Kata 3N1-35PL Camera/Laptop backpack passed real world testing

The Kata sitting next to my check on bag at the airport

In my previous blog in which I compared three camera/laptop backpacks, I rated the Kata 3N1-35PL as the best for the purpose I intended based on how it packed. (Kata has since been purchased by Manfrotto. Although the color of the backpack has changed, the model number and features remain the same.) Since then I have done three shoots requiring transport by air, car and foot of which one was in Miami, Florida and the other in Dallas, Texas. In all cases the Kata 3N1-35PL Camera/Laptop backpack passed real world testing!

Here are the high points:

  • Carried 28 pounds of gear
  • Protected everything inside with typical, reasonable care (i.e. not dropping it).
  • Fit under the airplane seat with small adjustment when flying both Southwest (737) and American (S-80)
  • Ability to access gear from side pocket in “sling” mode was a great feature
  • Shoulder carrying straps are very comfortable even with this load
  • Hip belt definitely made carrying more comfortable by shifting the weight to the hips.
  • The “tuck away” design for the hip belt works really well.
  • Multiple pockets kept everything organized

Things that were not ideal:

As I mentioned, the zippers make little sense, especially the ones with the “pull loops” on the top compartment and “short lanyard” pulls for some of the other pockets. The “pull loops”, in particular, almost always force one to use two hands to zip and unzip which makes things inconvenient and unnecessarily difficult. I think the idea in the design was that a person would put his/her fingers through both zipper loops at the same time and pull them in opposing directions to open. That part works; however, you can’t do the same thing to close it.

Overall I think the zippers are the weak point; even if they used “standard” zipper pulls, slightly heavier zippers would have been better.

I found myself wishing for a mesh water bottle holder on the side of the pack. In practice I only used one side access panel to the camera compartment, so the other side could have been used for that vs. another access panel. That said, this is primarily a camera pack so most people would probably opt for another access panel. In the ideal world, however, it would be possible to have a mesh water bottle holder built onto the access panel so one had the option.


The pack is small enough to easily get through airport security procedures and fit under the seats of the airplanes I flew. Now that I am approved for the TSA pre-check screening process I usually no longer have to remove the laptop (Yay!); however, I still was asked to do that on one of the trips. Removing the laptop is no different than any other standard (non “clamshell” design) laptop backpack.

Kata 3N1-35PL Camera/Laptop backpack passed real world testing

When stuffed full of gear, the Kata just fits under an airplane seat.

I say the pack fit under the seats of the aircraft. On one aircraft (American MD-80) I should say “just fit with some adjustments”. I had to remove the small items I had in the two lower front pockets and put them in the top compartment during the flights. With items in those pockets the pack becomes a hair too wide and can’t compress enough to fit under the seats. This should not be a problem unless the top compartment is completely full.

The trip to Miami was included a swimwear shoot at South Pointe Beach. This necessitated parking and walking a good distance on sidewalks and sand. Having my gear on my back vs. a rolling camera bag like the Think Tank Airport Security 2.0 I also use made this a snap. I could have walked or hiked a good distance without discomfort.

Beach shoots are not camera or equipment friendly. There was enough wind that sand was blowing around. In addition, I had to access my gear to change things out a number of times. I found it very convenient (and secure from would-be thieves of opportunity on that crowded beach) to keep the pack on during the hour we were at the beach. The pack stayed snuggly on my back; that said, despite the warm weather there was enough ventilation between the pack and my back that I was very comfortable. There were times I was in knee-deep water with waves splashing on me. I would never submerge the pack and gear but was comfortable that small amounts of spray was okay. After the shoot I noted the gear remained dry.

The fabric used on the pack did not “hold on” to the sand on the beach. So a quick shake and brush cleared it off quickly.

There were times I had to access different lenses and filters. Sometimes I used the side access panel to the camera compartment while other times I used the front panel. I was able to do both while keeping the pack on one shoulder and off the sand.

The next part of the shoot was at the Wynwood Art District in late afternoon. The District is known for its graffiti walls which we wanted to use as a backdrop. I once again used the backpack to quickly move from place-to-place. This time I sometimes took the pack off and accessed my equipment through the front panel. The fabric showed no scuffing from the concrete sidewalks.

Kata 3N1-35PL Camera/Laptop backpack passed real world testing

At the Wynwood Art District in Miami, the Kata helped me quickly move around.

With all this in mind, except for the small negative points mentioned, this pack came through with flying colors. In fact, unless I need to carry 4 Elinchrom Quadra heads and a second battery pack, I will probably use this mode of transporting my gear most of the time vs. the Think Tank Airport Security 2.0. Although the Think Tank bag gets the weight off my shoulders and allows easier access to all my gear once it is opened, it also requires a hand to pull it and, in some cases, I simply don’t have an extra hand. Lol!

This is what I am currently carrying in the Kata 3N1-35 PL:

Camera Compartment:

Canon 5D MK III body with FE 1.2L 50mm lens
Canon FE 1.2L 85mm lens
Canon FE 1.4L 24mm lens
Canon Battery Grip BG-E11
Canon 600 EX-RT Speedlite Flash
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT
Canon Battery Charger LC-E6
BlackRapid RS Sport Camera Strap
2 Extra LC-E6 batteries for camera
B+W 72mm XS-Pro Digital Polarizer filter (fits 50 and 85mm lenses)
B+W 72 mm 102 0.6-2L 4X MRC Neutral Density filter (fits 50 and 85mm lenses)
Sunpak 77mm ND8 Neutral Density filter (fits 24mm lens: Note – Sunpak is a lot less expensive than B+W. I bought it on the way to a shoot so did not have time to order a B+W. I recommend using higher quality filters such as B+W. I plan on replacing the Sunpak soon.)

Laptop Compartment:

Apple 15” Macbook Pro Retina
Apple iPad Air
Wacom Bamboo Capture Pen and Touch drawing tablet
Thin folder with papers

Front Left Compartment:

In “Emergency Kit” Ziploc quart freezer bag:
Wallet with back up credit cards and cash
Emergency blanket
Aquamira Chlorine Dioxide Water Purifier Tablets pack of 12

Front Right Compartment:

  • In “Navigation and Light” Ziploc quart freezer bag:
    Petzl head lamp and 3 extra AAA batteries (also good for helping with focus in the dark)
    Suunto MC2 Compass (when the phone compass fails, this will help getting oriented when shooting in the middle of nowhere! lol!)

Top Compartment:

Rayban Clubmaster Classic sunglasses in case (only when on airplane or not needed)
Rogue RogueGrid 3-In-1 Stacking Honeycomb Grid System with Pouch
500 GB portable USB hard drive (to move images between Mac in the field and office desktop PC)
Reading glasses with micro fiber cleaning pouch
Business cards
Ear buds

  • In mesh pocket:
    Eclipse Sensor Swab Type 3
    Empty or full SD and CF cards
    USB Mini card reader with mini USB cable for most cards

Top left side pocket

AC Adapter for Macbook Pro
AC Adapter for iPad
Charging/sync cable for iPhone

Top Right Side Pocket

Micro USB cable (2 – one for Bamboo pad and one for Portable USB hard drive)
Ethernet adapter for Macbook Pro
Scosche car power charger , 12 watt 2.4 amp with two USB plugs (both can charge an iPad or iPhone)
Wind up ethernet cable
USB Charger for Plantronics Bluetooth headset