Haul bag style stands up for loading and unloading
Can be set up in many configurations
Protecting camera gear requires extra purchases
Accessing camera gear is cumbersome
One of the heavier packs in the test
Lack of rigid suspension hinders stability/comfort
The Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack’s saving grace is the capacity; with careful packing and gear selection, it’s possible to bring a full camera system and ultralight overnight gear. The haul bag style is easy to load, and the TAN Kit Cube System organized and protects camera gear well; these attributes made this pack better at hauling the required equipment to the shooting location vs. actively using it to shoot as getting camera gear in and out of the bag can be cumbersome.
The Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack uses a well padded EVA frame sheet with an air mesh back panel, well padded and contoured dual-density shoulder straps, and generous hip belt to harness the pack’s claimed 38.5-liter interior volume. This strategy worked fairly well for well-distributed loads up to 35 pounds (the pack’s rated capacity is 50 pounds). Using the recommended Large TAN Kit Cube ($69.95) at the bottom of the main compartment concentrates dense camera gear at the bottom, which helped ease pressure on the shoulders, improving comfort. The relatively large back panel footprint also adds to comfort, spreading the load across a large area of the back. The hip belt tightening system generates high tension easily, and the shoulder straps have load lifters; these two features worked well in concert to place the bulk of the load on the hips and easing pressure on the shoulders.
Although lacking any stiffening structures in the suspension system, the Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack remained fairly stable with loads of 35 pounds or less. The haul bag style pack’s depth is relatively large, so packing to keep denser and heavier items close to the back helped. The large footprint on the back also aids stability, as does the ability to generate high hip belt tension. As loads increased, putting greater tension on the shoulder strap load lifters also added to the stability at the cost of shoulder comfort. The pack’s Molle system allows compression on the sides of the pack, but only in the top half. Using these kept items from shifting in the top of the pack (if no TAN Kit Cube occupied the top half) which added a more stable feeling when hiking became aggressive.
The Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack has immense camera gear storage capacity, but it requires purchasing at least one TAN Kit Cube. The pack is a duffel bag inspired “shell” for the rest of the system and is designed to house camera gear inside of at least one TAN Kit Cube and/or a TAN Lumbar Pack. TAN Kit Cubes have custom configurable interiors and are available in Large (9 liters), Medium (6.5 liters), and Small (5 liters). The lumbar pack, which can share the hip belt from the pack, has a 15-liter capacity. This test was conducted using a Large sized TAN Kit Cube.
The Large TAN Kit Cube easily housed the entirety of my mirrorless system: camera body with mid zoom mounted, a mid focal length prime lens, a long zoom, wide-angle zoom, flash and small accessories. The TAN Kit Cube system adds extra steps when accessing camera gear as both the pack and TAN Kit Cube require opening and closing. Placing the TAN Kit Cube in the bottom of the pack body left almost half of the pack available for storing non-camera items. The Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack is accessed both through a front panel and top opening. The entire front panel of the pack opens., providing access to all the contents of the main body, while the top loading function and ability to stand up on its own ease packing. An extendable top collar and floating lid allow filling the pack with a claimed 59.5 liters. There is a small zipped accessories bag that snaps into the top portion of the main pack body that is well suited for cords and chargers. The floating lid has two large, clear, zipped flat pockets on its interior surface that work well for frequently accessed camera accessories like memory cards, lens caps and cleaning supplies. The exterior of the back panel houses a top-accessed notebook computer sleeve, large enough for 17-inch machines. The interior of the back panel has a hydration bladder sleeve with exit ports on both top corners of the pack. Finally, there is a zipped pocket on the bottom of the pack that houses a rain cover.
The front panel of the pack has a large Velcro and drawcord closed pocket with an interior organizer well suited for flat items like tablets, notepads, pens and business cards. This front pocket is big enough to house a puffy jacket. The back of the front panel has two flat, clear, and zipped pockets that cover the entire surface. Each side of the pack has large, drawcord pockets that can swallow liter-sized water bottles or medium-sized tripods.
Molle style webbing and D-rings cover the front panel and the top of the side panels allowing lashing of tripods and other gear or for compression (three buckled and adjustable straps included).
All these storage characteristics of the Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack make it the only pack in the test that could carry enough gear for an overnight trip.
The Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack’s namesake is “Tough As Nails,” and the name is fitting. Every component of this pack feels overbuilt. The haul bag design includes a 630d nylon “Carbonate” bottom panel to withstand both water and abrasion, 610d Cordura “HP” is used for the pack body, and 210d nylon lines the interior. All these materials showed zero signs of wear during the testing period, much of it in rocky environments. Water-resistant to 5,000mm PU coats the exterior fabric panels and an included rain cover ensures excellent waterproofing when required. All webbing, buckles, and drawcords are full-sized. All zippers are YKK with the main front panel zipper a #10 size. Even the zipper pulls are full sized webbing or cordage, no minimalist design angles on this pack.
Many of the Mountainsmith Tanuck 40L Backpack’s extras revolve around storage. The Molle system and numerous D-rings on the front and sides allow lashing all sorts of gear on the outside of the pack. The flat pockets on the back of the front panel and floating lid made the contents visible, which proved handy when searching for often used items. The climbing haul bag style includes stiffening perimeters both on the bottom and top; these allow the bag to stand up on its own to ease top loading and top access to gear. The top of the pack has two haul loops, and the bottom panel pocket houses a waterproof rain cover.
The floating lid provides a unique function; the lid can be attached to D-rings on the shoulder straps and used as a camera caddy. A fitted pocket holds the camera in the correct lens down orientation. The clear pockets on the back side keep often needed items visible and at the ready, and a tethered, removable microfiber cloth rounds out the setup.
Although the pack can be configured in many ways using the TAN Kit Cubes and Lumbar Pack, this requires additional purchases.
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HOW WE TESTED
We used the packs for both professional assignments and personal use. Most testing occurred during full days in the field while working various editorial duties in both the outdoor and motorsports industries, as well as use during photography school projects. Testing of the five packs took over a year and encompassed travel across the United States and into both Baja and mainland Mexico. The packs endured everything from winter alpine conditions to warm beaches in all four seasons.
Seiji Ishii works as a trainer to professional supercross/motocross riders, adventure riding test editor at Dirt Rider Magazine and an AMGA certified rock climbing guide/instructor for White Star Mountain Guides/Austin Rock Gym. He lives in Wimberley, TX with wife Shay, 3 year old daughter Sequoia, 3 dogs and a cat. His personal time is spent rock climbing, any form of dirt biking, cycling, and training for the next mountaineering adventure.