A pack for outdoor climber photographers

Duration: 6 weeks (WIN 2019)

In collaboration with Jack Johnston, Taylor Woo, & Thipok Cholsaipant

DESIGN 317: Intermediate (Soft Goods) Industrial Design Studio 


UX Researcher, Industrial Designer, Model Maker


Outdoor Climbing Photography

As camera designs became more compact and portable over the past centuries, outdoor photography became increasingly popular and accessible to climbers, with portable cameras and phones.

Whether these outdoor activities involve a casual hike or scaling mountain cliffs for that perfect shot, having the right camera pack can make or break one's outdoor experience.


Unable to separate camera and climbing gear with one pack

Lack of accessibility to camera gear

Poor range of motion

Issues with Current Climbing Photography Packs

How might we design a pack that allows outdoor climber photographers to efficiently pack and access their gear so that they are always ready for the perfect photo?


Outdoor photographers capture some of the greatest nature shots with the help of their climbing and photography gear. Often times, this gear is difficult to carry and access due to its weight or fragility. Ascent allows outdoor climber photographers to efficiently pack and access their gear so that they are always ready for the perfect photo.


Expert Interview


Photography Major at CU

Outdoor Climber Photographer

"There are better packs available than what I currently have for sure but none of the packs are very specific to someone like myself, who will be carrying cameras and all the different gear."

Usual Activity

Walking for half an hour uphill with about 40 pounds of equipment until she starts climbing (bouldering, crag climbing)

Climbing Gear

Mammut ropes pack without a backboard, helmet, shoes, and harness are strapped on with carabiners

Camera Pack

Separate from rope bag, but everything is connected with carabiner

Current System

Hates having to take the camera out and putting it back in


Samantha, Outdoor Climber Photographer

Core Needs:

  • Comfort and support

  • A pack that can adapt to a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, river crossing, and climbing

  • To always be ready to capture the perfect shot

“It's tiring, but I love it. I'll lug my gear around everywhere just to capture how awesome it is out here!”

Problem Framing

Unable to separate camera and climbing gear with one pack

Camera equipment is fragile and should be protected from other equipment as well as the rugged environment

Lack of accessibility to camera gear

It is difficult to access gear without completely removing one's pack, which can sometimes be impossible while climbing

Hiking, climbing, and taking photos with a 40+ pound pack that does not provide a wide range of motion gets uncomfortable and tiring

Poor range of motion

Design Insights


Protects fragile camera equipment from other gear and the rugged environment


Carry a variety of equipment while being able to temporarily shed some pack weight when needed


Efficiently access gear without needing to remove the pack


Accommodates a range of physical activities, such as hiking, river crossing, climbing, etc. 

Design Principles

How might we design a pack that allows outdoor climber photographers to efficiently pack and access their gear so that they are always ready for the perfect photo?

Ideation & Prototyping

Early Ideation

Early pack sketches explored features that helped to maximize comfort and mobility during outdoor activities. We also explored camera pack designs that were protected, easily accessible, and modular.

Early Prototypes

Low fidelity prototypes allowed us to test different methods of distributing weight, focusing primarily on building lower back and hip supports. We also tested different designs that would maximize the range of mobility while shaping to the small of the back.

Second Iteration of Sketches

Feedback from early ideation sketches and low fidelity prototypes helped us narrow down how we wanted our camera bag to be incorporated into the overall pack. In addition, a follow up interview with our expert, Ellie, made us reconsider how ropes will be packed since that feature was not yet explored thoroughly in earlier designs.

Second Iteration Prototypes

Higher fidelity prototypes allowed us to actually attach weight (about 20lbs of paper for testing purposes) to test load bearing abilities. All prototypes were quite successful in distributing the weight with the help of the thick waist band. Our pack volume study helped us visualize the proportions of the overall product.


Based on our load bearing tests with our physical prototypes, we made some adjustments to how ropes will be carried with our pack after feedback from Ellie, who warned us about possible snagging of ropes in dense forests, as well as the need to keep the ropes as close to the body as possible to maximize comfort.

Design Solution
Product Features

Packing Ropes

Secure a variety of rope sizes using the side pockets by packing and cinching, keeping the bulk of the weight close to your body for better load bearing.

Carabiner Daisy Chains

Many locations to carabiner on equipment outside the pack to keep it separate from camera gear.

Removing the Top Container

To shed some unneeded weight before the climb, detach the top container by unbuckling the shoulder buckles and weaving the container straps out of the frame.

Swiveling Camera Bag

Easily access the camera gear by sliding it around the waist belt, without the need to remove the pack harness.  To better protect camera gear, the bottom container is specially designed for storing and protecting delicate cameras and lenses.

Reattaching the Top Container

Once finished with the climb, reinstall the top container by weaving the container straps through the frame. Secure using the shoulder buckles.

Product Details

Cosmetic Model

Pack Frame Sheet

Tech Pack & Materials

Reflection & Takeaways

The ups

This project was one of my favorites from my undergraduate years because I love working with soft goods and pattern-making! Overall, I think our pack was quite successful in including the complex, moving features that our expert, Ellie, desired.

The downs

Before this class, I had prior experience with sewing due to my background in cosplay/costume-making but the difference in products and materials posed a new challenge. I learned that sewing through layers of thick backpack material is rough so my needlework was not as clean as I would have wanted but I am grateful I got to learn how to use an industrial sewing machine!

Moving Forward

With more time, I would love the chance to refine the camera belt sliding mechanism to make it slide smoother on the belt and to reduce the chance of it slipping off the belt as that was an issue our cosmetic model often ran into during our demonstrations.

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©2019 by Jay Ma