Technical backpacks are pretty darn good these days, but camera backpacks are a different story. You have slick urban-ready everyday camera backpacks, to ones made for cycling, long distance hikes, and the ones you get for free with buying a camera kit… But it’s difficult to find a good one.
My favorite, or my staple shall I say, was the original ThinkTank Shapeshifter that I purchased in 2011. Yes, 2011. ThinkTank created a nearly perfect backpack for working news photographers. It’s so freaking good that it singlehandedly dominated major news events. Aesthetics? Let’s just say form follows function…
Which brings me to this review. The Mission Workshop Rhake backpack.
Fans of this site might have noticed our affinity for Mission’s no expense spared apparel. I wasn’t familiar with their backpacks nor did I desire one other than thinking they looked pretty darn cool whenever I saw them around town. That changed when I found out there was a camera cube accessory. I wanted to try one out to see whether it was more than just the hipster tech bro hype.
I intended to start the test drive on a two-week photo assignment overseas in March 2019. Unfortunately, UPS had a different idea so I ended up using a Thule Subterra34L on the trip. The Subterra ended up working surprisingly well for the trip, but I’ve been on the Rhake ever since my return.
Domestically made out of dual-layer weatherproof MultiCam Cordura, water-resistant zippers, and two beefy AustriAlpin COBRA buckles horizontally across its body, the Rhake is one good looking, backpack with 22 liters of ample internal cargo space within its main roll-top compartment. By design, the Rhake is noticeably slim and is shaped to grow vertically without much ballooning along its sides where the horizontal straps keep its girth in check. Small detail yes, but great to have so I don’t have to go through subway gates sideways like a crab.
There are also five compartments of various sizes, a hidden water bottle pocket, and a padded laptop compartment strategically placed making organization a breeze.
The 80mm-wide shoulder strap was pretty good after a brief break-in period. The amount of padding on the straps is comparable to most high-end packs – it’s a smidge wider but the minor difference in width, plus its lengthy padded section and the perforated back panel, make the Rhake incredibly comfortable and stable for extended wear, especially when using the included chest strap. However, it would be nice to have a detachable sternum strap for more stabilization. But again, that’s a matter of personal taste.
I am not convinced on the Arkiv modular system on the shoulder straps. Its rail-like design is a wonderful, stable platform but requires you to be committed to its ecosystem of pouches and bags. Attaching non-Arkiv backed items prove to be challenging because of the rail’s thickness. I’d be happy with a single row of low-profile MOLLE.
On another hand, I absolutely love the upgraded COBRA buckles. I knew nothing about these Austria-made buckles and thought it was utterly overkill to drop an extra $60 for these mil-spec metal buckles over the excellent Duraflex plastic buckles on an already steeply priced backpack, but as one who can attest to the annoyance of a broken buckle on a backpack out on a job, the COBRA buckle is worth the miniscule grams knowing that I am more likely to break before it will.
The camera capsule, in line with the Rhake’s construction, is exceptionally made as well. It has a noticeably thicker, 1000D ballistic nylon shell with a soft interior plus removable dividers to individualize your loadout. I think Thule’s origami pads from its Covert backpack are the best padded inserts at the moment, but luckily MW didn’t cut corners in this often skimmed over aspect that spellsdoom for many.
The capsule adds an extra 890 grams to the 1,400 gram pack and it’s a snug fit into the Rhake where it will occupy most of the main compartment space. The capsule can be accessed by either a clamshell zipper to its entire content when out of the backpack, or through a top zipper to its upper portion where it is inserted into the backpack.
To take advantage of the top zipper, I usually set my dividers to stow a 5D with a 24-70 attached on top, with the rest of the gear beneath. Bigger camera bodies such as the 1Dx, D5, or a gripped Sony A9II can also slide in flat. This is not a backpack for rapid camera deployment. Instead, it favors modularity and security with an extra layer of protection from the rough.
I also find the Rhake to be more inconspicuous than other camera backpacks. Simply put, the Rhake looks like an ordinary backpack without giving away its contents.
I came away appreciating the dual organization pockets that allowed me to quickly locate items and the deep right pocket saved me from losing my memory cards and readers on a few occasions when I forgot to zip up the pocket while in a hurry.
From international travel, bike rides around town, to an unplanned “it’s only a three mile round trip” hike turned five miles of vertical death march with a group of unprepared journalists to see the Yosemite Falls, the Rhake along with the camera capsule took whatever came in stride in style and truly lives up to the company’s mantra of built to endure. With almost two years of daily abuse, my Rhake still looks great with no noticeable fading and most importantly, no delaminated fabrics.
At $455 with MultiCam Camo and upgraded Cobra Buckles plus another $130 for the camera capsule, it is an expensive proposition. For anyone in the market for a stylish multipurpose camera-carry capable backpack that appreciates long term durability, then I would argue the Rhake, with or without the camera capsule, is worth every dollar.
If the camouflaged version with cobra buckles is a bit too flashy, Mission Workshop offers the Rhake in both black and gray HT500 nylon ($370), a slightly lighter weight version with VX fabric ($465) in three colors, as well as a waxed canvas version ($455) in five colors.