Kata 3N1-20 Sling-Backpack Review
Reviewed by Ron Risman, September 2008
The Kata 3N1 Sling-Backpack, part of Kata's DPS (Digital Photo Series), features a unique TST RIB structural
protection for a digital SLR with battery pack & mid-range zoom lens attached as well as 3-4 lenses, flash, and other
The unique 3N1 design makes this the first bag that can be used as a sling bag for either right- or left- handed or as a full-function backpack. The 3N1 is available in three sizes:
- 3N1-10: Size: 6.5"D x 8.7"W x 16.1"H, 2.6lbs
Designed to fit a digital SLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached and 1-2 extra lenses with accessories
- 3N1-20: Size: 7.5"D x 9.3"w x 17.3"H, 2.9lbs
Designed to fit a digital SLR with a mid-range zoom lens attached and 3-4 extra lenses with accessories
- 3N1-30: Size: 7.5"D x 12.6"W x 17.7"H, 2.9lbs
Designed to fit a digital SLR with a long-range zoom lens attached and 5-6 extra lenses with accessories
For the past few years I have been using the Lowepro CompuTrekker AW backpack to carry all of my photography gear (see chart
below). I love the CompuTrekker AW and it has served me well, as it is able to fit and carry whatever I seem to throw in it, including
my Dell 15.4" laptop and tripod. The downside is that the CompuTrekker is just too large to use out in the field. The Kata 3N1 on
the other hand is perfect for daily trips, photo walks, or hiking. I found a new friend, the Kata 3N1.
I was thrilled when the KATA 3N1-20 arrived at the door. I spent no time opening the package, setting up the bag and taking some
product shots in various configurations. This is the first thing I do before using a product as I want to be able to show you what the product looks
like before life happens to it. I am actually very careful with my gear so this typically isn't a problem - but better safe
Since the Kata 3n1 can be worn three different ways I spent a few minutes looking over the instructions. This helped me to
fully understand how to wear it. As the name implies, the Kata 3N1 is no ordinary photo bag. You can wear it as a left-sling,
a right-sling, or as a backpack. Actually, when wearing it as a backpack you can choose a 4th configuration - crisscrossing the straps in front of
you (X), which allows you to quickly convert it to a sling bag just by unlatching one of the straps. This provides added comfort for
longer periods while still offering the convenience of front access by switching it to the swing layout.
I spent about 10-15 minutes trying on the different configurations and walking around the office before feeling ready to load the bag up with gear. Empty, the
Kata 3n1 only weighs 2.9lbs so this was not a test of comfort and feel, just a way for me to get used to the layouts before weighing it down with gear.
Load it up!
The next step in the testing process was to open up my current Lowepro Trekker AW case that currently houses all my camera gear to see how much of it would fit
into the Kata 3N1-20. Since the bag is about 4" smaller (width) I knew there would be some tradeoffs, but I needed to dive right in to find out what
they would be. Since the Kata 3N1 is small enough to be my day case I felt I didn't need to worry about fitting things I wouldn't need out in the field, such
as battery chargers and cables. The Lowepro CompuTrekker AW holds everything I need but it is just to cumbersome and heavy
to wear while shooting.
The table below shows the items that I was able to fit into the Kata 3N1, compared to the larger Lowepro CompuTrekker AW. Aside from a few extra accessories
the Kata Bag held even with its smaller dimensions.
|Accessory ||Kata 3N1 ||Lowepro CompuTrekker AW
|Canon EOS Rebel XT
||Yes (Top compartment)
|Sigma 10-20mm HSM Lens
||Yes (on Rebel XT body)
|Canon EOS Rebel XTi
||Yes (Side sling compartment)_
|Canon EOS EF 28-200mm Zoom
||Yes (on Rebel XTi Body)
|Canon HG10 AVCHD Camcorder
||Yes (inside upper right)
|Canon 430EX Flash
||Yes (inside bottom)
|Canon 50mm F/1.8 Lens
||Yes (swap with 18-55mm when needed, inside compartment)
|Canon EF-S 18-55mm Lens
||Yes (swap with 50mm when needed, inside compartment)
||Yes (side pocket)
||Yes (inside compartment)
||Yes (side accessory pocket)
|ExpoDisc White Balance Filter
||Yes (inside compartment)
|Folding Disc Reflector
||Yes (inside - laying on top)
|Li-Ion Battery Charger
|Trek-Pod Mini Tripod
|Cables (USB / HDMI)
|Pec*Pad Cleaning Solution & Pads
|Dell Inspiron 6000 Laptop
* These items would easily fit depending on what gear is important to you. If you are not traveling with two bodies and 3 or 4 lenses there would be plenty of space for
the items marked with an asterisk (*).
As you can see from the list above, despite the Kata's 3N1-20 smaller size (compared to the Lowerpro CompuTrekker AW), the bag is very capable of carrying a day's worth of gear. I was easily able to fit a Canon HG10 AVCHD camcorder, Two Canon Rebel D-SLR's, four lenses (18-200, 10-20mm, 50mm or 18-55mm lens, Lensbaby), external flash unit (Canon 430EX), RF Remote control,
a folding pop-open reflector, Cokin filters, White Balance filter, extra batteries and memory cards. If I were traveling for more than a day, I would most likely swap out one of the lenses to make room for one
of the Canon battery chargers. It is possible I would be able to find room for it even without swapping, but with the configuration above, the bag isn't overloaded, but it's tight.
One of the BIG differences between my Lowepro CompuTrekker AW and the new KATA 3n1 is the fact that I can comfortably wear the Kata 3n1 Backpack / Sling all day
while out in the field. The Lowepro backpack I only use for traveling to and from a shoot or when flying because of its larger size.
A big advantage to the 3N1's Backpack / Sling design, at least for me, is the ability to switch from one to the other. A sling is less comfortable over longer periods as the strap
crosses your chest (much like a seat-belt), but for short periods a sling provides for easy in/out camera access. If I plan to do a lot of walking I'll wear the Kata 3N1 as a backpack, which
is more comfortable over longer periods. If I plan to take a shot here and there or if the weather is less than ideal then I would wear it in sling mode as this would allow access to the camera
without removing the bag each time. Even when the sling mode gets a bit heavy on your shoulder you can easily switch it to the opposite shoulder just by switching to the right or left handed strap.
The flexibility of this bag is what makes it unique.
Backpack today, Sling bag tomorrow!
Prior to reviewing the Kata 3N1 I had always envied those that had a sling bag, but after spending hours wearing this case both as a sling bag and a backpack, I must admit that I prefer wearing it as a
backpack most of the time. I am not usually in a situation where I need to keep taking the camera in and out of the case. I typically remove the camera, put the strap around my neck, and keep it there
until I'm done shooting. Having the backpack with me makes it convenient to switch bodies or lenses as needed. If the bag was in sling mode it would actually be quite awkward as I already have a camera around my neck
which would interfere with the sling operation.
During ski season (snow) I would use the sling option instead as it would allow me to quickly remove the camera for shots on the slope and back again when the going gets tough or when I'm ready to get
back on the chairlift. I'd just swing the sling to the front and would be good to go.
The Kata 3N1 features KATA's TST RIB structured protection and should keep your gear safe from shocks and bumps even in rough conditions. The bag is not waterproof but a rain sleeve is included to help
insure that the case and your gear stays dry in inclement weather. 2 large center buckles and 2 smaller bottom buckles help to keep the bag fit and snug, though they must be un-buckled in
order to unzip and open up either the side or front pockets. The top compartment is fairly large and can easily hold a mid-size DSLR with a standard- or short-length zoom lens but it would be nice
to have some sewn in velcro strips in order to accomodate a divider when needed. The top compartment does feature two fabric pockets that can accomodate your mobile phone, memory cards, or extra batteries.
My biggest complaint with the case design is how tight access is to the upper middle compartments. This is caused by the rear side buckles which reduce
the size of the flap at the mid section of the case. To get gear into these compartments you'll need to flex the top of the bag a bit to create an opening
wide enough to slide things into these compartments. It is definitely tight, but doable.
Another issue I had was when trying to close the side zippered pocket while in Sling Mode. The strap that holds the bag around your shoulder pulls at the opening
of the unzippered pocket, creating a bend in the zipper, which ultimately requires you to pull the sections together using both hands while zippering the side compartment back up (See photo on right).
With practice I have been able to make this an easier task than it was the first few days of my review, but the unzipped corners on each side should have a better support
system in order to keep the zipper 'track' inline.
While there are some slight design changes I would recommend to Kata, overall the Kata 3N1 is a home run. Kata sent the mid-sized model (3N1-20) for me to review
and, for me, it was the best choice. The larger bag would have held more of my gear, but I would not have wanted to lug it on my back. The smaller bag would be
even more convenient to carry all day, but at the expensive of having to leave some camera gear behind. The mid-size bag holds everything I need for a daily
trek, while being comfortable enough to wear all day. Of course, you would want to decide on which case is best for you, based on the cameras and lenses you own.
The Kata 3N1 also includes a rain cover that fits in its own pouch when not in use and expands over the entire bag when needed.
When not in use I found it convenient as extra protection between a lens and the body of the case. Speaking of protection, the Kata 3N1 features Kata's TST
RIB structured protection designed to protect your gear from unwanted shock.
Retail and Street Price
At at price of $149.95 (street prices from $99.95) the Kata 3N1-20 is highly recommended and I consider it a great
value. The closest competition to this bag would be the Lowepro SlingShot 200 AW ($89-$99), but unlike the Kata 3N1 does not
offer the backpack mode or the ability to switch to your left or right side.
The Kata 3N1 bags are also Modi-Vers compatible. The Modi-Vers is a customizable divider system that can be
cut to fit whatever size you need to keep your gear snug. I did not try the Modi-Vers system, but it actually
sounds like it could allow for more room inside the 3N1-20 that I reviewed here, by allowing some smaller "dead"
space to fit things like a battery charger.
Complies with Airline Regulations
The Kata 3N1 bags comply with most airline regulations for carry-on luggage, though regulations are constantly
changing. I have never had a problem carrying the rather large Lowepro CompuTrekker so I don't imagine there
ever being a problem traveling the the Kata 3N1 bags unless they ban bags all together.
This bag is also compatible with the Kata Insertrolley, a system that allows you to either use the trolley separately
or with several cases at once. Just slide the trolley through the integrated sleeve on the rear of the bag for secure
and easy mobility. Again, this is not a product that I have reviewed here. The description comes directly from the
Kata-Bags.com web site.
Where to Buy
The Kata 3N1-20 reviewed here is available from Amazon.com for only $99.90 at this time (9/2/2008). This is a savings of $49.10
off the list price. Please use the link to check the latest price. Your purchase from this link helps to support our site and will also save you money in the process.
For additional information check out Kata-Bags.com web site.