Wotancraft Commander Camera Backpack Review: New City Explorer
Functional, stylish and durable, the third edition of the Wotancraft Commander is a premium quality bag that will last you a decade. See our real-world review.
By Athol Hill
I’ve tested several Wotancraft bags over the years but never had the opportunity to test the Commander backpack.
Fortunately, the brand has updated a number of its bags, and this is one of them.
Now that v3 of the Wotancraft Commander Camera Backpack – named the “New City Explorer” – has been released, I had the chance to take it out for a spin.
Premium quality camera backpack that's beautifully designed, rugged, and worthy of its price tag.
Wotancraft calls it a travel bag, but at 21 litres, the Commander is perfect as a camera backpack that’s suited to both travel and everyday use.
Some of the items shown in this review are optional extras, so I’ll try to point them out where possible.
Others are provided as part of a Christmas 2022 offer, so it’s worth noting these may not be available if you purchase them later.
Wotancraft Commander v3 Specs
- Class-leading quality and materials
- Unique styling
- Flexibility of modular configuration
- No luggage pass-through
- The price won’t suit everyone’s budget
- External: 30 x 50 x 17 cm (W x H x D)
- Internal: 27 x 45 x 15 cm (W x H x D)
- Side Access Doors: 10 x 20 cm (W x H)
- Top Lid Zipper Pocket 23 x 14 cm (W x H)
- Side Door Zipper Pockets 12 x 14 x 4 cm (W x H x D)
- Side Zipper Pockets 13 x 14 cm (W x H)
- Front Zipper Pocket 25 x 18 cm (W x H)
- Laptop Compartment 25 x 43 cm (W x H)
- Weight ± 2.35 kgs
- Capacity: 21 litre
Build & Appearance
The Wotancraft Commander style is very Wotancrafty: the brand has a unique style.
For those who don’t know what this means, Wotancraft prides itself on WW2 aesthetics delivered with modern construction. I like their style.
The bag I received from Wotancraft was black with black leather accents; however, the bag comes in both black and olive green alternatives, and the green comes with brown accents.
The black will suit those with more traditional tastes. Neither will suit the executive boardroom like a leather briefcase, but they won’t be noticeably out of place in a corporate work environment either.
One of the things I like about Wotancraft is that they’ve found ways to innovate while staying true to their styling.
They’ve found ways to make their leather accents practical and functional while maintaining the style one has accustomed to. You’ll notice this across several areas of the bag.
Given the aesthetics, it’s easy for people to mistake the bag for just another vintage military bag, but as is expected with a $700 price tag, the construction is class-leading.
To fully appreciate Wotancraft’s construction, you must look closely into how much detail goes into the bag.
The materials used by Wotancraft are premium. Wotancraft uses a combination of CORDURA 500D and distressed cow leather and claims that after selling 10,000 bags, they’ve only ever had to repair three.
Having used and abused my previous Wotancraft bags, I can vouch for their durability. (See all our other Wotancraft bag reviews.)
I’ve overloaded my Wotancraft Nomad multiple times to the point where I wasn’t sure if the stitching or material would give way, and to date, it’s come out unscathed despite a few long road trips with well over 15 kgs of gear.
As far as fittings go, like the material, the fittings are top-notch. Zippers are YKK, while the quality of buckles and clips is equally high. The snap fasteners with raised leather loops are also a nice touch.
Due to the materials used, waterproofing is as expected with the use of CORDURA 500D and waterproof YKK zippers. Wotancraft claims to have tested their bags for over an hour in the rain with no water reaching the interior, and I’ll take their word for it.
If I was planning on staying out for days in the rain, a rain cover might be an additional option I’d consider, but for everyday use where rain is unlikely to be ongoing, the standard setup will work fine.
There’s no shortage of features on the bag’s exterior. As a result, this section will be lengthy.
Wotancraft has included a tripod cover to make carrying your tripod easier. This is a lightweight tripod cover you slide your tripod legs into as opposed to the straps and small pockets on most bags.
At first glance, it seems counter-intuitive, but it works well. It’s easy to get the tripod out when you need it, though it only suits smaller travel-style tripods like the Gitzo 0 or 1 series.
I have two Gitzo tripods, the 1545 and the 0245, both of which fit. They are tight, though, and the bag won’t fit larger models.
I think this is by design, as carrying big and heavy tripods on your camera bag isn’t something most people want to do for an extended period.
Still, if you have a large tripod, you could use the straps from the tripod pouch or the leather buckles, which would work just as well.
As with most bags, this one has a top carry handle. It’s soft but sturdy and not dissimilar to other Wotancraft bags I’ve tried.
The external storage on the Commander is substantial, with several pockets and attachment points on the bag.
On the front of the bag, you’ll find a large pocket. For those that want to carry a water bottle without an attachment clip, this is the spot that seems most suited to it.
The use isn’t confined to a water bottle – it’s a multiple-purpose pocket that comfortably fits oversized items like an AD200 strobe.
While it has a cover with a thumb snap, it has no zipper, so I wouldn’t recommend smaller items that may fall out.
There’s a mid-sized (23 x 14cm) zipper pocket on the top of the bag that will fit a large Speedlight with room to spare. (That’s used as context for size and not necessarily what I would store there, as it seems more suited to lighter items.)
On the top of the bag, there are two small pockets on the front edge and the rear edge on either side. The top front ones are connected, providing a single pocket (25 x 18cm) with access from either side. The rear pocket is smaller (13 x 14cm), about passport sized.
On the side, you’ll also find metal loops for fixing items (like a water bottle) along with two additional (12 x 14 x 4cm) storage pockets that camouflage the side access points for your lower camera compartment.
These pockets are large enough to fit laptop chargers or accessories if required.
Finally, on the lower section of the front, you’ll find straps that are suited to carrying bedding (or a tripod), as mentioned above. If you use this, you may be restricted from using the front pocket for water, but I don’t think it’s a major limitation.
As far as shortfalls go, this is always subjective and depends on what is essential to the individual. Noticeably missing for me personally is a luggage pass-through which I like when travelling.
Some countries don’t have trolley access, and the distances travelled in modern airports can be substantial. A heavily laden camera bag can get a little hard on the shoulders moving through airports, so the ability to lighten the load is valuable.
You could use the lower front straps, but it seems more of a workaround than a design. Most luggage pass-throughs are central, while these are in the lower half of the bag.
Interior features will depend on whether you buy some add-ons, as this is a modular design. I’ll cover the baseline bag as a starting point and then look at the add-ons.
Starting with the bag, it’s still reasonably comprehensive, even in the baseline format. This will probably suffice if you’re only carrying a single camera and one or two additional lenses.
The lower camera compartment is a camera compartment with a side entry accessible from either side of the bag. Wotancraft combined the top and bottom compartments with a velcro divider. This provides a little more flexibility with storage.
The door access is via YKK zippers and soft velcro. This allows flexibility with the various modules on offer so that you can attach a module to each door. The quality of the dividers is as expected in a premium bag.
In the top section, you have a large gap similar to a small 1-camera/3-lens camera bag. You will also find a laptop compartment.
If you aren’t using the optional portable camera insert, it leaves you with a fair amount of room for headphones or even a 12.9″ iPad and keyboard.
The optional portable camera insert retails for US$75 and completes the package as far as I’m concerned.
It’s a small 1-camera/3-lens bag designed to work with the bag or as a stand-alone unit, and Wotancraft provides a shoulder strap to allow for this.
My biggest frustration with travelling is taking a large bag to a destination and not having a smaller bag for when I want to go out with less gear. I may need six lenses on a trip, but I don’t need six lenses every time I go out with my camera.
Keeping consistent with the rest of the bag, the 1-camera/3-lens bag also has a velcro roof for add-on modules, so if you keep batteries and/or memory cards in a module, it’s straightforward to transfer it from the main bag to the portable camera module.
As is the case with most things on this bag, Wotancraft even included attachment loops on the side of the portable camera module in case you need to attach something. It reflects their approach to making everything complete instead of delivering the bare minimum.
If you have any previous velcro modules, it’s good to know they are compatible. The ones shown in the picture were from my Nomad, and they are the same options used for the Commander.
These can be used inside the side doors for the lower camera section, on the lid of the top compartment, or in the optional portable camera module.
If I was to nitpick, the divider system in the bottom camera cube is a little strange, and I couldn’t find a way to arrange lenses properly with it.
I would have included something similar to traditional shoulder bags. This would make it easier for those who don’t have the top cube to carry so you can fit a camera and two additional lenses.
The Wotancraft Commander falls nicely into the medium end of the spectrum – a bag I could happily have used a couple of weeks ago for a kitesurfing trip where I was doing surf photography, and my Nomad 15L was just a little too small.
The difference between 15L and 21L is more significant than many people realise. Just grab three two-litre bottles and think about adding that storage room to a bag.
One thing I think the Commander v3 has going for it concerning storage is the boxy shape. Having 21L and having 21L of usable storage are two different things.
As an example, a Speedlight or laptop is boxy, not curved. If you have to store long and straight items, having a box shape helps.
In terms of actual capacity, the bottom camera compartment will easily fit a gripped mirrorless camera like the A1 with a Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 or Sony 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6, with space to spare. It would probably also fit a larger DSLR.
With a gripped camera and 100-400mm, you could still fit an additional prime, but it would require a little manipulation of the dividers.
As an example, I could easily fit the following:
- Sony a7RIII with Sony 100-400mm G Master (bottom camera compartment)
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 (bottom camera compartment)
- Sony a7III (not shown)with 24mm f/1.4 GM (top camera cube)
- Sigma 85mm f/1.4 (top camera cube)
- Sony 55mm f/1.8 (top camera cube)
- AD200 (front pocket)
- XPro Trigger (side pocket)
- Filters (top pocket)
- Spare batteries (velcro)
- MacBook Pro 13 M2 (laptop sleeve)
- Laptop charger and mouse (side pocket)
- Water bottle (clipped onto the side)
- Tripod (or compact light stand if I am taking the AD200)
- Modifier (clipped onto the side)
Now, that might seem like overkill, and it is. That’s the maximum I could fit in rather than what I would take for a shoot.
For example, if I’m going to a portrait shoot with my AD200, the 100-400mm wouldn’t be my pick; I’d take my 135mm, which is notably smaller, along with my 85mm, 55mm, 35mm and 24mm.
If I were travelling, I wouldn’t take the Ad200 or modifier.
You may want to load up heavy for travel and then use the optional camera insert for walking around.
The above example was a very photography-orientated carry. What about without the camera cube, say everyday travel to work on a day you’re planning to load up the bag?
For that, your content could be slightly different, and I’ll assume, for argument’s sake, that you won’t be loading the bottom cube with camera gear.
- MacBook Pro 13 M2 (laptop sleeve)
- iPad Pro 12.9 with keyboard and pencil (top compartment)
- Shoes (in the bottom camera cube, preferably wrapped, so you don’t dirty the bag interior)
- Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones (top compartment)
- Fujifilm X100V (top compartment)
- Jumper (top compartment)
- Waterbottle (front pouch)
- Mouse, adapter and charger (side pouch)
This example would be a reasonably lightweight carry, not packed to capacity, and something that wouldn’t break the shoulders.
Obviously, with the modular design, flexibility is the key, and with the ability to combine storage over separate compartments, you could go as far as fitting a 400mm f/2.8.
Ease of Use/Comfort
As one would expect for this price range, the bag is comfortable due to the quality of material used, and Wotancraft has not skimped on their material.
The bag is very comfortable on the back, even with heavier loads. If you intend to load the bag to capacity for extended periods, I’d still recommend the optional waist strap, although short trips are fine without it.
As far as ease of use goes, the Wotancraft Commander Backpack offers a good balance between style and function.
The finger loops under the snap clips and tie-downs make it much easier to ensure the bag is closed securely.
I think the flexibility of the optional modules helps with ease of use.
Including velcro covers over some of the velcro strips found on the optional camera insert makes removing the module easy.
I would have liked a way to attach the lid of the camera insert to the lid of the bag, so it opens when you open the bag.
It’s not a critical item, however, as you can easily fold the lid behind the insert in the bag.
My only gripe was the lower straps with buckles. The proximity of the leather loop to the buckle makes it a little more difficult to buckle up and thread the leather strap through the loop, particularly if you have something in there.
I feel like it needed to be 1-2cm away from the buckle.
The list of alternatives in this price range is relatively small. There are many everyday cameras and travel bags, but not many at this premium level.
Peak Design offers both a travel and everyday backpack, although the volume of the Wotancraft is closer to the Everyday (20L) than the Rravel (30L).
I don’t believe the Peak Design bags match the quality of the Wotancraft, but that’s not surprising at less than half the price.
The Wandrd Prvke 21 v2 is another good bag, but again, it’s half the price. It’s my pick if you don’t have the budget for a Wotancraft Commander.
As with Peak Design, it doesn’t match the quality, but at half the price, that’s an unfair expectation. They’re targeted at different markets.
In Wotancraft’s price range, there is only the Compagnon Backpack and some Ona Bags.
I haven’t personally tested the Compagnon, but it seems closer to a fashion bag (based on the reviews) than something you could load to capacity without concerns about it breaking.
The ONA Camps Bay and Monterey are similar in price, stylish, and capable of being used daily. Both are good but closer to fashion bags, like the Compagnon.
The Camps Bay would still offer some durability with heavy-duty canvas.
As an older design, however, I don’t feel like the Camps Bay matches the Wotancraft in comfort. The use of Canvas over Cordura also makes it heavier.
Value for Money
Let’s be honest here: at around US$600, the Wotancraft Commander Camera Backpack isn’t winning many points for affordability.
However, unlike some other premium bags out there, the quality of Wotancraft’s bags does match the pricing, with premium materials, premium construction, and unique designs.
If the cost doesn’t scare you, the optional modules are on top of the $600 price tag, so you could be in for close to $700, depending on what you buy. The bags aren’t targeted at every user.
Some may feel that giving the Wotancraft a 7/10 on price/value is excessive, so let me give some context: I’ll often see photographers replace their bags every 3-5 years as they become dated or show heavy wear.
Those bags maybe half the price of the Wotancraft but also last half as long – sometimes less.
Wotancraft bags, meanwhile, will last at least ten years, wear well, and won’t look dated over time.
So, which bag is lower value for money? A $300 bag that lasts five years or a $600 that last 10+ years?
It’s a similar argument to cheap vs expensive tripods, and it’s one that I wish more users would think about when they purchase bags. The value of a good bag is more than just the price.
Wotancraft Commander Backpack Review | Conclusion
Wotancraft has put together a comprehensive offering with the third edition of the Commander, and the maturity of the bag shows. It’s an impressive design that will keep their customer base happy.
There is very little to complain about, as you’d expect with a third edition because they’ve had two versions to get it right.
And get it right, they did.
Most people were suitably impressed with the last version, so it stands to reason that this wouldn’t be a disappointment. The only disappointment will be for those who can’t afford it.
Whilst they remain functional, Wotancraft bags are a work of art. Their styling is unique and impressive, whilst they are built to outlast other bags on the market.
As someone who reviews a lot of bags, Wotancraft’s products always rank highly on a list of recommendations.
This bag has now earned a spot as my everyday bag, where it should be getting some heavy usage in the coming months. We’ll see how it fairs in a year or two, but based on past experiences, I don’t have any concerns about durability.
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