Black Ember WPRT Review

ATHOL HILL BLACK EMBERT WPRT

There are so many new camera bags these days that sometimes it’s hard to differentiate one from another. As a reviewer, I like to look for that something special that makes a bag stand out.

To say the Black Ember WPRT “stands out” would be an understatement. It’s a heavy-duty waterproof bag that looks like it might hold the secret to surviving the next apocalypse.

But waterproofing isn’t the only thing that makes it unique. It’s also one of the first genuinely modular camera backpacks I’ve seen.

shk-fs-table__imageHighly Recommended Function meets form with easy side access and an ultra-slick minimalist look. Get Price

Some bags claim to be modular just by changing a divider or an insert, but the WPRT reminds me of that famous Crocodile Dundee knife scene: “That’s not modular… THIS is modular.”

The version I’m reviewing today is called the Black Ember WPRT DSLR Kit, which is the WPRT pack along with a camera insert and some straps for carrying a tripod.

Who is it for? Ultimately, anyone likely to be taking their expensive camera gear closer to water than they would like.

You could be standing on a boat in rough seas, trekking through meter-deep snow, or riding through a jungle on a motorcycle in a torrential downpour. It’s just that durable.

In fact, after having this bag for a couple of months, I think they should give it out as standard issue to Red Bull photographers.

Let’s take a closer look.

Black Ember WPRT DSLR Kit Specs

 
  • IPX6 Waterproof Rating: 1,200-PSI water intrusion tested
  • Back Panel: EVA foam
  • 3D Shoulder Straps: Ergonomically shaped and crafted from 2 layers of foam
  • Mods: Magnetically connect to the WPRT modular
  • DSLR Pack: Compatible with both Minimal & Modular packs
  • Dimensionals: 20″ x 12.5″ x 6″ (510 x 320 x 152 mm)
  • Litres: 30

Critical materials & hardware:

  • 800-denier 3-layer micro-hex performance textile in deep black, specified to reduce reflectivity for a stealthy aesthetic
  • Laser-cut 1mm Hypalon
  • German magnetic fidlock v-buckle hardware
  • YKK aquaguard zippers

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Build & Appearance

The Black Ember WPRT is large but not excessive for an everyday bag.

The WPRT is large but not excessive for an everyday bag. This is how it looks on a 6-foot/183cm rider.

The Black Ember WPRT model is a roll-top backpack hence the WPRT or (W)ater (P)roof (R)oll (T)op. The camera bag is an insert you can carry around separately as a stand-alone camera bag.

If someone asked me to describe this bag, I’d say it looks like a SWAT team member accidentally left their backpack behind. It’s matt black with a military-style construction that looks and feels like it’s built to withstand anything.

I’ve seen bags with waterproof construction, but this is thick, hard and solid. It bends slowly. It feels like they manufactured it with attitude as one of the active ingredients.

It should come as no surprise its made of Hyperlon, which is the heavy-duty stuff they make military inflatable boats from. The construction itself is impeccable.

The camera module is accessible from the side zip. You could leave the internal zip open or keep it closed for added security.

The camera module is accessible from the side zip. You could leave the internal zip open or keep it closed for added security.

The quality of the fittings is all excellent – as you would expect of a bag in this price range.

The magnetic buckle system is also straightforward to use and of high quality.

I mentioned the Black Ember WPRT is truly modular, so let’s cover that. While most bags allow for inserts, the WPRT allows users to completely customise both the interior and exterior with modules.

The look and feel of the bag won’t appeal to everyone. It’s far more utilitarian and rugged than some of the “pretty hipster bags”, but it will also weather a lot better as a result.

In 10 years when that hipster bag is falling to pieces, this will still look solid and rugged, albeit with some mild scarring. Yes, it will be around for a long time.

Exterior Features

The straps on the side allow you to attach a tripod to the main backpack.

The straps on the side allow you to attach a tripod to the main backpack.

The Black Ember WPRT exterior will look different depending on what you order and what you attach to it. In its most basic form, it’s still fairly functional.

There are the basics you expect to find on any backpack, like the shoulder straps and handle. What’s interesting and unique is that all of these are removable. This includes the grab handles.

Normally I’d stop there and save the discussion about the shoulder straps for the comfort section, but the shoulder straps and back padding are fairly unique.

The most notable feature is that the back component is separate to the rest of the bag. Black Ember mention it’s designed this way to move independently.

You’ll find a hidden pocket in the back of the padding that will keep items like passports away from prying eyes. I would have loved it if this had a small zipper on it.

The sternum straps are removable on the The Black Ember WPRT.

It always makes me happy when the sternum straps are removable on a bag, and they are with the Black Ember WPRT.

While it’s better than not having it at all, there’s still a risk of something falling out if you’re holding the bag sideways.

Access to the interior is via the top (roll top) or side. The side access is quick and easy and also provides access to the camera cube.

There’s a laptop sleeve compartment – though this is not to be confused with the laptop module that you can purchase separately. I’ll discuss the laptop module more in the interior section.

On the front of the Black Ember WPRT, you’ll find a front pocket on one side suitable for phones and wallets. There’s also a myriad of attachments to extend storage by adding modules.

To understand the full level of capability, you have to look at the brand’s website. There are numerous large and small bags that you can attach, most of which can be carried as stand-alone bags.

magnetic buckle detail on The Black Ember WPRT

The magnetic buckle system is very effective and easy to use.

Interior Features

The laptop pouch is huge. This photo shows a 13" Macbook Pro... sideways. This would fit a 17" with relative ease.

The laptop pouch is huge. This photo shows a 13″ Macbook Pro… sideways. This would fit a 17″ with relative ease.

The Black Ember WPRT is different from most bags in that it comes as an empty shell with straps. It’s up to you to create your perfect bag using the supplied modules.

The internal modules could be something as simple as a camera module or a laptop module.

Most bags leave you with some internal fixtures but not this one: remove the inserts and there is nothing. This makes it easier to transition the bag between one type and another.

Conversely, it becomes harder to combine options as the internal sections may conflict. As an example, the DSLR kit is not compatible with the WPRT Insert. The WPRT Insert is a large insert that creates a more rigid frame for carrying a laptop.

This doesn’t mean you can’t carry both a laptop and a camera – there is a separate laptop sleeve which is more than large enough, but it isn’t padded.

The laptop sleeve will fit a 17″ laptop without any issues, which is unusual for bags these days. As there’s no padding, I’d recommend a padded sleeve if you use this.

The range of sizes for the modules allows for a lot of flexibility.

A small module attached to the WPRT. The range of sizes for the modules allows for a lot of flexibility.

The interior of the WPRT isn’t completely devoid of features. There are some pockets in the front compartment and a nice keyring attachment that uses the unique metal buckle.

The DSLR Bag is amazing. It’s one of the best internal modules I’ve seen to date for a camera.

Many companies market modules as dual-purpose bags that you can use outside, but generally the bag is a flimsy piece of ripstop with a strap. This insert looks like a real stand-alone bag.

The Black Ember WPRT fits a gripped full-frame camera with ease.

The Black Ember WPRT fits a gripped full-frame camera with ease.

It has similar construction quality to the main bag, and the padding on the interior looks like it can take some knocks. Access to your camera is through the side zip, although it only allows access to one side.

The size of the camera bag is large. I could fit the new Tamron 70-180mm or a Sigma ART 135mm in sideways.

The DSLR Pack includes two side pockets on either end along with tripod straps.

My only real complaint is that it would be great if the camera insert could be attached to the exterior of the bag. This would allow users to use the DSLR kit in combination with the internal module by attaching it to the exterior of the bag.

Storage Capacity

capacity of the Black Ember WPRT DSLR pack

Normally I’d do a flatpack for the entire bag, but 30L of space can fit a lot of different options so I thought I’d focus on the camera module and how much camera gear can fit in it. That’s a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a Sony 100-400mm.

The Black Ember WPRT has a high capacity at a little over 30L. That’s sizeable, putting it in the same size category as a Wandrd 31 and the Shimoda 30L, although it doesn’t have the same camera capacity.

The WPRT is a conventional bag offering a camera bag twist. You could argue that’s a positive or negative depending on your view and requirements.

If you want to carry six lenses out on a shoot, this isn’t the right bag. If you want to carry a body and a couple of lenses along with loads of other stuff, this works pretty well.

The camera module is the only internal module I've found that comes with straps to carry a tripod, making this an ideal travel setup.

The camera module is the only internal module I’ve found that comes with straps to carry a tripod, making this an ideal travel setup.

For daily carry, this is on the larger end of the spectrum. My ideal for daily is around 15-20L, but it depends a little on what your daily carry involves.

From the perspective of a motorcyclist who travels into work, I could comfortably fit my work shoes, wet weather gear and pants while I ride in motorcycle gear. From that perspective, it fits my daily carry perfectly.

The WPRT isn’t a dedicated motorcycle bag, but it gives you an idea on the level of flexibility with storage. With a roll-top, that means it has a smaller footprint when not loaded to capacity.

Ease of Use/Comfort

The padding is separate from the bag, which is unusual but works well. This also allows for a luggage pass-through.

The padding is separate from the bag, which is unusual but works well. This also allows for a luggage pass-through.

Black Ember did a great job on the padding with WPRT. The bag uses a memory foam style padding approach with the shoulder straps.

In conjunction with this, the ease of adjustability offered by the WPRT makes it easy to find a fit that suits you. The height is adjustable with a single velcro strap on either side.

I wasn’t quite sure how well the separate back compartment would work, but it’s one of the most comfortable backpacks I have tried. Whatever they’ve done works well.

Waterproof bags by nature are going to suffer a little on the ease of use. The roll-top with zip and stiffness of the side zips make access to the contents harder.

The Black Ember WPRT includes a zip with the rolltop ensuring the bag remains 100% water-sealed.

The Black Ember WPRT includes a zip with the rolltop ensuring the bag remains 100% water-sealed.

That’s the price you pay for extreme waterproofing. That said, I think Black Ember have done a lot to make the bag as usable as they can, given the constraints.

Sometimes features can seem over-engineered on bags, but in the case of the WPRT, it seems practically designed.

My only issues with usability and comfort are the attachment circle under the side grab handle. When you grab the handle, the circular piece often catches your hand.

Side grabbing is not a big issue, but if I used this handle regularly, I’d put some black tape over it to prevent this.

Value for Money

detail shot of the Black Ember WPRT roll-top camera backpack

In the front pocket, you’ll find a keyring attachment with the magnetic buckle that makes it easy to attach.

The Black Ember WPRT retails for around US$280 or just over US$350 if you get the DSLR kit (you can check the latest pricing here). While pricing may seem high, it’s very reasonable for a bag of this type and quality.

Simply put, bags like this aren’t cheap to produce.

To use a quote from Black Ember:

They are made-to-order as they can’t be mass-produced. Each textile is individually laser-cut v simply die-cut, then goes through an intense heat-bonding and/or ultrasonic welding procedure.

Finally, all trims and logos are individually laser-etched. Our laser-etched anodised hardware is a custom mould; then we use German hardware and premium Japanese zippers.

I know that sounds like a marketing pitch you see from bag manufacturers, but when it comes to a bag like this, it isn’t. The process to make a bag like this is more costly and time-consuming and what you’re getting for your dollar is excellent.

Products like this can’t be bulk produced at a low cost, so if you want this level of construction and quality, you’re paying a premium for it.

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Black Ember WPRT DSLR Kit Review | Conclusion

waterproof modular camera backpack

The front pockets include smaller pockets suitable for phones or wallets.

As someone who reviews a lot of bags, I like bags that stand out and try to be different rather than “just being another bag”.

There is nothing about the Black Ember WPRT that suggests it’s just trying to be another bag, and I’ll give Black Ember ten out of ten for that.

Their bags are incredibly unique, and that’s a good thing. It’s not going to be a bag for the masses, but some of the best bags we see generally aren’t.

At first, I felt the bag was reasonably basic from a functionality perspective, and perhaps it was the modular design and the bare interior that created the perception.

you can fit a good size prime lens in the camera pack of black ember wprt

The width of the camera module is large enough to fit a good size prime like the Sigma ART 135mm f/1.8. You could fit two smaller primes with an additional insert.

In reality, the bag has a lot of features built in, and the modules only extend on this. The more you examine the WPRT, the more you notice the finer details.

It says a lot about the designers of this bag. Creating a bag that feels like a bare shell, but in reality is fully functional, is not an easy feat.

It means they’ve managed to hide away a lot of the features, which is incredibly challenging to do successfully.

The only real downside is that it’s probably a little large for an everyday bag, but that will come down to individual requirements.

If you’re looking for a waterproof bag, this has to be at the top of the list. In looking at competitors, there simply aren’t many that can match up to the Black Ember WPRT.

Likes

  • Truly modular
  • Best waterproof camera bag around
  • The stand-alone camera module works as a real bag

Dislikes

  • No zips on hidden pockets
  • Would be great if the roll-top strap was longer
  • Camera module can’t attach to the exterior
shk-fs-table__imageHighly Recommended Function meets form with easy side access and an ultra-slick minimalist look. Get Price

Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.

Athol Hill is a sports and portrait photographer based in Melbourne, Australia

Features9
Looks9
Build Quality10
Usefulness8
Price/Value9