ThinkTank Retrospective 50 Photographer Travel Duffel Bag Review | A Perfect Pairing?
Photographers carry more than just camera gear when they travel, of course. Are you tired of carrying a suitcase or duffel bag that doesn’t suit your lifestyle as a wanderlust adventure-seeker? (Buzzword warning! I promise I won’t use the W-word again for the rest of this review. Nor will I mention “influencers”, etc.)
Indeed, this photography (okay, ordinary duffel) bag review is aimed at photographers who travel a lot, and are looking for the perfect duffel bag to carry their other stuff in. Introducing the Think Tank Retrospective Duffel 50, a canvas duffel bag that perfectly matches your Think Tank Retrospective camera bag!
I reviewed the Thinktank Retrospective Backpack and, to sum things up, it is very stylish, incredibly rugged, and decently comfortable as far as stylish camera bags go. (It retails for $249.) There is also the Think Tank Retrospective line of shoulder bags, ranging from $99 to $199 (B&H).
Honestly? I usually dislike stylish/ camera bags, but the Retrospective is the first backpack I actually kept in my collection and use as often as the need arises. (Admittedly, I’ve been working from home for 90% of the last year-plus; in fact, my trip to Vegas for CES 2020 was the last time I’ve been on an airplane!)
The spoiler for this ThinkTank duffel bag review is this: it makes a perfect Retrospective pair! Stylish, rugged, and quite comfortable, as far as duffle bags are concerned. Considering the price tag of just $149, I’m going to highly recommend it.
So, let’s dive into this review! It’s a very simple product, so there’s not much to discuss besides the overall build quality and a few recommendations as to how you might use this travel bag as a photographer.
Think Tank Retrospective Duffel | Specifications
- BAG TYPE: traditional duffel bag
- GEAR ACCESS TYPE: Single top zipper
- CAPACITY: 50 Liters
- MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION: 100% carded cotton woven canvas, un-padded (no camera compartments / cubes)
- COLORS: Pinestone (light green)
- WEATHER PROOFING: Water-repellent polyurethane coating
- DIMENSIONS – EXTERIOR: 21.5” W x 13” D (54.7 x 33 cm)
- CARRY-ON (AIRPLANE OVERHEAD BIN) COMPATIBLE? Yes (Just squish it!)
- WEIGHT: 2.9 lbs. (1.3 kg) including all accessories
- ACCESSORIES: Removable, padded shoulder pad & strap
- PRICE: $149.75 (Available now on Think Tank‘s website, available soon at other retailers!)
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Think Tank Retrospective Duffel Review | Who Should Buy It?
To be honest, the only thing “photographer-oriented” about this camera bag is the fact that its style is identical to the other Retrospective camera bags. Other than that, well, it’s an ordinary duffel bag. A lot of people really, really like having matching luggage, though, and I gotta say, it looks really cool when you have both a Retrospective duffel and a backpack or shoulder bag!
Having said that, what types of travel photography might be well-suited to this type of luggage?
Photography Road Trips
I think that first and foremost, this duffel bag is perfectly suited for the simplest type of travel that photographers will engage in–road trips. Whether you’re staying in hotels/motels, or you’re sleeping in your vehicle, (camper van, or RV) …or camping in the wilderness, a simple duffel bag is a convenient way to carry your “other stuff”.
It’s nice to be able to “squish” (gently!) your stuff down in between car seats, or next to other gear in your trunk, tailgate, or wherever. Either way, whether you’re checking into a nice hotel or you’re pitching your tent in the dirt, the Retrospective Duffel might suit your style perfectly.
Rail & Bus Travel For Photographers
If you’re using a mode of transportation that, well, doesn’t belong to you, (but also doesn’t involve standing in a TSA line for an hour, or walking a mile-long terminal) …then this duffel bag could also suit your style of travel, too.
I am generally not a fan of letting someone else handle any luggage of mine that has significant value, especially if it is in a completely un-padded bag, but that’s less of an issue for someone who is keeping all their expensive, breakable camera gear in a dedicated camera bag, and just cramming clothes and other things into a duffel bag.
Long Trips VS Short Trips
Maybe this is just me, but whatever your mode of travel, a duffel bag just seems like a “quick getaway” type of solution, designed to carry clothes and anything else you might need for a weekend trip, or one week at most if you’re packing light.
Having said that, surely those who are packing VERY light could find a way to fit a “never in the same place very long” lifestyle into just 50L of storage, especially if there is also a camera bag going with it. So, I could see it going either way, although personally as someone with all kinds of backpacks and suitcases already crowding his closet, I only reach for the Retrospective Duffel for shorter trips.
Air Travel VS Ground Travel
One of the biggest questions that always gets asked about luggage, in general, is, “will it fit in an airplane overhead bin?” The answer to this question is, indeed, yes. It’s a completely shapeless duffel bag, so, even if you’re filling it with some fixed-dimension objects such as light stands or tripods, as long as those objects are within the allowable dimensions for overhead bin space, then whatever you can fit inside this duffel will also be air-travel safe.
Having said that, here’s the real question: would I prefer a duffel for air travel, as opposed to a rolling suitcase or a backpack? Honestly, no. Traversing an airport terminal can mean walking and/or standing for 30-45 minutes or more, and that is well past my personal limit for any type of shoulder-slung luggage.
As I have said in the previous sections about travel, I think a duffel bag is great for road trips and other forms of travel where you’re only “lugging around” your luggage for a few minutes at a time, and just want something quick that you can toss a bunch of essentials and/or gear into.
Think Tank Retrospective Duffel Review | Pros & Cons
Since this is a pretty basic product, I’ll keep this section very simple. The TLDR is, the Retrospective duffel is extremely high-quality, very straightforward in its design and features, and an excellent overall value.
From the materials to the workmanship, this is a high-quality product. The canvas material is nice and tough, and all the additional parts (carrying handles, stitching threads, etc) feel virtually indestructible. The zippers are nice and burly, and the metal parts feel like they’re going to do their job for years to come.
All of this is to be expected, of course, since the Think Tank Retrospective line of camera bags has already proven to be of extremely high quality. The whole line of products is ready for a long life of travel and adventure.
Design & Features
There are no compartments besides the main 50L compartment and one side pocket that uses the same internal space as the main compartment. Design-wise, it’s a very simple duffel bag, but it’s also very smartly made.
The zipper pulls are easy to grab but don’t snag on everything like some of the hooks and loops of other fancy camera bags. The sturdy YKK zipper itself does have accommodation for one of those little locks. The shoulder strap has a nice adjustable pad made of breathable but grippy material, and the strap itself has adjustability on both sides; the adjustments of the shoulder strap seem to have a perfect level of resistance, meaning they won’t gradually slip as you carry the duffel. Last but not least, the hand straps are very well-made, with a leather handle on the main straps, (I believe it’s genuine leather; I would have been happy with faux…) …and ribbed nylon webbing secondary handles.
Oh, and the very bottom of the duffel bag is made of the same canvas material, which is “only” water-repellant, so, don’t go and drop this duffel in a puddle or leave it in the rain for more than a brief moment.
As I said, the 100% cotton canvas material has a water-repellant coating, so, although it might be fine to travel anywhere in the world for some types of travelers, this might not be the right travel luggage for your outdoor adventure in an area that will expose you to incessantly wet weather.
I feel like it might have been possible to internally line the Retrospective duffel with a more fully waterproof material on the inside, however, I’m sure such a design would have either not had as much longevity, or, it would have added significantly to the price. (What is Dyneema made of, anyway; is it infused with gold or something?)
Comfort & Ergonomics
It’s a duffel bag. How ergonomic can it be? Having said that, the padded, grippy shoulder strap does its job, and I have no complaints about the overall user experience in terms of comfort or ergonomics.
However, REMEMBER THIS: Duffel bags aren’t very friendly to your spine and/or shoulders in general, though, so be totally honest, as I mentioned in the “who should buy it?” section, if you plan to lug 50L worth of anything around all day, I would recommend either a rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack, depending on your mode of travel and/or what type of photography you will be doing. Think Tank’s Airport roller series, ranging from $220 to $420, is the gold standard for photographer-oriented rolling cases, and the Mindshift line of backpacks (Mindshift is owned by Think Tank) are by far my favorite backpacks for both general travel and outdoor hiking adventures.
Capacity (50 Liters)
As far as 50-liter camera bags go, this is just a big empty duffle bag, so, yeah, it fits a lot of stuff, as long as that “stuff” is clothes, toiletries, and other things that can just be “crammed in” to a duffel bag.
This duffel bag has no padding anywhere, (except the shoulders strap, thankfully!) so you should NOT just be tossing anything fragile into the duffel, whether it is cameras or lenses, or your laptop or external hard drives, etc.
Can You Use the Retrospective Duffel For Camera Gear?
One question that you might ask is, of course, would it be a good idea to use this duffel for camera gear? Things like light stands, tripods, and other heavy-duty, rugged items might be ideal items for a bag like this, but anything at all fragile should, of course, go in a padded case.
I really wish this duffel also came with a camera “cube”, that is, a separate, interchangeable padded camera case that goes inside your bag. Not everybody would need this, but if you’re unable to fit 100% of your camera gear into your main camera bag, or maybe just want a padded case for your accessories like flashes, chargers, or any other photography accessories, it would be nice.
For example, Think Tank has the Stash Master Top Load and the Stash Master 13L that would probably both fit perfectly inside the Retrospective Duffel, and I would have been happy to see the $149 product and either of the $55 or $60 products as a bundle for a slight discount…
Also, Think Tank has their Cable Management series of accessory pouches, which might be perfect for your toiletries, plus of course their basic Travel Pouches that are specifically made for travel packing organization. (You can find these pouches here, ranging from $19 to $29)
This is not a very big nitpick, of course; I suspect that most people will be keeping all their camera gear in their camera bag. I’ll just use my existing toiletries bag, that is, a plain 1-gallon Ziploc bag.
You can buy a cheap duffel bag for a few dollars, but in my experience, cheap prices equal cheap quality, and that leads to damage being caused to ALL of your stuff. In the market as a whole as far as luggage goes, $149 is an excellent value for something with such high-quality materials and workmanship.
Honestly, folks, if you can afford to, buy products that will last a lifetime! Something that will last a decade or more is a far, far better value than something that costs 1/2 or 1/3 the price, but starts falling apart after 6-12 months.
Considering how little actual material is used to create a product like this duffel, I suppose some folks might complain about the value. The only thing I can think of is, maybe Think Tank could have thrown in one of their smallest travel pouches, (a ~$15 value) or offered a discount with one of their $20-50+ accessory pouches or camera cubes. Other than that, in my opinion, this duffel bag is a great value.
Think Tank Lifetime Warranty
To provide a more quantifiable measurement on the value (and also to the physical quality) for those who are looking for the best travel duffel bag they can find, I’ll mention this: Think Tank warranties the Retrospective Duffel, like its siblings, for the lifetime of the product, as long as you are the original owner. This includes defects in material or workmanship.
Think Tank Retrospective Duffel Review | Compared To Alternatives
I am going to keep this section pretty simple, because again, as a “plain” duffel bag, its competition is entirely unrelated to the photography realm, pretty much.
You won’t find an alternative that is of significantly better quality, but, if you have a lot more money to burn, I am sure there are dozens of luxury name brands that would love to take your money.
You won’t find many options of roughly equal quality for less money, though; if you’re shopping for cheaper alternatives then you’re probably buying a bag that just won’t last very long. In my experience, once you drop below a certain threshold, the cheaper the bag, the sooner it will, well, disintegrate after a few months of use, or a couple/few years at best.
If the Retrospective simply isn’t your style, and you’re happy with a basic gym-goer duffel bag, well, …what are you still doing reading this review?
Think Tank Retrospective Duffel Review | Conclusion
I love all types of travel! Well, air travel doesn’t hold the same allure anymore, after a global pandemic and a decade of working as a destination wedding photographer! But, I digress. I still love to travel, and look forward to doing a lot of it later this year and in the years to follow.
I love all types of camera bags, too! I’m a bit obsessed with camera backpacks, actually. When it comes to luggage in general, I prefer certain types of luggage for certain types of travel. Thus, in summary, I’m happy to add the Think Tank Retrospective Duffel 50 to my closet. I’ll be using it for all sorts of things, whether it is personal family vacations on which I’ll be bringing a minimal amount of camera gear in my Retrospective Backpack 15 or serious landscape photography adventure road trips where I’m car camping in the wilderness.
If you are shopping the duffel bag style of basic travel luggage, I highly recommend the Retrospective Duffel 50 for its rugged style and truly excellent quality overall.