Beautiful and Ambidextrous: Jo Totes Bellbrook Backpack Review

Many camera backpacks overwhelm my small frame, with straps that dig into my skin and ergonomic pads that don’t sit where they should. Made from a company that makes camera bags for women, the Jo Totes Bellbrook is a smaller backpack. Designed with waxed canvas and leather accents, it charmingly looks like its primary purpose is fashion. But, with a number of different ways to stash gear, the Bellbrook is more than just good-looking.

While it’s not perfect for larger systems, I enjoyed carrying a camera body and two lenses with the Bellbrook. With gear on the bottom (or top), it has a lot of room for personal items and a laptop in the back. I spent a few weeks with the Bellbrook to see if it’s more than just a pretty bag.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

The Jo Totes Bellbrook backpack is a great looking, waxed canvas bag. It’s ideal for crop sensors and smaller mirrorless cameras and 1-2 extra lenses. Without a large opening and with thinner straps, it’s not the best choice for larger cameras or heavy loads. But, it’s a good option for APS-C mirrorless shooters with just a few lenses.

Jo Totes Bellbrook Backpack Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Stylish canvas exterior
  • Multiple ways to arrange gear
  • Ambidextrous quick access door
  • Nicely padded back 
  • Soft straps don’t dig or chafe
  • Comfortable enough for smaller kits

Cons

  • Difficult to get full frame cameras in and out of the side door
  • Bottom section has limited access and organization
  • Straps would need more padding to carry super heavy gear

Gear Used

I tried the Jo Totes Bellbrook with a few different setups, including the Canon EOS R6 and 14-35mm f4 L lens, the Sony a6600 with the Tamron 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 lens, and the Fujifilm X-T4 with the 16-80mm kit lens and 90mm f2.

Innovations

Jo Totes is a company that makes camera bags geared towards women. The Bellbrook is made for smaller torsos. It also has quick access doors on both sides so you can access the camera with either hand. Camera bags for women usually look like purses — the Bellbrook blends style with the comfort of carrying gear on two straps instead of one.

Jo Totes Bellbrook Backpack Tech Specs

Jo Totes lists the following features for the Bellbrook backpack:

  • Water-resistant waxed canvas and high-quality leather trim
  • Interior fabric: gray brushed nylon
  • Includes insert (approximately 10.75″x 4.25″ x 6″) with two adjustable pads
  • Seven padded dividers in two sizes
  • Laptop sleeve can accommodate up to a 15 inch computer or notebook
  • Backpack base is padded
  • Large, zippered pocket in front
  • Organization pockets in rear compartment
  • Adjustable, padded shoulder straps
  • Padded back for comfortable wear
  • Turn lock closure in satin brass color
  • Size: 15.75” x 12” x 6.25”

Ergonomics

The Jo Totes Bellbrook can be divided into two main compartments. One sits at the bottom with two side access doors. The second compartment is accessible from the top zipper. With the bag set up this way, the bottom can store gear and the top personal items. Or, a removable insert can stash extra lenses and flashes in the top compartment as well. The center divider can also be removed, creating one large area for gear or personal items.

Besides that main compartment, the Bellbrook has a laptop compartment at the back. I’ve said this before with other bag reviews and I will say it again — I don’t like the laptop sitting right against the back. This makes the back panel stiff and it no longer curves with your back. But, the back of the bag is well-padded. It wasn’t uncomfortable to carry my iPad in the back but, with my 15-inch MacBook, it would start to feel uncomfortable to wear for longer periods. The laptop compartment also has three interior pockets as well as a pencil pocket and an ID sleeve.

A third, roomy pocket sits on the front exterior of the bag. A flap closure covers both the laptop compartment and top access zipper and closes with a twist clasp.

The gear is carried on two thin canvas straps. The straps are soft and don’t dig or chafe my skin like the athletic-style nylon straps. But, they’re not heavily padded. The bag is comfortable with a body and 1-2 lenses in the bottom compartment. I would readily use this bag with camera gear in the bottom and personal items in the top. If the top compartment is also loaded with camera gear, however, it’s not as comfortable for longer stretches. For that, you’d want thicker padding on the straps.

Build Quality

Made with waxed canvas, the Bellbrook has a great feel. The material is thick and sturdy. Like leather, the canvas is designed to get better with age. The canvas is already starting to get a textured look to it as the material begins to be worn in. These crinkle marks add character to the bag. But, it’s worth noting that if you want one smooth perfect shade, a canvas bag isn’t the right choice.

The zippers pull smooth and the brass accent looks great with the olive green color. I like the front flap closure as well — it’s sturdier than velcro, easier than a snap, and also looks great. The removable insert for the top portion of the bag doesn’t feel as sturdy. It’s not horrible, but it’s not quite the feel of the exterior.

The waxed canvas is designed to repel water. But without waterproof zippers, it’s something you’re not going to want to wear in a downpour.

Ease of Use

Many backpacks with quick access side doors have just one. The Bellbrook has one on each side. You can swing the bag around to either side, unzip, and grab your gear. This ambidextrous advantage also allows you to access a lens that otherwise would be buried without moving the bag’s central divider. 

With the central divider in, the bottom is basically a long tube with openings at each end. You can pack the body with a lens attached, a divider, and another lens. One side will offer access to the camera, the other to the lens. But, if the attached lens isn’t very long, you’ll want to install two dividers so that there’s not enough room for gear to move around. And that’s what I did for these images. Otherwise, the 90mm f2 had too much wiggle room for my comfort. Theoretically, you could put another lens between the two, but you wouldn’t be able to access it easily. You’d have to remove the small divider or the one that’s splitting the main compartment. 

This setup also may not be snug around every lens. You can move the central divider, but, of course, it still needs to be large enough for the camera. I wouldn’t use the bottom portion of this bag for a pancake lens: it would have a lot of room to bounce around.

The side access doors work great for crop sensor cameras. Larger full-frame bodies are difficult to remove from the side door. I could fit the Canon EOS R6 inside, but it wasn’t as quick to pull the camera out. The opening is snug even on my X-T4.

I probably would have gone from like to love if the Bellbrook had offered a zipper with full access. An opening at the back panel, like the Wandrd PRVKE or Lowepro Flipside, or even a full opening to that bottom compartment would increase the bag’s versatility. You could tuck a third lens between the body and extra lens that way. I want to both quickly pull a camera out and sit my bag down and see all the gear at once. I can do the first with the Bellbrook, but not the second.

I did, however, like stashing other items in the top. I could easily pack a lunch, a book, a sweatshirt — any number of things in the top. The top can also carry camera gear as well. That’s convenient and versatile, but be careful not to make this bag too heavy. It’s great for carrying more gear, but I wouldn’t pack every crevice full of heavy camera gear and a laptop regularly.

Overall, the Bellbrook is a joy to use. But, photographers will have the best experience with crop sensors or smaller bodies. It’s also a bag that’s best not overloaded. And there’s no large opening to see all the gear at once.

Conclusions

Likes

  • It looks great.
  • There are a few ways to arrange gear with the ability to use the top or bottom.
  • There’s a quick access side door on both sides, so you can set it up to use either hand.
  • The back of the bag has nice padding and mesh.
  • Finally, there is a bag with straps that don’t chafe my skin!
  • It’s comfortable for carrying a body and two lenses.

Dislikes

  • I really wish the bottom section had a full zip instead of just side doors to access all your gear at once.
  • While there are multiple ways to use the top, the bottom has limited configurations that aren’t going to snugly hold every lens.
  • This bag won’t properly fit larger full frame cameras or pancake lenses very well.

Few backpacks are designed to fit petite frames — and fewer still look great while doing it. The Jo Totes Bellbrook is a stylish, versatile camera bag for smaller kits, and crop sensors or smaller mirrorless cameras in particular. The canvas looks and feels great, with straps that don’t dig. The leather accents and brass clasp show attention to detail. The interior has a few different ways to be configured and lots of organization options.

But, while the bag is great for smaller camera systems, I wouldn’t recommend it for larger full-frame cameras, cameras with built-in battery grips, tiny pancake lenses, or carrying more than three lenses. (That third lens would also need to go on the top.) The side access door is snug on full-frame cameras and the straps aren’t padded enough to overload the bag with heavy gear. If stashed on the bottom, pancake lenses are going to have a lot of room to move around. I also wish there were a third, larger opening to the gear compartment, to see everything all at once.

For packing a few lenses and some personal items, the Jo Totes Bellbrook gets the job done in style. It’s a good option for some, but isn’t a good fit for bulky bodies or tiny pancake lenses. I’m giving this bag four out of five stars. Want one? Check out Amazon for the listing.

Hillary Grigonis

Hillary K. Grigonis is a photographer and tech writer based in Michigan. She shoots weddings and portraits at Hillary K Photography. A mother of three, she enjoys hiking, camping, crafting, and reading.