I gave some thought to my travel strategy recently and made a few purchase decisions—one of which indicates a firm thumbs-up for the Tenba Messenger line of camera bags—so today I am going to talk about the reason for my decisions along with a review of my Tenba bags.
Most of my purchases are based on trying to solve a problem, and the problem I was facing is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to board flights with a second bag, in addition to my camera gear. Some airlines don’t even allow a second bag for a laptop now, so I ended up traveling to Namibia last year with my 15″ MacBook Pro sticking out of my photography vest pocket. We also had a really hard time taking second bags on helicopter flights in Greenland this year, so I figured it was time to totally rethink my travel strategy.
My 15 inch MacBook Pro is three years old in January (2017) which means from a business perspective, the value of my current laptop is fully depreciated in the next couple of months. With that, I decided to pick up a new 2016 13″ MacBook Pro, which will fit nicely in the laptop compartment of my 18L Bataflae camera backpack.
Since I’ve been able to downsize most of my camera gear to three lenses and two bodies, I’m now traveling with the 18L Bataflae most of the time, and when I have to use my larger Bataflae bags, when necessary I can put the MacBook Pro under the front flap. I always put a plastic cover on my laptop when I travel, so it won’t be damaged by doing this, and the covers are like ten bucks, so I can replace it easily when it gets too scratched.
Rearrange After Flights
I don’t necessarily want to keep my laptop in my camera bag for the duration of my journey though, so I figured that most of the time I can take a messenger style bag with me in my luggage, and put the laptop in the messenger after I arrive at my destination. It’s also nice to be able to keep card readers and other cables with the laptop, so having a dedicated bag once on location is nice.
I started to look around for a good messenger style bag that was a good fit for the new 13″ MacBook Pro, and no matter how hard I looked, I kept coming back to the Tenba Messenger Mini. The reason for my attachment to this bag is because I have been using a Tenba Messenger Large for my 17″ then 15″ MacBook Pros for much of the last five years, and I absolutely love the design. I actually didn’t even know that Tenba made a Messenger Mini until I started looking, but once I knew it existed, I couldn’t get away from it.
Comparison of Small and Mini
Here’s a photo of both my old Messenger Large along with the Mini (below) so that you can see the size difference. You’ll also notice that the design is pretty much the same, although as you explore the bags the Mini has a few less pockets than the Large.
The Large version comes with a removable photo gear insert that can be quickly pulled out to convert the messenger to a regular bag. The Mini version comes with partitions that can easily be removed as well. In this photo (below) I’ve removed the photo insert from the Large Messenger and laid the Mini down so that you can see the partitions inside.
A Camera and Laptop Bag
Both bags will fit a camera with lens attached pointing downwards and a couple of other lenses. As you can see in this next image (below) I can actually fit my 5Ds R camera without the battery grip, attached to a 24-105 or 24-70mm lens, my 11-24mm lens, and my 100-400mm lens. The 13″ MacBook Pro is also nice and snug there in the back laptop compartment.
You can also see the business card holder in the back there, for owner identification. I will put a business card inside that holder, in the hope that if I was to leave the bag somewhere, it might help someone to return the bag to me. Believe it or not, there is actually a good chance of that here in Japan. Some bags have these card holders on the outside, which I don’t like, because people sitting on a train for example could see your personal details, and that’s not good, especially when you look like you’re traveling to the airport and going to be away from home for a few days.
Messenger Mini Padding Stops it Going Flat
As you can see in this photo (below) when you remove the camera inserts from the Messenger Large, it becomes quite flat, so it can easily be packed into my check-in luggage. One of the problems with buying online though, is that I couldn’t tell that the Mini is actually padded, to provide protection for camera gear, because it comes with partition dividers and not a modular camera insert. This means that it doesn’t go as flat as the Large.
For this photo, I put a camera on top of the Mini to hold it as flat as it will go, and it’s still about twice as wide as the Large. The upside to this though, is that because the camera inserts for the Mini are so light at just 50 grams, I will probably just pack them as well, and that way I can still use the Messenger Mini as a camera bag if necessary. Say if I get the opportunity to do a bit of street photography while I’m traveling. It’s much less conspicuous than a full blown camera backpack.
With the photo gear inserts inside the Messenger Large weighs 2.97 lbs (1,035 g) and the Mini weighs just 2.4 lb (1,016 g). Note that the published weight for the Mini is just 800 grams, so I don’t know where that came from. Mine’s certainly heavier.
Why the Tenba Messenger?
Let me explain the main reasons that I really like the Tenba Messenger bags. First of all, the design is just really appealing to me. I think the bag just suits me. I’m not overly concerned about how I look, but I do like to use items that I think suit me as a person. I also like the fact that this bag doesn’t scream laptop bag, or camera bag for that matter. It just looks like a regular bag, so that makes it less of a target.
I also really like the feel of the carrying handle. It is padded, and coated with the same fabric as the rest of the bag, so it is really comfortable to carry. The shoulder strap is also really well designed and has great padding for comfort, and it doesn’t slip off your shoulders easily.
Pockets that Make Sense
The number and arrangement of pockets on the Messengers make a lot of sense. I like the two pockets in the front flap for keeping my business cards and other things that I need quick access to. The pockets on the front of the bag, underneath the the front flap, as you can see in this photo (below) are great for keeping things in that you don’t necessarily need hyper-quick access too, but don’t want to put away in the internal zipped pockets.
To be totally honest, I actually wouldn’t put a hard disk in these front pockets, as I’ve done here for illustration. With the top flap fastened down securely they would probably be fine, but I prefer to keep items that are as important as a hard disk further down in the main compartment, or zipped into the inside pockets.
The laptop section is inside the bag, as you can see, and I really like this. It is well padded on all sides for protection, and has a flap over the top to stop the laptop slipping out if the bag should get flipped over without the top flap fastened down. You do have to open the top flap to get the laptop out, unless you want to drag the laptop along the top zipper, but I like that added security.
There is also a large pocket on the back of the bag which is useful for carrying travel documents etc. as you can see in this photo (below). That’s a page of A4 paper here for illustration, but of course a US Letter sized document would also fit in this back pocket.
The last nice feature that I’ve found myself inadvertently relying on a lot over the years is the waterproof bottom of the bag, as you can see in this photo (below). I have used my Large Messenger a lot on my winter tours, and the snow on my boots invariably melts creating a puddle of water on the floor at my seat, and I generally have my bag down there on the floor too. I then realize later that the bottom of the bag is wet, but the water has never made it’s way into the bag to wet my gear or paperwork that I keep in the back pocket.
So, a quick episode this week, but to wrap this up, I’d just like to say once again that I really do like these little bags, as you can tell by the fact that I voted with my dollars (or Yen) to pick up a second for my new laptop, and I’m really looking forward to my upcoming flights now that I’ll be able to travel with just one carry-on. I could of course carry on both my Bataflae backpack and either of these Tenba Messenger bags on some flights, but I really just don’t want to any more.
I’ve put links to these bags on Amazon.com and B&H Photo in the show notes (below) so if you decide to pick one up yourself, please use these links to support the podcast and help to keep our weekly content coming. With the three sizes available, including the Small which I didn’t mention, you can probably find a good match for yourself, or that special significant other as a Christmas or birthday gift.
B&H Photo Links for Messenger: Large | Small | Mini
Amazon.com Links for Messenger: Large | Small | Mini
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just linked to B&H, on sale for $39.95 US! They must not have gotten your recommendation yet 🙂
Thanks for the post.
I envy the B&H prices. I paid the equivalent of $115 for mine here in Japan! 🙂
There is no perfect camera bag! I have had one of these Tenba Messenger bags since its original release, more than 5 years ago , same colour too. I took it to Cuba on a photograph tour in 2012 but it has rarely left the house since other than as a brief case. I found the shoulder strap too heavy with my Nikon D700 plus 20-35 f/2.8, convenience lens 28-200 and 85 f/1.4 – that is all i took; I relish the day again when I don’t see the need to take more. I removed my 13″ Macbook Air at destination. This year I went light as possible to India with mirrorless Fuji X-T10 and 2 slow XC lenses, plus a Nikon 1 with 70-300 extreme telephoto. I carry all my cameras in their own daybags (Fancier and Lowepro TLZs) and carry-on the lot in a Qantas cabin roller. I need wheels.
I agree Charles, there is no perfect camera bag, but this comes close for me for the intended use. I don’t find the strap heavy, and I like the padding, so it’s not an issue here. I definitely use these as a laptop bag a lot more than a camera bag too.
Did I miss it above? I find the biggest asset of the Tenba Messenger is the zippered top that can be opened to gain access to cameras and lenses when the flap is closed down.
I only mention it briefly in a different context, but yes, that top zipper is nice.