Manfrotto Pro Flexloader review: great carry-on camera backpack
Flying with camera bodies, lenses, batteries, and accessories can be a pain. Everything that is expensive, sensitive, or has a lithium battery has to be packed in an airplane carry-on. Tripods and other non-fragile items can be packed in checked luggage, but everything else has to be carried through an airport and stored in an overhead bin.
The Manfrotto Pro Light Flexloader is a camera backpack designed for this type of use. Every square inch of space is designed for carrying gear; including a padded egg-crate interior with adjustable velcro dividers, a sleeve for laptops and tablets, dual exterior tripod/water bottle pockets, plus an extra, expandable space designed for carrying gimbals, sliders, or additional hardware.
- Great design and materials
- Adjustable shoulder straps
- Ventilated, mesh back that keeps your back cool
- Extra 'flex' expandable space for extra gear
- Airplane carry-on compatible
- Front-loading only, which means straps and belts get dirty when placed on the ground
- Wish it were a little larger
Flexloader design and features
The Flexloader exterior is dark and stealthy. If worn around town or in a city, it won’t make you look like you just came down off a mountain. It’s the kind of bag you can store camera gear in and wear when visiting clients, shooting weddings or events, etc. But the Flexloader is also perfectly comfortable and durable when used in the wild, while I’ll get to a little later in this review.
Dual side pouches
The Flexloader provides two pouches on the left and right side for water bottles and/or tripods. Each pouch has an elastic band that stretches for inserting an item, then collapses back when released. This provides a tight fit for whatever you may be carrying, and helps maintain the bag’s sleek design when the pouches are empty.
Each pouch provides a hidden strap for tightening tripod legs. Simply pull the strap out from the side of the pouch and connect it to the other side. When not in use, the strap may be pushed back into the bottom of the pouch. Additional straps are available higher up on the bag to secure the top of a tripod.
On the back of the Manfrotto Flexloader is a zippable, padded space for storing a laptop, tablet, or e-reader. The space is wide and deep enough to fit a 15″ laptop, with enough room left over to add a smaller tablet or other similar item.
Expandable “flex” space for more gear
The “Flex” in “Flexloader” refers to an expandable compartment that sits between the laptop sleeve and the interior cavity of the backpack. Similar to traditional luggage with an expandable zipper, this area adds extra space that’s large enough to pack and carry a mirrorless camera gimbal, motorized slider, or other compact photo and video gear.
This space is fantastic, for gimbals normally have to be mounted somewhere on the exterior of the bag. But the Flexloader provides enough space to securely store and carry one. Worth noting, this expandable area does not remove space from either the laptop compartment or padded interior. It is in addition to those spaces, while keeping the bag within carry-on size limits.
Padded waist belt
The Manfrotto Flexloader comes with a full, padded waist belt. When worn, this belt reduces shoulder strain by shifting more of the bag’s weight onto your hips. The belt also pivots up and down so it’s more flexible and comfortable when hiking.
Angled shoulder straps
Shoulder straps are angled, with a boomerang-like shape. This makes the straps more comfortable to wear, for they extend into and across your torso as opposed to a straight, linear strap. The shoulder straps also provide a chest strap for additional stability and comfort.
Torso height may be adjusted using three loops at the top of the bag. Tall photographers (like me) should attach the straps to the top loop, while shorter photographers should use the lower loops. This provides a better, more comfortable fit.
Padded, ventilated back
The back of the Manfrotto Flexloader is well padded and shaped to fit the contour of your back. The thickest padding lands on and around the shoulders. In between the shoulder pads is an empty center channel (the red area in the image above) that reduces heat and sweating by allowing air to more effective pass through.
The Manfrotto Flexloader comes with an accessory pouch for storing cables, filters, lens caps, cards, accessories, or any small item you need to bring along. One side has slots and dividers, while the other has loops and a zippable pocket for cables and other items. The pouch then neatly fits in the bottom of the interior space. If you don’t already have a pouch like this, it’s a nice addition.
Integrated TSA lock
Because security is always a concern when carrying expensive camera bodies and lenses, the Manfrotto Flexloader has an integrated TSA security lock. This lock is stitched into the bag, and cannot be removed (unless you cut it off).
To use, simply gang all four zipper loops together, then slide the TSA lock strap through. This locks the interior of the bag, the “flex” expandable area, and the laptop compartment. None of these areas may then be unzipped by thieving hands.
When not in use, the lock neatly stows away in a convenient shoulder pocket.
Padded, adjustable interior
The main interior cavity of the Manfrotto Flexloader is where all your camera bodies, lenses, drones, batteries, and other accessories are stored. Like other camera bags, the Flexloader provides an adjustable egg-crate interior with adjustable spacers to neatly pack and protect camera gear.
These spacers utilize something Manfrotto calles “M-Guard” technology, which appears to be a proprietary design that offers stronger, more durable protection. How true that claim is is hard to say, but the spacers do feel stiffer and more dense than padded dividers I’ve used in other camera bags.
The interior space is plenty large for all types of camera gear. I was able to pack two mirrorless cameras (Canon EOS R5 and R6), three RF lenses, a GoPro Hero 9, DJI Air 2S and controller, PolarPro Summit landscape photography filter kit, the Freewell Magnetic Variable ND filter system, loads of batteries, cards, cables, chargers, a Zoleo communicator, plus loads of smaller accessories.
In the field
To test user experience I flew to Alabama Hills, California for nearly a week of landscape photography. I hiked for hours every day wearing the Flexloader, and used it to store all my camera bodies, lenses, filters and more.
Overall, the Manfrotto Flexloader was very comfortable to wear — noticeably more comfortable than the older, cheaper camera backpack I had been using. What I especially noticed was how cool my back felt wearing the bag. I didn’t get anywhere near as sweaty or hot wearing the Flexloader. The red, open channel on the back (see above) appeared to do a great job of providing air flow, even when a laptop was added to the back sleeve.
On the side, I mounted an extra tall tripod for landscape photography. Once strapped-in, the tripod didn’t sway or shift around while hiking, even though it was sticking up quite a bit above the bag. It would appear then that just about any tripod can be mounted and comfortably carried on either side of the Flexloader.
The Manfrotto Pro Light Flexloader is a fantastic camera backpack. It’s clear that the team who designed the bag did a lot of user research, for it checks nearly every box on a traveling photographer or videographer wishlist.
The one downside of the Flexloader that I could see — compared to similar camera backpacks — was the fact that the bag has to lay on the ground with the shoulder straps and waist belt down in order to quickly access the inner storage area. This means the straps may get dirty or wet depending on the type of environment it's used in.
For my trip to California, I didn’t mind, for I was dusty and dirty anyway, but I could see this being less than ideal for some outdoor photographers.
Otherwise, it’s the perfect backpack for anyone who needs to bring a lot of camera gear onto an airplane, then hike and carry all the same gear out in the field. I very much look forward to using it more in the future.
Check current price
Click the button below to check the current price of the Manfrotto Pro Light Flexloader, available through all major online retailers and direct through the Manfrotto store.
Manfrotto provided me with a Flexloader backpack for review. This post is not sponsored or paid for by Manfrotto, nor have they had any editorial involvement. All opinions are my own.