Best Backpack for Spotting Scopes | Vanguard VEO Active Birder

The birding backpack. A relatively recent addition to the ever-growing list of accessories available to the keen birder. Or even the occasional birder, for that matter, as we all end up having to carry stuff. There are a few backpacks out there which are aimed specifically at the birding market and I can confirm that I am now the proud owner of one such product: the impressively-named Vanguard VEO Active Birder 56 Backpack, no less. Straight out of the box, so to speak, it looks like this: 

Vanguard VEO Active Birder 56 Birding Backpack

 And this:Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - Back

Available in Green or Grey

The Active Birder 56 is the latest addition to Vanguard’s VEO Active series and is available in two colours: grey and green. I chose the green version, partly because it tends to be something of a go-to colour for birding accessories but mainly because I really like green. 

That said, the grey does look very nice, too. 

Both bags have a yellow interior and yellow toggles on the exterior drawstrings. Overall, these are good-looking products with a very contemporary vibe compared to the traditional rucksacks of yesteryear.

A Dedicated Birding Backpack

I should state at this point that the Active Birder is the first dedicated birding backpack I’ve ever owned. At one time I never carried a bag of any sort in the field, preferring to sally forth with bins around my neck and scope and tripod carried over my shoulder in traditional military fashion. 

This approach definitely proved to be character-building (the entire length of the shingle bank out from Cley Coastguards to Blakeney Point and back in a brisk easterly, anyone?) but, over the last couple of years, I’ve started using a backpack whenever I have my spotting scope with me. 

Scope safely tucked away inside the bag and tripod strapped onto the outside is what works for me. What I like about this tactic is that it leaves both hands free for binocular use – a definite advantage whenever a bird flies past rapidly or shows fleetingly. As an added bonus, I no longer have the tripod wearing a groove into my collarbone over the course of a long day in the field…which is definitely a good thing!

Vanguard Active Birder

What makes the VEO Active Birder good for my Setup?

So, given that I already owned a backpack which pretty much did what I wanted, why did I feel the need to upgrade to the new Vanguard? Well, I’d been thinking about getting a better carrying solution for a while but matters came to a head when I purchased a new birding tripod kit. 

After considering various options, I decided on the Benro Tortoise 34CLV + S4PRO Video Kit. This is a fairly chunky setup (weighing in at 2.78kg) but I’ve been doing more and more digiscoping of late and really wanted something that would work well for general wildlife observation whilst providing enhanced stability when capturing video footage and/or stills.

Having purchased the tripod, I was quick to discover that (a) it was great but (b) I needed a better backpack to carry it around in. There are plenty of options with tripod attachment straps on the side but these tend to work best with travel tripods. 

VEO Active Birder with Benro Tortoise

Whilst the Tortoise is lighter than some setups and also folds down to a very manageable size, it certainly wouldn’t qualify as a travel tripod in anyone’s book and I realised pretty much straight away that a more robust and secure transport solution was required.

Just as I began researching the various options in earnest, along came Vanguard’s announcement heralding the release of the all-new Active Birder 56 models. I’ve been using one of Vanguard’s shoulder bags for work purposes for a few years now and also own their incredibly popular VEO PA-65 Universal Digiscoping Adapter for Smartphones so, following a good read of the spec. sheet and some in-depth perusal of the product images, I decided that this was the one for me.

The Top Specs

I never like to focus too much on the technical specifications as that tends to be the kind of info which is readily available online so I’ll just do a very quick rundown before moving on to my personal take on things.

Given the Active Birder 56’s intended purpose, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that the tough nylon 840D Cordura outer material is water-resistant…in fact, the manufacturer also specifies it as tear-resistant. The zips are waterproof and each bag comes with a rain cover which can be deployed quickly as an extra layer of protection whenever the weather takes a turn for the worse.

We have a reinforced aluminium frame which has been designed for spinal comfort and there’s also a waist cushion and shoulder cushions which, apart from providing some welcome padding, help to hold the bag slightly away from your back to provide a wide air-flow system. 

The shoulder straps and waist strap are really chunky and the latter can be removed if required. You might want to do this during transportation: remove the strap then wrap it around the bag in order to optimise boot space, for example. 

Whilst I remember, there’s also an emergency whistle built into the fastenings on the adjustable chest strap. I’m hoping that I’ll never have cause to use this particular feature but reassuring to know that it’s there if required.

Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - Adjustable chest strap

Internal Capacity 

In terms of internal storage, we have two compartments: 32-litre capacity in the main section, then on top of that (quite literally) there’s another compartment which provides an additional 15 litres. Making it a rugged 47-litre trekking backpack in total.

Inside the main compartment, there are sleeves to accommodate a 16” laptop and a 10” tablet, a zipped pocket for sundry items and the all-important tube for your spotting scope. 

My 62mm scope almost disappeared in there (which is no bad thing) but Vanguard has cleverly attached a strategically-placed loop so that larger, longer scopes can be held securely. Gone are the days of my spotting scope rolling around from one side of the backpack to the other! 

Here we have my bins, scope, waterproof jacket, OS map covering my local birding area and, last but not least, my 25-year-old (and much loved) fleece birding shirt all packed away. Not that the shirt was designed specifically for birding, you understand, but I don’t feel right birding without it. I’ve digressed slightly but my point is that, even with that lot in there, there’s still plenty of room for additional equipment/clothing/sandwiches etc.

 Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - Internal compartment

Perfect Accessory Storage

The 15-litre compartment sports a handy mesh pocket with a zip fastener and I quickly settled upon this as being ideal for my digiscoping adapter. Oh, and there’s a keyring holder in there, too.

Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - Internal accessories compartment

Delve deeper into the Active Birder and you find additional accessory pouches and pockets secreted therein – as we’d all pretty much expect these days – but there are some clever extras in the form of a USB port that you can connect to a device whilst in the field (but note that you’ll need to provide your own power bank) and a waterproof pocket which can accommodate a 2-litre hydration pouch. 

It took me a while to explore the various nooks and crannies and one of my final discoveries was a very subtle, cleverly hidden zip-up pouch which sits between the shoulder blades with the zip itself hidden away under a flap. Ideal for carrying a wallet or passport - very secure and very cunning!

THE Spotting Scope Backpack

Within its marketing package, Vanguard makes it clear that the VEO Active Birder has been aimed squarely at those of us who need to carry a spotting scope and tripod. This is in contrast to the many backpacks which are designed to carry camera equipment. 

The company produces a plethora of bags and backpacks for the latter purpose but it’s nice to have something that has been designed specifically for us birders!

For me, having a way of carrying my scope securely and safely was always going to be a major boon and that goal has definitely been achieved with the new backpack. I always found it slightly unsettling whenever I could feel the weight of my spotting scope shifting from one side of the bag to the other depending on the terrain and the built-in scope tube eliminates that potential issue in one fell swoop. For most birders, our scope is likely to be our single highest ticket piece of equipment and anything that helps keep it safe and secure during trips into the field has to be welcome.

VEO Active Birder

How does it fare in the Real World?

So that’s the technical bit pretty much done…but how does Vanguard’s latest edition fare in real-world use? Well, having used the bag fairly extensively now, here’s my take on things.

First off, I love the colour. I realise that this probably won’t be the most important feature for many but Vanguard’s subtle green really looks the part and pretty much has birding written all over it. 

The material itself looks and feels to be of a very high quality, the waterproof zips all run smoothly and everything looks to have been finished to a reassuringly high standard. Backpacks have come a long way over the last few years and this one very much epitomises that.

Everyday Features

Amongst the Active Birder’s many clever features, two of the more subtle ones quickly emerged as my favourites. On the left waist strap, there is a zip pouch which, upon closer examination, is folded up and held in place with Velcro. 

Once you undo the Velcro the pouch drops down to expand in size and is perfect for items such as a set of keys or a smartphone, for example. I went with the former option and it works a treat. 

Hopefully, this will spell an end to those ‘Where did I put my keys?’ moments to which I am somewhat prone. If only I’d had this backpack that one time I went to Anglesey and…second thoughts, probably a tale for another day.

The second feature concerns two other small, elasticated pouches, one on each of the shoulder straps. These also come folded back and held with Velcro but, once opened fully, are sized and positioned perfectly for holding a pair of reading glasses.

I’m forever losing my readers and don’t like wearing the things on my head but these pouches keep them close to hand and are a Godsend. At a push, you could probably fit a small notebook into one of them so potentially a very handy feature for many a keen birder.

VEO Active Birder backpack

Tripod Friendly

For me, the acid test was always going to be how the bag coped with my new Benro Tortoise kit. As mentioned above, Vanguard has cleverly provided two options for tripod transportation: the side pocket which is big enough and deep enough to carry a travel tripod; and a trio of straps which allow the user to carry a larger tripod kit attached to the rear of the bag. 

Here are a couple of photos to show how my setup looks. As I’m using the rear straps to secure the tripod I’m carrying a 0.75-litre drink bottle in the side pocket. The side pocket is a lot deeper than most so it could be used for a really big drink bottle if required – useful on a long day in the field or if you just tend to get really thirsty.


    • Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - Attach a tripod
    • Vanguard VEO Active Birder Backpack - close up to bag with tripod connected

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

I’ve been living with the Active Birder 56 for a few weeks now and, in one sense, Vanguard’s latest offering has been harder to review than it is to use. This is simply because there’s so much going on here that it’s easy to miss things. 

For example, it took me a fortnight to suss out that there was a wallet pouch hidden away between the shoulder straps and I own the bag! This really is the backpack version of the gift that keeps on giving.

I’m still finding my way around with regard to finding the optimum deployment for all my birding kit and, inevitably, what I’m likely to carry is going to change depending on the seasons but the great thing about the Active Birder is that it has the capacity and versatility to carry everything I’m ever likely to need. 

The build quality is truly impressive and I’m rapidly reaching that point where I think I’d find it slightly odd to venture into the field without my new acquisition. Vanguard is certainly onto a winner with this one. 

It’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the overall design and features and when that’s backed up by great build quality then what’s not to like?! To anyone looking for a carrying solution which has been designed specifically with birding in mind, I’d suggest that the VEO Active Birder 56 absolutely deserves to be on your shortlist.

I hope you’ve found this blog both informative and useful and, as always, Happy Birding!

Read next

Thank you!

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog, we really do hope they help you out and answer some of your questions. If you still have some unanswered, then please feel free to get in touch with our team of experts.

We have a LiveChat option on our website and we can, of course, be contacted via our email, we're also on the end of the phone too! Read more on how to contact us here >

Want to write for us?

If you've got experience with producing content on photo, video and/or optics products or techniques then we would love to hear from you. Contact our blog editor, Bea, with a sample of your work at


  • By Martin Drew
  • 4 Jul 2023

Category Menu