Review: Vanguard Havana 48 Blue Backpack (Their Best Backpack Yet)

The Vanguard Havana 48 is so close to being the perfect backpack to us; but for most photographers it truly could be.

Every now and again, I’ll go down a rabbit hole: that’s how I went about purchasing and testing the Vanguard Havana 48. At times, I become unsatisfied with the camera bag I currently use because something about me or my needs change as a photographer. So, while researching a number of camera bags, I found the Havana. In the photos they advertise, it looks stylish and gorgeous. And to some folks, it will probably be the most stylish bag they have. But to me, the discerningly stylish EIC of a large photography blog, I just can’t bring myself to use the Vanguard Havana 48 for every day uses. While functionally, it can meet and exceed those needs, I wish Vanguard would come up with something more handsome.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Weather sealed
  • Incredibly comfortable
  • Can comfortably carry a tripod on the side
  • Quick enough access to your gear without a ton of steps
  • Lots of space for storage
  • Even when there is a laptop in here, the bag is comfortable

Cons

  • Why the hell did you make this blue nylon and not blue canvas, Vanguard? Come on!

Gear Used

We tested the Vanguard Havana 48 with the Sony a7r III, the Nikon z7, the Canon EOS R, various lenses and flashes, a 2015 Macbook Pro, Manfrotto BeFREE tripods, and a bunch of stuff we carry with us every day.

Tech Specs

Specs for the Vanguard Havana 48 were taken from their website

WARRANTY 2 Years
EXTENDED WARRANTY 5 Years
APPLICATION photo
MAX LENS CAPACITY 2
NOTEBOOK CAPACITY 15″
BAG CONFIGURATION DSLR Kit with 2 Lenses
SHOULDER BAG TYPE Backpack
WEIGHT (LB) 2.73
COLOR Khaki
OUTSIDE DIMENSIONS (IN) 12″ × 9 1/2″ × 18 7/8

Ergonomics

Here is the Vanguard Havana 48 in all its beauty. Yes, I do a fantastic job of making it look good. It looks like a handsome bag. But, like I realized in my days in the paparazzi world, some things are just meant to look good on camera: in real life they can be pretty disappointing. One could easily say that this bag is the Sarah Jessica Parker of camera bags–I can say that because I’ve shot her while working for news agencies years ago. NYC is beautiful enough to lure in loads of folks. But once folks get there they realize they actually have to work and that they can’t afford it and so they move back home–leaving the city an empty, gentrified shell of long term visitors.

This statement is written with all the feels of being a native NY’er.

Turn the Vanguard Havana 48 to the side and you’ll spot the area for the tripod. You put the tripod in that big ole’ pocket and then put a strap around it. That’s it.

Turn to the other side and you’ll find the access sleeve for your laptop. The Vanguard Havana 48 has padding on the back, so this doesn’t make your back feel awful.

Here you can see some of that padding on the back. But you can also see the straps and the chest strap. They’re all adjustable and can be heavily adjusted indeed. However, they also stay pretty tightly packed together, which I genuinely love.

Open up the bottom front pocket and you’ll find a place for stuff. Vanguard stuffs their rain cover in here.

Open up the bottom section and you’ll spot the dividers and the main area for your camera. I’ve packed two cameras with lenses attached and another lens in between them before. I can stuff one camera, lenses, and a flash in here too if I wish. It’s quite roomy!

The top section has a front zipper where you can continue to put more stuff. For peace of mind, I’ve put passports, chapstick, beard oil, etc in here.

Open up the top section and you’ll find a place to shove more stuff. This section too is roomy. You can put all your hopes and dreams in here as you plan your move to NYC.

In Comparison

I’ll get more specific in further sections, but the Vanguard Havana 48 is ergonomically designed very, very well. When I put it up against most other backpacks out there, I’m pretty shocked.

I’m giving the Vanguard Havana 48 five out of five stars for ergonomics.

Build Quality

We took the Vanguard Havana 48 through rain, which, in addition to the NYC commute on the L train (and others), was the toughest thing that we put it through. This bag survived it all without even needing to bring out the rain cover. I’m quite impressed at this as the Nylon seems pretty thin overall. With that said, it surely doesn’t feel cheap. When I look at the bag that I got and I look at the product images that Vanguard created, I think about just how gorgeous and sturdy that bag looks. And in the hand, the bag doesn’t feel all that solid. But the looks and feeling are honestly very deceiving. On the inside of the bag is a lining that helps keep moisture out and away from your gear. It’s pretty nice and prevents the need for making it into a canvas bag.

However, I’d still prefer canvas simply for the look and feel. Nylon and leather to me just feels odd. In some ways I can describe the Vanguard Havana 48 as the most glorified shower curtain in the world if Jansport made it. But someone decided that, just for funsies, they’d put leather trimming on said shower curtain, shape it, and include inserts, dividers, and zippers. Then, somehow you magically have a bag.

In real life use, I genuinely can’t knock this bag despite my scathing thoughts on its appearance.

In Comparison

My current darling is the Portage Supply Kenora Backpack. This one is canvas and leather. Somehow or another, the Kenora does a great job at being even more comfortable, giving me quick access, etc. Its design doesn’t incorporate chest straps, but in my practices, I haven’t needed them. Somehow or another it magically molds to my body.

If you have a bit of extra dough, I’d give it up for the Kenora over the Vanguard Havana 48.

Obviously I’m being picky, but this bag deserves four out of five stars for build quality, at least at the moment due to it sometimes feeling cheap. If it breaks apart in the long run, I’ll update this review.

Ease of Use

Aside from my qualms with the looks, the Vanguard Havana 48 is a very simple to use bag. I didn’t once get confused, lose something, not know how something worked, or grow frustrated. It’s very straightforward and it should be. I mean, all there is to know is:

  • Bottom section for cameras
  • Front pocket on bottom section
  • Top section for stuff
  • Front pocket on top section
  • Pockets inside top and bottom
  • Side pockets
  • Side strap for securing a tripod
  • Adjustable straps
  • Chest straps

That’s it. Ideally, I would have preferred to be able to put my tripod on the bottom of the Vanguard Havana 48. But this is acceptable.

In Comparison

The Vanguard Havana 48 is easier to use than the Portage Supply bag. But Portage also offers side/quick access to your gear. I’d say that Vanguard lets you carry more stuff. Like Vanguard, I also wish it offered a bottom area to put your tripod.

The Vanguard Havana 48 rightfully earns five out of five stars.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Build quality for the moment
  • Ease of use
  • Durability
  • You can stuff so much in here

Dislikes

  • I wish this were a bag made of a thin canvas.

Most folks will conclude that the Vanguard Havana 48 is a nice bag. I think it’s a great bag for most photographers. For those of us who want something better looking, go elsewhere. Otherwise, know you can stuff cameras, lenses, flashes, a tripod, and a whole lot of random stuff into this bag.

I’m awarding the Vanguard Havana 48 five out of five stars. It’s a great bag. But, there are handsomer bags out there. Want one? Head on over to Adorama to pick one up.