Review: Able Archer Mapcase

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (1 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

“It’s not really a camera bag, but it can be used as one.” is what I was told by Able Archer when the Mapcase was presented in a catalog after the company approached me. Reviews like this are problematic at times because theoretically, any bag can be used for any reason. Lots of camera bags can double as every day bags, and with some clever tinkering a normal bag can be made to hold all the camera gear you really need.

Able Archer is a new company looking to get into the bag manufacturing game and their process takes inspiration from the past. For example, the Able Archer Mapcase was designed and inspired by literal map cases that soldiers used to carry with them. Obviously, it’s been modified for today’s needs and to suit a different purpose.

One of said purposes is a camera bag–for $300.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Perhaps the toughest and well built camera bag I’ve tested overall. Though there are one or two weak points.
  • Allows you to have lots of customization.
  • Can hold lots of gear
  • Lots of protection against the elements
  • Customizable to be a tote bag with handles, a messenger style bag, or a bit of both

Cons

  • This bag really should have been either a sling or a proper tote.
  • No real dividers so to speak, you’ll need to buy more pouches and cases to create your own
  • Holds a lot of gear, but may also encourage you to bring more than your back will probably want to handle.
  • Backpack straps would have made this bag much better.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from Able Archer’s Mapcase listing for $300

BASED ON VINTAGE EUROPEAN MILITARY MAP CASES AND U.S. ENGINEER BAGS, THE MAPCASE IS THE IDEAL CITY BAG FEATURING A HEAVY-DUTY EXPANDING SIDE ZIPPER THAT HOLDS AND HIDES THE SHOULDER STRAP. THE REMOVABLE WEATHER FLAP ALSO HIDES A PASSPORT POCKET AND A WATERPROOF ZIPPER FOR FAST, DIRECT ACCESS.

THREE BAGS IN ONE, THE REMOVABLE FLAP AND CUSTOMIZABLE HANDLES CAN TURN THE BAG INTO A HANDHELD PORTFOLIO, SHOULDER TOTE, OR AN INFORMAL BACKPACK IF NECESSARY. HOLDS UP TO A 15″ LAPTOP.

HEIGHT: 16.5″  WIDTH: 12.6″  DEPTH: 5.3″(EXPANDED)  CAPACITY: 18L

– MIL-SPEC WATER RESISTANT CANVAS EXTERIOR & NYLON INTERIOR
– EXPANDABLE SIDE ZIPPER STOWS SHOULDER STRAP
– 3-WAY CARRY: REMOVABLE FLAP & CUSTOMIZABLE HANDLES
– 13-15” DUAL-ENTRY LAPTOP COMPARTMENT WITH NO-SCRATCH ZIPPER PULLS
– FLAP PASSPORT POCKET WITH MAGNETIC CLOSURE
– HIDDEN SD/CF MEMORY CARD HOLDERS
– FLAP-THRU DIRECT ACCESS WATERPROOF ZIPPER
– INSIDE/OUTSIDE ARCHER-MOUNT* WEBBING (MOLLE COMPATIBLE)

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (3 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

This is the Able Archer Mapcase; sort of. This is what the bag looks like with two pouches attached to it and the top flap attached; which comes off using a belt and button system. The entire package is made of a very tough canvas, you’ll be happy to know that it can take loads of abuse.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (4 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

This is what the Mapcase looks like without all that fancy schmancy stuff attached. It’s significantly more minimal and even better looking overall.What you’ll see here is a giant flap that goes over the bag to cover the interior pocket. Said flap has a zipper for quick access.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (5 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

The flap closes and seal shut with these buttons. What you also see here are little slits. These are all around the bag so that you can put your pouches exactly where you want them.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (6 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

I wasn’t kidding; these slits are all around. But beyond the pouches, you can place pens, water bottles, and other essentials around the loops.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images interior (1 of 1)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

The interior of this bag also has little slits and is very hollow with no dividers at all. This section can be closed with a zipper. On either side, here are handlebars so you can tote it around like, well, a tote bag!

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (8 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

On the backside of the bag is another zippered pocket. This is a laptop sleeve and really meant for very little else besides that. Maybe if you’re the life of the party, you can pack your large format tintypes into here.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (9 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

The Mapcase can be expanded to slimmed using this zipper. Said zipper goes all along the body of the bag. This area on the side is where you’ll also find the solid steel rings that attach to the bag’s strap.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (10 of 11)ISO 1601-200 sec at f - 2.8

When not being used to cameras, the bag closes up and becomes much thinner. In this thinner configuration, it’s much more compact for carry. However, it can at best hold an X100 series camera or  Sony A6000 with a pancake lens.

Build Quality

The standard configuration of the bag itself is really solid. It’s built tough, can survive the elements, and can handle much of the rough and tumble that you can throw at it day in and day out. More than anything, that is the Mapcase’s best quality.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (2 of 11)ISO 2001-200 sec at f - 2.8

While the durability of the bag itself isn’t at all an issue, what could have been improved is the overall design functionality. The addition of dividers on the side would have been nice instead of just having one massive pocket. Beyond this, something else like extra rings to make this bag into a sling would be really welcome additions.

At one point, I tried hooking the strap to one of the standard strap loops and another D-ring near the bottom. With lighter gear, this could have worked–but I packed it quite a bit and one of the D-rings ended up being bent out of shape. With all honesty, that was my fault and my attempt to try to get more out of the bag when it wasn’t designed to do something like that. Luckily, I was able to hammer the D-Ring back into shape.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Able Archer MapCase product review images (11 of 11)ISO 1601-200 sec at f - 2.8

The bag by itself is kind of a camera bag, and though Able Archer tells me that it’s best as a mirrorless camera bag, I find that incredibly hard to believe considering the size of everything relatively in the image above. Not only can it expand to accommodate more gear, but it’s also fairly massive. In some ways, the size reminds me of a poor high school freshman carrying way too many books in their bag to rush from class to class. It doesn’t expand out to quite that size, but the entire thing is around the size of my torso.

The fact that you can add pouches and cases to it to add to the configuration is a pretty nifty idea because it means that everyone can make each bag their own. But at the same time, you’re spending more money. I ended up packing one pouch with pills, coconut water, and hand sanitizer. The other pouch had a light meter or a flash. My biggest problems with the pouches is that they don’t really fully close–so everyone ie going to know that you’ve got a flash, a light meter, or may even try to pull a fast one on you and steal you valuable coconut water.

Overall, what this bag needs is pouches built into it instead of being just a giant sack really designed for maps–and modified for laptops.

Conclusions

The Able Archer bag is a nice attempt at trying to become a camera bag, but lacks lots of what many photographers need. Interior dividers are essential to many of us; and while it can be used as an everyday bag with ease, the idea of needing to attach your own pouches to it makes an already very expensive bag tougher to justify.

So what’s the bag got going for it? Some of the best build quality I’ve ever seen, for one. For another, it looks absolutely nothing like a camera bag. But to that end, this bag is cool, but I wouldn’t primarily use it as a camera bag.

For that reason, I’m not rating it based on the Phoblographer’s standard star rating system; but instead I’d recommend this bag for photographers with smaller mirrorless cameras that also happen to carry lots of other stuff and need something rugged. But at the same time, get ready to spend lots of money.