Today we’d like to introduce you to a relatively new bag from Clik Elite, the Tropfen. You probably know Clik Elite as a company that makes high-adventure camera gear. In fact, they are the makers of the Compact Sport Backpack we reviewed several months back. Protecting your gear from slip-ups on the hiking trail or from the extremes of a rock climbing trip is old hat for this company. Clik Elite has a new line of bags, referred to as the Classic Series. The entire series has a retro look to it, something plucked right out of the 1970’s or 1980’s. The Tropfen is a small camera backpack that not only carries a small kit for small excursions, but it doesn’t look at all like a camera bag. The company specializes in high-adventure gear, but this series could also be designed to protect your gear from a different set of stresses: The risks involved in being in a more urban environment. Clik Elite was kind enough to provide a bag for our review. So I took it for a spin over the last couple of weeks, and I’d like to share my thoughts.
The Design Intent
This bag is quite unique and so I’d like to dial in the audience right out of the gate. The bag is, in my mind, designed to be a casual bag for the casual shooter, or something for a day trek off in the parkland. But it’s not designed as a primary bag. It won’t carry all your equipment – or I should say it’s not going to organize all your equipment. You have plenty of room to fit in a couple of lenses and the like, but they’ll be flopping around in the main chamber, which is probably designed for things like a spare jacket, a lunch or the like. I consider this to be a plus-one bag: It’s a compliment to your primary gear bag for those occasions you want to down-size. I wanted to bring this out up-front because my review is written with that overall intent in mind.
If you’re familiar with the brand, you’ll know that this bag doesn’t fit the typical Clik Elite mould. One look at the bag and you can tell there’s something different. It’s got a retro style to it; it looks like a bag I carried to school when I was a kid. It’s made with a mix of materials: A textured nylon fabric with leather patches for fasteners or extra reinforcement in the wear spots, like the whole bottom of the bag. Looking at it from the exterior, you won’t know it’s a camera bag. Even if you knew it was, you won’t be able to gain access to the camera, at least not while it’s worn. That’s because the camera chamber opens at the back plate. The concept isn’t new, but it’s fairly rare. Of course this means that you have to take the bag off your shoulder to get your camera. So your camera is always secure, away from the risks that could be found in an urban environment. Or, for that matter, your camera is protected from the elements out on the trail by a few extra layers of protection, plus whatever you have stuffed in that other chamber.
Speaking of the other chamber (the large chamber), you access that the same way you would expect of any book bag. There’s a large zipper around the outer edge of that bag that gives you access to that main chamber. You can fill it with whatever your needs are for the day: Lunch, a fleece, rain gear, whiskey, etc. You also have a front pocket which is again quite typical of your classic book bag. The difference here is that the front pocket has a bunch of organization pockets for things like pens, memory cards, some spare cables and so on. Otherwise, every single aspect of the exterior design of this bag mimics the classic bookback look – from the form factor, to the shoulder straps right down to the zipper placement. So you’ve seen millions of bags that looked like this before, and that’s the point, really.
Inside the bag, however, it’s a different story. The camera chamber opens only through the back plate. But it projects into the bag’s large chamber. When not in use, the camera chamber can collapse against the back plate making it easy to use as a regular backpack. With the camera in place, however, it takes up a good deal of room in the bag. Furthermore, there’s a lot of unusable spaces like the small gaps around the camera chamber as it protrudes into the bag. There is also a tablet pocket that is accessed from the top of the bag. It, too, projects into the large chamber in the form of a wide, flat padded chamber. It can hold a tablet computer or an e-reader, but not much else. But it’s positioning in the bag creates more unusable space. With both a tablet and a camera in place, the laptop pocket cantilevers over the camera chamber leaving a couple of inches between the laptop pocket and your backplate. I guess, in theory, you could stash some small collapsible items – like a rain coat or a fleece – behind it. But it would be an inconvenience to get to that stuff. If the bag were just a couple of inches longer, this might not have been a problem at all: That tablet sleeve could be flush against the back plate.
The camera chamber itself is a good size to house a small DSLR with lens attached. My D7100 fit okay with my 18-135mm zoom lens mounted. But it was a little snug. A smaller DSLR, like a D60, seemed to fit much more comfortably. The D7100 also fit a bit better when I had mounted a shorter lens. It’s the perfect sized chamber for any of the mirrorless cameras. Its shape is trapezoidal, which leaves some space around the lens. It may be tempting to slip in small lens or some other accessory in that space, but it hinders your ability to safely get your camera out of the bag: It’s a risk to the safety of your camera and gear as well, so I wouldn’t recommend it. That means that the area around the camera is essentially more wasted space.
There are a lot of really nice details about the bag that you might only recognize if they were missing (or a reviewer who sees a lot of these features missing from lesser bags). That is something that Clik Elite is good at: Little details that really make a difference. The bag may be simpler in design than many of their other bags, but they didn’t neglect any of their quality control measures here. You still have the double stitched seams with reinforcement layers, extra stitching – and in this case leather – at some of the key stress points and a strong focus on materials. The fabric used in this bag is lightweight, but very durable. Where there is padding, you will find a quilted stitching pattern that keeps the padding from shifting and increases durability. The shoulder straps are deceptively comfortable. They aren’t very thick, don’t seem to have much padding, but they are quite wide and seem to be cut to just the right shape where they fit your shoulders perfectly.
There are two more surprise details that hide at the bottom of the bag: A rain fly and a tripod pocket. The rain fly is fitted to the bag and folds up nicely into a thin pocket at the bottom of the bag. When it starts to rain, it’s very easy to pull it out and cover the bag. It is connected to the bag with a strap and buckle, but it is removable if you need to dry it out somewhere. The other surprise is a little pocket that slides out the front so that you can fasten a tripod to the bag. At the top of the bag on the face of the main chamber flap is a leather patch with another webbing strap. Between the tripod pocket and the webbing, you can fasten the tripod along the face of the bag. My tripod is perhaps a little big and heavy, but it worked pretty well. My only concern would be if there were something breakable in that front accessory pocket, like a phone, because it puts some undue pressure on that pocket.
The bag is very comfortable to carry around. The padding between your back and the camera chamber is enough to soften any edges of your camera. I did, however, find it to be much more appealing if I had the flat bottom of my camera against my back. As I mentioned, the D7100 and other medium sized cameras do fit with the right lens mounted. But with those cameras, you really feel the extra height of the body. With the D60 (which is the camera shown in the photos), the body is much smaller, much shorter, so it fit better and felt much more comfortable on the back.
Where the bag excels is that I am able to carry far more in that main chamber than most other camera bags. By moving the camera pocket to the back plate, the main chamber can be quite large, even with that camera in there. I was able to fit a few books in there, or a whole change of clothing. It would be a great carry-on bag for airline travel. It’s even small enough to stash under the seat.
Personally, I did find accessing the camera from the back plate to be a bit of an inconvenience. I’m a person who likes to get to my camera quickly and easily. But it is a trade-off for some improved personal security. I have spoken to many of our readers who favor the back-plate access. Some have bags with a similar design specifically for this reason. It is a design favored by travelers. Gypsies and street criminals often target travelers, slicing camera straps or even unzipping backpack pockets. The bag is not likely to be a target because of it’s appearance. But a would-be thief is not going to find your precious photography gear by unzipping the pockets they have access to either.
The bag is part of a new design family for Clik Elite; evidence of their experiments do show. While doing their best to maintain the retro aesthetic – and they handled that incredibly well – I do think there were a few aspects that could have been designed a little bit better. Like that tablet pocket: It seems like more of an afterthought than a thought-out, functional element of the bag. The bag would have rated higher, in my eyes, if that pocket were actually absent. But I do have faith in the company and I have faith in the direction this line is headed. For the right user, for the right purposes, the bag is going to fill a void. Travelers and day trekkers will like the bag for it’s security and it’s large main pocket. I don’t think anyone will use this as a primary bag, but it’s not designed as such. As you would expect from Clik Elite, it’s a durable bag fitted with many of their high quality features and design elements. It’s durable, made with high quality materials and it’s put together with all of the wisdom and know-how of the brand known for it’s rugged high-adventure gear bags.
The Tropfen is commonly available at your regular sources. You can get it direct from Clik Elite or from Amazon.com for about $145 or less. If you like the aesthetic of the bag but would like something a bit larger, you may want to check out the Klettern, also of the same classic line.
Things We Liked
- Retro Styling – it looks like a classic backpack, not at all like a camera bag.
- Comfortable shoulder straps.
- Back plate camera pocket access – for security and piece of mind.
Things We Didn’t Like
Wasted space: In the camera pocket, around the camera pocket on the inside of the bag and behind that tablet pocket.
- The tablet pocket seems like an afterthought. It shouldn’t even be part of the bag.
- The camera pocket cannot accommodate anything above a relatively small lens when mounted to the camera.
- Back plate access does require you to remove the bag to get to your camera.