Review: Mountainsmith Parallax

  • Material (Exterior): 500d S-Kodra High Tenacity Nylon
  • Material (Interior): 210d Liner + Atilon Foam
  • Dimensions (Exterior): 23" x 13" x 9.75" (H x W x D)
  • Dimensions (Interior): 22.25" x 12.25" x 9"
  • Volume: 1880 cu. in.
  • Weight: 6 lbs 12 oz
  • Price: $269.95

My Thoughts:
My old Parallax
In August of 2013 Mountainsmith announced they had redesigned their entire camera bag line.  By this point, I had been using their (old) Parallax backpack as my primary pack for roughly 18 months. The Parallax had become my go-to camera backpack for extended trips which required multiple lenses, laptop, charging equipment, and multiple flashes.  My biggest complaint with the old design was, while I could carry all of the gear I needed, it was not designed to transfer the load to the body very well.  The pack pushed the load away from my back, and I found a lot of load being applied to my shoulders in a way that pulled them back and increased fatigue.  Click here for my previous review.

I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Luke Boldman, Mountainsmith's lead designer, at the 2013 Outdoor Retailer Summer Market where he explained he had listened to the feedback from photographers for the new design.  Specifically, Luke worked with National Geographic Creative photographer, Andy Mann, on the design.  The two completely redesigned the Parallax, along with the entire camera line, to accommodate the needs of adventure and travel photographers.  The team sought to create a technical backpack that could carry enough gear for a photo shoot in the mountains.  The pack features the "best in class media organization, and an innovative side-access DSLR case that can be deployed and connected to become a chest mounted accessory."

New Parallax vs. Old Parallax

So how did they do?  Let's compare the specs between the old and new backpacks.

The first thing I noticed was how slim the new Parallax is; with two inches trimmed from the pack's width and 1.25 inches from the pack's depth.  They also increased the pack's height by five inches, something those of us with longer torsos will really enjoy.  These changes only affected the total volume by 3.8%, reducing the total volume by 72 cu. in., but I think made the pack easier to carry.  The updated layout also increases the pack's rigidity and allows for improved weight distribution and transfers more weight to the waist straps.  Even with the (slight) reduction in volume, I am still able to carry all of the gear I need for my trips, and the pack is comfortable to pack around on hikes into the mountains.
The new Parallax also includes a handy side-panel access door to access the lower portion of the pack and the included chest-pack (Zoom - Medium?).  The chest-pack can quickly deploy, click into place onto the left shoulder strap and would be handy for smaller DSLR bodies and lenses.  The chest-pack, however, barely fits my Nikon D300s (without the battery grip) and 28-70mm f2.8 lens (without the lens hood deployed) and because of this, I have chosen to remove it from the Parallax.  This also reduces the overall pack weight by 1 lb 1 oz (advertised weight of Zoom - Medium).  The side-panel access door is large enough for my camera, with battery grip, and 28-70mm f2.8 (with the lens hood deployed) or 80-200mm f2.8 lens (without the lens hood used) to be pulled out with ease.

My favorite features are the large back-panel access and that the Parallax doesn't look like a camera backpack.  Nearly every area of the customizable internal compartment can be accessed via the large opening, allowing me to lock the other two panel openings.  This, combined with the fact that it looks like a regular backpack means I can walk through crowded markets without concern of being targeted as a photographer and having my gear stolen.

The only thing I dis-like about the pack is the location of the laptop sleeve, which places the laptop (approximately) nine inches from the back-panel.  I understand this placement is necessary for the back-panel access to be possible.  Having the laptop this far away from the body puts a significant load onto the shoulders.  Really, this is only a minor setback.  The overall design does an excellent job of keeping the camera gear close to the body.  The new Parallax relocates the tripod attachment point to the pack's side, rather than the pack's front as seen on the old design.

I am pleased with the updates Luke, Andy, and the Mountainsmith team have made to the Parallax.  They have created a pack that is ready tackle the needs of any adventure photographer and yet technical enough to remain comfortable after a long day of hiking.  I would, without hesitation, recommend the Parallax to anyone looking for a technical camera backpack that is capable of holding enough gear for a day-hike into the mountains.  It has become my second favorite camera pack, second only to the Mountainsmith Descent sling pack, but you will have to wait for that review to be posted in a couple of weeks.


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