There is no shortage of photography-centric everyday backpacks on the market. Some are simple designs, with no true thought given to usability or the choice of materials. Others are copycats of existing successes. Then there are those which truly try to bring something new to the market.
The Norite backpack from Urth falls into this last category. Urth is a company known both for its extensive filter system and for its line of bags, cases and accessories. The company prides itself on its eco-friendliness, planting trees for each item sold and making good use of recycled materials. The Norite is offered in four colors (black, sand, moss and ash) and is sold separately or as part of a set with the company’s Medium Camera Insert. I include the latter in this review, as it is most relevant to photographers.
The Norite is a 24-liter backpack made of recycled water-resistant nylon. It adopts a minimalist look, not unlike the Moment Travel Wear Backpack. The Norite is larger and a bit lighter, at a very reasonable 915g (2lbs) without the insert. The fabric is smooth and flexible but still feels durable. It is weather resistant.
The front of the bag is mostly featureless apart from discrete company branding. The bag is slightly convex in shape with corners that appear rounded. As long as is it not top-heavy, it will remain upright.
Diagonals are a recurring theme in the design: side openings, shoulder straps continuing towards the bottom, even the top handle. The overall design is balanced and looks good.
The bottom uses the same material as the rest of the bag; as this isn’t a hiking bag there is no reinforced fabric there. Two straps are attached to the bottom by default but can be removed since they are looped into hooks. These straps can be used to hold something (such as a yoga mat) at the bottom or can be crossed on the front to attach a folded shirt, jacket or other item.
The back features a single large, padded surface which doubles as a luggage pass-through. There is a hidden zippered pocket at the bottom.
The shoulder straps are well-padded, with metal adjustment buckles. There is no sternum strap. The Norite is not a hiking backpack; it is geared towards urban everyday carry and has a more simplistic approach. The lack of hip straps and the design of the back and shoulder straps mean that, heavily loaded, this is not a bag suited to be worn for hours on end. Again, this is a design choice, and helps keep the bag’s weight under control.
Between the two shoulder straps at the top, a loop is present to attach the bag to a hook.
At the top is a small stash pocket, lined with soft fabric. A wide and thick handle is well positioned; the bag balances well even when heavy. The main compartment is accessed from either side of from the top.
The top opening is wide, going down to about two-thirds of the bag’s height. It reveals a light-colored, deep interior compartment with many pockets for organization. These pockets are located on both interior panels. The back contains laptop and tablet sleeves, as well as several pockets well-sized for a cell phone, pen, earbuds. The front offers two wider zippered pockets.
The Norite evolves from an everyday bag into a camera bag via the optional Camera Insert. The insert is perfectly adapted to the internal compartment of the Norite and fits snugly. It takes up about two-thirds of the interior, but still leaves enough room for the tablet and laptop sleeves. It won’t be possible to carry larger items, such as school books, with the insert in place.
The Camera Insert can act as a stand-alone, padded carry case. It has a handle on top and subtle branding on the front. As seen from the side, it is oval-shaped.
The insert has symmetrical openings on both sides. The zipper tracks are particularly smooth and the sides open fully. Each side panel has an elastic pocket with good depth, perfect for storing slim objects.
The interior is, by default, split in the middle by a large divider. Each half includes two smaller dividers (with a nice-looking S shape thanks to clever Velcro placement), creating three small cubbies on each side. The smaller dividers can of course be re-arranged at will. The larger, middle divider can be taken out, but it cannot be moved from its middle position except by removing the smaller dividers. Moving this middle divider is simply not practical.
The size of the insert and its divisions is well-tuned for a variety of photographic tools. For instance, a standard flash with folded head has just the right depth to fit snugly. A larger, full frame DSLR such as the Pentax K-1 II also matches the depth of one side of the insert. A mirrorless camera (such as the Sony A7C here) coupled with a standard zoom such as the Tamron 28-75mm uses two thirds of one side, leaving enough space for a flash or extra lens.
The only limitation of the insert is that each side must be treated separately. There is no way to function in pass-through mode if the middle divider is in place. This isn’t a problem but could leave to some fumbling if the user opens the wrong side.
When the insert is placed in the backpack, its side panels can be folded out of the way. By doing so, opening the side zippers on the Norite immediately grants access to the gear inside the insert, without extra manipulation.
The zippered side openings of the Norite are long, and the full length of the insert is accessible. My only gripe is that the opening is rather narrow. I prefer wider openings which make it easier to extract larger objects from the top and bottom sections of the insert. Still, having side access means that it is much easier for photographers to quickly reach their gear without fully taking off the backpack.
Zeolite Tech Organizer
Another accessory of the Norite backpack is the Zeolite Tech Organizer. An excellent match for the backpack, this organizer makes it easier to organize smaller items.
The Zeolite uses the same weatherproof fabric as the Norite. The case doesn’t offer a rigid shape, it can be compressed to take up less space.
The case opens via two zippers, and shows surprising capabilities inside. On one side, two larger pockets and four smaller ones offer storage for cables, memory cards, batteries. The size of these pockets is well tuned for photo accessories.
The interior volume is split by a curved and stiff padded divider. This divider gives shape to the case, offers some storage and protection for fragile items. It is a very nice element. On the other side of this divider is a pen holder and volume for larger items.
The Zeolite is large enough to easily hold a speedlight.
When empty, the case does not stand on its own. When it is at least partially filled, it does stand upright.
The case is easy to grab and manipulate. It would have been nice to have loops or handles, however. The pockets make it easy to organize memory cards, batteries, chargers, lens cleaner, remote, in short everything a photographer needs.
The Zeolite fits easily inside the Norite. With the Camera Insert in place, it fits in the top section, with room to spare for other items.
The Norite backpack and its accessories take a rather understated, almost minimalist approach. This works well. Instead of splashy colors and an exterior full of straps and pockets, the Norite backpack is streamlined with just the right amount of external elements.
There is a lot to like about this design. The size is right, both as an everyday bag, as a school bag or as a camera bag. Often, camera inserts are small and almost an afterthought. The Norite’s insert is large enough to carry one or two bodies, along with several lenses, making it a true camera backpack. In use, the side access openings make it much easier to grab or store the camera and switch lenses. The bag remains stable when balanced on one strap and it is easy to manipulate without putting it down.
The lack of a dedicated water bottle holder is one of the few off-putting design choices. This forces the wearer to place a water bottle inside the main compartment. With the likelihood that the Norite will contain either a computer, books, or camera gear, having the water bottle inside appears to be a risky idea.
Comfort is good. Padding on the back and straps is adequate and the back is stiff enough to retain its shape. However, weight distribution is somewhat limited by the lack of hip or sternum straps. This will not be a problem except if the bag is worn for hours on end, while fully loaded. This is not unique to the Norite, but applies to most everyday bags.
Internal organization is very good, especially if coupled with the Zeoline pouch. Both as a camera bag and as an everyday bag, storage options are numerous and well positioned for easy access.
Price & Other Options
At $249 for the 24L Norite backpack and the Camera Insert, this is not the cheapest option on the market. Nor should it be. Competitors like the Peak Design Everyday Backpack costs $259.95 for the 20L option and $289 for the 30L. Both offer more features. The Moment Travel Wear is $148 for the backpack and camera insert. This bag is somewhat similar to the Norite, but only offers 21L and has a more basic camera insert. The well-regarded Prvke from Wandrd is also more expensive at $299 for the 31L backpack, smallest camera insert and accessories.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.