I just wanted to write about my impression of the Kata Bumblebee UL-222 backpack, which I just bought and have had the chance to use a few times.

This is a fantastic, well built, sturdy and light bag. It is also extremely comfortable to wear, most of the time. If your gear all fits within the backpack, you’ll love it and be thrilled with it.

Unfortunately for me, I have a thing about camera bags, and I’m extremely picky. When I bought the UL-222, I was hoping it would be a larger, more professional replacement for my National Geographic NG 5162 (Earth Explorer Medium) bag: Something flexible and efficient I could back professional camera gear in, as well as enough personal stuff for a multi-day trip.

Unfortunately, for my purposes the bag is pretty compromised…

I mention the National Geographic bag because I suspect Kata makes it. It is a fantastic bag although I had to modify it to make my 15” MacBook fit, and it isn’t quite deep enough to hold a professional SLR safely.

Here are my specific issues on the Bumblebee UL-222:

  • It is about 1” too ‘thick’ (from shoulder straps to the protective ‘spine’) to fit easily in smaller airplane (ie, 727) overhead compartments. If it was just a touch shallower (or more crushable), it would fit without problems. How can someone travel with this bag if they are constantly in fear it won’t fit overhead? Its not like you can check photography equipment as luggage. This will probably be the biggest issue for most people. Don’t get me wrong, it WILL fit in the overhead compartment of a 727, but it takes a bit more coercion than I would like
  • I wish the top compartment, instead of being s small rounded hatch, was an adjustable-sized drawstring-and-hood like the NG bag, or like a hiking backpack. This would allow the bag to store more stuff when needed and collapse down when not.

  • The tripod attachment options are terrible. When in the centered, location, the tripod extends beyond the bottom of the bag, making it impossible to stand the bag up, and you need to leave the zippered pouch open strap the tripod top in, which just seems odd. When on the side, the tripod doesn’t extend past the bottom, but the upper strap distorts the top of the bag and the entire tripod blocks the only place for a water-bottle. On the NG 5162, I was able to use the accessory straps on the bottom or side of the backpack to attach a tripod without any of these issues.

  • The bag lacks decent strorage compartments for water bottles. The NG 5162 has two large, pullout, velcro-stabilized places for water bottles, and they work great. The UL-222 has one elastic compartment, it is too small and short for any reasonable sized bottle (ie, 750ml or larger).

  • The bag has no good places for attachments or accessories. I was hoping like the NG 5162 there would be strap attachments at the bottom to strap a duffle bag or sleeping bag to.

  • The aluminum frame is awesome, and does a great job keeping the pack off my back, but the hip belt is too flimsy to use to support much of the weight of the bag, which can be pretty heavy when fully loaded with a camera, equipment, and a laptop. I sort of wish the bag came in a few frame sizes, the way a hiking backpack does, with a better hip-stabilizer strap.

I find myself planning to jury-rig something to attach a simple crush bag to the EPH attachment points at the bottom of the bag so I can carry some more personal gear, but I noticed the EPH attachments are only in the back, so to keep the additional bag strapped in, I’ll need to use the tripod-holder loops on the front flap of the bag, meaning I’ll need to release the attachment just to open the bag, which is annoying.

The bag is extremely well thought out, which is why all these little things add up to such a frustrating experience. If you can live within the design of the bag, and don’t need to carry water or can fit it inside the bag (near your camera?) you will really enjoy this bag. It does hold a ton of camera gear safely and it is the most comfortable camera bag I’ve ever worn.