Can the Yeti Crossroads 23 Backpack Work for a Photographer?

I’m into modifying regular bags for photography reasons, but the Yeti Crossroads 23 backpack proved painful.

A while back, Yeti pitched the idea to me of working with the Yeti Crossroads 23 backpack for photographers. Working with new vendors is always fun, and experimenting is too. As a company targeted to the outdoor enthusiast, I was curious why they reached out to me. I mean, I travel a whole lot, but for the most part, I’m a city boy. The country doesn’t scare me, but city life is much better for a legally blind photographer. Nonetheless, I accepted the challenge of working with the Yeti Crossroads 23. It proved to be a reminder that they’re not a photographer’s brand and pretty much no one is making a perfect camera bag.

The best way for me to talk about this bag is by discussing each piece individually. If you’re a long-time reader of the Phoblographer, consider this a combination of our Ergonomics and Ease of Use sections of a review. When you look at the front of the Yeti Crossroads 23, it seems very plain Jane. Nothing about it says it’s a camera bag. That is incredibly appealing for many photographers. The particular shade of blue of the bag will dull quite quickly, as it’s bound to get dirty by something.

Mind you, this photo is of the bag when it’s quite stuffed. I could have stuffed it more, but to be honest, I couldn’t figure out what I’d want to put in there. You’ll see why shortly.

The reason why this bag isn’t working for a photographer right off the bat is mostly because of pockets. Photographers love to have pockets all over their bags. These pockets tend to have pockets inside of them for even further organization. When I look at the Yeti Crossroads 23, all I want are pockets: they’re instrumental. I regularly pack hard drives and other electronics in one pocket while the others hold business cards and other things. The organization of a bag is critical to a photographer, and the Yeti Crossroads 23 barely allows us to organize.

This design doesn’t allow for a lot of pockets at all.

On each side of the Yeti Crossroads 23 are pockets that close via magnets. The magnetic design is sort of nifty, however, the magnets don’t always collapse and close in on themselves. Sometimes you just have an ugly pocket sort of being left open. In real-life use, this also makes stuffing the pockets awkward. To pack this Manfrotto tripod, I had to push it in at an angle. Right there, the most novice of photographers would think this is good enough, but it’s far from it.

What the sides of the bag need are straps. Straps would ensure the Yeti Crossroads 23 would hold the tripod in place. But instead, the tripod sort of shifted around in my commutes and that was super annoying.

The other side of the Yeti Crossroads 23 is similarly designed. Bigger thermoses (and I love my thermoses) will be difficult to stuff in there. Indeed, a lot of my favorites are too big for this bag. Beyond this, sometimes I like packing LaCie hard drives. When I do, the pockets of the Yeti Crossroads 23 don’t collapse around the drive enough to hold it in place. What that translates to is a drive falling out when leaving the TSA line to bolt through Terminal 4 at JFK airport because you want Shake Shack really badly.

At that point, Shake Shack really isn’t worth losing three months’ worth of reviews on a hard drive.

Overall, the pockets aren’t very useful. I’m not even sure what an outdoors person would do with these. With time, they end up looking really ugly. Maybe it’s now time I address the elephant in the room; this bag is ugly. This bag is uglier than Crocs. It’s even uglier than cargo pants. I couldn’t see myself ever using it. Even when I was in Germany, three women who’ve known me for years said, “You’re too stylish for that bag, Chris.”

And they’re not wrong. Some leather and canvas could really assist here. For some odd reason, Peak Design and WANDRD can’t get it right. But at the same time, one supported a company that screwed over photographers, and the other genuinely cares about them. Portage Supply, on the other hand, uses excellent leather and canvas. So too does Billingham.

These straps are weird. A photographer ideally needs a belt going across the chest and waist. The area that goes against your pack is very well padded, though. However, Tenba does a better job. The Yeti Crossroads 23 has a pocket here for your passport if you wish, but it’s nowhere as good as WANDRD’s.

We’re now moving to the top section of the Yeti Crossroads 23. There is a relatively small pocket here that mostly proves to be useless. I stuffed a few business cards, chargers, and wallets in here with great difficulty. This pocket tends to be either too thin or not accommodating enough to meet the needs of photographers. But this could have been avoided if the bag had (WAIT FOR IT) more pockets overall.

Perhaps most of all, this pocket was the most significant source of frustration for me.

The back of the Yeti Crossroads 23 has a sleeve for a laptop. With all the grief I’ve been giving the Yeti Crossroads 23, this sleeve needs to be commended. They did an excellent job here. This section has pocket after pocket. But why? You can barely stuff anything in here lest your back also feels it.

Now, here’s the story when you open the bag’s main compartment. You get this meshy part in the flap that’s sort of useless, more pockets, and the main pocket. So how the hell do you ensure that a camera goes in here, doesn’t move around, and keeps your gear organized. According to my Yeti rep, you’re supposed to have a divider that you can throw in there. So I put the Manfrotto divider from the Manhattan Changer bag. It worked, but it wasn’t practical.

Two lenses and a charger are in the divider system. Then my camera and a lens are just lying on top with my hard drive. I would have much rather preferred putting my camera and lenses on the bottom and other stuff on top. If anything, every time I opened this bag up, I had to be super careful as I fought my own anxiety.

Here are the contents of the bag. I typically also bring Profoto B10 lights with me. But, I couldn’t figure out where to put them here. Also, in addition to that, all my gear was just moving around.

Thankfully, the gear that Panasonic, Leica, and Sigma make is very sturdy. But there wasn’t a single moment where felt relaxed or at ease with this bag. I almost felt like throwing it in the river as no amount of modding or dividers could really fix the problem.

So what’s good about the Yeti Crossroads 23? Well, it’s comfortable at times. In fact, it can be really comfortable as the lumbar support is very helpful. It could also greatly benefit from a rolltop configuration of some sort. So, would I ever use it again? Most likely not. But this was a good reminder that no one is making an absolutely perfect camera bag for photographers. And I sincerely hope that Yeti eventually enters the camera space with a better option because we need more innovation.