Review: Pilot Bags

Our senior contributor, Piotr Ma, tested the Wotancraft camera bags in the forest, backcountry and mountains to investigate if they’ve truly been engineered with the photographer in mind.

Review: Wotancraft Pilot Bag

I’ve been into photography for the last 30 years… and I can tell you one thing: looking for a perfect camera bag is a never ending story.

So when Wotancraft came up with the new Pilot camera bag I just had to put it to work. Here’s my 3-month experience with both the 10 litre and 7 litre versions, mostly in the backcountry as I immediately took the bags for multiple outings, also including one week in the High Tatra Mountains on the Polish and Slovak border.

I’ve had some experience with Wotancraft bags before (the Trooper Large) so I knew what to expect quality-wise – top tier in both materials and manufacturing.

But that’s where similarities end, as the Pilot is a completely different animal to the Trooper (which was a sort of vintage style extended messenger bag, optimised for camera carry). The Pilot is a pure photographer’s bag, that is not even trying to be anything else. And it is darn perfect at that.

Both sizes of Pilot share the same regular shape and the same materials. The fully adjustable main compartment (with a handful of supplied velcro dividers) is lined and padded on all sides.

On the front it features a full-size front zipper pocket, which works fine for flat accessories on the 7L version (like a wallet, smartphone or filters) and also for bulkier stuff on the 10L bag. There are also two external webbing daisy chains made to attach accessory pouches on the outside (more on that later).

I really like two bottom straps, great for bipod or just a sitting pad. At the back another flat zipper pocket plus a pass-through for easy attaching to all kinds of luggage and trolleys. And both share also the same canvas shoulder strap with big and comfy padding panel.

The fabric is a Cordura variant, tailor made just for Wotancraft, for a true vintage look with kind of a waxed & worn finish. But it’s still a multilayer fabric made of teflon coated yarn, with enhanced weatherproofness and a high abrasion resistance.

The YKK zippers (of course), dense foam padding, and all webbings are heavy duty too. And last but not least – strong lock-stitching with highly wear resistant thread. In a nutshell – this bag is as tough as a camera bag could possibly be without being a sort of “hardcase brick”.

As I mentioned both bags are delivered with a full array of dividers, but you can also order additional modular pouches and internal velcro add-ons, so you can customise it just as you like.

I usually don’t go too crazy with internal divides, 3 main sections plus a flat tablet back compartment is all I need. But of course you can go as crazy as you want. Just remember – dividers eat some space too.

The closing system is quite interesting too. First of all they put the signature “wings” on the sides of a flap to protect the inside from elements… and from pickpockets.

The actual closing can be either a metal G-hook (indestructible and totally silent, so great for outdoor & wildlife photography… and for weddings too) or a magnetic Fidlock for fast operation and easy one-hand closing (great for photo journalists and street photographers).

You can specify when ordering which one you prefer. Or you can grab both as they’re interchangeable – all you need is a small screwdriver or multitool to open the Fidlock. Change takes just 2 minutes or even less.

The Pilot series being “modular” allows you to share accessories and pouches between different bags and sizes, and with future Wotancraft Pilot products too.

The two big outside pouches can be even used on their own, so if you want to go superlight with just body and one lens on your neck – it’s a good solution to carry just some spare batteries and cards, a lens-pen and a wallet.

Plus a small Nalgene or power bank in the “water bottle” pouch… and yes, you can bind two pouches together, and with the supplied strap it makes a small shoulder bag. It can easily hold a compact camera too, like the Sony RX100 or similar.

Now let’s get to the specific bags. The bigger one is rated as 10 litres, but that’s quite a conservative measurement, in my opinion it can hold more than that. So thanks to the smart arrangement inside and a really regular shape, I was able to fit inside quite some camera gear.

The bigger variant is especially good when I go shooting with multiple lenses or with strobes (or both). It’s become my default camera bag when I plan a full day in the field.

When in a remote area I want my gear to be safe, well protected, but still each item should be easy to locate. The big Pilot, with its regular shape and flat bottom, offers extremely good stability when put on the ground. This allows for quick and safe lens changes, shuffling the stuff inside, and also helps with battery changes.

Simply speaking – it’s a great bag when I need to manoeuvre a lot with my gear. It’s the bag I grab most of the time these days.

Now what about the small one, rated as 7 litres? It’s super compact, lightweight, and tailor made for street photography. But it also works perfectly when I want to go really lightweight, with just one body, one zoom, one prime and essential accessories.

This was the bag I took with me to Tatra Mountains for one full week. It was compact enough to fit inside my big alpine pack (Arc’teryx Arrakis 65) on the way to the base.

Of course I’d never advise a shoulder bag on Via Ferrata or any other advanced trail (for that a good backpack is the only option). But for easy landscape photography in the afternoon or morning shots around the hut (shooting waterfalls, mountain lakes etc.) it was just perfect.

So as you can see even the small version is a really capable bag. I’m not a street photographer, but I can imagine it could be an ultimate bag for the street. And not just because it’s compact but also, thanks to the stealth look (especially in black), it really goes under the radar.

It doesn’t have the typical photographer’s bag shape, and the two side bottle pockets are also not common on this kind of bag. In the khaki colour it’d look more like an outdoor shoulder bag actually.

So time for a short summary. Wotancraft nailed it again. I like these kind of cool niche companies, which think FIRST about the actual user and features he or she may need, and cost comes later.

It’s not a cheap bag at $159 / $199 (7/10 L variants) but it’s still very reasonable for what you actually get. I mean cutting corners is not always a bad thing, but if someone shoots photos with a couple of thousands $$$ worth of gear (or more) then saving 50 or even 100 USD is sometimes just not worth it.

Camera bags are often overlooked, but in fact they are absolutely crucial. You want to protect your equipment and make the shooting process efficient and easy. Camera bag must be your best friend and should help you to get the job done. It can’t be a hindrance!

For me it’s an essential piece of gear, a pillar of the kit I take outdoors. The Pilot bags are lightweight, tough and beautifully built. And last but not least – they are engineered to support a photographer and make sure their gear is safe and ready to use. Anytime, anywhere, in any conditions.

By Piotr Ma

Senior Contributor & Edge Specialist, more posts.