Clik Elite Compact Sport Review
If you were to survey the camera bag market, you would find a great deal of bags that are designed to carry a camera and some personal items, or a camera and your laptop. But you would find a shortage of bags that were specifically designed for adventure. That's where Clik Elite has carved their niche in the market. They make bags that are designed for the adventurer in mind: The campers, the hikers, the skiers and so on. They have an array of camera bags and accessories that are designed specifically for those types of photographers. All of their bags feature lightweight materials and a durable design that can withstand the elements, take a beating and still protect your gear on the go. Clik Elite was kind enough to loan us one of their bags – the Clik Elite Compact Sport – for review. The Compact Sport is small backpack suitable for a short day hike or a short back-woods excursion.
The Compact Sport is a small bag designed for stability. With two shoulder straps, a padded waist belt and a well padded and ventilated back plate, it hugs close to your back and will not send you off balance when navigating unstable terrain. There are essentially two chambers in the bag. The lower chamber, the camera compartment, is well padded and has movable partitions designed to stabilize and protect your camera. Your small or mid-sized camera is placed sideways within the chamber and can be accessed from the right side of the bag while one shoulder strap remains on your shoulders. The chamber's door unzips all the way open, giving you full access to the camera as necessary. But with two water-resistant zippers, you can simply fold back the end to grab your camera without risking any of the other contents. As part of the compartment's door flap, there is an organizer panel which can hold spare memory cards, batteries or other small items. It is padded so that it will not scratch or damage your camera. I carried my mid-sized camera (my Nikon D80) with my 18-135mm zoom lens and it's lens hood. With careful placement of the dividers, I was able to get a good snug fit so that the camera didn't bounce around while the bag was in use. Keep in mind that this is a slightly different philosophy than your urban gear bags. A snug fit can sometimes be desirable, and Clik Elite's partitions and spacers are designed to accommodate. If you've never used water resistant zippers, I should warn you that they are tighter to pull than your typical zipper. This is normal, and they will loosen up slightly over time.
The upper chamber is great for holding small personal items. The chamber is narrow (front to back) and it tapers in at the top, so you won't be able to carry too much. But it's enough for a half-sized notebook, a spare lens or two and a few other accessories. This chamber closes with a normal double zipper that zips in arc across the top. The zipper is protected by a flap of rain resistant nylon that completely covers the zipper when closed. To put the size in perspective, I carried my Kindle (3rd generation), my lens filter case (also made by Clik Elite), my eye glasses, a small notebook and a few other personal items. You won't be able to jam a fleece jacket in there, and you won't fit a full-sized notebook in there, but it's still enough for daily use. If you don't wish to carry your camera at any given time, you can also unzip the partition between the upper and lower chambers to give you more room, but this does require you to remove a portion of your camera pads.
There are quite a few aspects of the design that sets it apart from other bags and of course lives up to Clik Elite's high adventure motif. For starters, there is a fully adjustable chest strap with a shock loop, a piece of elastic that flexes for comfort as you breathe. The strap also slides up and down within slots on each shoulder strap for maximum comfort. The back plate itself, which features an array of materials and padded areas, is designed for comfort and ventilation. There are two mesh pockets on the bag. One is designed to hold a a water bottle or similar shaped container on the left side of your bag (opposite the camera chamber opening). This can also be used to hold the feet of a small tripod, the top of which would be stabilized with an adjustable shock cord at the top of the bag. The other mesh pocket covers the upper half of the back of the bag. It can hold small items such as snacks or even a spare bottle. This pocket has a loop of shock cord going through it to tighten up the contents or to keep larger items at bay. The bag also features a few quick access pockets. One pocket is at the top of the bag which is flannel lined to protect your electronic gadgets, such as a phone or an MP3 player. There is also a vertically zipped side-access pocket which is accessed from the left side of the bag (it's pretty well hidden, it was a couple of weeks before I discovered it). Additionally, the bag has a small pocket on the bottom of the bag that houses the rain cover. If you still find the need to have more pockets, the waist belt features a number of loops to which one can fasten some accessories such as one of Clik Elite's (or anyone's) lens pouches, accessory cases and so on.
The main selling point for this bag over others in its class is the hydration compartment, a pocket that runs just behind the back plate that can house a water bladder with a sipping tube. There are elastic bands on each shoulder strap to feed a sipping tube through. The pocket can house a 3 liter (100oz) bladder of your choosing. I do not have such a bladder (which is not included), so I used the pocket as a makeshift map pocket.
From a style perspective, the bag is pretty sharp looking. For those with urban exposure, it doesn't really look like a camera bag at first, though the side-access chamber will raise some suspicions. But it's compact form, the pocket placement and the gradual taper of its frame is aesthetically pleasing. The bag is available in gray (which is what we reviewed) or black.
With very few exceptions, I used the bag every day for a little over a month. This includes the days I was simply going back and forth to the office, plus a few days I did a few day hikes up in the mountains and down in the city. The bag is comfortable and of a good size so as not to get in the way of my movements. On the off-road treks, I appreciated the waist belt, if only for stability. Jumping from rock to rock and moving about in uneven terrain, it really helped the bag hug my back, even with a full load. But when I hit the stable pavements within the city, and for my day-to-day use back and forth to work, it seemed redundant and perhaps unnecessary. It does not detach, and so I folded the belt into itself into the space behind the base of the back plate. I'm not sure if that was the intended purpose for this space, but it seemed to work well without messing with the ergonomics or comfort of the pack. In fact, it introduced a bit of a lumbar pad which was more comfortable than one would expect. If this space was per design, kudos on the forethought. If not, it's a happy accident that I will gladly take advantage of..
The side-access is everything that was promised. It was easy to quickly and smoothly access my camera while keeping my right shoulder strap in place. Getting the camera out was quite easy every time, and it was not necessary to fully open the compartment. Because of the way I chose to pad my camera with the included partitions (I actually used a spacer to cradle my camera's grip, another happy accident), there were some occasions where I needed to fully unzip the flap to get it back in place. This does not bother me since I prefer a snug fit for my camera, especially when hiking about. If you don't need the extra suspension, you can configure the partitions accordingly to make it much easier to get the camera in and out of the bag.
There are a lot of really interesting details that I've grown to appreciate with the Clik Elite Compact Sport. The flannel lined pocket is a surprisingly fantastic feature. It rests at the very top of the bag and is a great place to stick your media player, your phone and other electronic devices. The lining keeps the electronics from clinking around. The pocket is well placed for quick access. While wearing the bag, I can easily open the pocket to grab my phone. The bag also has a pretty good full-sized tow handle that is convenient and comfortable. This is a serious concern of mine because I do carry bags frequently by the handle. Then there's the rain cover: Even with the water-resistant zipper around the camera chamber, there is still a necessity for having a good rain cover. I greatly appreciate having a dedicated pocket for the rain cover, however I don't find it necessary for a rain cover to be fastened to the bag.
One area where I was disappointed was the tripod fastening system. It's a small bag to provide such a feature, and so we must consider that as a slight bonus. But there are very few tripods on the market that would be suitable for the bag. My own tripod is far to large and too heavy for the Compact Sport, and so I borrowed a compact tripod for a day to try it out. Even with the compact and lightweight tripod, I found the interface flimsy at best. The leg pocket is a stretchy mesh – which is primarily designed as a bottle holder. As a holder for the tripod, I think it's more like an afterthought. The upper end of the tripod is held in place with an adjustable shock cord – yet another stretchy, bouncy fastener. Between the mesh pocket and the shock cord, the tripod just does not hold fast to the backpack. Moving about on even pavement, this isn't an issue. But if you're jumping between rocks and moving about on a backwoods trail, stability is a must. I would have preferred for the upper strap to be a non-stretch webbing. Perhaps an extra strap could have been introduced for stabilization part way down the bag as well. But it's there if you need it in a pinch, I just would be comfortable using it regularly, especially in uneven terrain.
The mesh pocket on the face of the bag was, in my opinion, a case of form before function. It looks nice on the bag, but I was unable to find a practical use for the pocket. A spare water bottle was about perfect for the pocket. For anything smaller, the single-point shock cord fastener didn't really seem to serve a purpose. In lieu, I would have preferred a simple draw-string type closure which I feel would breathe purpose into the pocket.
If you have need for a small day bag and you want something a little bit more rugged for a back woods day trek, it's a no brainer to me: The Clik Elite Compact Sport is a perfect solution. The bag is a good size that will hug your body as you move about, which is appealing while wandering through the wilderness. Where it does fall short is the tripod carrying system which I found to be a bit floppy and unstable – a disappointment considering the thought that is clearly present throughout the balance of the bag.
If the mere thought of nature makes you nervous and you stick to areas where “nature” is confined to tiny pocket parks, clay pots and cracks in the pavement, the Clik Elite is still a viable solution. For some more urban shooters, the waist belt may be an unnecessary feature, maybe even an annoyance to some. While you can use the trick of tucking the ends back into the bag, the belt is not detachable. Even so, I carried the sample bag all over, and getting back and forth to my day job was not considered a nuisance.
Those with pro bodies should look elsewhere, perhaps one of Clik Elite's larger bags. The Compact Sport – as the name would imply, is not for large full-frame cameras, and it's not designed to carry your massive telephoto lenses.
Things We Liked
- Great size and shape – it's close to the back and does not get in the way of your natural movement.
- Side-access camera chamber – get access to the bag without removing the bag from your shoulder.
- Water resistant zippers around the camera compartment.
- The lined gadget pocket – It can be accessed while the bag is worn, and the lining protects your electronic gadgets.
- Most accessory pockets – including the water bottle pocket – can be accessed without having to remove the bag from both shoulders.
- Adjustable chest strap with shock loop – Even with such a small bag, the chest strap really makes the bag comfortable.
- A comfortable and functional tow handle.
Things We Didn't Like
- Tripod Carrying System – it's unstable when on the move, even with the lightest tripods and monopods.
- Mesh Pocket on Bag Face – it looks good, but it's form-before-function closure renders it useless for anything other than a spare bottle holder.