The Moshi Arcus Multifunctional Backpack is pretty damn nice, and I say that as a guy who detests writing or talking about camera bags. Further proof that fate is unfailingly cruel, I get an email every week from a bag manufacturer inquiring if we’d like to review their latest pack. How many bags can I have hanging from my coatrack? And what can I really say about a backpack that isn’t mind-numbingly obvious?
Well, it’s time once again for me to eat the proverbial crow, because in the case of the Arcus, there’s actually quite a bit about which to write home. Even if I admit that with some grumpiness.
To start, it looks like few other bags out there. Eschewing the retro-modern aesthetic that’s permeated every-damn-thing in life (Ducati’s Scrambler, Omega’s latest Seamaster, my wife’s sunglasses) the Arcus bag is more android-on-a-hoverboard than despatch-rider-on-a-BSA (does that make sense to anyone else?). And these styling cues of minimalism and cleanliness don’t just make for a nice silhouette. They also solve some of the problems encountered among (and indeed, born of) retro-styled and traditional camera bags.
Those stylish and backward-glancing bags look and feel amazing. I won’t pretend that they don’t. And I’ve bought more than my fair share of bags that look like the period costume of a Nazi-fighting archaeologist. But in the end, I’m never as cool as Indiana Jones and those bags aren’t either. They’re heavy, sweaty, and expensive. And the last of these faults is worst of all. When your bag is made of stone grey Horween leather and costs a week’s pay, well, I tend to use mine as an at-home storage device where I know it won’t get wet, or scratched, or stolen.
The Arcus is totally different. There are no flappy flaps and swinging straps weighted at the ends with rustic, metal clasps. There’s no heavy cowhide requiring bi-annual application of slippery leather conditioner, or canvas in need of waxing. It’s not an elitist messenger bag with frustrating ergonomics and a price inflated by inclusion of a red dot (you know the one I’m talking about).
What the Arcus bag is, is a backpack made of no nonsense, lightweight, highly shock-absorbent, exceptionally breathable, water-resistant synthetic materials. It’s massive and capable of holding more than any other bag I’ve used. And it’s built by people who care about function and form in equal measure (perhaps even favoring the former over the latter). This is the bag of the future that Walt Disney promised us in his highly scientific film about colonizing the Moon.
There’s a giant main compartment, and when configured as a camera bag this area is half occupied by a rather clever insert. This insert is seriously soft and wonderfully cushioned (it’s actually cushioned twice, since the external bag is fairly well reinforced, too). It features numerous compartments that are configurable to taste (Velcro ends allow repositioning of the dividers, as is typical). This insert easily holds a DSLR or mirrorless body with two or three lenses. The hook here is that this insert is accessible through a zippered panel in the side of the bag. It’s still not possible to access your gear without taking the pack off, but that’s not possible in any backpack I’ve ever used. The side access does possibly facilitate faster access to your main gear, but not by much.
Above this insert is a secondary compartment at the top of the bag, and while most bags have secondary and tertiary compartments, they’re never excessively useful. This one, however, is large, easy to access, and shaped in such a way as to be actually usable. During one particularly ambitious field test, I was able to store here a Hasselblad 500C/M with metering prism and lens. That’s not an insubstantial chunk of metal, yet it was comfortably stored in the bag’s secondary compartment.
Above this secondary compartment, amazingly, is a third and even smaller compartment. In here I fit an Olympus Mju II point-and-shoot, and just in case of Mju failure, a Chinon 3001 point-and-shoot (there was room to spare). During this session I also carried a few rolls of film in one of the bag’s many mesh pouches (there are four placed internally and externally), a Nikkormat with two lenses, a MacBook Pro in the bag’s specific laptop compartment, and my Sony A7II with 50mm lens. Oh, I also carried a bottle of beer in the side pouch that most people would use for water.
Yeah, all of this was heavy and I’d never carry this much on a normal day, but the bag handled it well due to its exceptionally well-padded shoulder straps and back support. This padding worked with its sternum strap to critically spread the weight across the two shoulder straps (and all of these straps are infinitely adjustable).
All of this combines to create a camera bag that’s actually worth spending 1,000 words recommending. It’s a great bag. If you like backpacks that work and the style suits your eye, think about buying one.
But there is a catch. If you want to buy the Arcus, not only will you spend $229.95 (MSRP) on the bag itself, but if you’re looking to make this multifunctional bag (as the brand calls it) into a camera bag then you’ll also be shelling another $49.95 for the “Camera Insert.” But to be fair, even at this combined cost the Arcus camera bag isn’t as pricey as some other bags, and it’s certainly among the better bags available (and you can find the Arcus cheaper from other retailers, if you hunt).
Lastly, and this is something people ask me about anytime I recommend a camera bag, the Arcus doesn’t use YKK zippers, which many people consider to be the best zippers in the world. For what it’s worth, I absolutely devastated the zippers on my test unit. I put them through serious abuse over the course of a month, and they’re still working fine. It’s not a lifetime of wear, but I did my best to treat them horribly. And as with all of our gear reviews, if future use causes an item to fail we’ll update the information here.
But these are the only real nits to pick. If the lack of YKK zippers and the price don’t scare you away, buy one.