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The Manfrotto Off road collection is the latest in their ever-expanding line of quality photo gear. For readers not familiar with the brand, Manfrotto has a long history of great photo products. Their gear works well, and is made to last. So when they offered to let me try out their new Off road collection, which includes an ultra-light tripod, walking sticks, and a backpack, I jumped at the chance.
Available in 20L or 30L sizes, the Off road backpack is a day pack that has a dedicated but removable camera case built into the lower half. I like that you can access it from the side, and it will hold a camera with a short to medium zoom, plus another zoom, up to at least a 70-200, depending on how you configure it. On the opposite side is a tall pocket that zips open, and a mesh pocket that is perfect for your water bottle. Our review pack was the 30L, which also has pockets on the hip belt – a mesh pocket on the left, and enclosed pocket with audio port on the right. There’s a rain cover hidden in the lid, and plenty of shock cord attachments for tripods and walking sticks. I found that the extra strap across the chest to hold your camera was also a nice touch, as it takes the weight off your neck.
Next up is the Ultra Lightweight Tripod. Another Italian company, Fizan, provided the aluminum tubing that makes this tripod so light. It weighs just 1.43 pounds (650 grams), yet it can support up to 5.5 pounds of weight. That’s plenty for a point & shoot camera, or even a compact DSLR with moderate zoom. Now there’s no excuse not to bring a tripod on your next hike. It only takes a few turns to thread your camera on to it, and the simple ball head with one knob makes adjustments fast and easy. A bubble level on the back helps with level horizons, important for panoramic shots. To keep the weight (and price) down, the legs use an internal twist lock mechanism. Twist them to unlock, pull them out, and twist the other way to lock them in place. Not super fast, but that’s the trade-off for very little weight. Markings on the legs help find the right height, and the legs pull all the way out, should you need to clean them.
The Shooting Sticks are walking sticks (trekking poles) that operate just like the tripod legs – twist to unlock or lock into place. One of them has a little cover that flips up to expose a 1/4-20 screw for attaching your camera, which turns it into a handy monopod. These have a slight advantage over the tripod, as it’s pretty much already set up when you are out hiking. If you just need a little extra stability for your photos, they are hard to beat. And if you haven’t used trekking poles before, I suggest you try some. They help you balance on rough terrain, and can save your knees going up or down hills.
In use, I really like the backpack. It seems to combine the best parts of a day pack with the protection of a dedicated photo backpack. My water is at my side, my phone and keys are on my hip, and I have an energy bar for a snack handy. I don’t even have to remove it all the way to access my camera – I can slip it off my right shoulder, hold it with my left hand, and swap lenses with a fair amount of ease. Unlike my other packs, I have plenty for storage if I need to add or remove layers as it gets hot or cold out. And the camera compartment zips out for those days when you don’t went to bring your camera at all. We used the tripod and Shooting Sticks with both a prosumer DSLR and a mirrorless camera, and it seems well-suited to both. A larger camera with a super tele would be too much, but a typical backpacking camera feels right at home.
This may not be pro-level gear, but the design and build quality is very high. And everything about the Off road line seems to be well-balanced. The supports find that middle ground between being very light, and being able to hold more than a point & shoot camera. The backpack doesn’t make you choose between photo gear or food, layers, etc. If you need more room for either, you’re either going to be out longer than a day, or you may be bringing more gear than you need on a typical day hike. The 30L backpacks are offered in blue, green, red, and grey, with an MSRP of $199.99, while the tripods are priced at $149.99, and the Shooting Sticks $99.99. The supports are available to match the blue, green and red. Manfrotto.us