When I first start using a new messenger bag, there are three questions I always ask myself: Is it the kind of bag I’d feel comfortable carrying around on a regular basis? Is it going to protect my gear? And is it going to last me a lifetime?
The Urban Approach 10, one of the latest messenger bags from Think Tank specifically designed for mirrorless cameras, is a good example of a bag that meets all of these requirements. We’ve been testing it since our trip to Canada in May, and have found ourselves turning to it time and time again for both our landscape and urban photography trips.
Design and Build Quality
The Urban Approach 10 is one of three models in the Urban Approach series. Urban Approach 15 is a backpack, and thus a completely different design, whereas Urban Approach 5 is a smaller version of the 10. Practically speaking, the only difference between the 5 and 10 is that the latter has more room for lenses and can house a tablet up to 10″ in length.
The bag’s black matte exterior is made of water-repellant ballistic nylon which, in my experience, dries quickly and is easily cleaned. I’ve placed the bag on a number of wet and dirty surfaces and it still looks as good as when we first received it. The only mildly decorative features are the black leather strips along the shoulder pad, strap, and flap. The flap has also been accented with the metallic Think Tank logo. Everything else about the bag is minimalistic and discreet.
On its own, the Urban Approach 10 is very light and supple, yet keeps its shape nicely. With the removable foam dividers, you can choose how many compartments you want inside the bag and how large you want them to be, allowing you to fit various camera and lens combinations.
One of the bag’s strengths are its many internal and external pockets.
Bags I’ve tried in the past frequently lack pockets that I’d consider essential. Not so for the Urban Approach 10 – it has a large front pocket with many smaller flat pockets for memory cards, batteries, lint-free cloths and more, a rear pocket for documents or flat items to which you need quick access, a large internal flat pocket for a tablet, and two stretchy nylon pockets for water bottles, a flash or other similarly sized objects. All pockets except those on the side can be closed with a velcro tab for added security.
I would have been happier if Think Tank had opted for a zipper instead of a velcro tab for the front pocket, as it would provide a more secure location for a wallet, but it isn’t a big deal, especially if you carry your wallet on your person.
There are three different ways to close the bag. If you aren’t planning to open the bag for a long period of time, you can snap it shut with the dual cross buckle. For a less secure but more accessible closure, you have two options: you can either use the two velcro pads on the underside of the front flap to keep it in place, or cover the velcro with the two Sound Silencers. The final option is useful when you are frequently opening and closing your bag in a location where you want to avoid making noise, such as a church or theatre. I find all three options very practical and well-executed.
If I had to choose one characteristic I love about this bag, it would be the padded shoulder strap.
The strap itself is made of a smooth seatbelt-like material that is easily adjustable to your height. At either end is a leather accent that attaches to a sturdy metal hoop. I sometimes find that the strap has twisted on itself when I pick it up to use it, but it is easy to straighten out and doesn’t twist while on my shoulder.
I wish that every brand invested as much thought into a proper shoulder pad as Think Tank has done with the Urban Approach 10. It is thickly padded and features a succession of non-slip silicone strips that stop the strap from slipping off your shoulder. For someone who suffers from occasional shoulder and back pain as I do, the padding is a great asset.
When you want to carry the bag like a briefcase or quickly move it from one spot to another, there is also a handy grab handle on top whose length is also adjustable.
A couple of other neat features are the slot for business or identification cards on the inner flap beside the two Sound Silencers and the seam sealed rain cover for those days when not even a raincoat and umbrella will keep you dry.
Ease of Use
With so many good messenger bags flooding the market, the only way to have a leg up over the competition is to make your product as practical and as easy to use as possible. Think Tank has certainly managed to do this with the Urban Approach 10.
It has a wide unencumbered opening at the top that allows for immediate access to all your gear, and velcro dividers that you can position according to the size of your camera and lenses. As explained above, the flap can close the bag in three ways depending on how quickly you need access to your gear and how secure you want it to be.
The only feature that could possibly improve its design would be a zipper along the top of the bag in the style of the Tenba Switch 10 we reviewed a few weeks ago.
Having so many pockets to choose between is another point the bag’s favour. For example, the flat rear pocket is the perfect place to casually store my smartphone when I require quick access to it. It is also useful for storing documents, brochures and flyers that I receive at photography events. My personal feeling is that the more pockets a company can fit onto a bag, the better.
I was also happy to see that the bag remains upright whether it be packed to the brim, half-full or empty. (There is nothing more frustrating than a bag that topples over whenever you rest it on a surface!)
Update: some MirrorLessons readers have reported that the sample they own falls forward. I haven’t found this with the sample I tested but it may vary from sample to sample.
How much gear can I carry? – A practical example
There is an endless number of mirrorless combinations you could carry around with the Urban Approach 10. With the foam dividers in place, you can easily fit a camera body and 3-4 lenses depending on their size.
Below I’ve provided one example of what a Micro Four Thirds user could potentially carry if he/she packed the bag to its maximum capacity.
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 body with 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens
- Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8
- M.Zuiko 75mm f/1.8
- M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 macro
- memory card holder
- house keys
- lens cap
- lint-free cloth 2x
- air pump
Internal flat pocket
- wallet (a tablet also fits)
External flat pocket
- map of the area
- bottle of water
- Peak Design capture clip
I am happy to conclude this review by saying that the Think Tank Urban Approach 10 is a messenger bag I’d wholeheartedly recommend to any mirrorless user. In addition to a discreet appearance and a sturdy construction, it is made of easy-to-clean water resistant material that does exactly what it needs to do: protect your gear. It doesn’t lose its form and won’t topple over regardless of whether you only pack a few things or fill it to the brim with gear, and can be closed in three different ways depending on how quickly and discreetly you need to access your gear. What’s more, it has an incredibly comfortable and easily adjustable padded shoulder strap and loads of well-placed pockets for accessories, smart devices and documents.
What I like about the Urban Approach 10:
- Sturdy weather repellant design that is easy to clean
- Discreet appearance
- Comfortable padded shoulder strap
- The inclusion of many pockets both inside and out
- It doesn’t topple over when placed on a flat surface
- Three different closures on the flap for varying levels of security
- Easy to access your gear
What I don’t like about the Urban Approach 10:
- Expensive but no more so than any other messenger bag in its class
- I would prefer a zipped closure on the front pocket
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