Vanguard Alta Sky 51D

What Vanguard say

The ALTA SKY 51D is the ultimate gear-carrying and working backpack. Featuring innovative 1/3-2/3 division the versatile set-up will allow you to decide just how much backpack capacity and how much daypack storage you need. Max storage can fit up to 1-2 Pro DSLRs with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8), 3-4 lenses, a flash and accessories, or a drone with all related accessories + CSC (Compact System Camera) with additional lens. 

  • Ultimate versatility - 100% gear to 100% personal and anywhere in between

  • ‘Never-tire’ carrying experience - ergonomic Air System back, harness & waist belt

  • Multi-access quick-action – full rear opening, side and top access

  • Drone action - dual use/dual colour dividers for drone set-up*

  • Safety first - double security buckles

  • No fumbling - bright colored interior makes finding things easy

  • Clutter free - stowable connector straps

  • Well organized – numerous dedicated pockets, organizers and connectors for all essentials

  • Stay hydrated - large water bottle side pockets

  • Keep rocking - headset port to extend cable from internal smartphone pocket

  • Business oriented - holds a 15" laptop and/or tablet

  • Stay steady - optimal balance tripod carrying system

  • ALTA LINK - Alta Action Tripod Bag connection for ultimate Vanguard ALTA EXPERIENCE

  • Keep dry - total coverage rain cover

The ALTA SKY 51D is a dynamic backpack that sets a new standard for adaptable carrying and working solutions. It offers versatility combined with reliable gear protection, like never before! Featuring innovative 1/3-2/3 division the larger compartment can be fully accessed from the rear, quickly reached from the side or separately opened from the top, while the smaller compartment enjoys quick individual opening from the bottom front.

The multitude of dividers and access points leave you the choice of just how much professional gear and how much personal gear to carry. Match your workflow preferences by hierarchal set-up and utilization of the multi-access points. Maximum capacity can fit up to 1-2 Pro DSLRs with attached lens (up to 70-200mm f/2.8), 3-4 lenses, a flash and accessories, or a drone with all related accessories, using the dedicated dual use/dual colour drone action dividers in the top 2/3 compartment and a CSC (Compact System Camera) with additional lens in the bottom 1/3 compartment. If carrying less gear one can easily turn this backpack into a daypack or hiking backpack, deciding which separate access point is for photo gear and which is for personal or hiking gear.

Secure rear compartment protects up to a 15” laptop and can also fit a tablet in the additional padded sleeve (*note that double usage is only possible for some laptop + tablet combinations). Organize all other gear and personal essentials such as memory cards, cables, batteries, charger and smartphone, exactly where you need them; either secured in an organizer pocket, or on hand at any given moment in a slip-in pocket. Enjoy pockets with double access points from within and from without. Keep rocking with our headset port which will conveniently extend the cable from the internal smartphone pocket. Avoid human error with our simple coded ‘Full’/’Empty’ media storage. Stay hydrated with two large side pockets for water bottles. Link, hang and sling on anything you can imagine using the multitude of straps, loops and innovative c

onnection features integrated into the surface of the backpack.

The ALTA SKY 51D enjoys additional encompassing protection features, such as our total coverage rain cover, our second-to-none quality, materials, and bag construction, and our grab-and-go sturdy carrying handle along with extra grip handle to facilitate retrieving the backpack from the car boot or overhead bin.

Designed to carry heavy gear loads for extended periods of time, we set the bar for comfortable carrying at a new high. Our advanced ergonomic back and harness system features a well-padded breathable 3D back, uniquely shaped easily to adjust shoulder straps that perfectly contour to your back and torso, adjustable sternum strap and well-padded supporting waist belt. All these join together to promote a ‘never-tire’ user experience!

Various advanced tripod connecting systems enable you to select the best transport solution for your tripod, lighting stands, and hiking sticks.  We also offer the full ALTA EXPERIENCE with ALTA LINK, which enables you to carry along your ALTA PRO TRIPOD in the advanced ALTA ACTION TRIPOD BAG connected to your ALTA SKY BACKPACK!

Reddot award 2017 winner

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This bag is a bit of a beast. It's big, huge in fact and full of pockets, space and features to fit most photographers needs but with its size comes a cost both for the bank and weight. Weighing 2.4kg it's a heavy camera bag and when you open the 51D up you can see why, it has a lot of padding and as it should for a rucksack designed for photographic equipment and protecting your drone, DSLR, CSC or whatever you shoot with.

It's also expensive at £250 so for most photographers they might be put off by its sheer weight and cost. It is a bag for the pros for this reason or serious enthusiast. 

Yes, it is heavy and you won't be using this to walk any long distances, actually you will be wrong on that statement. Despite being heavy Vanguard have padded the shoulders and hip belt out to make them as comfortable as possible and to take a lot of that weight off your shoulders. After several long days hiking and on foot in woodland, coasts, mountains or cities and packing the 51D with either stoves, cameras, tripods, lighting rig, sound kit etc the bag was comfortable to swing on to my shoulder as a light rucksack would be. And, after a long day hiking my shoulders didn't feel sore from the weight of the pack.

So yes, it is heavy but you won't feel it.

The 51D is a very technical rucksack crammed full of pockets and features to make our lives as creatives easier.
I lost count how many pockets this bag has but it's easily 10 and multiple ways to access the content inside. The largest method being the rear access which I found could be a little awkward to access as the shoulder straps would get in the way when pulled tight, when slacked you could fold them up and over.

Through this means of access you can access the main compartment which can happily fit several lens or cameras inside and if configured can hold a drone inside too. You can also access through the top lid, I left this as a separate section for spare batteries, food, water etc as it was handy to grab without taking the pack off, but you could remove the inside velcro pads to give you access in to the main section to grab kit or hold a larger lens like a 150-600mm lens.

Another means to accessing the main compartment is the side with a small zipped pocket which means grabbing a camera on the fly is super easy. 
As I don't use camera bags and opt for large rucksacks for travel and mountaineering I don't get this feature on my packs but now having it back I realised how useful it is and actually how much I missed the convince of this.

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The last method of access in to the pack is from the base. The 51D has a lower zipper section which can hold further kit. Most reviews have typically shown only this section to hold a CSC such as a Fujifilm XT2 or X-T10, nothing really larger but I can confirm it can fit something a lot bigger. I could comfortable fit my Nikon D500 inside with a battery grip attached and fit a 70-300mm lens stood up right and hold two other lenses.

This bag really does have a crazy amount of space inside!

A lot have asked whether this bag is big enough to take for camping however. The answer is no. Yes you can fit a lot inside but sleeping bags and tents are considerably larger and you will struggle to fit these inside, plus camera kit and other items but for a full day out hiking there is plenty of room to fit a gas stove, camera, foot, spare clothing for the day and because it is compartmentalised it's difficult to overload the pack which is just as well considering the weight.

It's certainly big enough for a day’s shoot for video/photography and has the laptop sleeve that can fit a 17" laptop inside, but I've found but just to touch too small for a camp out to use. In terms of pack size, it is equivalent to a 35L.

If you use a drone then this bag is perfect for you as it can fit a drone inside, carry a tripod on the outside and have space for food, spare camera and more.

On the note of tripods, you have two methods to strap a tripod to this bag.
One can be strapped to the side either straight in to the pouch and clips or using an Alta Action bag or the easiest method is using the back fold out carry system which also holds the waterproof cover.

This rear fold out method is best from what I experimented with. It helps keep the bag centred when a tripod is strapped on and avoids the bag from feeling heavier on one side which the side straps can cause the bag to do. The bag can comfortable take two tripods if needed which as well I found especially helpful when packing studio lights and a tripod up for a video shoot with clients. 

If you are not using a tripod in the fold out system this can be used to hold a waterproof jacket or even a snowboard! The 51D really is that versatile.

In addition, if you don't use the side pouch to carry a tripod this can be used to hold a water bottle inside and I could comfortable fit a 1L flask inside the pocket and likely fit larger as the pocket can be stretched to accommodate.

Furthermore if you aren't using the laptop pouch on the rear for a laptop this can be used as a hydration pouch and the pipe can be fed under the arm and mouth piece can be latched on to the sternum straps.

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The bag is very well made and despite weight and size is comfortable to wear for long periods of time even when fully loaded. On the back it sits comfortable above the hips and the large padded hip belts and shoulder padding keeps it locked in place. The hip belt doesn't feature any pockets, instead has a split down the centre to help reduce rubbing which can be common on some large photographic rucksacks. The hip belts can also be tucked away on to the back of the pack if not needed. 

The 51D does come with a waterproof cover which fits into it's on sleeve which is then stored in the fold out carry system for tripods or drones. Now when this is down it is awkward to remove so I found it was easier to remove it from this pocket and put it in another on the side of simply in my coat pocket for when I would need it.

Better yet you can still use the waterproof cover even if a tripod is attached to the bag!
To many times have I seen camera bags with covers only fit the bag but not the tripod too. Yes, the tripod can survive the rain or snow but if you don't want to carry it what then? Remove the cover to your expensive bag and gear?

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Further to the protection the base of the 51D is heavily padded and utilises a rubber bottom to further strengthen and protect the pack from the wet.
This helped keep the bag clean too as I found at the beach during the storm. Whilst setting up for a photo a wave came rushing in further than I thought it would and the 51D was just behind me, before I could do anything the wave had already passed me and my feet, shoes and socks were soaked.

The bag however was bone dry inside and I didn't have the waterproof cover on either. Shocked but very relieved that my remaining lens inside the bag were safe. Wish I could had said the same for my feet however...

The zippers on the rucksack aren't YKK or waterproof, the bag doesn't have tapered zippers either but all are very heavily padded, but some due care is needed still in very poor weather. In short showers I found the bag was completely fine in the rain but for peace of minds the cover is best. However even after a whole weekend in the rain and used the cover very little the inside remained bone dry.

Although the zippers aren't weatherproof they are durable, and I haven't experienced any issues with lock ups, leaks or snags with them over the two months of using this pack. The zipper into the rear of the bag is a big beefy zipper which can't be missed with the huge toggles on the ends in bright yellow. It's good to see this one is larger and more secure as it's the main access to the pack.

Two pockets I always forgot about but when I remembered were perfect are just below the fold out carry pocket. The zippers are subtle and small but are ample big enough to slide 100mm filters inside, phone or smaller items you need to protect fast.

 

The 51D really is a beast and Vanguard have thought about every solution and problem a photographer, videographer or drone pilot might have.
With lots of room inside and out with plenty of pockets to keep your gear protected and organised but at quick access makes it ideal for anyone needing to carry a lot of kit to and from locations.

With plenty of options to customise the interior to fit more lens, cameras or a drone inside it's up to you as a creative to fill the pack which is difficult at times.
It's a tough pack that can last and is very versatile in all needs. It's been a pleasure using the 51D for the past few months for client work with video and photoshoots or out hiking in the mountains. It is as useful in either situation.

Although you won't be using this to go camping with you can happily pack it with spare cloths, food and water plus camera kit and head out for the day and know you have everything you will need.

Find more reviews, discounts and learn more about Vanguard here.

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Transparency Notice: Please note that I am a Vanguard Advocate and receive the products for free to review from Vanguard Photo UK and are return after completing the review. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Vanguard Photo from the reviews or discount codes. Any Vanguard kit I own has been bought by myself.