Discussion in 'Accessories' started by Phocal, Aug 4, 2016.

  1. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Like everyone, I have been in search of the perfect photography backpack. Unable to find the perfect bag I decided it was time to build my own. A few things that I require from a pack is it has to ride like a good backpack and place the weight on the hips while also fitting comfortably. It also needs to have a place to carry a water bladder, it's hot here in Texas and I need lots of water while out in the swamps. I need something that is adaptable and able to configure for different types of trips and if need, able to handle large loads. It also needs to have the ability to carry other things I need/want in the field like: food, extra cloths, first aid kit, small thin tarp, camouflage netting/cloth and what ever else I could need in the field. If possible I wanted something that would be cool on my back and not cause a lot of sweating.

    Well, @faithblinded@faithblinded got me into looking at various options available in the world of tactical gear and he was the one who introduced me to the Photo Recon by Hazard 4. I bought one even tho I am not a fan of sling bags and it really is an amazing bag (well built with tank like protection). So that brought up my search for a way to make this great bag more useful for me. That search found the molle 2 gen 4 frame with associated waist belt and shoulder straps and the assembly of FrankinPack started.

    I just got the frame and shoulder straps in today and I already had a few bags ready to attach to the Photo Recon. This is the initial assembly and I have started a list of stuff I am going to need to complete the first version. I need to get some of the various things that allow you to strap stuff to molle (like D-Rings) and some webbing (thin and some fat) so I can better secure the Recon to the frame. I also need some other small items designed to assist with strapping things down so I have more options for gear storage. I need some more bags to strap to the Recon and the frame because what I have currently is not enough (still need a place for food, extra clothing, tarp, and camouflage netting)

    Front of pack. Photo Recon is in the center with a water bladder pouch attached to the left side and tripod attached to that. The right side has two brown bags, top has first aid and survival kit and lower one has a can of Off. You can also see the tip of my hunting knife sticking out (it is strapped to the back of the waist belt).

    FrankinPack 001
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Back of pack. You can see the strap of the Recon coming across the back (it does not interfere with wearing the back at all). The two black pouches have my TC's in them but when Hazard 4 releases their small lens pouch I will be getting two to place on the waist belt for my TC's (I do like the ease of where they are but they can get in the way at times). You can also see the tip of my hunting knife again.

    FrankinPack 002
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    The left side. You can see the tripod and skimmer pod attached as well as the amount of additional room that is available for more pouches or gear. Once my pieces and parts arrive I will work up a better solution for holding the skimmer pod, but for now it works.

    FrankinPack 003
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Left side of the pack. Closeup of the top area showing better how the skimmer pod is attached and the available room there is in this area.

    FrankinPack 004
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Right side of pack. The top brown pouch holds my first aid and survival kit while the bottom has my can of Off. You can also see my hunting knife and the black pouch for a TC.

    FrankinPack 005
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Right side of pack. A closeup of the lower area showing where my hunting knife is located as well as the additional room that is still available.

    FrankinPack 006
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I still have a lot to do with the pack. Some of the stuff I need will be here Saturday and I just ordered a bunch of other stuff so I can lash down the Recon better. Right now it all rides really well and it sits on the back nicely. Should be pretty cool to wear in the field because only the waist belt and a small area at the top actually touch my back, the rest is open for airflow. I need a few more bags so I can add all the gear I want/need. I think this is really going to work because I can easily take stuff off or add stuff for each trip. The only piece that is going to be hard to remove will be the Recon and removing it will be rare. I am also getting a pouch that will strap to the inside of the frame (will ride between frame and my back) to hold my 357. I think I can put it in a spot that will allow easy access if it is ever needed. I wanted a spot for easy access to the knife but have yet to figure out a good spot, so it is on the belt until I come up with a better place. Oh, the black Recon and black water bladder pouch will get replaced by brown ones very soon. The black Recon will be getting it's strap cut off so I can easily drop it into a dry bag for kayak use and the bladder pouch will go back to the seat of the kayak. This is going to be an ongoing project.

    For those interested in the Photo Recon I have.

    - Gripped EM1 with ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 + EC-20 attached
    - Gripped EM5 with MZ 17mm ƒ2.8 attached
    - Bower 7.5mm Fisheye
    - MZ 60mm ƒ2.8 macro
    - 10 spare batteries (I never need more the 3 or 4 but I like to be prepared)
    - Lots of small odds and ends that are camera/photography related
    - There is plenty of room for some additional gear if needed

    While it is not going to be secured to my satisfaction (Recon to frame), I plan to test it out this weekend at my favorite park.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2016
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  2. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Pretty neat setup, Phocal. It'll be as versatile as you want to make it. Cool.
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  3. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks. I am hoping this really does work out. It seems to ride perfectly and have no problems while walking around the house with it loaded up. The big test will be Saturday when I actually take it into the field. The shoulder straps are a bit stiff but should break in nicely (could use a raining day to help speed up the break in period).
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  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Well I am taking the pack out for it's maiden voyage this afternoon/evening/night. Heading to my favorite gator photography area to do some evening wildlife photography followed by some astro if the weather holds. The pack weighs in at around 12lbs with no gear added, that is just the frame and all the attached bags you will see in the following photos. While this is on the heavy side, it is offset by the fact that the pack rides perfectly and is very comfortable.

    This first photograph is the front view of the pack fully loaded with everything I am taking with me today (minus food and water) and the total weight is 35lbs. A lot of this will come off when I am out shooting wildlife and I will go back to the Jeep to get all of it when I hike into my spot (which I still need to find) for the astro tonight. I have walked about a mile (up and down my street) with it on and it rides amazingly well. A pack that rides properly is a joy to wear, even when it has a lot of weight in it. This pack should ride well with only 35lbs in it because it is designed to carry a lot more weight (more then I will ever put in it).

    A list of the major photographic gear in the pack:
    • EM1 w/ grip
    • EM5 w/ full grip
    • ZD 150mm ƒ2.0
    • EC-14
    • EC-20
    • MZ 60mm Macro
    • MZ 17mm ƒ2.8
    • Bower Fisheye
    • Mefoto tripod
    • Manfrotto 3021 Pro tripod (have had this thing for 25 years now)
    • My 3D printed skimmer pod w/ head for Mefoto
    • Jobu Jr. gimbal
    • 8x spare batteries
    The digital camo pouch contains my first aid kit

    FrankinPack 007
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This right side photograph shows my tripod and knife strapped to the frame. The top tan pouch is for food/snacks and TP (don't go into the woods without it) and the bottom one is for my insect spray.

    FrankinPack 008
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Closeup showing my knife strapped to the frame via paracord (I can reach it with the pack on, which was a major consideration in where to place it).

    FrankinPack 009
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Here is the left side of the pack with my large tripod strapped to the frame. The large tan pouch has my skimmer pod (with Mefoto tripod head attached) and my Jobu Jr. gimbal with room for more gear if needed. Between the tan pouch and Photo Recon is a water bladder pouch for my 100oz bladder.

    FrankinPack 010
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I have both sides of the waist belt set up identically. The pouch on the right is designed for flash bangs but currently has 4 batteries in it (the batteries are in battery holders by ThinkTank). The pouch on the left is for grenades and holds my TC's (either EC-14 or EC-20). The pouches are almost identical in size with the major difference being the method of closure, snap or buckle. Not sure which I like better but I got them for $1 each so figured I would get 2 of each and then decide. Once I decide I will hunt down some in desert camo so my entire bag matches. They ride more behind you then the side or front so crawling with the pouches attached is not going to be a problem (I spend a lot of time crawling towards things so this was a big concern for me).

    FrankinPack 011
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Just a closeup showing the pouches open with the TC and batteries to give an idea about fit.
    FrankinPack 012
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Really excited about the test today, have high hopes for how well this pack is going to workout. I think I have everything figured out with it, just need to get some additional items to make it all pretty and perfect. Right now a lot the straps and stuff are longer then needed, will cut to better fit after a few trips and when I know if any changes need to be made. I also need a bunch of strap keepers because I really hate lose strap ends flopping around, will order those today.
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  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
  6. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    My test trip with the pack went pretty well. The pack rides very well and you really don't notice the weight except when taking the pack on/off. It is amazing how close to 40lbs of pack is not really noticeable when the pack is designed properly. Needless to say, I am very happy with how this is turning out so far.

    In keeping with my idea of the pack being versatile I have removed the tripod from the left side because I only need two tripods on rare occasion. With the extra room I have added my ThinkTank Skin Pouch to the top left side. This pouch can easily hold my fully gripped EM5 with either my Oly 17mm ƒ2.8 or Bower 7.5mm Fisheye. It can also hold my EM5 with the Oly 60mm Macro, but it is a really tight fit and not something I would regularly do (but it is an option for when I to do want some macro).

    Two photos showing the Skin Pouch attached to the top left of the frame.

    FrankinPack 013
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    FrankinPack 014
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    With the EM5 moved to the Skin Pouch, it opened up some room in the Photo Recon to add my 50-200 SWD. It also puts the EM5 at an easier location to get to and may actually get me to shoot some landscape while out, something I don't do a lot of while out shooting wildlife. I have a ThinkTank lens pouch that I can strap below the skin pouch for some additional options, but don't need it at the moment.

    If anyone is interested in what can fit in the Photo Recon, here is a photograph with the side access opened. On the right is the end of the ZD 150mm ƒ2.0 that is attached to my EC-20, which is attached to my MMF-3, which is attached to my gripped EM1. It can be accessed via the opening at the top of the Photo Recon and pulled out very easily. In the middle is my 50-200 SWD and on the left are my Bower 7.5mm Fisheye and Oly 60mm Macro. If I find that I actually start shooting with the EM5 while out, I will attach my ThinkTank lens pouch and move those to lenses to that pouch.

    FrankinPack 015
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I am really happy with how this pack is turning out. There is still room on the left side for me to lash the PVC frame I am working on. The frame is going to be used for the portable blind I am building and should work perfectly for those times I want to be able to move around some while watching wildlife.
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  7. Nathanael

    Nathanael Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 12, 2015
    this is actually bonkers hahaha :O
  8. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Why do you say that? There is nothing out there that meets my needs and very little that actually rides like a pack designed to carry a load. I could use a traditional backpack but those are not very durable and would not survive very long (they rip to easily and are not designed for the abuse my bags see). They are also hard to gain access to your gear, I can easily get to anything in the pack.
  9. Nathanael

    Nathanael Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 12, 2015
    Didn't mean it negatively, just extremely impressed with your ingenuity and amused by its hodgepodge appearance. You must admit it's a bit out of the ordinary to see a bunch of photography gear mixed with tactical MOLLE stuff all strapped onto a full on MOLLE back frame
  10. faithblinded

    faithblinded Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 25, 2014
    Cleveland, OH
    I'm bonkers too! Here I am, about 2 miles from my Jeep, with the 7.25lb Big Tuna, and the rest of my gear. Never has a long hike with that lens been so easy. Thank you milsurp.
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  11. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    The hodgepodge appearance will disappear as I work out what I want and what is needed. @faithblinded@faithblinded has located several companies that supply material and parts to the makers of packs as well as mil spec items. So, I will be able to get web strapping in any of the various camo patterns as well as matching buckles and other hardware that I need. In the end all the colors will match, so it will have a much better appearance. Right now I pick up things that I find cheap to test out (like the pouches on the waist belt) and those that I like will be replaced with the correct color as I find decent deals on them.

    Actually, the base bag behind this is made by the tactical gear maker Hazard 4. They have a few camera bags and one lens pouch available now with several more bags and lens pouches coming available this fall (I will replace the pouches on my belt that hold my TC's with their small lens pouch when they are available). They started with the Photo Recon (the bag I am using) and keep adding to what they offer, makes me think there is a growing market for a molle based camera pack. It actually makes sense because using a molle based system allows for the most flexibility in adding on what you need, not stuck with only what the bag offers and can customize to fit what you need. It really is not that much different then what is offered by companies like Lowepro or Think Tank, except it is a universal system and theirs is proprietary system which forces you to only use their product no matter how over priced it is. The backpack industry does not use it so much because it does increase weight and they pride themselves on making the lightest packs they can. Which is great for backpacking but they offer little in the way of customization and the materials tend towards the less durable. Stop (which seems to be going away now) makes a number of pouches that are molle compatible and their packs have molle on the waist belts and in some other areas.

    Even with Hazard 4 and several other manufacturers making molle based photo packs there are still areas that are neglected. None of them are making packs that have internal frames or that are designed to carry a heavy load properly. Lowepro has a few bags that carry very well but they are designed to only carry photo gear and not other things that are needed when far from the civilized world. Fstop was on the right track and with their ICU's allowed a bit of customization, but it looks like mismanagement is going to doom that company. Mindshift has some interesting bags but I am not a real fan of their design, it just does not carry very well (feels like I am using a backpack and separate fanny pack). In my search for pieces and parts I have found several makers of interesting things that could adapt well, but @faithblinded@faithblinded found what I feel is one of the best designed tactical packs on the market. I was so impressed that I sent an email asking some questions (their site did not have the dimensions of some things I was interested in) and since I had their attention started a dialogue asking if they had looked into expanding their pack line into the photography world. The owner sent me an email and wants me to call him about discussing photo pack designs. So, in the end this endeavor could end up providing me with the exact bag I want maybe a working relationship with the pack maker.
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  12. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    @faithblinded@faithblinded put your pack back together and get some photos posted.
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  13. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Decided to test fit everything I am taking on tomorrows 2nd test run, so I had to drop in the 100oz water bladder while full into the pouch. You can see how much room that bladder pouch now takes up with the 100oz bladder in place. This is why I mounted the sustainment pouch to the bladder pouch, gives it room to expand outward. But, the sustainment pouch is still able to allow something (like my 2nd tripod from the first test run) to be lashed to the frame. As is the pack weighs in at 41lbs, the water adds 6.5lbs so as the day progresses and I get more tired the pack will thankfully get lighter (that is until I get to the Jeep and replace the empty with one that has been in ice water all day). Once in the swamps I will have the camera in my hand, so that does take about 5-6lbs from the pack weight. A rough guess is that while in the field the pack weighs around 36lbs down to 30lbs when out of water.

    FrankinPack 016
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    This next photo is with my raincoat lashed in place, possible rain showers tomorrow (I am really hoping for some rain sometime tomorrow).

    FrankinPack 017
    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I really need to make an amazon order so I can get my keepers for my strap ends, really bugs me having them flopping around.

    Edit - put the correct 2nd photo with rain jacket in post
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
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  14. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    The second test run was pretty successful, I did learn a few things tho.

    1. The pack is longer then my previous Fstop Guru, so when crawling down the bank towards the water it has a tendency to push my hat off the front of my head, crawling on level ground it is fine. Because of the weight it also pulls you down the slope, but that is to be expected with any pack you have. While it is annoying there is not much I can really do about the pushing the hat off.
    2. The compression straps I installed are not all that useful at the moment. They do help stop the small amount of sway, but the sway is not really enough to be concerned about. I am going to remove them and find a place in the pack to store them because when I need to take extra clothing and stuff (like in the now correct photograph in previous post) they will be needed.
    3. With the removal of the straps I need to find something (probably a smaller strap I will make) to compress the brown pouch at the top where I put snacks. Not that it is really needed but will help compact everything so when crawling thru brush I have less to get hung up.
    4. Really need to find a different way to carry the skimmer pod. It fits in the sustainment pouch fine, but come winter that pouch is going to be needed for extra cloths, gloves, and hats. Will be working on that in the coming weeks.
    5. I want to get the waist pouch that goes with the full army issued pack. I saw one at the surplus store but none were in desert camo and this is a pouch that I really have only one use for so not wanting a 2nd one (most pouches with wrong color will get used in my Jeep, have lots of molle attachment places in my Jeep). The waist pouch is long and thin and I am going to attach it along the bottom of the pack. It will be perfect for carrying my ground cloth as well as my camo cloth. I may be able to build the frame for my portable hide with lengths short enough to also fit in the pouch.
    So the ongoing testing and changes continue. I am still very happy with the pack. It carries very well, even when loaded with gear. The great part is it can easily carry 40lbs of gear in such a way that you don't really notice that it is there. The bad part is it can carry 40lbs of gear. While it rides great and you really don't notice the weight expect when putting on or taking off, at the end of the day that weight does take a toll on you. When I got back to the Jeep after about 6-7 hours of moving thru the swamp, my body told me I had been carrying a load all day. But, over time that will become less of an issue as I get use to taking that weight with me. Just glad I don't shoot full frame and have another 20lbs of gear in the pack :biggrin:
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
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  15. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Update - my last two photography adventures have been shooting out of the Jeep. The pack works just as well as any other pack for shooting out of the Jeep with. One benefit is everything is easy to get to when you need it. I may take a few weeks off from shooting to let the weather cool and the vegetation to die off some, but the FrankinPack experiment is still going strong.
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  16. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Well, I had a chance to get out with the pack again on Saturday. No changes to the configuration, waiting on some pouches from @faithblinded@faithblinded and then I will do a major reconfiguration. Yesterday was in the 90's with around 80% humidity so it gave me a good chance to test how cool the pack is. The pack is very well ventilated with the only areas really contacting the body being the waist belt and the shoulder straps. If you adjust the load lifter straps just right you can get a good balance of weight on the hips with some on the shoulders but keep the shoulder pads off the shoulders. This makes for a very well ventilated fit that also carries well.

    While it is unconventional and looks pretty funny, it is actually very useful. Everything is so easy to get to and there is very little wasted space. I have never had a pack that was as useful as this thing is. I have not trimmed up any of the straps because it is still in the design phase and I don't want to waste webbing. Once I get the new pouches I will look at the layout and start making the straps fit perfectly with little left to flop in the wind. Have ordered some strap keepers to help with this, but the biggest thing is going to be cutting everything to the proper length. I will probably cut new straps and keep the long ones for times I have to carry a bunch of stuff, they are easy to switch out (the other huge benefit of this pack).
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2016
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  17. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    Thanks to @faithblinded@faithblinded (he made me some custom pouches) I was able to make some changes to the pack.

    First up is the right side of the pack. At the top I originally had one pouch to hold my in the field snacks, now I have 3 pouches in that location. On the bottom (just above my knife) is the pouch that holds my bug spray, it was originally located on this side but at the bottom (where another pouch now sits). Above that is the first custom pouch that was designed to hold an OMD with a small lens mounted. I am able to get my EM5 in there with either the 17/2.8 or 7.5mm Fisheye lens mounted and the other lens in the bottom of the pouch (this pouch is perfect, especially with molle on 3 sides). On top is the food pouch that was in this general location previously. On the bottom (left side of photo) sits my first-aid kit (was previously on the front of the pack). I am going to look for a different pouch to hold the first-aid kit, thinking about putting another sustainment pouch here. I will then put the first-aid kit into a small bag (probably bright orange so it's easy to find) and then drop it into the sustainment pouch (this will keep it all together and easy to find). Tripod and knife are still in their original location.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    Not much has really changed on the left side of the pack. I moved the sustainment pouch as low as it could go and removed the ThinkTank pouch that was mounted to the frame above it. That pouch use to hold the EM5, which is now on the other side in a custom pouch. That blank spot bothers me so I need to figure out what to do with it :biggrin:

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    On the front of the pack I removed the first-aid kit and placed the pouch @faithblinded@faithblinded made to hold the skimmer pod. This is going to work out perfectly. Before I put the skimmer pod in the sustainment pouch but was a pain getting it in and out when I needed it. Now I have such easy access to it, very happy with this pouch. You can also see the brown custom pouch for my flashlight that sits on the bladder pouch and right next to the photo recon.

    by RRcoleJR Photography, on Flickr

    I have this crazy idea of locating and photographing Black Bear in East Texas and making it my project for the winter. I intend to make 1-2 weekend backpacking trips in an area that does contain some Black Bear and will be using this pack for the trips. I will strip everything off but the Photo Recon and will only take what photography gear I can fit into it. I will be able to put 4-5 sustainment pouches around the Photo Recon and they should be able to hold all the other supplies I will need for a 2-3 day trip. Then it's just a matter of finding a way to strap my tent and sleeping bag to the pack, should be a simple thing. Once I get to my camping location I can easily pull the sustainment pouches off the pack and have a nice light pack to use while out looking for wildlife to photograph.
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2016
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  18. Speedliner

    Speedliner Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 2, 2015
    Southern NJ, USA
    Looks like you're going to Mars, not the swamp.
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  19. barry13

    barry13 Super Moderator; Photon Wrangler Subscribing Member

    Mar 7, 2014
    Southern California
    Hi Ronnie,
    What's the desert camo bundle with the U on it? A folding chair?
    If you have a chair or stool that's comfortable and sturdy, I'd like to know. Most don't last long for me (tall & 210lbs).