There’s Something You Should Know About the ONA Bolton Street Backpack

It’s beautiful but bigger than it looks. I ordered and returned the Bolton Street this week, fulfilled by Amazon from one of its retailer partners. Words cannot express how much I wanted to keep the backpack. The craftsmanship is fine art, attention to detail is finer still, and quality of materials is outstanding. But the thang doesn’t fit my digital lifestyle or my back. Depth is the problem.

My story starts on July 9, 2015, when I walked out of Best Buy with a ridiculously fantastic deal: Fujifilm X-T1 kit body and 18-55mm lens, discounted $250, bundled with the XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS for another $100. The second lens alone retails for $699. My previous digicam, the Fuji X100T, is so compact that I didn’t use backpack or other carryall. But interchangeable lens camera changes everything, so I started looking for an appropriate backpack. 

Price and size defined my search criteria. I’m no fan of designs from traditional camera bag makers like LowePro or Think Tank. They’re totes are rather industrial and howl: “I’m loaded with expensive cameras and gear. Steal me!” I do like Kata designs, but the company is gone—acquired by Manfrotto, which bags actually appeal to me, but from my last weekend research, the majority are too big.

I shopped local camera stores looking for a fitting backpack, finding nothing small enough or satisfying. So I went onto the InterWebs. Agonizing over my decision, I chose the National Geographic Africa Collection Medium Backpack for DSLR (NG 5290), which Manfrotto makes. Price and size determined my decision; design was a compromise. I really wanted the smaller NG 5280, which isn’t available anywhere Google search sent me. I ordered from Amazon at 6:15 p.m. PDT on Sunday July 19th.

About two-and-a-half hours later, I heated leftovers, checked the DVR recorded shows, and started watching “The Last Ship“. Early on, actress Rhona Mitra shoots with the Fujifilm X-E2 while wearing over one shoulder a backpack I really liked. Hitting the stop button, and searching online, I found the bag, Filson’s Rucksack. Wow. As the clock clicked past 9 p.m., I checked my Amazon order, which would ship soon. I requested to cancel, with no guarantee, and succeeded!

Thus began the next stage of my camera backpack quest. Rucksack satisfied my smaller size criteria, while the design just wowed me. I wanted. But the bag isn’t compartmentalized for camera and laptop or tablet. Damn. my search widened, and I considered a dozen other possibles before narrowing down to a Filson or ONA.  Among the reviews leading me to choose the Bolton Street: Photographer Melly Lee. She provides annotated photos highlighting benefits. I especially liked, referring to many other bags, her reference: backpack + photographer = turtle.

On July 21, at 12:41 a.m., I ordered the Bolton Street. However, not long later, a Gizmodo blogger’s suggestion about camera backpacks opened my mind to sensible alternative. I wouldn’t decide on the other option, which will be discussed in a post tomorrow, until after a night’s sleep. With the ONA bag not yet shipped, I attempted to cancel the order. Amazon sent a failed-to-cancel email minutes later, at 8:21 a.m.

Bolton Street arrived the next afternoon, but I left it unopened in the box for five hours, strongly considering a trip to the UPS Store for return to Amazon. Finally, the waiting ended and the unveiling came—and I fell in love. My eyes hurt from the beautiful brilliance, and my fingers pricked from the sharp design. Wow.

But the magnificent ONA didn’t love me. Hoisted on my back, the pack stuck out like one of those rock racks the old miners carried. That’s much worse than turtle-wear, Melly. I should have recognized where the Bolton Street is huge: Depth—8 inches (20 cm). In my original evaluation, my attention focused too much on height and width. Big depth, along with the stiffer shape, makes the backpack look quite large on smaller body frame (I am 167 cm tall) and unwieldy even empty. The squatter dimensions, 16.5 x 13.5 inches (42 x 34 cm) accentuate the outward size from the back, all while impeding movement.

I caressed the Bolton Street, then bagged, boxed, and stored it, trying to decide whether to choose form over function. On the latter point, I could see that worn on my back the lower storage area wouldn’t be accessible fast enough for street shooting. That option was another of the benefits leading me to choose the backpack.

I kept the ONA bag for more than a day before deciding that no matter how much I like looks and feel, for the price and what I functionally need, the backpack wouldn’t do. I arranged return with Amazon and dropped the shipping box at the local UPS Store.

Later that night, I ordered a very different backpack about which I will write tomorrow. Yesterday, I also ordered another ONA. Seriously. I will work with backpack-messenger bag combination, because the totes will suit different usage scenarios. The Prince Street messenger arrives tomorrow. If this ONA works out, I will write a review.

As for the Bolton Street, I nearly kept it. Who knows, I might have after using it a few days. But, despite my attraction to the bag’s visual charms, I declared the overall functional design as impractical for my needs: Too big and bulky to be suitable for street shooting. Why not really use the thang? I didn’t want to make reselling it harder for the original seller.

Perhaps you own one of these ONAs. What’s your experience?