Gear Review: Tenba Roadie II Hybrid

December 07, 2013

Over the last month I've been editing my fall photographs of the sandhill cranes' fall migration through Fairbanks.  However, I've been slow in posting new images because I've also been busy upgrading my equipment.  I had been editing my photographs on a 2008 iBook hooked up to a 22-inch monitor, but a few weeks ago I purchased the 2013 MacBook Pro Retina (15-inch model).  I have been very pleased with the new machine and have also been upgrading my photo-editing software.  The Retina machine should make it far easier to edit images while traveling.  I'll review some of these purchases (which include Lightroom 5 and Photoshop Elements 12) in a future post.

I also bought a Tenba Roadie II hybrid rolling backpack from Amazon for use on an upcoming trip.  I have been a fan of Tenba's innovative camera bags for a while, and already own their versatile Shootout Sling Bag and Small Messenger bag.  I purchased the Roadie II Hybrid because my gear had outgrown the Lowepro CompuRover backpack that I had bought in 2008 along with my Canon 40D.  The Lowepro bag is soft-sided;  it features a bottom compartment for cameras and a top compartment for other gear.  The CompuRover is a nice bag that I've taken to Denali National Park and to Hawaii.  It is ergonomically designed for wearing over long stretches of time, with good lumbar support and a generously padded system of straps that includes a comfortable waist belt.  However, my gear outgrew it.  Once I started traveling with my newer Canon 5D Mark III and a series of lenses ranging from the Canon 17-40 f/4 L to the Canon 24-105 f/4 L and the Sigma 150-500, I found the CompuRover's camera compartment to be too small for my needs.  Also, a long trip with the Tenba Small Messenger bag made me aware of my need for a hard-sided camera case for airline travel.  I love the messenger's versatility when carrying minimal gear and have found it especially helpful for blending in while traveling in urban settings, but last summer I was forced to stow it in an overhead compartment when I was unexpectedly seated in a bulkhead row.  The messenger is nicely padded and my gear did not end up damaged, but the experience was disconcerting and--along with my desire for a larger bag--put me on the market for a hard-sided travel carrier.  I was looking for a bag with a capacious and flexible storage system rather than the two separate compartments featured on the CompuRover, and also wanted something with harder sides than my other bags.  Moreover, I thought about the way in which my airline travel tends to involve extended layovers followed by brief transfers to lodging by cab or public transportation.  I wanted to be able to carry all of my camera gear plus a large suitcase by myself.  After looking over my options, I zeroed in on rolling camera backpacks because they can be wheeled through airport terminals and then transferred to my back while I'm retrieving and pulling a rolling suitcase. 

After viewing some reviewers' videos and considering my past satisfaction with Tenba's products, I ordered the Roadie II Hybrid.  It was especially attractive because it looks like ordinary luggage rather than a camera bag.  This design struck me as likely to blend in with regular baggage rather than stand out as a carrier for expensive gear.  It arrived early last week--much faster than promised--and I am already very pleased.  The bag's sides are quite rigid and the interior is very well padded, with customizable dividers plus two straps for securing long lenses.  I am very confident that my camera gear will be well protected, even in an overhead bin.  The Roadie II Hybrid readily took both of my camera bodies plus a variety of lenses with room to spare.  I was able to pack the remaining compartments with my battery chargers, portable hard drives, filters, and cables.  Many of these items fit into the adjustable camera and lens dividers, leaving my accessories more organized and protected than ever.  The front of the bag features an organizer for small items and also has enough space to fit a large laptop, though I highly recommend adding a padded sleeve for additional protection.  I already own a red laptop sleeve that I plan to use, and would not advise packing a laptop into the Roadie without a similarly padded case.  Notably, the interior of the front compartment includes a disclaimer that users should exercise caution in attaching a tripod to the front of the bag if a laptop is inside.  As I don't plan to rely on the tripod carrier this does not matter to me, but it does speak to the need for extra laptop protection.  I was also pleasantly surprised by the comfort of the backpack component, which was a concern when I viewed the bag online.  The straps unzip from a compartment at the top of the back of the bag, and the fabric that covers them folds down underneath.  I am 5'9" with a small torso, and the folded-down fabric seems like it will provide enough lumbar support for the short trips I expect to make while using the backpack feature.  For longer hiking trips I would want a more comfortably padded system of straps like those on the Lowepro CompuRover, but for brief airport transfers the Roadie's straps should be more comfortable than expected.  

Of course, this will not be the end of my luggage purchases:  next summer I will be in the market for a backpack for extended hiking trips with a comfortable shoulder strap system and more room for camera gear than the CompuRover.  But in the meantime, I look forward to taking the Tenba Roadie II Hybrid on the road soon!


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