Kata GDC R-103 Photo Camera Backpack Rucksack Review | PixelsAndSuch Photography Blacksburg
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Kata GDC R-103 Photo Camera Backpack Rucksack Review
(Although this a PixelsAndSuch.com Photo Review of the Kata R-103 GDC Rucksack R103 Bag, many things in this
review apply to other Kata camera and video backpack models). Our review policies are here.
I’m a bit of a pack rat. My gear closet is busting with packs for every different occasion from climbing to backpacking
to skiing. Like most people, I’ve carried my fair share of camera packs during my photography career. And like
most photographers, I’m always searching for the perfect camera backpack.
Recently I found myself destined for Costa Rica on a three week photography excursion. I needed a new pack that
could stand the abuse of my typical no-itinerary trip. The type of trip where you fly in and figure out what you’re doing as
you go. This means your photography gear needs to be protected from everything because you can end up just
about anywhere – planes, boats, buses, taxis, rainforests, back alleys, the works. My trips aren’t the white glove variety.
I looked at the Lowpro Photo Trekker Packs, Tamrac Adventure Backpacks, and the Tenba Photo Camera packs. I
needed something to carry my 15.4” macbook pro, a Canon 30d, a backup body, a couple of large Canon f/2.8 L
zoom lenses, hoods, a Canon speedlight flash, ipod, cables, chargers, and accessories. In the end, I settled on the
Kata GDC R-103.
The Kata R-103 Photo Backpack is built by Kata, a company that makes body amour, security vests, and high end packs
for audio/visual professionals. You can tell the strength of the design the moment you hold it. The pack is built with a
corrugated padding which provides rigidity and protection in several critical areas. Kata refers to this as TST, thermo
shielded technology. I dubbed the pack the “turtle pack” because this material vaguely reminded me of the underside of
a turtle. The zippers are strong with beefy pulls. So strong in fact, that the zippers had a break in period. Everything
about the Kata R-103 smacks of quality. Some people might say that it doesn’t scream “camera bag” like other photo
The yellow interior is a more than just a nice touch. If you’ve ever
had a photo pack with a black interior you know what I mean. You
can find stuff easily in a Kata bag. The Velcro is strong, and the
compartments can be configured in numerous ways. The laptop
compartment is well padded and it hugs my 15.4” mac book pro
securely. I like the fact that the laptop compartment is accessed
from the side. If you have an old school fatty laptop, you might not
have enough space in the laptop compartment. In which case
Kata GDC R-103 might just be the excuse for you to buy yourself a
new mac book pro that you were looking for! Kata includes two interior mesh ditty bags which I crammed full of cables,
CF cards, etc.
The Harness System:
The harness is comfortable and fit me well. The shoulder straps were well padded and had something that resembled
thin wet suit fabric integrated into the harness design, which resulted in a less chaffing and more comfortable harness.
Kata placed TST on the back and it served three main functions simultaneously: it protected my laptop, it provided
a semi-ridgid but flexible back to the pack, and it was comfortable. My average load was probably in the 25-30 lbs range
and for the most part the Kata carried it well. I will say however, there were certain times that I would have like the Kata
to have a full waist belt. This would have made long slogs through the jungle easier. The downside of having a waistbelt
is that it would have added significant bulk, and this camera backback wasn’t designed to be a gear closet carrier. It’s
more of an agile daypack. I am in good shape and I’m used to carrying heavy packs. The good news is that the Kata
didn’t collapse due to lack of weightbelt and internal frame supports.
I mentioned this above and I’ll say it again. The camera access panel on this is simply bombproof and there wasn’t a
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Kata GDC R-103 Photo Camera Backpack Rucksack Review | PixelsAndSuch Photography Blacksburg
single time I didn’t think my Digital Canon SLR with my 70-200 f/2.8L zoom attached wasn’t safe. The Kata backpack
is designed so that you can access your camera compartment only or you can open the entire pack up and
access everything. I like this feature. When the entire compartment is open the underside of this flap has additional
storage area. There are two, oddly shaped zippered compartments on the outside of the bag that you can stuff with
smaller thin items.
The Tripod Holder:
The Kata is lined with daisy chains and lashpoints galore, which are mainly intended to work in
unison with the igneous tripod carrying system that Kata designed. The tripod can be carried on the
center of the pack or to either side. No company - not Kata and not even a custom pack designer, -
can ever make carrying a tripod enjoyable (I’m a firm believer that the only truly comfortable way to carry
a tripod is on your sherpa’s back). The most that anybody can do is make is bearable and in this
respect Kata has done well. They have devised a special tripod holder, called the TST Tripod Holder,
that hangs from the lash points you choose. You put two legs in this tripod holder and use one of
the webbing straps that Kata provides to attach the head of the tripod to one of the daisy chains.
The Rain Cover:
Kata includes a reversible packcover with a reflective side and a black side. Several times when we were in the jungle and
it began to pour (actually every time we were in the jungle it poured!), I whipped out the pack cover and thanked Kata
out loud for making it, and me for having enough sense to bring it. The packcover doesn’t turn your camera pack into
a drybag, but it does shed water effectively. It is quick to install, and doesn’t have extra fabric to grab things. As you
would expect, when you have a tripod hanging from the pack, the packcover is not big enough to cover the bag and
the tripod (comfortably anyway), and the tripod changes the way the cover fits, too. My solution was to cover the GDC
R-103 and just leave the tripod on the outside of the packcover.
If you ever seem me hiking or climbing with my cameras, you’ll see that I usually have a
nylon cord attached to my cameras that is about a foot long. On the end of that, I have
a carabineer, so I can clip the camera to my pack. If I need to use my hands for something else,
I would just let the camera hang from this leash system. Kata includes a nice little camera
strap system that snaps into the R-103 harness. When you aren’t using your camera you can let
it hang from the backpack, which is preferable to letting it hang from your neck. When you
need the camera, it’s dangling right in front of you.
Things I Didn’t Like
The most annoying thing about the pack is that I wish Kata would have provided a couple of expandable mesh side
pockets on the outside of the bag. The thought of putting my water bottle, suntan lotion, and sandwich inside the pack
with my camera gear and computer was simply unacceptable. This meant I had to find somebody to carry my lunch
and water, or devise a way to lash it to the outside of the pack. Two expandable sidepockets would have helped.
Also, providing a couple of mesh stash bags which could clip into the daiseychains, similar to the two mesh ditty bags
Kata provides inside the bag - would have been even better.
EPH System Compatibility:
Kata Photo and Video Backpacks have numerous accessories to customize your pack. (Lowepro, Tamrac, Tenba, and
other photo pack companies offer similar modular systems). I can’t review the Kata EPH modular accessories here
because I did not test any of the EPH accessories (except those which were included with the Kata GDC R-103
The PixelsAndSuch Photo Review Conclusions:
This isn’t a big pack, but I will hold surprisingly more than you think. At the same time, you have to pack sensibly and
trim your gear list. At times I wanted a wee bit more space. The great thing about this pack is that it is streamlined (I
could comfortably ski in it). The tradeoff is that it is streamlined. Get my drift. This really isn’t a slam against Kata, you
just have to make sure your getting the pack that will meet your needs. You may want to look at the bigger Kata
HB-205 GDC Hiker Backpack if you need more space.
Everything, everything, everything about the Kata GDC R103 is built to be bombproof. It is well thought out and
comfortable photo backpack. I put it through the paces in Costa Rica and I’m still using it as my regular shooting pack. If
I need more capacity, I’ll grab a bigger pack, but for carrying my laptop, a Digital SLR, a couple of lenses, and maybe
a backup body, it would be hard to beat. Even at a street price of $180.00 and 4.6lbs, I’d buy this Kata pack again.
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