by Corey | Jan 13, 2022
If you were paying attention to your Facebook or Instagram ads during the first few months of 2021, you may have noticed a crowdfunding ad for a bag called the Top Shelf, from a Canadian start-up called BevisGear. The bag is touted as being, “the world’s fastest, open-layout camera bag system,” according to their website. It offers a unique push-button latch that is a large part of this claim.
Well, I just so happen to have one of these bags in my possession, and we’re going to be taking a look at it to see if it truly is a revolutionary design that lives up to its $349 price tag or just another gimmick.
Let’s start with the standard specs: format, weight, dimensions… all the boring stuff.
The Top Shelf is a convertible, 2-in-1 sling bag/backpack. Like other 2-in-1 bags, it has a way of hiding or storing one of the straps when it’s used as a sling bag. In the case of this bag, the strap can be folded over to the reverse side and clipped. We’ll look at this in a bit more detail later.
In terms of size, the bag has exterior dimensions of 19″ x 12″ x 7″ and weighs in at around 4.4lbs. Inside, you’re looking at 18″ x 11″ x 5″ with a listed carrying capacity of up to 22L.
It has 2 storage compartments along the front of the bag, each about half the size of the bag surface. These are great for storing any small accessories, such as cards, batteries and filters. There’s also a compartment for a laptop or tablet. BevisGear claims this can hold up to a 15-inch laptop.
To help prevent gear getting squished and to make it more stable as a platform (more on this below), the bag has a metal frame on the inside. Overall, my first impressions of the construction of this bag are positive. It seems to be quite well-made and I think the stitching should hold up pretty well. I would have liked to see thicker padding on the straps, though.
To access the main compartment, there is a secondary access flap on one side of the bag similar to what we find on many other sling bags. The Main access is from the back of the bag, and this is where the unique design comes into play. The main access flap covers almost all of the back surface area, making for easy access. While it features a zipper to close it, just like every other bag, it also has a push-button mechanism that provides much faster access than a zipper.
This button is apparently the same locking mechanism used in race-car hoods, so it promises to be quite secure. I was initially skeptical about leaving the bag unzipped and trusting this single button-latch to keep all my gear from falling out, but in truth it appears to work well. The flap is actually quite rigid so there’s no way any equipment can squeak out the bottom, and when the bag is being worn the flap is pressed up against your back. This rear-access design also gives you a certain level of protection against thieves because they can’t easily access the bag while you’re walking around.
The Top Shelf name comes from how you access the bag while wearing it. When you slide it in front of you, the bag is actually laid out like a tray or shelf. Think of an old-time cigar girl in a casino. The idea here is to give you a stable platform to access your equipment and change lenses. I was, of course, skeptical about how stable this platform could really be. In practice, however, I was surprised. It does seem to hold pretty well even with the weight of equipment in it. It might even make a decent platform for shooting short video clips if you’re in a pinch. The idea is that you can quickly slide the bag in front of you, push the button to open it and get what you need, and then simply push the latch closed and slide it back behind you.
I found that having open bag functioning as a sort of makeshift platform gives a small degree of extra protection against accidentally dropping a lens or whatever accessory you’re reaching for. Actually sliding the bag in front or behind you can be easy or not, depending on what you’re wearing (such as a bulky winter coat, for example), but this is no different with any other sling bag.
For longer hikes where you won’t be accessing your gear for a while, the Top Shelf can be transformed into a conventional, 2-strap backpack to distribute the weight more evenly. The bag features a clip system on one of the straps that allows you to quickly release it and flip it around to the back of the bag when you want to use it as a backpack. Turning it back into a sling bag is just as easy: flip the strap around to the front and clip it.
Two things that are missing from the bag that is common on more traditional backpacks are the waist strap and the chest strap that are usually clipped up to give the wearer more support when carrying a heavier load.
The bag does feature a compartment on the front for storing a laptop or tablet. BevisGear says the bag can hold up to a 15″ laptop. I tried my 13.5″ Surface Book (that’s right, I said Surface Book, not MacBook) and while I was technically able to get in inside, it was very tight. I didn’t have much of a problem getting just the screen from the Surface Book inside, so most tablets should fit quite well.
It does have carrying straps for a tripod. They seem to be strong enough to hold most travel tripods, but they’re difficult to access. The top strap in particular hidden in a small, zipped-up pocket just under the handle. The problem with this is that the handle actually goes over the opening, requiring you to pass the tiny zipper under the handle to get the straps out. It’s a very tight fit, which makes this difficult. While easier to access, the bottom strap is stored in a space that’s just as tight.
The bag has plenty of padded, velcro dividers so it’s very easy to customize it to hold your equipment. With some creative rearranging, I was able to get a configuration that allowed me to store 2 full-frame bodies (1 mirrorless and one dslr), 2 flashes and 4 lenses. Alternatively, swap out a body to get a fifth lens in there (as pictured above). That’s a fair amount of kit to fit into a sling bag!
It was a bit tight, though. The bag is just deep enough to fit a full-frame dslr like a Canon 5D IV, and no deeper. This is one of those times where the height of your tripod quick-release plate actually matters. If you have a full-size body like a Canon 1D or anything with a battery grip, you’ll have to lie it down flat or it won’t fit.
The main flap, while quite innovative in its design, could be a bit larger. There is about a 2″ space between the edges of the flap and the corners of the bag, which leaves a lip that you have to slide gear under. This makes it a bit inconvenient to get at lenses that are stored in the corners of the bag.
The button latch protrudes into the storage space, taking up storage room that could have been used for a larger piece of equipment.
All things considered (especially that this is the first product ever from this company), I think the Top Shelf comes the closest I’ve been able to find to a bag that does what I need (and believe me, I’ve been looking). It allows me to fit all the equipment I would need to use over the course of an average day (albeit barely), feels like it could continue to do so for many years and gives convenient access. I particularly like the idea of the push-button release to get into the bag, which is more convenient that zippers (which it also has, if you want that extra level of security).
I do find that everything’s a bit tight, though. I can’t fit any camera body with a grip unless I lie it down, which takes up extra space. Storing a laptop requires a fair amount of effort, and it doesn’t appear to be able to accommodate a very large one. Accessing equipment would be more efficient if the lid were larger so I didn’t have to slide lenses under the lip at the edge of the bag.
All of these problems, however, could be solved by simply making the bag a bit deeper so that everything doesn’t have to be packed in so tightly. If BevisGear announce a larger version of this bag, I would love to take a look at it!
If you’d like to pick up a Top Shelf for yourself, you can order directly from BevisGear.