Backpacks for plein air painting
When it comes to backpacks for plein painting, Karen Glancy uses one that was originally made for swimmers

The Best Backpacks for Plein Air Painting> When you’re painting on location, it’s crucial to be organized and to have everything you need consolidated in a way that’s easy to transport as you explore the area to find your ideal place to set up.

Many artists use a backpack to carry everything from your paint brushes, palette, and everything in between. There are as many backpack brands and styles as there are colors in the western sunset, so what’s the best backpack for artists who paint en plein air? We asked, and you answered!

Keep reading to see what your peers are using these days, including a special video below from Eric Rhoads on how to pack an efficient and light backpack for painting outdoors.

Backpacks for plein air painting
At the 2022 Plein Air Live, Eric gave a Beginner’s Day mini-session on packing for plein air.

Eric uses a backpack that has a lot of padding in the back and many small sections (it’s a Timbuk2 that was originally made for a laptop). In addition to showing us what he packs, how, and why, he advised that if you can’t fit it all in your backpack, then you’ve got too much stuff.

More tips worth noting: One Plein Air Live attendee shared in the chat that her favorite backpack is the LL Bean because it has plenty of room and is made from flexible material.

“Get the biggest one you can find,” said Joseph McGurl. “Then cut off all the extra straps, pockets and bangles you don’t use.”

Painting outdoors on location
Alta Vista Botanical Garden in San Diego

“I love my eBags backpack (heavily researched!!), which I use with my EdgeProGear paintbook (the one that is like a 15” laptop), the Camille Przwodek paint carrier (that goes into the freezer), paper towels, roll-up brush holder, sketchbook, gamsol/medium in a dry bag, and personal items. I carry a plastic tube in an outside pocket to bring home dirty brushes, and I clip my tripod on the outside using straps on the backpack.

“It will also hold a couple of Masterpiece panel carriers (the type that are four wood bars that form a frame around two panels facing one another). I am not favoring these as they are hard to use, but when I use one or even two, I am totally hands free.” ~ Nancy Atherton West

Karen Glancy's backpack for painting outdoors
Karen Glancy’s backpack for painting outdoors

“The TYR is a swimmer’s backpack. It is lightweight and wider with large side pockets for water and a snack. It holds my obo [tripod] and mid-size Strada brushes, paints, brush holder, value glasses, mediums, a ground tarp and rags / paper towels, straps for umbrellas or ?” ~ Karen Glancy

Backpacks for plein air painting
Marz Doerflinger uses this backpack that was made for electricians

“My favorite is this Husky electricians backpack that I found on sale for $12. It’s a bit heavy but has a hard rubber tray bottom that protects it from moisture and keeps it upright, even when fully open. I’ve had it for years and it shows no sign of wear. Everything fits nicely inside: tripod, mid-size Pochade box, paints, apron. Brushes and palette knives slide into the front pocket. Both the large main compartment and front pocket fully unzip for easy access.” ~ Marz Doerflinger

Veronica Brown's plein air painting backpack
Veronica Brown’s Kelty Redwing 32L plein air painting backpack

“Love my Kelty Redwing 32L. It holds my tripod on the side, the flap unzips and opens all the way so I can load my 9 x 12 Open Box M or my EASyL Versa by just setting them in (no top loading). It holds everything I need and then some with all of the zippered pockets, etc.

“Also, if backpacking in, sometimes I switch to my Kelty 50L backpack. It holds everything plein air as well as things I need for a day or two out. I did a blog post on what all I include in my pack as well as why along with pics.” ~ Veronica Brown

Backpacks for artists
Note that Erin Fearns straps her plein air backpack in with a seatbelt!

“I use a hiking backpacker bag from Osprey. Much more durable than a school pack, it has an internal frame that prevents it from falling over and dumping my supplies, has lots of storage, is rain-resistant, and has better fitting shoulder straps and moisture wicking. A 9 x 12-inch pochade box and all my supplies fit perfectly with great side pockets to secure a tripod or camping stool.” ~ Erin Fearns

Backpacks for artists
Regina Tune’s backpack helped pay for a worthy cause.

“I use this backpack from the Aruna Project. It is meant for yoga but the front straps hold my tripod and it is easy to get items in and out – my Cup easel fits easily into the bag. It is well made and comfortable, it has a flat bottom so it stands up, and the Aruna Project has a good rating as a charity organization for women who suffer sexual abuse.” ~ Regina Tune

backbacks for plein air painters - Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald c
Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald’s backpack, inside and out

“I don’t do a brand name backpack but rather I look for a type of backpack. I use a military bug out bag. Mine is at least 10 years old now and although faded from the sun, it’s served me very well. I paint at least once per week year round in southern Ontario Canada. These bags can be found in army surplus stores for a very reasonable price. Mine was under $60.” ~ Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald

backbacks for plein air painters - Michael Chesley Johnson
Artist and author Michael Chesley Johnson’s REI backpack (one of them!)

“I have a (now ancient) REI Alpine backpack that has all the straps in the right places. Bought it 20 years ago, and it’s still in great shape. REI no longer makes this one. I was foresighted, though, and bought two at the time!” ~ Michael Chesley Johnson

Backpacks for plein air painting
Susan Kuznitsky has her backpack planning down to a science

During Plein Air Live this year, Susan Kuznitsky shared a detailed presentation on how to pack with pastels for painting en plein air (Susan then gave us a pastel painting demonstration of a quaint window flower box scene). She said she uses a High Sierra rolling backpack that “is pretty beat up, but I’ve had it for a very long time.”

What’s your favorite backpack for painting en plein air? Share it with us in the comments below!

Bonus! Watch Eric’s Facebook Live video on how to pack a light plein air backpack:


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