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First Impression: Think Tank Airport Navigator Camera Bag

by Peter West Carey on 12/11/2012

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What’s my first impression of the Think Tank Airport Navigator? Holy crap! Why the hell haven’t I been using a roller bag for camera gear schlepping in airports more often?

That impression is more about roller bags in general, but the Airport Navigator is so easy to use and move, it has made my transition to a roller bag easy. If you travel often, you should take a look at this bag. Here’s why…

 

Gear Used

Specifications

The following stats are from Think Tank’s site

OD: 16” W x 15.5” H x 10” D (40.6 × 39.4 × 25.4cm)

ID: 15” W x 13” H x 6.8” D (38.1 × 33 × 17.3cm)

Laptop: 14.8” W x 11” H x 1.5” D (37.6 × 28 × 3.8cm)

Weight: 8.1-9.2 lbs (3.7-4.2 kg)

(Minimum weight = 2 hinged dividers ONLY)

Ergonomics

photo 3Ergonomics is what this bag is about. In the case of a bag, I think of ergonomics as overall ease of use, not just one particular piece. What this bag does so well is keep a lot of weight down low and then give it lightning slicked wheels to help glide over the smooth tarmac inside an airport. Or mall. Or even rough parking lots.

The bag has two thicker ‘stays’ inside the bag. These are the removable walls we are all accustomed to in camera bags. These two ‘stays’ are extra beefy and thick walled dividers. They are needed to hold cameras upright when top loading and top loading is what this bag does to set itself apart. While the main bag can be opened from the front to expose all of the dividers and space (pictured here at right, click for a larger version), it can also be opened from the top to access camera bodies with lenses attached. This negates the need to lay the bag down and wins points from me. It helps my back and knees from crouching down and the method of holding camera bodies with lenses attached works well for the gear.

Otherwise, it’s your average roller bag when it comes to a slightly wobbly handle (when extended). With two full sized cameras and lenses and most of the storage filled with two lenses, laptop cord, rain cover, laptop and notebooks, the bag gets very heavy. Heck, it starts out at 9lbs empty! It has a shoulder strap but I would advise against it when the bag is full.

In Real Life

photo 2In real life this bag actually made me want to shoot in a few situations I wouldn’t have while commuting because it is easier to use than a backpack. Not only that, it carried more gear more easily. Mind you, this was while commuting to and from California (yes, my commute is longer than yours). A mixture of bus, train and plane. We stopped at a train yard to switch drivers and my Navigator was at my feet. One zip around the top section and I had the camera out and shooting some images of the dormant rail cars waiting service. Drop the camera straight down into the bag, zip it up and I’m done.

Why is this so earth shattering when I could have done nearly the same thing with something like my normal f-stop Guru or Satori? Because it was two steps easier and cleaner than using the backpacks. The packs would have been on the seat next to me or, if the train was full, on the ground as well. I would have laid the bag down to access the contents and it would have taken up more space and certainly blocked more walkway if laid down.

But the Navigator never changed its location. It’s silly, but it actually is easier to use (and I have always preferred backpacks). What’s more, to carry the same amount of gear as I did in the Navigator, I would have had to use the Satori EXP which is substantially larger. I carried this bag around Peru last year with two cameras and five lenses and while it worked well off the paved path, the Navigator takes the cake when in an urban setting.

I will have more in my formal review coming soon, but for now, I’m loving the Think Tank Airport Navigator (for the record, this is also my first Think Tank bag). This year so far I’ve taken over 60 flights and wish I had this bag on at least 80% of those trips. Those would be the ones where I knew I was going to be on paved or flat surfaces most of the time. It is dreamy in those situations. It’s not dreamy when using the shoulder strap and full of gear, though.

Conclusion

I think I already gave the conclusion for this First Impression: I love the Think Tank Airport Navigator. Really. Not only is it functional, it is cute. The sure part is my daughter’s thought, not mine. My other bags look manly and beefy and technical but this bag is a cute near-cube. Some might say stylish. It also blends in with the other roller bags at the airport, making you less of an “expensive camera gear” target.

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