Well it seems that I’ve been doing nearly entirely bag reviews these last few months, and honestly, i’m okay with that! I’m always seeking the best gear for the job, and while i’ve mostly gotten my camera and lens situation figured out, i’m still seeking the perfect combination of bags to make my travel life to and from sets a worry-free breeze. For a lot of my photography career i’ve been on the road from plane to hotel and back again, and with that comes a lot of bumps and worry/anxiety about providing the best protection for my gear, while also giving me something that travels well and can hold everything I need.

Enter the Pelican and their Sport Elite Backpacks. While most of us in the photo and video industry know and have known for a LONG time that Pelican has made hard shell protective cases for gear, what I didn’t know, is they also made backpacks! I first saw these bags from a colleague I was travelling with who had one of the S115’s to carry his gear on jobs with me and it kind of blew my mind. This thing provided VERY safe and secure laptop protection along with a much sturdier cargo area for all my lenses and camera equipment, and it still fit in the carry-on compartment on a plane! They may not be the prettiest of backpacks, but let me tell you I feel a lot more relaxed when I’m traveling with my cameras in these bags vs a lot of other brands.

First Impressions

We received two styles of Pelican case backpacks to review on this, the S115 as mentioned above which felt like a 1510 roller case in a backpack mode, and the S130 which was an interesting blend of gear back and day-pack hybrid. Both had similar strap and pad designs, both had the watertight laptop compartment, and a hardshell “crush-proof” liner over the camera gear components that we kind of put to the test immediately, (you can see some of the scuffs on them in the “lifestyle” images below).

While not as comfortable as a lot of other bags on the market, they worked exactly as intended, which is to provide you with the most protection you can get in an affordable travel worthy backpack. Both bags had multiple compartments and TSA approved locking mechanisms, the S115 had more room for placing gear that needs extra padding and separation, while the S130 had a smaller camera gear compartment, but the trade off, came with a decent sized day-pack compartment for storing pretty much anything you could think of (that’d fit at least). I’ve used that bag for quick turn around trips and put my change of clothes in there to keep my bag-footprint to a minimum which can be very handy.

Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack 1

Either way you use it, both bags are very useful and you can rely on them keeping your gear safe. They aren’t the best feeling for walking around long distances with, (As in, i’d definitely recommend another bag if you’re planning on going on a long hike), but if you’re a regular flyer and have to bring your gear with you, i’d definitely look into these and some of the other bags that pelican offers.

So let’s dive into the bags in a little more detail;

S115 Sport Elite Backpack $229.95B&H | Amazon | Adorama | Pelican

Key Features & Specifications

  • Top-Loading, Fast Access – TSA Ready & Under Seat Convenient
  • Built-In Watertight, Crushproof Case
  • Pro Pack for Camera with a built-in watertight & crushproof laptop case
  • Slim case for use with Ultrabook™ laptops up to 15″, also 17″ Apple laptops
  • Large sized padded divider compartment – Holds multiple bodies, lenses, flash, etc.
  • Large side pockets keep charge cords and accessories organized
  • Quick-clip side straps allow attachment of full sized tripods
  • Three airmesh lid organizer pockets for fragile accessories
  • Chest Clip and Removable Hip Belt
  • Floating ergonomic lumbar/shoulder strap design and ventilated back panel
  • Watertight to 1 meter for 30 min* – O-Ring Gasket Sealed (*Case portion only. Backpack is not watertight.)
  • Rigid front plate protects camera gear from impact
  • Pressure Equalization Valve – Prevents Vacuum Lock
  • Capacity – 18L
  • Dimensions;
    • Exterior – 18.50 x 13.00 x 10.00 in / 47 x 33 x 25.4 cm
    • Case Interior – 15.15 x 10.40 x 1.00 in / 38.5 x 26.4 x 2.5 cm
    • Divider Interior – 16.00 x 11.00 x 5.00 in / 40.6 x 27.9 x 12.7 cm
Pelican S115 Sport Elite Backpack 5
Pelican S115 Sport Elite Backpack

This S115 Sport Elite Laptop & Camera Backpack from Pelican features a built-in crushproof and watertight hard case at the back that will accommodate up to a 15″ or select 17″ laptops. Within the main camera compartment, this Pro Pack holds a DSLR, five lenses, and two flashes in dedicated sections made of removable, padded, touch-fastened dividers. However, you can load up your gear in any configuration as you can see from my interior shot below!

A rigid front plate provides impact protection for the main compartment and unzips all the way down on both sides for complete access to your photo gear. Underneath the rigid front plate and resting on top of the camera compartment, there is an internal flap with a mesh document pocket perfect for storing any important papers on your travels. Additionally built into that interior flap are 3 mesh zippered compartments for storing any loose items like batteries, cables, memory cards, or any other small items you don’t want potentially sliding around in your bag.

The Sport Elite S115 can be carried using the padded backpack straps or the rigid carry handle. For better stability when carrying a heavier pack, use the sternum straps and removable hip belt.

How Much Can It Fit?

So much like my freelance jobs I mentioned above, lately i’ve been on the road a lot and i’ve been dragging a LOT of gear with me to test, review, and well, shoot! As you can see here i’ve got two camera bodies (my D800 and Z6) along with the FTZ adapter, and 5 lenses! And technically speaking i’ve still got a _little_ bit of room in there. Effectively, I’m covered for pretty much any shooting scenario with what I can fit in this guy, and with the Pelican internal padding, never once was I worried about anything scratching, scuffing, or getting generally dinged up!

Pelican S115 Sport Elite Backpack 10
Pelican S115 Sport Elite Backpack – What’s In My Bag?!

[Related Reading: Think Tank Retrospective Backpacks Announced – A Perfect Daily & Wanderlust Camera Bag?]

ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack – $219.95 – B&H | Amazon | Adorama | Pelican

Key Features & Specifications

  • Divider Pack for Camera with a built-in watertight & crushproof laptop case
  • Slim case for use with – Ultrabook™ laptops
  • Watertight to 1 meter for 30 min* – O-Ring Gasket Sealed (*Case portion only. Backpack is not watertight.)
  • Pressure Equalization Valve – Prevents Vacuum Lock
  • Removable padded divider set – Protects Cameras, Tablets, and other Devices
  • Top-loader 25 liter main storage – Durable Rip-Stop Nylon
  • Floating shoulder straps and lumbar pad – Ergonomic Ventilated Back
  • Top-Loading, Fast Access – TSA Ready & Under Seat Convenient
  • Built-In Watertight, Crushproof Case
  • Rigid front plate for impact protection
  • Bottom Expanding Sling Storage
  • Load Compression Straps
  • Chest Clip and Removable Hip Belt
  • Capacity – 25L
  • Dimensions;
    • Exterior – 18.50 x 13.00 x 10.00 in / 47 x 33 x 25.4 cm
    • Case Interior – 15.15 x 10.40 x 1.00 in / 38.5 x 26.4 x 2.5 cm
    • Divider Interior – 10.30 x 9.00 x 4.80 / 26.2 x 22.9 x 12.2 cm
Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack 3
Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack

The ProGear S130 Sport Elite Laptop Backpack from Pelican holds a camera, lenses, and accessories and features a removable watertight & crushproof compartment for storing a laptop. The case features a push button latch as well as 2 TSA-friendly lockable hasps for added security. Sling storage straps located underneath the bag provide a convenient place to store a jacket, bedroll, or other items you want to carry along with you for your trip.

This bag, at least “gear” wise, is noticeably smaller than it’s S115 sibling, but it’s equally useful in other areas. The top “bag” compartment is great for placing anything you’d want to pack for a day trip or assignment in the field.

How Much Can It Fit?

As you can see in the photo below, I had a my Mirrorless (or dslr) body along with the FTZ adapter, 2 lenses, and my GoPro in the gear compartment. In the top pack I had a sweater, bluetooth speaker (what kind of location shoot is it without music?), gloves and a few other items (along with my laptop charger). Oh, and since I had just gotten back from WPPI, The top flap compartment was still loaded up with business cards from the people I met at the show! Best of all, there was still room to spare.

Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack 12
Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite Backpack

Who Is It Made For?

So here’s where the real talk is going to happen. Personally, I absolutely LOVE these bags, but I’m also a person who’s on a plan or 6 every other week. So I get that I have a unique perspective on what I want and need out of a gear bag. Looking at these guys objectively, it’s clearly not for everyone. I’d recommend these bags to the avid and frequent traveller by air. Given the overcrowding and over selling of seats and the nearly constant need to gate check your bags….there may come a time when you’re forced to check your camera gear or miss the flight.

In a scenario like that, I’d at least feel a LOT safer with my laptop and camera gear in the cargo space in these bags than ANY other backpack on the market. Now if you’re a person who wants to load up your gear and go on a 10 mile hike before you pull your gear out. Well, you still can with these guys, but honestly, there are many other bags out there that can hold as much if not more gear, and are designed specifically with that long distance hike in mind so they are a lot more comfortable on your back/hips.

So unless you’re an incredibly clumsy person who needs extra protection for your gear at every single step, (and this…yeah this rings a bit home to me haha), as I mentioned above, these bags are more designed for the Photographer/Videographer who’s on the road….a LOT.

Pelican Backpack Pros

  • Protection / Durability

Let’s face it, when it comes to keeping your gear safe and secure, there’s no brand more trusted and familiar than Pelican Cases in our industry. While it’s not the same as the hardshell-foam lined cases, these backpacks are probably the most secure and anxiety free i’ve ever felt when traveling with my gear on flights or walking through rough terrain where it’s easy to fall.

  • Laptop Compartment

This thing truly is like the Pelican cases we know and love, it’s water tight, and large enough for a 17″ laptop. If you have a smaller device (like most 15″ laptops), the bags come with little sticky foam inserts / spacers so that you can ensure your laptop doesn’t slide around inside the case when in transit.

  • Weather Proofing

The bags, along with the hard shell liners, are made with a fantastic weather proof material. It pretty much feels like a raincoat on any of the areas that aren’t the hard shell material.

  • Interior Material(s)

The camera gear section of the backpacks are made with the soft, scratch resistant dividers anyone who’s ever used a Pelican case will know and love. Easy to reconfigure to cater to whatever gear you are running with on that particular job, with a lot of velcro straps to ensure that nothing shakes out of place while in transit.

Pelican Backpack Cons

  • Heavy / Weight

So, while i’ve been toting how great these Pelican bags are, and they are, but it really is like strapping a full sized Pelican Case onto your back. These backpacks, due to the added protection and hard shells, are pretty heavy when compared to any other backpack out there weighting 7-8.65lbs to start with! so once you load them up with gear, they can be pretty hefty.

  • Comfort

Kind of tied into the weight comment above, the Pelican Sport Elite Backpacks are surprisingly, much more comfortable than they look, BUT, they are still nowhere near as comfortable as a softer and custom hiking designed backpack. They’re good, but let’s face it, it’s still like strapping a Pelican case to your back, so they aren’t _that_ comfortable! (Speaking of which, I’m also soon going to be reviewing a line of straps from RucPac to do just that with a Pelican Case. Wish me luck).

  • Style

So, most of us in the business, we’re always looking for gear that not only does the job great, but looks as great while we’re doing it. While testing these bags out around the studio with the LJP shooters, lets just say that while sporting those backpacks, while my gear was super safe and secure, I wasn’t going to be winning any fashion/style awards. To sound like a broken record, it pretty much looked like I strapped a Pelican Case to my back. To other gear addicts and camera fanatics, they will definitely look cool. But in the world of weddings and fashion & style, not so much.

Final Thoughts

Travel photographers, adventure photographers, and globetrotters in general, take some time to have a look at the Pelican Sport Elite line of backpacks. They just may make the difference in protecting your gear on those plane rides to your locations. While they aren’t the most fashionable or comfortable, these bags are meant to ensure your gear is the safest possible while moving from location to location, and they do that incredibly well! While they aren’t the most comfortable bags i’ve ever used, we were still pleasantly surprised with the way the case and padding is designed to never touch your back. So they were more comfortable than expected, but still, just not _that_ comfortable.

Bottom line is, if you want to have the safety and protection that a Pelican case provides but in a backpack style? Then these are the bags for you! You can fit a bunch of gear and be sure it’ll make it to your destination in one piece with these bags. Personally, i’m insanely happy with the S115 Bag. I’ve been looking for one for myself for years and it’s absolutely perfect for me and my client work.

Pricing & Availability of the Pelican Sport Elite Backpacks

So normally, we’d talk about the price point as a pro or a con, and with these bags, the price point is honestly, right there in the middle of everything backpack/bag related for quality and size! So at $219-$230 you can’t go wrong for what you get with the Pelican Sport Elite Backpacks.

So readers, what do you think? Have you used Pelican Cases or Backpacks before? What do you think of these backpacks and would you use them in your travels? Let us know in the comments below!

 

8.0
Score

Pros

  • Weather Resistance
  • Laptop Compartment is Top Notch
  • Safe/Sturdy
  • Airplane Carryon Sized

Cons

  • Not "Pretty"
  • Not A Great "Everyday" Bag
  • Not The Most Comfortable
  • Heavy
Style
6
Weather Protection
9
Internal Organization
9
Capacity
8

Final Verdict

If you want to have the safety and protection that a Pelican case provides but in a backpack style? Then these are the bags for you! You can fit a bunch of gear and be sure it'll make it to your destination in one piece with these bags. Personally, i'm insanely happy with the S115 Bag. I've been looking for one for myself for years and it's absolutely perfect for me and my client work.