A tank for your gear, Pelican S130 Camera/Laptop Backpack

The Pelican S130 camera/laptop backpack is one of the few of its kind. Over the years, I’ve observed a slight disconnect between many companies and customers when it comes to protection for both laptop and camera equipment. While there are many brands who “do it right” and many who don’t, I’ve yet to come across a backpack as versatile and hard hitting as the Pelican S130. Whether it’s light hobby work or international travel, the S130 will protect literally anything you fill it with.

Pelican just does it right with the S130. Known for many other applications in the consumer and military markets, Pelican can be identified almost instantaneously by their impeccable work in the field of waterproof-crushproof cases for anything from delicate electronics to firearms.

While Pelican is widely used by professional photographers for their cases to safely store and transport longer glass and delicate photography equipment around the world, their backpacks are known a little less. The S130 backpack might change that.

As a live music photographer, there are countless occasions where my gear could be completely destroyed. There’s a chance like that in every photography profession – it’s just the chance we take – but there are precautions, expensive precautions, but it sure beats replacing your gear.

The Pelican S130 steps up to the plate in the safety department. While many of my fellow live music photographers are probably scowling at the idea of me carrying a full sized backpack in the photo pit, let me first explain that I’d never do that – though I will bring it to the concert or festival being covered.

It’s all about transportation. I’d be silly to walk into a festival with my Think Tank photo belt and a bare laptop in hand with cords hanging off that side. My laptop would be destroyed by the end of the summer festival run. Rather than do that, I utilize certain cases and bags for certain applications.

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Photographers that know me know I travel light. A Nikon D3s, 24-70, 70-200, and 50mm are all I carry – of course in addition to all the little gadgets and gizmos, but they all generally fit into one small pouch. Until now I haven’t really wanted to bring a laptop on site to a large festival like Orion or Summerfest because of worry of it being crushed or exposed to the elements unnecessarily. I baby my gear.

The Pelican S130 clears those concerns and there’s literally no way for my laptop to be damaged. Why you may ask? What’s different about this backpack?

Well, Pelican has decided to take what they’re good at – impact-water-crush-proof cases – and fuse that with the versatility of a well-constructed backpack. It’s as if they just glued one of their best laptop cases to the backside of the bag. Well, not really – it’s A LOT more involved and skilled than that.

Regardless of how this tank is put together, I love it. I can fit my 15” rMBP in the case, and all the gear listed above in the provided organizer. It’s a tight squeeze and the pro body doesn’t help, but I’m able to fit everything. The only downside would be if I had multiple bodies – I don’t think I could fit them all in the provided organizer. However, there is room on top of the organizer once it is snuggly packed toward the bottom. Since I don’t have a 2nd body, I use this room for other handy gear like a rain coat, food, hard drives etc. You get the picture. The front side of the bag (main compartment) is the normal soft sided material that we’re used to – but it keeps everything in place and protected with a few very adjustable compression straps.

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This is a fantastic application for concerts and music festivals. It’s highly reinforced bag that I can trust my gear 100% in rather than worry about an inferior bag with less protection. Everything about this bag screams quality, longevity, and protection. It’s almost as good as an insurance policy.

The front side of the bag also boasts a hard plastic plate that keeps the separate camera organizer protected when it’s sitting in the bottom of the bag.

The main compartment of the backpack is a little tight though. It’s not a massive hauler like the ThinkTank Streetwalker Harddrive. You are pretty limited, but that cost doesn’t come without an upside.

Carry-on friendly. Those are words many of us like to hear. Even better, it’s under-seat friendly. While the S130 can be a little tight size-wise, this medium size pack fits perfectly under the seat of an airplane. It’s not even considered a carry-on. While I have yet to test this internationally, I can say for sure from the US to Puerto Rico, it is accepted. (Delta, US Airways). I wasn’t second guessed, even with an additional full-size carry-on. To me, that makes this bag gold. Not only does it work wonders for gear protection at home at live music assignments, it also works for my travel photographer and prevents my laptop from taking a beating abroad.

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In short, there are a few ideas that I have for a future release of this back that make me critical of the current release. The bag could be a bit larger – even while still fitting under the seat of a plane. There could be more attachment points for PALS/MOLLE webbing to attach additional pouches, and I’m disappointed with the lack of a water bladder compartment. We can’t always have everything in one, but with a few more attachment points that could be possible.

In the short time I’ve used this bag it’s been a treat. Everything comes home safe and I don’t have to worry about my laptop bending and stressing every time I whip my bag on my back, onto a table, or drop it. I’d feel comfortable saying that if you put an all solid-state computer into this case, it would be indestructible.

The S130 is defiantly a keeper for my gear stash. Of all the bags I’ve tested, kept, sent back, destroyed, and lost, the Pelican S130 comes in at the very top of the list for my concert photography and travel needs. I don’t see this bag leaving my side anytime soon.

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