Review – West Desert Gear & Repair camera bag

I’ve schlepped a non-smartphone camera for quite a while now.

Though I won’t support myself with the photos I take, I enjoy the craft of composing pictures and documenting where I’ve trekked.

PCO Mike H.

I like a dedicated camera bag as backpacking clips end up as a one-trick pony. You can only use it for backpacking and only with the pack.

With a separate camera bag, I can use it for day hikes, camping trips, or base-camp situations on backpacking trips. Joan and I often scramble up to arc sites, dropping the packs, and it’s handy to “sling a camera,” walk up to an overhang, and take a photo. Without juggling my pack or having my camera in my hand and using the other for balance while scrambling (or potentially damaging my camera.)

PCO Joan.

I’ve used various camera bags over the years – a fanny pack, stuff back with a sewn loop, or even a dedicated camera bag.

Wearing a simple anorak with some equally simple windpants. PCO Andrew Skurka.

However, my favorite bag is from a boutique cottage gear manufacturer out of Moab called West Desert Gear & Repair (WDGR).

WDGR designed a camera bag for me, weighing in at just under 3.5 oz, and only costing me to say “Please” and “Thank you” and make sure I prepare turkey burgers weekly.

It’s constructed of nylon from an old rain jacket, scrap robic patches (repair and reinforcement), and a simple webbing and buckle system with the company’s typical attention to detail.

Considering a Zpacks DCF fanny pack, with zippers that eventually break in the desert sand, costs $70 and only saves about a half-ounce, I think the WDGR camera bag is a worthy and effective piece of kit.

The drawstring closure gets less prone to failure, and the simpler design makes it less prone to tears and rips.

Initially, I did not care for the Sam Browne belt style of the bag. However, I realized the utility of this camera bag as I can put it on first and easily take on or off my pack without futzing it with the camera bag. I “set it and forget it.”

Being a custom bag, it easily fits my Canon camera. As a bonus, I found ample room for a small pair of binoculars, gloves, a hat, mittens, etc., that I can easily swap in and out as the conditions change throughout the day. Awesome!

Now, while the bag itself is fantastic, I should note some quirks if you make use of WDGR –

1. Little choice in fabrics or colors. You get what you get.

2. You may propose a design, but WDGR will often tell you what design you’ll get. Call it semi-custom work.

3. The lead times can get interesting. As a small shop with a small customer base, WDGR will put off the work until some point the job gets done and mysteriously appears one late afternoon.

4. You will be told it’s time to make repairs and hand over your gear to WDGR rather than continue cultivating your better dirt-bagger self.

On the other hand, WDGR’s sole customer always gives the company more repairs than you’d expect from an experienced outdoors person. The customer is bull-headed and often charges through tamarisk and scapes along narrow canyons rather than take the time to remove the pack (for example.)

Even when not bull-headed, the customer’s hiking style often seems akin to a WW2 Sherman tank going through the hedgerows of Normandy.

WDGR will remark that sometimes the customer base provides too much repair work and leaves less time for putting together new gear. The customer suspects, nay, knows, the correctness of WDGR’s statement.

Having said all that, their customer base enjoys the custom alterations, repairs, and new gear quite a bit.

Among them –

  • A robic tent sleeve for the tent poles vs. the older nylon one that got torn to shreds over the years. Of course, the proprietor of WDGR mandated I carry it as a side note.

  • And a stylish patch for the pants back pocket that got scraped along a canyon wall.

A synthetic 40F over quilt is on the docket soon. No definite lead time as of yet but no doubt about the quality and utility of the item!

I’ll need to make more turkey burgers as payment.

The owner of WDGR repairing a pack in the older Spanish Valley location. The owner now performs work in a more spacious central Moab location.

How to commission work from WDGR – Show up on their doorstep in Moab one late fall day, keep coming back, move in together, get married, buy a home, and enjoy spending lots of time outdoors. Which leads to even more work for WDGR.

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Colorado Jones
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing, Paul! DIY gear repair and, more specifically, sewing are critical but overlooked outdoor skills. My local mountain club routinely offers courses in things like map and compass navigation, wilderness first aid, avalanche terrain avoidance, hiker safety, and knot tying to name a few. Needless to say, sewing skills oriented towards DIY gear repair or fabrication are NOT on the list of course offerings.

1 year ago

This was a great article. Because of you, more of a Dirt-Bagger than ever. And why not? I don’t guess I will be asking the good folks at REI what a dirt-bagger is. Still glad, after many years, that I subscribed to Pmags dot com. Thank you for this article. BTW, just and aside, you call your style of camera bag a Sam Browne belt . I would more likely call that a Camera Haversack — kinda like the ammo pouches of the civil war era etc. In fact, I added strapping to my fanny packs and now wear them… Read more »

1 year ago

Cute post! You actually had me going there for a minute. 🙂

Rachel N
Rachel N
1 year ago

You had me going for a minute too! Great post too. How do you keep the camera sack from flopping around and hitting the rocks when you are scrambling up a slope?


[…] With our truncated backpacking trip, we decided Sunday mad an excellent time to catch up on some chores, relax, and receive another anxiously awaited order from West Desert Gear & Repair. […]