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Whether you’re on a round-the-world trip for a year or just a quick weekend getaway, you want to make sure that you take a photo of every place you go to and document precious moments to remember them.
But with a camera comes the dilemma of where to put them in your pack. If you have a high-end camera, then you need something to carry them and keep them safe, especially the lens.
If you’re not a fan of the usual camera bags, either because they’re too noticeable when trying to blend in or too bulky when trying to pack light, then you’re in the right place.
We’ll talk about alternatives (including stylish and chic camera bags!) and why the DIY option using camera inserts is best for you.
Why a DIY Camera Bag Is the Best for Travel
I don’t know what it is, but most camera bags are either plain or ugly (or both!).
You seldom find a camera bag you’d like to bring along whenever you travel. For some reason, most camera bags available on the market look the same: they’re strappy, black, rugged, and scream “expensive camera equipment here!”
When you’re a woman enjoying the vacation of her life in her best outfit, you don’t want to get caught with an ugly camera bag, do you? Besides, a camera bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag is safer for travel.
The good news is that you can transform a bag you already own and love to become a stylish camera bag. By doing it yourself, you can create the most optimal camera bag for your needs = no wasted space in your packing from factory-defined (and often bulky) camera bags.
This is where camera inserts and dividers come in handy.
Cube Inserts or Dividers – Is there any difference?
To make your favorite bag into a camera bag, all you need is a camera insert – or a divider.
Is there any difference? Technically, no. Camera bags have built-in dividers and camera inserts help you turn any bag into an instant camera bag.
If you’re still on the fence about using a camera insert, here are a few more reasons for you:
- Camera inserts are compatible with any bag – not just backpacks. This option is safer since a regular bag won’t draw any attention that you’re carrying thousands of dollars of camera equipment.
- Camera inserts allow you to be versatile with your storage needs. They’re not just for your camera, you can use them for other items, too! (Think about your phone or charger)
- Camera inserts are affordable. Without a doubt, camera inserts are 5 to 10 times cheaper than bulky, strappy, rugged (and most of the time ugly) camera bags.
Camera Inserts That Work for Purses & Small Backpacks
Now that we got all the basics covered, here are some good camera insert options for your DIY camera bag:
CamSafe Anti-Theft Camera Insert
Dimensions: 12.2 x 12.2 x 6.3 inches
Why get it:
- Compact size to fit most backpacks and travel bags
- Made of water-repellent nylon double ripstop fabric
- With thick, padded foam walls
- Adjustable velcro dividers
- Anti-theft zip sliders with lock holes
- Internal pockets to keep you organized
- External transparent pocket
Kanken Camera Insert
Why get it:
- This will easily transform your Kanken backpack into a camera bag.
- Made of heavy-duty polyamide fabric (they’re strong, lightweight, and elastic)
- Movable compartments with velcro lining to fit lenses and other camera equipment
- Can be used separately or inside a bag
- Can fit a 15” to 17” inch laptop
- Sturdy foam padding
- Large compartment with zippered pockets
Tenba BYOB Camera Insert
Dimensions: 13 x 9 x 5 inches (add 0.5 inches for the exterior)
Why get it:
- Fits most bags
- Adjustable padded interior dividers
- Water-resistant nylon exterior
- Soft-tricot lining
- Adjustable interior mesh pockets for accessories
- Comes with a D-ring
- Zippered top cover with handle
- Additional front and rear pockets
Koolertron Shockproof Camera
Colors: Black, Blue, Red, Orange
Dimensions: 10.6 x 4.7 x 6.3 inches
Why get it:
- Made with cotton and polyester
- Thickened surface and velvet lining
- With nylon zippers for easy access
- Comes with several Velcro dividers
- Rain cover for added protection against dust and moisture
- The drawstring feature lets you fold and store the camera insert when not in use.
Waterproof Camera Insert Bag
Colors: Orange, Red, Purple, Yellow, Green, Coral, Fuchsia, and more
Dimensions: 20 x 7.9 x 10 inches
Why get it:
- Made with waterproof nylon material
- Has 10mm EPE padding
- Compact design fits most bags, even handbags
- The dividers have pockets sewn to them to store other accessories
Sena Custom Sized Camera Bag Insert
Color: Red, Pink, Purple, Yellow, Mint, Black, Coral, etc.
Dimensions: 8.6 x 3.9 x 4.7 inches
Why get it:
- Comes in different exciting colors!
- Fits handbags like a charm
- What makes this camera bag insert a great choice is that you can customize it e.g. remove interior pockets or request additional lining or padding for added protection.
Protective Wraps for Cameras
Camera equipment can be expensive and you want to make sure you keep it snug and protected – especially your lenses.
Protective wraps provide additional protection to make sure your cameras and lenses don’t get scratched or exposed to the elements like water and dust.
The good thing about protective wraps is that they are versatile and can be used with any other electronic equipment, not just cameras.
Martinduke Sven Camera Wrap
Dimensions: 11.8 x 11.8 and 15.75 x 15.75 inches
Material: Leather, velvet, and microfiber
What’s to love: wrist strap
Tenba Protective Wrap
Size: 16 inches
Material: Water-repellent ripstop nylon with silicone coating
What’s to love: Thick fabric material with touch-fastening dot closure and clear label window
Domke Protective Wrap
Color: Black, Blue, Red, Gray, and Yellow
Size: 11 inches, 15 inches, 19 inches
Material: Scratch-proof padded knit nylon
What’s to love: Velcro tabs on all corners
Add-on feature: wrist strap
Using the Camera Cozy to Make Any Bag a Camera Bag
Emily Lessnau showcases how she utilizes a “camera cozy” to safely pack and protect her camera in just about any bag. The following words in this section are by Emily.
Camera bags are expensive and I find them generally unattractive. When I find one I love, it’s $300+ dollars and made of gorgeous, guilt-inducing leather. So how can I safely and discreetly carry around my camera gear with as much style as I desire for less than $75.00?
I start from the inside and work my way out!
While cruising Etsy one day I stumbled across DollBirdies. There were a bunch of brightly colored camera accessories like lens pouches and camera cozies. I was stunned. I didn’t know these existed! I put a few items in my cart and anxiously waited for them to arrive.
It was worth the wait and I am beyond thrilled with my purchase.
The camera cozies are lined with fleece and have a cinch top. Your camera fits loosely and the pouch collapses on it. That’s great because it can be squashed into spaces in your bag (great for minimizing your bag’s bulk!) and provides extra cushion.
There’s a little cardboard piece lined in the fleece inside to help it keep its structure, don’t worry!
And the lens pouches are great. Also lined with fleece, they come in several different sizes. No more wasted space with the rectangle lens spots in your big, bulky camera bag because they’re cylindrical and easy to tuck into the sides of your bag.
I use a little pouch by LeSportSac to keep my extra batteries, card reader and other accessories from floating around my bag. They’re super lightweight and easy to pick out with their fun patterns.
You could also use a Grid-It organizer, a lot of travelers swear by them!
Everything tucks nicely inside any medium to large size bag. So instead of shopping for a camera bag or laptop bag, you can browse your own bag collection and pick out your favorites!
Tote bags, messenger bags, satchels… It doesn’t matter what you choose, and you can change as often as you’d like.
When I’m traveling, I use my Pacsafe Slingsafe 300 GII and everything fits beautifully, even with my tablet and external drive! With the added safety features and water resistant fabric, this bag makes a perfect discreet camera bag.
On a daily basis I just drop things into my LeSportSac Tote. It’s also water resistant and super easy to clean.
The fact that I can switch all my electronics from bag to bag as the mood strikes makes these accessories from Dollbirdies a must-have on my list!
Top Tips to Make Your Own Stylish Camera Bag
Making your own camera bag should be fun. But there are a few things you should keep in mind before you buy your inserts or your camera bag.
Figure out how much gear you need to carry
Knowing how much gear and camera equipment you need will help you determine the size of your carry-on bag when you travel. Typical camera bags are big and bulky and if you’re only allowed one bag for your carry-on, you need to be smart about what you’ll bring to your travels.
Choose the right bag
When choosing the right camera bag, you have different options from small handbags, tote bags, or backpacks. Depending on what you need and the travel conditions, make sure you choose the right bag to keep your camera equipment safe with you.
Don’t forget the accessories!
Last but not the least are the accessories. Aside from the accessories you need to bring to make your travel shots look superb, make sure you buy inserts for your DIY camera bag that are customized for what you need.
Camera inserts for purses are different from a small camera bag insert so make sure you do your research well.
8 Camera Bags That Don’t Look Like One
As promised, here are 8 bags that make for great camera bags without looking like one:
1. Cute Camera Bag by TsaraBe
This bag is just adorable! It’s cute and will fit your DSLR and an extra lens without any problems.
2. Ona Bowery Canvas Bag
This is actually a camera bag complete with inserts inside. But you can use it as a compact standalone bag when you travel. It’s made of waxed canvas so it’s water resistant and comes with several pockets to keep your stuff.
3. Rustic Leather Camera Bag by EchoLeatherShop
I know I said that most camera bags are rugged and they are. What makes this bag different is while it’s rustic, it looks classy and is spacious enough to keep your camera and a few other accessories.
4. Peak Design Backpack
This backpack is the perfect carry-on that can carry your 13-inch laptop and comes with customizable internal dividers for your camera equipment.
5. Claremont Leather Bag
This full-grain leather bag is so stylish and chic no one would suspect it as a camera bag! It’s the perfect size to hold your DSLR camera and is available in colors black, deep navy, sienna, and light gray.
6. Leather Tote Camera Bag by SunriseNomad
This leather tote bag is so big you’d be able to fit a large camera and a few other accessories when you go outside. It has large outside pockets for your phone and other accessories, is made of quality thick fabric, and comes with a camera insert which is a big bonus. Plus, you can even bring your jacket and stuff it inside this bag if you want to.
7. Hadley Pro Camera Bag
If you’re looking for a timeless and classic bag, this is it. The Hadley Pro camera bag will fit most mirrorless cameras or your DSLRs plus small to medium-sized lenses. It’s also made of real leather and three layers of waterproof fabric to keep your camera equipment safe.
8. Peak Design Totepack
This totepack from Peak Design would be a good choice if you like a hybrid bag that is spacious and durable for travel. The roll-top design gives you 5 liters more of space for your stuff, is weatherproof and comes with 2 carry straps to help cinch down bulky items.
Again, there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. But thanks to camera inserts, you can now make any bag or handbag (including the ones you already love!) into a camera bag that you can conveniently bring whenever you travel.