iKan Explorer Backpack – Review

Music photographers know all about pit bags and non-pit bags. In fact, illuminoise. even touched on the topic a bit in our review of the Vanguard Quovio 41. Some bags are just too big for active pit use and illuminoise. came to the conclusion, as do many other music photographers, that backpacks are not approved for pit use. They’re just too big.

That said, the ikan Explorer will not be labeled as a pit bag for active use. It would be silly of me to try and justify it as something a music photographer would use during the first three songs that we normally get to shoot. This doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for music photography though. In fact, for many applications in music photography this bag and many like it surpass the utility of the common active pit-use shoulder bag.

The ikan Explorer backpack is an extremely utilitarian bag. There are things that I love about it and things that I would change if I could design a custom bag from what already exists. As it stands, though, the ikan Explorer backpack has various advantageous uses for music photographers, especially the seasoned pro.

What’s in it?

The ikan Explorer backpack is a pretty large backpack. Compared to others in its general class of utility, it’s on the bigger side.

The main internal compartment is capable of holding 6-8 lenses according to ikan’s website, but for a music photographer that might not mean anything. Music photographers typically don’t carry around a massive array of lenses. There are some that we use on a regular basis, and some that just stay home for other use.

In the ikan Explorer, music photographers can easily fit their normal gear and then some. The main compartment is dominated by customizable compartments to fit every photographer’s needs, not just the live music ones. Similar to other photo backpacks the center column is generally used for a longer lens. In the center column a photographer could fit a 300mm telephoto if they really squeezed it in there. You might loose some space on the sides, but there’s room to spare.

On the sides, the bag could fit a 14-24, 24-70, and 70-200, three really popular lenses in the music photography profession. After all that pro-glass glory is safely packed away in there, there’s just enough room to fit two professional bodies and maybe a harness or two for shooting.

Trying to fit the 300mm telephoto in the ikan Explorer might be pushing the limits, but the size of the bag does allow for such a large lens. Typically music photographers want to fit a few other accessories in the bag with their camera gear, especially if they’re using a non-pit friendly bag like a backpack. This usually means they’re packing a photo belt and lens holsters etc. for their active shooting while the backpack hides out under the stage.

Other than photo equipment, ikan’s Explorer bag can fit up to a 17″ laptop in the relatively flat laptop compartment located on the front of the bag. On the reverse side of the main compartment flap, there are two pockets for extra miscellaneous gear that you might find yourself using.

For comparison the ikan Explorer can fit a few more toys than it’s little cousin, the ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive since it is a bit larger. They both have ample amounts of room for their respective sizes though.

One of the main differences in the ikan Explorer bag in relation to other similar bags is the placement of the laptop compartment. On this bag it’s located on the front of the bag. It’s a massive compartment and will fit the largest laptops in there. Personally I think this is no different than the laptop compartment being located on the back of the bag. Both places have some degree of vulnerability when it comes to concert photographers.

If it’s on the front like the ikan Explorer you risk your laptop if you were hit from behind, and if it’s on the back like the ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive, it constantly bounces off your back. Though, for both there is a ton of padding, so I guess it all depends on what you’re doing with your photo backpack.

What’s on the outside?

Compared to many photo bags, the outside of the ikan Explorer is extremely useful. Most bags don’t have a lot of room for expansion, but the iKan Explorer has a ton options for customization.

Similar to my awesome Maxpedition Falcon-II (non-photo bag) the ikan Explorer has PALS/MOLLE webbing on the front and sides of the bag. This is great if you’d like to attach extra pouches or lens holders on the exterior of the bag. Lens pouches and other accessories are available from ikan themselves. Also ThinkTank and Kinesis have some pretty cool gear that would probably work with the system.

With this system you have endless attachment selections and combinations thus increasing what you can bring along with this bag.

Comfort padding on this bag is pretty sufficient. The back of the bag has ample padding for resting on your back and so do the straps. I’m confident that when this bag is loaded up, the padding will hold up and equally distribute the weight over your shoulders.

Even though this is more of an “explorer” bag it can be used for concert photography. But, there are some things that I don’t like or would want the ability to adjust.

I’m not a fan of belts on backpacks. I think they get in the way a lot and don’t really have a useful purpose in live music photography. For that reason I like to be able to remove mine when I don’t want it; or at least hide it. The ikan Explorer doesn’t have this option. It’s not going to stop me from using the bag, but music photographer should be aware that it is a fixed belt.

The chest strap would also be nicer if it had a buckle instead of the tension system that is used on the ikan Explorer. Again, just personal preference, but it felt a little odd going from backpacks with buckled chest straps to this system.

The front of the bag also features a removable tripod holding system that weaves in with the PALS/MOLLE webbing. It holds a tripod but doesn’t do it as great as I would expect. Maybe smaller tripods would work, but when I tested it with my Slik 700DX it was pretty wobbly. I wouldn’t use the system for a tripod, though a monopod or Glidecam would be more stable and would fit nicely with the bag.

I also think I’ll be using the webbing to secure my footstool to the outside of the bag for soundboard/really high stage shoots. It’s a great place to attach the stool and leaves me hands free while walking around.


If I’m not using a shoulder bag I’m probably using a backpack to lug around my photo gear. I prefer a smaller bag for smaller and medium sized shows, but when traveling to concerts I like to pack a little more. Big time pros would also love this bag because they can pack more lenses and bodies in one large bag.

Like the ThinkTank StreetWalker HardDrive I would only use this bag on certain occasions, but that’s just my personal preference. The biggest plus is the laptop storage area in these bags that your just don’t find as useful in shoulder bags. Sure bags like the ThinkTank Urban Disguise and brand new CityWalker have room for a laptop or tablet, but that’s not something I want in my bag while I’m actively using it in the pit.

This bag would be great for larger concerts and working in between sets like we discussed a little before and in the Vanguard Quovio 41 review. I wouldn’t use it in the pit at all though. Backpacks are unofficially banned while working in the pit since they’re reckless and get in the way all of the time. Most concert photographers aren’t going to sit there and dig through their backpack during the first three songs anyway so this backpack does not get an active pit approval stamp.

I do have one request though… “Does it come in black?” – Christian Bale – “Batman Begins” (2005)

Visit www.ikancorp.com to check out more of their cool gear. They have more than just bags too!

Click to purchase this bag from Amazon.


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