Built with travel and landscape photographers in mind, the Tenba Solstice is a rugged yet comfortable backpack that keeps your gear clean and dry, even when conditions mean that you won’t be. It combines aspects of both a standard backpack and a single-strap sling bag to keep your gear accessible at a moment’s notice. Its principal party trick is matching rear access to the main compartment with a waist belt that allows you to sling the bag around in front of you, reach for the next lens or camera, and sling the bag back — all without ever having to put it on the ground.
Limiting access to the main compartment via the back panel of the bag also makes it harder for your gear to fall victim to pickpockets. This isn’t the first bag to take this approach, but the Solstice offers a few unique features that help it stand out from other great camera bags.
Big enough for two of everything — even tripods
The Tenba Solstice series includes three different sizes — a 12L, a 20L and a 24L. We tried out the largest of the bunch, which fits five to seven lenses. While the other two models won’t accommodate the same amount of gear, all three bags have a similar design and list of features.
The Solstice 24L is a bit deeper than most backpacks, with an interior depth of 7.5 inches.
The Solstice 24L is a bit deeper than most backpacks, with an interior depth of 7.5 inches. That means it can accommodate a full-frame DSLR with a battery grip, and some longer lenses can even sit upright in the bag. On the flip side, that also means short primes will have a lot of room and the dividers need to be adjusted for a snug fit to keep smaller lenses from moving around too much.
The majority of the main compartment, accessible through a large zipper on the back panel of the backpack, is filled with padded dividers that can be arranged to accommodate up to seven lenses or flashes and one or two camera bodies. The length of the bag allows for a full-frame 70-200mm f/2.8 lens to fit while attached to the camera body. On the inside of the back panel, two smaller pockets house items like memory cards and smaller filters.
At the top of the bag is a wide open section designed to accommodate anything from a spare sweatshirt to your lunch. This roomy area doesn’t have the velcro to use dividers, but it is accessible both through the main zipper panel and through a separate zipper at the very top of the bag.
At the front of the pack is a smaller pocket that includes a laptop sleeve for housing a 13-inch laptop. Backpacks that put the laptop close to the back panel make the back of the bag stiff, rather than allowing it to curve with the curve of your back. The front pocket is a better solution, although the 13-inch size is a bit small for a bag of this capacity. Somewhat unfortunately, the forward location also means the laptop sleeve does not have the same security as the camera compartment.
On the exterior of the bag, you’ll find a strap system on each side for adding on larger accessories. Each side has two straps and a stretchy pocket that expands out as wide as four inches at the widest point. The straps are flexible enough that the bag can support a number of different types of items, from tripods, to water bottles, to more extra clothes.
However, what if you only have one tripod? The problem with carrying just one tripod on one side of a bag, is that the weight of the bag suddenly becomes lopsided. Thankfully, this is something Tenba thought about, too. Lash points at the center of the bag allow you to switch the straps for a center carry. The side straps loop through slots in the center of the bag, turning two side strap systems into one center strap system. The design offers excellent versatility — carry two tripods when you need them, or switch to a center strap for a single tripod without weighing one side of the bag down. The only issue with the center strap is that the front pocket is difficult to access with a tripod there. The versatility, however, is difficult to find and overall a plus for the Solstice.
Comfort meets style
If you are going to carry around a full-frame camera system, five to seven lenses, and two tripods, you better make sure the bag is as comfortable as possible. Fortunately, the Solstice’s waist belt does a good job of taking the weight off your shoulders. The harness style straps may not make a fashion statement, but transferring some of the weight of the pack on the hips could make the difference between getting the shot or giving up early.
As you’ve probably realized by now, the Solstice has a lot of different straps.
The shoulder straps are moderately padded — we’ve seen bags with more padding, but also many with much less. The straps have enough extra cushion and give that they don’t dig into your shoulders, though they might be less comfortable wearing a sleeveless shirt. The waist belt also has sufficient padding and a chest clip will help keep the the shoulder straps in place.
The back panel has mesh padding that helps the bag sit comfortably against the curve of your back. Overpacking the main compartment will make that back panel a bit more stiff, but opening the bag and rearranging the gear a bit more allowed for a more comfortable wear.
As you’ve probably realized by now, the Solstice has a lot of different straps. To keep them comfortable and not annoying, each strap has an elastic band for tucking excess material away.
When it comes to backpacks, we’re fine taking function over form, and this is what the Solstice delivers. Its athletic design, while not altogether bad-looking, won’t earn the covetous stares of passersby like the WANDRD PRVKE will. Still, despite testing the largest bag in the series, the Solstice 24L has clean lines and a streamlined appearance, and the sides don’t bulk or sag.
The nylon material has a nice subtle geometric pattern and is also water-resistant (a separate weather cover is included for heavier rain). The black and gray color scheme is fairly neutral, and Tenba also offers a blue option for photographers that don’t want another black camera bag.
Not the first, but perhaps the best
The Tenba Solstice is a well-made, roomy backpack. The waist strap and rear-access design makes it possible to take out any piece of gear without setting the bag down in the mud or snow.
For both comfort and accessibility, the Tenba Solstice hits the mark.
For photographers looking to accommodate a lot of gear, the Solstice 24L delivers, and is comfortable enough that you won’t regret bringing everything with you. The pack is deeper than most, which is excellent if you have a battery grip on your cameras.
The Lowepro Flipside series uses a similar rear-access design with a waist belt, with the Flipside AW 400 II ($150) close to the capacity of the Solstice 24L. The Flipside isn’t as deep, but has more padding on the back panel and waist strap. Nothing quite matches the Tenba’s versatile side-to-front strap system, however, which allows you to carry two tripods or light stands.
The Tenba Solstice 24L retails for $200, the 20L (4-6 lenses) for $170, and the 12L (2-4 lenses) for $150. That puts the bag at a fair middle price point for backpacks with similar features, with several costing more and only a few with a similar capacity and extra features retailing for a bit less. For both comfort and accessibility, the Tenba Solstice hits the mark.DT Editors' Rating: 4.5/5