's in the photography business.

Paulo Bizarro

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2017, 04:07:15 AM »

Well, from what you describe, I think the best option is a hiking backpack with dedicated camera inserts.

Farmer

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2017, 06:57:05 AM »

The Mindshift gear looks great, but they don't seem to ship internationally :(
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Phil Brown

shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2017, 07:24:32 AM »

You should look into inserts for hiking packs. I just can't carry a standard photo pack for very long - suspension and transfer of weight to hips is nil for me. Consider panel zip packs (as opposed to top-loading only). Plus, an inconspicuous way of carrying a tripod. Here's where you could 1. get more sections or shorter total height for your travel tripod, stow it inside pack 2. stick it into a roll-top generic long narrow bag for kit - I happen to use an f-stop tripod bag because of its great daisy chain selection - you can lash that thing to the outside of the pack any which way. I think that Outdoor Research may have a long thin dry bag. Tents come in long thin bags. I also researched "cantle bags" (soft tubular bags with a zipper, meant to be wrapped around a saddle). I didn't research possible fishing units that would hold rods/tripods, but I do use a reel case at home as a nice padded storage unit for lenses - Cabela's, 20 bucks.  Or - DIY something out of PVC pipe. 3. I don't know what to do about airline requirements. What size do you need?

Research the types of packs available, and find out if there is a used gear swap near you - outdoor outfitters often have this service because it brings new customers to the store. Why buy used? If you dress like an ordinary tourist and carry your gear in a pack that looks like it is used for camping, you are of less interest than the next guy with a cleaner pack. FleaBay, if you know your pack sizing and models well.

I don't know how to appear professional AND like an econo-tourist at the same time.

Finally, if you have design chops and time, you could work out your own pack - there are a lot of cottage manufacturers out there who will do custom packs. Even the most expensive custom pack will cost less than one of your lenses. I know of a fellow who designed a large-format backpack using  custom-made version of back-panel support as a place to attach lens holders or camera insert. He made a small business out of it (now defunct because he's fully retired).

Start studying up on backpacks. Internal vs external frame? How to fit harness?

 Remember, the military uses backpacks too. They tend to have packs with standardized outside strips (Molle type) that you can use to attach stuff, first aid kit, tools, ammo cassettes. Hunters use packs, and those packs can take enormous amounts of weight because these are designed such that you can hike out with your deer/sheep/goat/moose meat. Most of the military / hunting packs are in drab, look rather military, danger there is that the ordinary thieves won't want to tangle, but you are more likely to get attention from police and from folks looking to steal guns.

Relatively Cheap - Boy Scout type external frame packs - there are adult versions - Kelty has always had an external frame option.

Me: off the rack women's proportioned harness pack: Osprey Ariel 55L for overnight, Gregory Jade 38L for day + f-stop padded insert + on the outside the f-stop tripod bag.

Logo issues - used-looking pack plus zipstop nylon repair material/tape over the logo.
https://www.rei.com/product/783045/gear-aid-tenacious-tape-repair-tape

Hide by blending in. It is relatively simple to modify a backpack made for hiking or trekking. For example, there are Dueter packs that have front and back openings, allowing you to access a customized camera/accessory module to hold your gear. The charm of this approach is that you can use a real hiking pack with a frame and proper suspension, instead of strapping a box to your back. Als, tend to be cheaper than photo packs.

My travel pack is an Osprey trekking pack into which I put my camera gear in camera and lens wraps. I also carry with me the necessities of travel in this same pack...it is beat up from all the travel I do...I dress down and look like a world trekker living from hostel to hostel.

I've tried all the different camera specific packs and they are all overly padded, too heavy and have a very lousy support system which makes my shoulders and back ache after just 1 day...forget about 3 weeks of travel.

My suggestion is to get a trekking pack that fits you comfortably and has a great support system for you, then make it into a pack that can carry your equipment. This will not only make you look like a broke world traveler carrying his unwashed clothes in your pack...but also it will allow you to carry your gear and other necessities on your back for extended time without getting pains in the shoulders, neck or back.

Well, from what you describe, I think the best option is a hiking backpack with dedicated camera inserts.

That's the whole point. Something that looks like something full of clothes and travel accessories rather than electronics, that holds weight like a hiking daypack (i.e. with a proper suspension system) and has the insides configured for cameras.

Thing is, hacking apart a regular backpack isn't an ideal solution either, if you carry a fair bit of gear. Access tends to be slow, since there are multiple things you need to open and close, while gear capacity is never as great as the pack size would suggest, nor as great as a dedicated pack of the same size.

So, why not a dedicated camera backpack, built with a proper suspension system and camouflaged to look like something else? Made specifically for purpose, rather than rigged together from something else. I can't be the only photographer out there looking for such a product - built not for capacity and protection at the expense of all else (like most dedicated camera packs), nor for multipurpose/casual use (like most hybrid packs), but built primarily for camouflage and discretion, while retaining full carriage capacity.

Airline compatibility is a problem. The usual maximum length is 550mm. The RRS TVC-34L has a length of 629mm when folded. This would require a collapsible section that allows the pack to be collapsed down to 550mm for flights (with the tripod carried separately), but can be expanded to accommodate the tripod once at the destination. It also can't look like something that's expanded to carry a specific piece of gear. I believe this would be doable using a rolltop design with a rear access zip for the camera compartment.

Either way, I doubt it would be something too difficult for a custom outdoor gear maker to produce. All it would take is a few buyers to make the cost of each one reasonable.
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shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2017, 07:46:08 AM »

The Mindshift Backlight 25L might fit your requirements....

Certainly looks very close.

The front-to-back thickness of the design and the boxy shape do suggest an equipment pack rather than a simple backpack, though, although not as much as (for instance) the Lowepro Pro Trekker or any of the Thinktank packs. A camera pack will always have some degree of 'boxiness' and require a certain amount of depth to hold lenses (around 15cm depth for the internal compartment), but that can either be hidden to varying degrees, or taken advantage of to look like something else (e.g. this). Perhaps disguising it as a military-style pack, with webbing to hold MOLLE-compatible accessories, would work better than trying to disguise it as a backpacker's daypack.

Also, the suspension system appears to be a very basic, although well-padded one - the straps are simply attached to the pack, without any sort of frame to help distribute weight.

Mindshift professional 180 has a pretty good suspension. It does waste some space with the rotation module but it's convenient when you need it. I took out the insert from the top and you have about 30 liters available for stuff if I recall correctly.

It also can't internally stow a tripod - each compartment is far too small for anything other than a Gorillapod.

Quote
It is however a nice looking backpack and a keen eye could make it that it's in the photography business.

'Nice-looking' isn't such an issue. Every second traveller out there has a nice-looking daypack. Most of them are filled with clothes, shoes and toilet paper. The key is to blend in, not carry something that screams 'camera gear'.
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E.J. Peiker

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2017, 08:31:23 AM »

The Mindshift gear looks great, but they don't seem to ship internationally :(
outdoorphotogear.com does and they carry the Mindshift line.  I personally use two Mindshift Backlight 25L for many of the reasons that you noted.
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rlearner

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2017, 09:01:24 AM »

I've used a Clik Elite Contrejour 40 extensively (even in Argentina) -- it looks more like a technical backpack than a dedicated camera bag.
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shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2017, 09:23:43 AM »

I've used a Clik Elite Contrejour 40 extensively (even in Argentina) -- it looks more like a technical backpack than a dedicated camera bag.

Seen one of those before. Unfortunately, it's much too big for airline carry-on
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shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2017, 09:25:23 AM »

outdoorphotogear.com does and they carry the Mindshift line.  I personally use two Mindshift Backlight 25L for many of the reasons that you noted.

What's the suspension system like, for carrying full loads of camera gear on long hikes?

I also don't like that there are visible tripod logos on it - that kind of gives away its purpose and contents.
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rlearner

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2017, 09:32:27 AM »

Seen one of those before. Unfortunately, it's much too big for airline carry-on

I've carried it on domestically, but got it.    This one is carry-on friendly:

Clik Pro Express 2.0
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E.J. Peiker

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2017, 09:48:48 AM »

What's the suspension system like, for carrying full loads of camera gear on long hikes?

I also don't like that there are visible tripod logos on it - that kind of gives away its purpose and contents.
It works for me but may not for others like any backpack - unfortunately the only way to really know is to try one which could be a problem for you.  It is definitely a suspension system designed for shorter, say less than 8km type days and comfort depends a great deal on how you pack it since it is a back loader - if you have a lens or something causing a bulge in a bad place, it could be problematic.  But like I said, it works for me - I have one for my Phase One XF system with 4 large Schneider Kreuznach lenses (28, 35, 40-80, 75-150), and another for my Sony a7R Mk II system with 10 smallish lenses.
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shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2017, 10:03:03 AM »

I think the internal tripod carriage is the biggest problem. If you want to carry a full-sized tripod, the pack needs to be around 65cm long. But it also needs to be able to shrink down to 55cm or less to be carried onto a plane, so it needs some kind of collapsible/extensible section.

You can't strap a tripod to the outside of a pack and have it mistaken for anything other than a camera pack, so the usual external tripod straps don't help much either.

My previous solution had been to carry a travel tripod (Gitzo 1541T, which I also lost in the robbery) internally in places where I need to conceal the camera gear, as well as a full-sized tripod in places where I can carry openly (e.g. wilderness areas and safe cities). But a way to hide the big tripod would be even better.
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NancyP

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2017, 02:39:10 PM »

f-stop tripod bag. Just patch over the logo with Tenacious Tape, black duct tape, whatever. This thing could hold my large CF tripod (Feisol 3472) with head. It's overkill for my usual hiking pod (Feisol 3442), but frankly I would have had to spend at least as much to get together materials for a small version. http://shop.fstopgear.com/us/product/accessories/tripod-bag.html

Or - other sport bag
https://www.ortlieb.com/wp-content/themes/ortlieb-theme/pdf/en/handlebarpack.pdf
http://www.cabelas.com/product/fishing/rod-reel-storage/fishing-rod-tubes-cases|/pc/104793480/c/104812380/sc/104541480/farbank-ds-sage-ballistic-bulk/2071134.uts
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shadowblade

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Re: Towards a better travel camera backpack
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2017, 03:35:12 PM »

f-stop tripod bag. Just patch over the logo with Tenacious Tape, black duct tape, whatever. This thing could hold my large CF tripod (Feisol 3472) with head. It's overkill for my usual hiking pod (Feisol 3442), but frankly I would have had to spend at least as much to get together materials for a small version. http://shop.fstopgear.com/us/product/accessories/tripod-bag.html

Or - other sport bag
https://www.ortlieb.com/wp-content/themes/ortlieb-theme/pdf/en/handlebarpack.pdf
http://www.cabelas.com/product/fishing/rod-reel-storage/fishing-rod-tubes-cases|/pc/104793480/c/104812380/sc/104541480/farbank-ds-sage-ballistic-bulk/2071134.uts

That's not exactly inconspicuous. Lots of manufacturers make tripod bags. They all look exactly like... tripod bags.

The aim is to look like you're not carrying a tripod, or any other camera gear, not to cover it up with something and still have to strap it to the outside of your pack.

A duffle bag, like you might take to the gym, would certainly hide it well, It's also not the best option for carrying 10-15kg of gear all day.
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