While you can find many options for laptop bags and backpacks that can fit a high-performance 17-inch notebook PC, it’s much harder to find a bag that can fit all the camera gear and laptop gear needed for a mobile studio. The difficulty grows even more if you’re trying to find a bag that can hold (and protect) all that gear for less than $200. A large number of mobile professionals and enthusiasts need to carry large cameras, large lenses, and even larger laptops … but they don’t all want to pay $399 for one bag. This is where the SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack ($125.99) comes to the rescue.
This heavily customizable backpack not only fits a massive amount of camera equipment and a laptop with up to a 17.3-inch display, it provides excellent protection with lots of padding and is remarkably comfortable to wear even when it’s packed full of gear. If you think this backpack looks familiar then you’ve got a good memory. The SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack begins its life as the previously released customizable SLAPPA MASK Jedi Laptop Backpack (also $125.99).
These MASK backpacks are covered on all sides by 1680D Ballistix nylon (puncture proof and water resistant) with a quarter inch of padding in every interior surface to protect your gear from outside elements. The bottom of the bag is protected from drops by a pair of molded plastic underbelly runners. The dedicated laptop pocket has an additional 0.25″ of padding and is large enough to fit most 17-inch laptops. We tested this bag with the Alienware 17 and ASUS G75VW and both of these heavy gaming notebooks fit inside the padded laptop storage pocket and we were able to close the interior Velcro flap on the laptop pocket to hold the each laptop in place.
There is a second padded storage compartment designed to hold a tablet or a small 2-in-1 laptop like an ASUS Transformer Book directly across from the main 17-inch laptop pocket. The tablet storage compartment can be sealed with the zipper. You’ll also find two small pockets with Velcro flap closures, an open mesh pocket, and a large Velcro loop for securing a long power cord or a gaming headset.
This is where we start getting into the main appeal of the SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack and the MASK Jedi Backpack; lots and lots of storage space combined with customizable options. The MASK backpacks offer enough space to fit a 17-inch laptop with large power adapter, a 10-inch tablet or 2-in-1 with small power adapter, books, headphones, external storage drives, and a wide assortment of small peripherals or extras (phone, wallet, keys, passport, etc.). If you use the SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack with the DSLR insert then you can also fit a full DSLR kit including one professional DSLR with up to 11 smaller lenses or move the padded inserts around to hold multiple DSLR bodies and a few larger lenses or external flashes.
The outside of the DSLR/Laptop backpack features a “Fast Access Face” which contains extra padding for your camera gear, additional storage compartments and faster access to your camera so you won’t have to waste time completely unzipping the bag to capture the moment. The Fast Access Face is also where we ran into our first complaint about this backpack. There are four memory card storage pockets conveniently located under a flap that is secured by a plastic clip. Unfortunately, the individual memory card storage pockets lack any kind of Velcro or zipper closure (the memory cards are held in place by the weak tension from a pair of elastic fabric strips). The end result is that the memory cards easily fall out and can be lost. This potentially catastrophic problem would be easy to fix with Velcro or zippers to hold the memory cards in place.
If you don’t need to carry a portable studio then remove the MASK DSLR Insert and replace the Fast Access Face with a standard SLAPPA Jedi MASK. The storage space that was dedicated to camera gear now fits enough clothing for a weekend trip or you’ve got room for a gaming console, power adapter and all the cables you need to hook it up to a TV. This large storage space also reveals the customizable insert which can be replaced with a number of padded panels featuring various designs. SLAPPA offers additional inserts priced at $16.99 on their website. The exterior of the standard Jedi MASK face also features a pair of “lock down” Velcro straps, giving you the ability to attach a jacket for chilly days or one of SLAPPA’s accessory sleeves (also available on SLAPPA’s website).
The contoured shoulder straps are wide and heavily padded, and the ventilated back/lumbar pad make this backpack extremely comfortable to wear. The shoulder straps have a dedicated sternum strap with plastic clip to hold the shoulder straps in place despite the combined weight of your camera gear and laptop. You’ll also find a hip/waist belt to help you balance the weight of a fully-loaded backpack over your entire torso rather than keeping all that weight on your shoulders. You’ll also find a rubber-padded carry handle located just above the backpack straps. The carry strap proved fine during our testing but we would have liked to see more reinforcement stitching on the connecting straps considering the weight of professional camera equipment and a 17-inch laptop. In addition, we don’t like the idea of the carry handle and shoulder straps sharing the same stitching … if those stitches ever pop you’ll lose both the shoulder straps and the carry handle.
The SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack (like the MASK Jedi backpack) is technically a “Checkpoint Friendly” laptop bag designed to allow you to pass through a TSA checkpoints at airports without needing to remove your laptop from the bag. Simply unzip the rear laptop and tablet compartment and unfold the bag like a pair of wings so the laptop can be scanned separately from the rest of your items. Well, that is how it works in theory. In practice, only one out of six TSA agents scanned this backpack without stopping the line, removing the laptop, and scanning the laptop and bag separately.
The questionable value of a Checkpoint Friendly design is further compounded by the fact that this design leads to our second complaint; the bag can split open and spill expensive contents if you forget to completely close the zippers for the main laptop compartment. On two different occasions we neglected to close the zippers after we used the laptop in airports and after a short walk the weight of the camera gear on the opposite side of the bag pulled the two halves of the backpack apart! None of our camera gear fell out because we closed the zippers on the camera compartment, but if we had forgotten to close those zippers as well then roughly $4000 in camera equipment would have fallen to the floor.
Other bag manufacturers have solved this problem by using compression/retention straps with clips that hold to two halves of the backpack together even if the owner forgets to close the zippers. Interestingly, SLAPPA has four empty D-rings for extra straps on both sides of this backpack … but the D-rings are located on the wrong sides of the zippers. Even if you added a set of compression straps to these D-rings the straps wouldn’t hold the two halves of the backpack together. Hopefully SLAPPA will relocate these D-rings on future backpacks so customers have another way to secure their expensive gear.
The SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack has proven to be a durable bag with massive amounts of storage, multiple customization options, and a terrific value. Our two biggest complaints about this backpack involve the potential loss of items, but owners of this bag can avoid those problems if they take care.
As previously mentioned, we recommend that you avoid using the four memory card pockets on the outside of the Fast Access Face because gravity can pull those memory cards straight out and onto the floor. Likewise, pay attention and make sure you completely close the zippers that secure the half of the bag with the main laptop compartment and the half of the bag with your camera gear. If those two zippers aren’t closed then the weight of your camera gear can pull the bag apart.
Overall, the SLAPPA MASK DSLR/Laptop Backpack is a convenient way to carry expensive electronics for a fraction of the cost of many other camera/laptop bags designed to hold 17-inch notebooks. If you’re careful about how you use it then we highly recommend this backpack.
- Ample storage space for all your gear
- Multiple compartments with organizers
- Easily customized for multiple uses
- Hefty amounts of protective padding
- Good value for the money
- Memory cards can fall out of the unsecured memory card pockets
- “Checkpoint Friendly” design = bag can split open
- Retention strap D-rings incorrectly placed