Osprey Talon 22 Backpack Review

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Osprey Talon 22 Backpack – The Ultimate Outdoor Photo Backpack?

Osprey Talon 22 BackpackI’m kind of a backpack whore. Those of you who know me or my photography know I spend a lot of time on the mountain bike, skis, or hiking. I have all kinds of backpacks – both camera-specific and hydration packs made for action sports. I’m always on the lookout for the perfect bag that can pack a bunch of camera gear along with my mountain bike tools, extra clothes, and water for epic rides. I’ve used one camera-specific backpack that also accommodated a hydration bladder. But I always end up going back to dedicated hydration packs because they fit the best and water is mandatory when you’re doing backcountry mountain biking.

Enter the Osprey Talon 22…

Osprey Talon 22 backpack - front Osprey Talon 22 backpack - rear & harness

On the recommendation of my mountain bike journalist friend Alan, I took a look at the Osprey backpack. It’s not made for camera gear, but it’s really light, has a hydration bladder sleeve, and it can hold a lot of gear. He was using one and told me he did a trip with a bike touring company where all the guides used them. Sounds good to me! So I took a typical load of camera gear over to REI to check out the Osprey packs. A lot of backpack companies try to make their products stand out by adding lots of dedicated pockets, clips, and other whiz-bang features. In contrast, the first things I noticed about the Talon 22 are its simple design and minimal weight. The harness is comfortable, it fit well in the store, and most importantly, it easily held a digital SLR and a couple of lenses. I left the store with the Osprey Talon 22 backpack ($100) and a new 100-ounce Camelbak hydration bladder ($30).

Osprey Talon 22 backpack camera and bike gear

Osprey Talon backpack open to demonstrate size Osprey Talon backpack with Olympus E-520 in Think Tank Photo case Osprey Talon backpack with Olympus E-520 and Think Tank Photo case inside
The Osprey Talon 22 pack open and with an Olympus E-520 digital SLR and case to give an idea of the bag’s size and capacity. (click on photos to see larger)

The first ride I did with the Osprey wasn’t just a little test cruise. I went big on the Wasatch Crest trail with Utah mountain bike maker, Chris Canfield. Our ride started at 9200 feet of altitude, climbed steeply to 9800 feet and then descended to about 7800 feet. It’s one of the most beautiful and rewarding mountain bike rides in the Salt Lake City area. It requires fitness, technical skill, and good equipment. On its maiden voyage, the new backpack carried a Canon EOS Rebel XSi / 450D, Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di lens, Tokina AT-X 12-24mm f/4 lens, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens, and a Canon 550 EX flash. Since the Osprey isn’t made to protect camera gear, the camera body along with the Tamron and Tokina lenses went inside a small Tamrac waist pack, and the huge Canon 70-200 f/2.8 lens was protected by a Think Tank Photo lens case. The backpack also carried a tire pump, an extra inner tube, bike tools, food, a long sleeve bike jersey, and about 70 ounces of water. I don’t own a scale so I don’t know exactly what it weighed, but my guestimate is about 20 pounds. I actually ended up maxing out the Osprey’s 1200 cubic inch (20 liter) capacity and had to leave my bottle of Accelerade (sports drink) and my GPS in the car. But it carried all my camera gear comfortably, uphill and downhill – even on the more technical sections. The only problems I had were with my lungs and legs. The backpack performed superbly and felt lighter than it actually was. The Osprey allowed me to get great mountain bike photos in a difficult and remote location.

Critical - 100 ounce Camelbak hydration bladder

I’ve done a few more rides with the Osprey pack now and I’m very pleased. I’ve considered trying the next size up – the 1900 cubic inch Talon 33. On the other hand, if I have to carry more stuff, I should probably try to distribute the weight among my riding partners since they’re benefiting from my work. More and more I judge my personal camera gear based on weight as much as performance. I love my Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L lens. But it’s hard to justify its bulk and the 2.9 pounds in my backpack. For most of my photography, smaller and lighter is better. And the Osprey Talon 22 fits that bill. I don’t think it’s really the “ultimate” outdoor photo backpack. That’s something that doesn’t actually exist yet. I’m still waiting for a dedicated camera backpack that protects my camera gear, is made for hydration, and fits well enough to ride and ski with. I know plenty of photographers who would buy such a bag. Tamrac, Lowepro, Think Tank, Kata? Who wants to accept the challenge? Until one of the big camera bag companies steps up with the real deal, I’ll be riding with the Osprey.

"The Spine" - Wasatch Crest Trail - Utah Wasatch Crest Trail - Utah
High altitude, epic mountain bike photos; courtesy of the Osprey Talon 22 backpack.

Related Content:
Sports Photography Forum
Osprey Packs Web Site
Camera Backpack User Reviews
Mtbr.com – the best mountain bike resource on the Web

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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  • Alan Davis says:

    Wow, glad you like the pack. :)

  • Photo-John says:

    Yeah – thanks for recomending it, Alan. I am still contemplating trying the Talon 33. I bought it at REI so I can return it. But there’s something to be said for making an effort to keep the size and weight under control. I am thinking more and more about a smaller 70-200. The new Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 is looking really good. If they add their VC image stabilization and keep it small, I might have to buy one.

  • sonofbuster says:

    a while back i too was in search of the ideal bike camera pack with hydration and talked to someone at Lowe who said ‘water and camera equipment don’t mix’. makes sense, but hopefully, someone out there will make a real camera pack that feels good riding, doesn’t ride up when you are creeping down steeep stuff (knocking your helmet over your eyes and helping you endo), and holds a 100oz bladder safely.

  • Photo-John says:

    I guess if I were Lowepro, I might be reluctant to make a bag with hydration and camera protection, too. However, there are lots of photographers for whom it’s not really an option. I need to ride and ski with my camera. And I have to carry water. So until the camera companies make something that can do the job, I’ll keep buying packs from companies that specialize in hydration.

  • Jay says:

    Thanks for the great review – very helpful! I am in the market for a new active outdoor camera pack, and the Talon looks like a good contender. I am also looking into the Clik Elite Cloudscape and Obscura, but haven’t found any reviews that sell them as well as this review… Anyone have any experience with either of these – especially the Cloudscape?

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