I see your point perfectly. Ive traveled with camera gear myself, and it just doesnt do to have a camera bag that screams Expensive Camera Gear Right Here!" I happen to like shoulder bags such as the Billingham Hadley Pro ($225; rtsphoto.com), which is an exceedingly handsome and functional piece, but one that also looks like an ordinary shoulder satchel.
You need a backpack, though, not a shoulder bag. I think that your objectives of security and all-around usability also take out of the equation bags such as those from Lowepro. That company makes excellent camera bags and backpacks, but they tend to be a little too camera-centric for general use. And theyre also easily IDd as chock full of goodies. You might look at Crumplers new line of camera backpacks, such as The Keystone ($200; crumplerbags.com). Im not sure theyd have the capacity for the rest of your hiking gear, but Crumpler has successfully designed a camera backpack that doesnt look like it has thousands of dollars of camera equipment neatly organized (and protected) inside.
Along with all that, I infer that you probably are carrying two SLR (single-lens reflex) camera bodies, maybe four lenses, and the gear that goes along with that. I think a traditional internal-frame backpack in the 3,000- to 4,000-cubic-inch range (50 to 65 liters) will work best. Access through a panel-loading design or ample size zips also would be desirable, so youre not rummaging around through a top lid alone. Candidates include:
Granite Gear Meridian Vapor: This nicely designed pack has just over 3,000 cubic inches of capacity, a suspension that can handle loads up to 30 pounds, and a design that combines top access with large front zips so you can get into most of the pack easily. It also has lots of places for lashing awkward items (tripod, perhaps?). And it has big side pockets for water bottles. ($195; granitegear.com)
Osprey Aura 65: Although primarily a top-loader, the Aura 65 also has a side-access zipper to make it fairly easy to get at gear throughout the pack. Plus, its a superbly designed female-specific pack, sized and shaped for a female physique. Youll also find the Aura has a fantastic suspension, so it can handle big loads (40 pounds). And its generously sized, with 4,000 cubic inches of room. ($240; ospreypacks.com)
Gregory Deva 60: Another female-specific pack, the Deva 60 has about the same capacity as the Aura, plus more extensive front and bottom zippers for good access. It can comfortably handle loads of up to 45 pounds and has provision for an internal hydration bladder. ($249; gregorypacks.com)
An excellent aid to organizing and protecting camera gear would be a selection of Outdoor Researchs Padded Cells ($18$24; outdoorresearch.com), handy cushioned and zippered units that can separate and protect all sorts of stuff, from filters to flashes.
The Gear Guy reports from 2007 Winter Outdoor Retailer, the bi-annual gearapalooza in Salt Lake City. Check out his top picks for gear to watch in 2007.