FERNWEH Bag Review – The Biggest & Most Versatile Backpack WANDRD Makes!
Wandrd has done it again – they’ve created an awesome camera bag that is highly unique, and yet equally versatile and capable.
Introducing the FERNWEH camera backpack- their largest yet, and indeed their most ambitious project on Kickstarter. Just wait until you see how capacious and adaptable this thing is!
We were extremely fortunate to have WANDRD send us a pre-production version of the FERNWEH backpack, with a full complement of padded camera compartments for as much gear as we could possibly cram inside.
In this review, we’ll tell you all about our experience with this 50-liter backpack, and we’ll talk about what types of photography it should be well-suited for. More importantly, we’ll talk about actual types of travel, and how some may be what this backpack is perfect for, but others might not! Spoiler alert: The folks at WANDRD intended for the FERNWEH to be perfect for “reaching places you’ve never been”, and indeed, they more than achieved that goal…
WANDRD FERNWEH | Specifications
- BAG TYPE: Backpack (Small/Medium, Medium/Large)
- GEAR ACCESS TYPE: Side, Top, Back, Clamshell (rear)
- CAPACITY: Small/Medium = 48L, Medium/Large = 50L
- MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION: Internal frame, rip-stop nylon, weatherproof YKK zippers, 6-point adjustment harness system
- COLORS: Black & Gobi Tan
- WEATHER PROOFING: Yes,
- DIMENSIONS – EXTERIOR: 25/26×13.75×9.5 in (64/66x35x24 cm)
- CARRY-ON COMPATIBLE? Likely depends on the fullness of backpack
- WEIGHT: S/M = 5 lbs (2.2 kg), M/L = 5 lbs (2.2 kg)
- ACCESSORIES: Internal camera “cubes”, interchangeable S/M & M/L straps
- PRICE: $299 (backpack only), up to $475 (W/ various camera cubes & accessories)
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | How Much Can It Fit?
Okay, first questions first, the one thing everybody usually needs to know when shopping for a camera bag of any kind: How much camera gear can it hold? How many camera bodies, lenses, (full-frame, crop sensor?) …and how many accessories/essentials?
How many puppies could you fit? Probably three or four… After all, there are enough compartment doors for them all to poke their heads out; just imagine how cute that would be on your next hike!
In the case of the 50-liter FERNWEH, the answer is, indeed, you can fit a ton of stuff. Probably more gear than you even own, unless you have multiple setups or an utterly massive arsenal of lenses and/or other gear. Let’s say, 30-40 lbs worth of gear. That’s a LOT, usually more than you care to even hoist onto your back. (But, in the case of this backpack, well, let’s talk about the comfort factor later…)
In other words, you could have not just a camera and a few lenses, but also, say, a drone, a motion-control time-lapse device, and/or a full-size gimbal. Oh, and there is a laptop compartment/sleeve too, of course.
That’s just the main camera compartment, of course. There is still a bit of additional space in the side and top pockets, for your water bladder, rain jacket, and energy bars or whatever fuels you on your adventures.
The main camera compartment is fully customizable, by the way. You can fill the main compartment with padded camera cubes, if you want, and fit a full-frame DSLR camera plus a half-dozen lenses, our you can use a smaller camera cube and have space left over for overnight essentials like a cookstove and additional food & water. (There’s plenty of external straps if you’re bringing a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, too, or a tripod and/or light stand…)
Bottom line: at 50 liters of capacity, you’ll be hard-pressed to run out of space with this backpack. Maybe if you were carrying gear for not just one but two or three people on a photo/video team, and also traveling for more than one or two nights on the road, THEN you might run out of space.
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | Who Should Buy It?
Which photographers would be interested in an enormous camera backpack? To be honest, it’s clearly not intended to look fashionable; it looks like it belongs on a skydiving runway, not a NY Fashion Week runway.
It’s meant to carry a ton of gear and be as practical and versatile as possible, for people who need to travel for miles with their gear on their back, and yet also have access to at least one camera and one or two lenses at all times.
They do indeed state that the FERNWEH backpack is meant for things like hiking and backpacking. (Backpacking is just overnight hiking, in case you’re wondering.) However, a lot of different kinds of photography could involve travel, and/or large amounts of gear that you want to carry on your back, as opposed to rolling it around in a wheeled case. So, let’s talk about that next!
Air Travel VS Ground Travel
Before we talk about actual types of photography, though, we need to talk about HOW you’ll be traveling with your camera gear. Because traveling by air, land, or sea could make a big difference in which camera bag you choose, regardless of what photography genres you’re into!
To be totally honest, if you’re not leaving flat ground, if all you’re ever going to do is “rolling” to and from the airport, or to and from a hotel to an urban or suburban photoshoot location, then you should do precisely that- ROLL. Get a rolling camera case; they come in all sizes and you can easily find one that suits your needs. (Our favorites are Pelican and ThinkTank.)
However, as soon as you leave pavement, and venture onto the dirt, sand, or anything even remotely resembling a “terrain” of any kind, then wheels become useless and a backpack becomes the best solution. You’ll be able to get around more quickly, and your gear will be generally safer on your back than always on the ground.
Personally? I even like backpacks when I’m not leaving the city, but I know I’ll be going up and down a lot of stairs. I used a backpack for numerous weddings in 2019 for the first time, and loved it!
Next, how do you actually travel? If you travel by ground, in pretty much any form, (car, bus, train, boat…) then there aren’t many concerns. Pack your backpack for your next big adventure, and go!
However, if you travel by air, you have more concerns to worry about. First, you might have trouble cramming the FERNWEH into an overhead bin, but only if you’ve crammed it completely full of gear such that the side pockets are literally bulging, and/or if you’re strapping things to the outside of the backpack.
One tactic that I have used in the past to get around this is, if I am only traveling with one large backpack, I will pull out the main camera case from inside the backpack, and put it under my seat. Even the biggest “ICUs” (internal camera units) should fit under a seat! Then, I take the tripods or light stands etc. that were strapped to the outside of the backpack, and put them inside the backpack instead. The backpack becomes small enough to squish int the overhead space, and your camera gear stays within a padded case, within sight under the seat.
Landscape & Nightscape Photography
If you’re into landscape photography or nightscape photography, then you are no stranger to hiking on a trail for at least a few hundred yards, or maybe a few miles, even up a steep mountain slope. In these conditions, protection for your gear and overall comfort are extremely important.
The FERNWEH delivers an awesome experience in both regards; the padding and overall comfort are ready for that epic hike you want to do with all your favorite lenses. We’ll talk about padding and comfort more later; suffice it to say, landscape, nightscape, and general adventure photography are the number one thing this backpack is made for.
Vacation & Travel Photography
If you do a lot of vacation or work-related traveling in general, then you might not be going on ridiculously long hikes in the outdoors, but you’ll still be wandering around with your gear on your back for long hours, sometimes all day even. In these scenarios, comfort is absolutely critical, and so is easy access to your gear. Again, this backpack delivers on both necessities.
Hiking & Backpacking
What if you do landscape photography, but you also do extremely long hikes, even overnight or 2+ night hikes, with camera gear? For most 1-2 day hikes, there’s more than enough room in this backpack to fit everything you could possibly want to bring, especially if you’re strapping things like sleeping bags and tent poles to the outside of the backpack.
However, once you start getting into 3+ day-long adventures, and especially if you have to carry a bear canister with you such as is required in some parts of the American West like Yosemite, …then you might become a little more pressed for space. 50L of capacity is certainly more than enough for ultralight hikers, whose tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad might all compress down to the size of medium-large lenses. Unfortunately, if you don’t have the cash for a $600 ultralight tent, a $200 air mattress, and a $400 sleeping bag, then you might find yourself strapping a lot of things to the outside of your backpack, depending on how much camera gear you’re bringing.
Of course, if you’re going on a multi-day backpacking trip, are you crazy enough to bring multiple full-frame cameras and lenses? I’ve done it before, and it’s not pleasant. You’ll be much happier if your backpacking kit is a compact APS-C or Micro Four Thirds camera system, with just one body and 2-3 lenses, which will leave you plenty of room for the food and other survival gear you’ll need to spend a week or so in the wilderness.
Wedding & Portrait Photography
Carrying all your gear around all day long is not just for hikers and tourists, of course; weddings, portraits, and all kinds of professional photography work can put such a demand on a photographer. Most of these types of photography might be better off with a rolling camera case, however, sometimes a backpack is better.
Do you do a lot of elopement photography on beaches, or mountaintops? Ditch the rolling camera case, and get a backpack like the FERNWEH. Do you ever work in an area where setting down a shoulder bag, or turning your back on any camera bag for just a second, could result in having your gear stolen? Unless you have an assistant to guard your gear at all times, a backpack could be the best option.
It may not be a very stylish way to show up to a wedding at the Ritz, but for that 6-guest wedding in a National Park, You couldn’t ask for a better way to carry all your gear.
Candid & Street Photography
This backpack is the exact opposite of “incognito”. It does come in all-black, and sort of looks unassuming at a glance, but at 50 liters in volume, it’s going to stick out. Get yourself a small, incognito backpack like the WANDRD PRVKE, their classic design, or the DUO Daypack, if you like the more traditional design.
Wildlife & Telephoto Action Sports Photography
We’ve been talking about how many lenses and cameras you can fit into a backpack, but when you get into wildlife photography, or any sort of telephoto action/sports photography, the lenses get so big that you need an entirely different internal setup in order to safely carry them.
The most enormous, $10,000+ “big gun” lenses might not fit so easily into anything except their “Pro Deep” camera cube, however, all of your 100-400, 150-600, and similar types of large telephoto lenses will easily fit into their Pro, Pro+, or Pro Deep cubes.
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | Pros
Okay, so, what specifically about this backpack makes it good for these types of photography? Let’s talk about the actual quality of the bag, it’s features, and even more importantly, the comfort factor, the protection of your gear, and the price/value…
There are new camera bags popping up on the internet every day, and unfortunately, most of them are no good. They’re cheaply made, and they’ll fall apart in no time. WANDRD has already proven that their products are extremely high-quality with their original smash hit, the PRVKE. Both the materials themselves, and the actual workmanship, (the stitching & seams, etc) are extremely high quality.
This is important not just for long-term dependability, for those who plan to just carry their gear around in “normal conditions” for 5-10 years, but also, more importantly, for those who plan to scramble up rocky slopes, crawl into thick underbrush, brave a sand storm out in the dunes, …or just stand in the rain for an hour. No matter what, the FERNWEH will fight to keep your gear out of harm from the elements, year in and year out.
Design & Features
The design of a backpack usually has two key elements to consider- how easy is it to access your gear, and how adjustable are all the straps? Plus, of course, are there any other unique features that set it apart from other camera bags?
In terms of gear access, there are literally ALL the options. There’s a small side-access pocket for those who like to be able to reach in and quickly pull out a single camera and lens for a quick photo, without taking the backpack off. There’s a main back-side full clamshell access zipper, of course, for getting to 100% of your gear all at once. There’s a top opening, too, which is usually good for accessing accessories, or a snack or other things when you’re taking a break on the trail. Last but not least, there’s a rear (outside) opening, just in case you needed one more point of access, maybe for your rain shell or jacket… Bottom line: The FERNWEH gives the most access of any backpack we’ve tested, while still being practical and not completely disorganized or risking spilling your gear everywhere.
In terms of adjustability, the FERNWEH once again gives you literally all the options. Not only are the backpack’s straps fully adjustable at six different points, but actually, they’re completely swappable, and are available in two different sizes! You can get S/M or M/L straps and put them on either a S/M or M/L backpack. Plus, you can completely reposition the straps’ main upper anchor points, to suit especially tall (or short) body types. This is something that virtually zero other camera backpacks offer; in fact, you don’t even see it very often on “legit”, 65L+ backpacking packs!
The bottom line here is, WANDRD has designed a backpack that ought to suit virtually every body type.
Is the bag material itself water-resistant, or does it come with a secondary waterproof shell? Some people prefer one more than the other, but personally I’m usually okay with either one. In the case of the FERNWEH, it’s the backpack’s outer materials that are not just highly weatherproof, but strong enough to endure abrasion and other harsh abuse.
Comfort & Ergonomics
When fully loaded, a 50L backpack can get unbearably heavy. Without enough comfort in the shoulder straps, and especially the waist belt, you might not even be able to fully load a backpack because of how much pain it causes to hoist for more than a few minutes.
In the case of the FERNWEH, the shoulder, back, and hip belt are all impressively comfortable. Both the sheer amount of cushion, and the smart design, come together for one goal: you can indeed cram the entire backpack full of the heaviest-possible camera gear items, (bodies, lenses, batteries) …and still have a comfortable experience.
How much padding do the dedicated camera/lens compartments have? WANDRD spared no expense in this regard, the camera cubes (sold separately, or as a bundle) are thickly padded. (And yet, they’re still flexible enough that you don’t feel like you’re carrying a cinder block on your tailbone!)
Are there any other protective factors, such as, could gear fall out when the bag is opened? As long as you lay the bag down flat when opening the main back-side clamshell opening, you should not have any accidents with gear falling out. Also, the laptop sleeve that is built into the back panel has an adequate closure, so that should be safe too.
At just under $500 for the fully loaded backpack, or $299 for the empty, bare-bones backpack, the FERNWEH is not cheap. (By the way, you really do need a camera cube, of course, so unless you already own ones that will perfectly fit, you’ll probably find yourself spending around $400.)
With that said, here’s the bottom line: It’s a very high-quality product, and its price is on par with comparable backpacks that offer a similar capacity. Considering this, plus the fact that it’s one of the most versatile/customizable, and comfortable backpacks around, it is absolutely a good investment.
If you need more convincing, just remember that the amount of gear you’d need to fill an entire 50L backpack is probably worth $15,000 to $20,000, so, …how much are you willing to spend to protect that gear on your next big adventure?
WANDRD ROUTE Pack | The Chest-Mounted Add-On
Before we transition from talking about the many benefits of the FERNWEH to the few aspects which might be considered drawbacks to some, we absolutely must mention the ROUTE Pack, an optional add-on to the fundraising campaign, and a perfect hiking companion for those who do a lot of photo shooting while actively hiking.
The ROUTE is a chest-mounted padded camera compartment, meant to carry just one body and attached lens. It quickly mounts to the shoulder straps of the FERNWEH, allowing you to quickly access your camera with up to a 70-200mm lens attached. Alternatively, when you’ve put down your big backpack for the day, and just want to run around camp or scramble up the hill above camp to shoot sunset really quick, you can detach the ROUTE from your shoulder straps, and then just sling it over your shoulder with its basic included strap.
This add-on, which is available on their bigger investment options in their crowd-sourcing pre-order, definitely completes the truly versatile nature of the FERNWEH as a whole…
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | Cons
If you’re looking for a backpack that is this customizable and versatile, then the FERNWEH is probably one of the best bags for you, however, there are still some drawbacks that you should know about when it comes to such a complex design…
Straps & Zippers…Everywhere
Is this really even a complaint, to someone who is looking for a backpack that is highly versatile? No, in fact, it’s an advantage! However, if you’re just looking to get a simple backpack, then the number of straps hanging off this thing could be a minor annoyance if all you like to do is tighten/loosen one single shoulder strap or waist belt.
The same goes for the number of zipper closures on this thing. Are you looking for a simple, straightforward backpack with easy compartment access in one main place? If so, then you’ll find packing this bag to be a real brain teaser, because all of a sudden you have to consider which camera/lens/flash you want to have which type of access to.
Again, that’s the whole point of this backpack. You’re probably still reading this review because this is exactly what you WANT- oodles of access and adaptability.
Buying Multiple Camera Cubes For Multiple Purposes
Here’s another con that is really a pro for most people: the way all of these bags with “interchangeable guts” are designed, you’re going to have to buy at least one, two, or even three or four different gear compartments/pouches, in order to fully utilize the versatility of the design.
Again, this is normal for all backpacks that work this way, not just WANDRD, but it’s still a con when comparing such designs against a traditional camera backpack where everything is integrated into the bag’s frame.
So, you have to think about what you need your camera bag to do for you. If you’re never actually going to reconfigure the backpack to accommodate a completely different type of gear and/or a different type of trip, then you could get away with just putting one big camera cube in the backpack and leaving it there forever, but you might also be better off with a more simple structure/design type of backpack.
Side Camera Access = One Less Water Bottle Pocket
Last but not least, the only drawback that is a straightforward “dislike” for us is the fact that when you put a side pocket on a backpack for quick access to a camera, you take away a pocket for your Nalgene water bottle.
There is a separate, sealed-off water bladder pocket, however as someone who has fallen and ruptured water “pouches” while hiking on extremely sketchy terrain, I’ve opted for hard water bottles, and I like to hike with two of them.
On the FERNWEH, you only have one side pocket, on the side opposite the camera access port, and it’s a very large, tall, zippered pocket, one that is also supposed to double as a tripod pocket. This is pretty impractical for both a water bottle and a decent-sized tripod; even the rather large Slik VARI tripod and Feisol Tournaments are just ~2.4 lbs, and perfect for backpacking.
The bottom line is, many photographers will think they like the idea of side-access to their gear, but may discover that it’s impractical to carry both a traditional water bottle and a medium, lightweight tripod, without strapping the tripod to the bottom of the backpack, which is something I strongly dislike doing. In fact, as a time-lapse photographer and vlogger, I often carry 2-3 ultralight tripods with me, so having two opposing side pockets is optimal for me, as well as a rear/outer strap system for a center-mounted tripod, too.
You can solve this problem by switching to a bladder-style (Camelbak, etc) hydration system, but that might be a big change just to make a new backpack work. You have to prioritize whatever it is you need most in terms of gear access.
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | Compared To Alternatives
As we’ve said, there aren’t many camera backpacks out there with this much customizability and versatility. We’ve only ever reviewed two other backpacks that have fully adjustable shoulder straps, the Mindshift Firstlight 40L, and the Mindshift Rotation 180 Pro 38L. which, as their names imply, are a bit less capacious than the 50L FERNWEH.
However, if you’re interested in truly unique camera bag designs, the Mindshift Rotation 180 Pro is indeed worth mentioning- It takes side access to a whole new level, and actually allows you to spend the entire rear section of the backpack around to your front, like a fanny pack, for effortless access to not just one camera and lens, but up to two bodies and/or two to three small or medium-sized lenses. Personally, this design is still my all-time favorite, and I prefer it over any other backpack, but the 38L capacity, plus the fact that the entire backpack is permanently divided in half, makes the total capacity significantly less than the WANDRD.
This one unique alternative aside, there’s very little competition in the 50L class. Other traditional designs of “oversized” camera backpacks, like Lowepro’s Trekker or Whistler series, only have one traditional access point on either the outside or back/inside, and significantly less strap adjustments.
Other large backpacks that have both back and side access, like the Peak Design 45L Travel backpack, have the opposite problem- their doors are so extensive and end-to-end, the bag itself can start to spill its guts, or completely lose shape if you ever are foolish enough to open two doors at once. (The Peak Design backpack, with its relatively tiny shoulder straps and waist belt, also wins the prize for the most painful backpack to hoist for long days when fully loaded with ~30+ lbs of gear.)
The bottom line is this: First of all, just avoid no-name junk brands, period. Your gear is probably worth thousands of dollars, so protect it with something that won’t result in damage to your cameras, lenses, drone, gimbal, whatever….
Having said that, yes, if you stick to well-known brands then there are a lot of good quality alternatives out there in the 40-50L range, but literally none of them offer this exact combination of versatility, adjustability, comfort, and capacity. If you want what the FERNWEH offers, then it’s basically your only choice.
WANDRD FERNWEH Review | Conclusion
They’ve created a monster. I’m not sure why they didn’t just name it the MONSTR. Oh, apparently “fernweh” means “wanderlust” in German. By the way, it’s pronounced “fern-veh“. Were you saying “fern-weh” in your head this whole time? ;-)
Due to its unique design elements and high degree of customizability, it’s not going to be right for everyone. However, if you’re an outdoorsy type, and especially if your travels are very diverse and you find yourself needing to pack three cameras and seven lenses one week, and then just one camera, two lenses, and four days worth of survival gear & supplies the next week, then the VERNWEH should be at the top of your list.
Even if you simply have a ton of gear to carry, and your body type just doesn’t usually suit most backpacks that reach the 50L range, then this bag still deserves top consideration. If you’re looking for a more tried-and-true, traditional design, then you might look elsewhere, but if the versatile functionality and unprecedented adjustability are attractive to you, then definitely order yourself one!
For the full breakdown of features, check out their fully-funded Kickstarter campaign page here.
Check Pricing & Availability
The WANDRD FERNWEH, plus the ROUTE add-on and other accessories, can still be purchased at their introductory prices through Indiegogo, at this link here. The bare backpack alone is $299, and the options which include a complement of camera cubes (plus the ROUTE pack) currently cost $412 to $474. When the backpack hits shelves, however, it is apparently going to cost $349 bare-bones, and $516 to $588 for the fully-loaded options.
Estimated delivery of the backpack is December 2020, and although it might seem like a bit of a wait, WANDRD has proven to be one of the most reliable Kickstarter/crowd-funded investments in the photography industry, so you can invest/pre-order with confidence!