For a little over three months I’ve been trying out a new Sling Bag style camera bag from Ruggard called the Triumph 55. Because I sometimes photograph local new and special events (think: “photo journalism”) I was in the market for something that was comfortable, held the all of the gear I’d need on an assignment and had plenty of great features. When I started looking for a bag for my journalism work I decided to look into backpacks and slings because I knew that walking to a location was a huge part of the job (I often use public transportation to get to news scenes in the Washington, DC area). In the beginning money wasn’t a factor because I really wanted to find something that was comfortable.
I own a number of Ruggard products (available exclusively at B&H Photo) including a bunch of tripod/lightstand bags and I’ve always been impressed by their flexibility, durability and their affordability. Because I’ve had good luck with my Ruggard light stand bags I decided to give their sling bags and backpacks a look. It turns out the slick Triumph series of sling bags were perfect for what I needed.
My collection of camera bags
I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to camera cases and bags (I’ve shared my thoughts about gear bags in previous blog articles) but the bottom line is this:
A camera bag needs to be right for my needs at a particular time for a particular job – not perfect for every situation regardless of what I’m doing.
In other words – If I’m going on a photo walk I don’t want a big rolling case full of gear. Additionally – if I’m going on a big shoot I don’t want to rely only on what I can fit in a small over-the-shoulder bag. Because I have a wide range of assignments I have a pretty big selection of camera bags and cases. It’s not uncommon, for example, for me to fly somewhere with a large rolling bag of photography gear but also pack a smaller bag for when I’m going on a hike to someplace scenic (I’ll move only what I want to take from the big bag in to the smaller bag). This approach hasn’t been economical for me but I’ve found this is the best solution for me. Here’s a look at some of my many camera bags:
I think about my camera bags the same way I think about any photography gear I own. I don’t own a single lens for shooting everything, for example. I own numerous lenses in different focal lengths/speeds and I choose the best lens to get the shot I want. I do the same thing with my flashes, my tripods and just about all of my gear so taking this approach with my camera bags made sense to me.
Shopping for a New Bag
When I was looking for a new bag to use for my reporting/photo-journalism work I had some specific things I was looking for including:
Comfort – it needed enough shoulder padding to not be uncomfortable when full of gear and used day after day for numerous days in a row. Having enough adjustability was also important because how I might wear a bag will be different from someone else.
Plenty of capacity – If I’m on an assignment I’ll need numerous lenses, two camera bodies, at least one flash and plenty of batteries, memory cards and more. I also carry pens and pads of paper (for taking notes), foul weather gear (a poncho for me and rain sleeves for my cameras), personal items (I usually keep bug repellant, sun screen and a small first aid kit in my bag) and some snacks to keep my energy up for a long work day. I wanted a bag that could hold everything I might need but not be so huge that I’ll be encouraged to over-pack.
The ability to attach a small tripod, monopod or a Magic Arm – This was super important to me because I have shoulder bags and sling bags that don’t have a dedicated attachment system for items like tripods (and I try to always have a tripod with me when I’m on assignment).
Some cool Features – I love it when a new camera bag has something cool that my other bags don’t have. This could be something as minor as an extra pocket for memory cards to a well thought out way to quickly get to my camera body.
A rain cover – This is getting to be a pretty common feature and after owning bags with a rain cover I really don’t want to own another bag without one.
One thing I didn’t want (in this particular bag) was the ability to carry a computer. My 15” MacBook Pro isn’t light (especially when I add in a power cord and accessories) so I didn’t want the temptation to carry it around for entire days of assignment work. Quick edits are so easy to make with an iPad (with the camera connection kit) that I can get images reviewed, edited and sent to an editor quickly and without the additional weight of having a laptop computer in my bag. There’s another bag I have my eye on for my laptop but that’s a subject for a future article…
Sling Bag vs. Backpack
When I started looking at bags from Ruggard I found two different options – backpacks and sling bags. A backpack is exactly what it sounds like, a bag with two shoulder straps designed to carry equipment on your back comfortably by distributing weight across both shoulders. A sling is different from a backpack in that it only has one shoulder strap that crosses the front of your chest (in the case of Ruggard bags the shoulder strap extends from the right shoulder to the left hip).
I own a number of backpacks and I love the level of comfort and adjustability they offer. Whenever I’m going on a mountain hike, for example, I grab my LowePro Photo Sport 200 AW (orange) backpack. It’s an awesome backpack that does everything I could ever want for wilderness adventures to scenic photo locations. The biggest problem with the LowePro is that it looks like a camper’s backpack. In other words – if I’m covering a grand opening of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art I don’t want to look like I’m about to climb a mountain. A wilderness style backpack doesn’t look very professional if you’re working photography assignments in the city.
The other drawback to using a backpack for reporting/photo-journalism work is how you need to remove the bag completely to get at the contents. This is the reason most working photo-journalists I’ve met use shoulder bags (you can keep the bag on your shoulder for quick access to your gear while you’re shooting).
Because I was looking for quick and easy access to my gear I decided to try out a sling style bag instead of a backpack. The sling style bags from Ruggard are called “Triumph” and they come in four sizes (priced from $49.95 to $79.95). Feature-wise they look the same with the only difference between models being the size (capacity). In my case I opted for the largest of the bunch because I had some really big reporting jobs coming up (and they were all day assignments that stretched into multiple days).
The Triumph 55
In anticipation of a few big assignments I ordered the biggest Ruggard Sling bag (the model 55) available and I began using it exclusively. If it was going to be my bag during my three day NASA assignment, for example, I wanted to get used to it and learn the best way to integrate my gear.
Note: Before I continue I wanted to mention that I purchased the Ruggard Triumph 55 and I paid full price. This bag wasn’t sent as a review model or given to me for free to review. I like being able to stay honest with my reviews and spending my own money means I can feel good about sharing any negatives I discover. This isn’t always the case but I did buy this particular bag.
When the bag arrived I was pleasantly surprised by how sturdy it felt. I have some bags that feel very cheap in construction but the Ruggard was solid. The exterior fabric was tough and feels like it can withstand plenty of abuse. I also liked the integration of the bright yellow color for the zipper pulls. That may sound minor but when you’re working and you need to find a zipper with a minimum of effort these bright colored pulls are awesome.
The Triumph 55 bag is designed with three main compartments. There’s a dedicated photography compartment, a personal gear compartment and an accessory compartment. Each compartment is pretty well sized and an impressive feature I haven’t seen in a bag at this price is how the photography compartment can be extended (similar to travel luggage).
Since this is a camera bag it makes sense to start by looking at the photography gear compartment. Here’s a look at the photography compartment:
This area is pretty roomy and has a number of removable/adjustable separators for segregating your gear. A pretty cool feature of this compartment is the additional zipper that allows you to expand the capacity of this compartment (like most luggage has). I haven’t needed it yet but it’s cool that it’s there for those times when I need to stuff even more into the bag.
Here’s a look at the personal gear compartment:
This is a pretty roomy compartment that has some additional mesh areas in the back to hold small items.
And here’s a look at the accessory compartment:
In addition to the three main compartments there’s also a nifty tripod attachment that can double as a water bottle holder (if you’re leaving your tripod at home). Here’s a look at the tripod attachment (empty):
And here’s what it looks like when I load it up with my 3pod travel sized tripod:
The tripod attachment is solid and fits my small travel tripod perfectly. For my trips to the National Zoo or when I’m covering equine events I usually leave my tripod at home in favor of a monopod and the tripod attachment worked great for my large Manfrotto monopod.
Opposite the tripod attachment the Triumph 55 features a quick access opening for easily grabbing a camera without having to take the bag completely off (all the bags in the Tripumh sling bag series include this feature). I had no problem swinging the bag from my back to my left hip to get access to my camera.
Finally, there’s an additional strap that comes across the waist to attach to the main shoulder strap for added comfort and stability. For every sling bag I’ve ever owned this additional strap really makes a huge difference when it comes to all day comfort.
Inside the Triumph 55
Inside an empty sling bag might look pretty awesome but I think it’s important to get a peak at what it looks like with real gear. Here’s a look inside the main (photography) compartment:
I’ve used my sling bag for a number of different assignments and I never have a problem arranging the removable inserts to perfectly fit the gear I need.
If you look close you can see that I have my camera body (with a battery grip and a wide angle f2.8 prime lens attached), a 70-200mm f2.8 lens (in the blue lens sleeve at the bottom of the compartment), a set of Tiffen neutral density filters (behind the 70-200mm lens), a 50mm f1.7 lens (in the blue lens sleeve at the top right of the compartment), a hot-shoe flash (in a flash sleeve), a StoFen omnibounce diffuser, a 18-70mm zoom kit lens (under the Stofen diffusor), a number of lens hoods, a Giottos Rocket Air sensor blower, a Cybersync radio system and a Photographic Solutions Digital Survival (cleaning) kit. That’s a whole lot of gear and there’s still a bit of room to spare. On big assignments I can easily move some things around to fit a second camera body and an external battery pack for the hot-shoe flash.
It’s important to note that the full photography compartment is only accessible from the rear of the bag. That means you’ll probably need to remove the bag completely to gain access to something in one of the divided sections (like a lens or a flash). This is a good security option (nobody can sneak in to your bag on a subway, for example) and one that I appreciate since I use the Washington, DC Metro a lot.
The side quick-access opening is a killer feature and one I found myself using considerably more than I expected. By sliding the bag from my back down to my left hip I could easily grab my camera whenever something happened. I also kept a composition pad in this area and it was easy to get whenever I needed to take notes. By the way – if you do use this feature make sure you take the time to zip it back up after you grab your camera so nothing (like a lens) falls out by accident. Here’s a look at the side access opening with one of my cameras ready to go.
There’s also a convenient memory card holder on the inside of the quick access cover. The memory card pocket is large enough to hold a large compact flash (CF) size card so smaller SD cards shouldn’t be a problem. One thing that confused me was all the unused space on the cover. One or two more memory card pockets could easily fit there and that would be seriously convenient when you’re on the job.
Here’s a look at the (full) personal gear compartment (located at the top of the bag):
In the picture above you can see what’s typically in my personal compartment including: a rain poncho (in blue), a gallon ziploc bag (with sunscreen, bug repellant and a snake bite kit inside), a first aid kit (in red), a few granola bars and there’s still a little room for a more.
This is a great place to stow things like sweat shirts, rain ponchos and so much more. A small lunch (or a bunch of snacks) easily fits in this compartment and, because it’s just one large compartment) there’s plenty of flexibility here. The mesh compartments toward the back offer a nice way to store small items securely but being in the back means you’ll need to remove things to get at them. One missed opportunity is the inside of the compartment cover. It seems like this would have been a great place to put a few mesh holders or even a compartment with a zipper to keeping valuables (cash, wallet, cell phone, car keys, etc.). I really would have preferred the mesh compartments were on the lid instead of buried in the back. This isn’t a deal breaker but after months of use in the real world it’s an area where I wish they thought out a bit better.
Finally there’s the outer accessory compartment located on the front of the bag (opposite the photography gear compartment). This compartment is styled like a mini-office with loops for pens and a number of smaller pockets scattered about. The zippered cover has two large mesh pockets (I wish the top compartment had these) and they’re big enough to hold all sorts of stuff. Additionally there’s a good sized pocket and few small memory card pockets. Unlike some memory card pockets these don’t have any way to indicate if a card is empty or full (a feature I really like in the LowePro and Tamrack bags I own).
Here’s a look at how the accessory compartment is usually loaded for me:
You can see a tabletop tripod, some rain sleeves, a wired cable release, an Olloclip, some ball bungie cords, a sharpie pen, Zeiss lens cleaning wipes and a Think Tank memory card holder (with plenty of room for items like spare batteries). When I’m on a job this is the place where my wallet and keys and any other miscellaneous small personal items end up.
The Triumph 55 more than held everything I needed for a multi-day assignment but it could also be a perfect bag for a photo walk or a short hike on a National Park trail. If I’m not going on a photography job the dividers in the photography compartment could easily be removed so the bag could be used more conventionally (clothes for a weekend trip, for example).
What I like
Right off the bat I like the capacity as well as the comfort. I like the style along with the well thought out features (like the tripod attachment). The padding on the shoulder strap and across the back of the bag is ample and really contributes to the comfort of the bag when it’s super loaded down with gear. The shoulder strap is nice and wide with plenty of padding which felt pretty good during a long day’s use.
I’m a big fan of including a rain cover and I was impressed that the rain cover is large enough to fit over the bag even when a tripod is attached. Here’s a look at where the rain cover is stored:
And here’s a look at the rain cover when it’s placed on the bag:
What I didn’t like
It’s a sling bag so you only have one way to wear it (on your right shoulder). If you overload your bag this can become fatiguing on your shoulder and neck on a long day. On my three day NASA assignment, for exapmle, it did become uncomfortable towards the end of a day and that’s just the nature of this style of bag. Sling bags are designed to work one way so you cant change shoulders to give a shoulder some rest. After a few days of serious use you might feel a bit stiff around your neck and shoulder.
One big complaint I have about the bag was a lack of anything to contain the additional mesh straps. The main shoulder strap has a lot of additional strapping so that it can easily adjust to almost any sized person. Once you have it adjusted you’re left with a foot or so or strap and no way to stow it. Honestly it looks totally silly.
Most bag manufacturers have a loop of some sort to keep this extra strap under control and it couldn’t have been a big deal to add one on this bag. The waist strap has the same problem (when it’s adjusted there’s a foot or so of strap that just hangs there looking kind of dumb). There’s a lot of different ways to deal with this extra strapping (something as simple as a rubber band or a safety pin will do the trick) but to do it in a way that looks good takes a little effort. My solution was to use some yellow paracord and some small buckles to make a strap control system of my own. Here’s a quick look at what I did to keep the extra strapping under control:
My solution was to use some yellow para-cord and some small buckles to make a strap control system of my own (I had some extra paracord that worked perfectly for me). Here’s a close-up look:
One final complaint is that it is kind of big. It’s a good size for carrying a lot of stuff but sometimes you don’t need all that gear (or the weight) when it’s going to be hanging on a single shoulder. When you have a large bag it’s difficult not to fill it up and that’s going to make things heavy. You’ll need to get it adjusted correctly and take advantage of the waist strap to make sure that the load is resting properly on your back for maximum comfort.
For assignments when I need plenty of gear the Triumph 55 was great but for smaller adventures it’s probably too much. Luckily this problem is easily solved by buying one of the smaller versions. I like this particular bag so much I’m considering picking up a smaller version for photowalks and vacations. And that brings up a good point. If you don’t have a big assignment (and need to carry so much gear) you might be fine with a smaller and less expensive version of this sling bag.
Overall I’m a huge fan of this bag and for well under $100 (including shipping) I think it’s a bargain. I’ve been super tough on mine since it arrived and it’s performed much better than I expected. My Tuff-Luv backpack (around $50 plus shipping from England) didn’t survive a year of how I used it but I can tell this Ruggard bag will easily handle the kind of abuse I regularly throw at my bags.
I love the capacity, the comfort and the style a lot and the minor problems I found are easily excused in a bag priced so reasonably. Overall I consider this bag to be a fine addition to my collection and an easy recommendation to anyone looking for a solid performing sling bag to carry photography gear and a whole lot more.
The Ruggard Triumph 55 Sling Bag is available exclusively at B and H Photo:
There are four sizes of this design available. Here are some quick links to all four sizes:
You can support my blog by using the sponsor links below