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David Clapp's travel photography bag Review

David Clapp shows us how to pack, what to pack and how to stay safe while travelling with our kit.

|  The joy of travel - bag choices in Accessories
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Shooting the mighty pyramid at Giza whilst roasting like a chicken in an oven, Canon EOS 5D MkII and a 17-40mm f/4L.
Whether you're staying closer to home this summer or reaching out to the far flung corners of the earth, this article is for you. As a UK based travel and landscape photographer I'm fortunate enough to fly at least eight to ten times a year as I go in search of compelling photographic subjects.
If you are thinking about taking your camera equipment abroad this holiday, then I have some important knowledge to pass on. As usual, sound knowledge is built on a range of good and bad travel experiences, equipment decisions and strokes of luck, so let me take the apprehension out of your travel experience and set you straight on the runway to photographic success.
To take or not to take....that is the question.
For most tourists, like my partner Rachel, camera equipment means a quality point and a shoot. A flash card or two in a pocket size case slung around her neck is her idea of camera gear. It's easy to put in a leg pocket and that's all she needs. A 4Gb card will hold literally all her experiences; some 1000+ pictures and few videos. Sadly for me, the picture is very different. I fill a 4Gb card in an afternoon. My 'ball and chain' as she calls it is often the cause of a number of issues before and when we travel, so here is the thought process I work through as I get nearer the flight -
1. Pre-Trip Organisation - I start making country related decisions about what equipment will be needed for the trip, devoid of weight restrictions. A mental list is made of what lenses, camera bodies, tripods and storage equipment I would like to take.
2. Hand Luggage - I identify what airline specific limits are imposed and how this will affect equipment choice. Weight restrictions and size restrictions then shape the equipment list further.
3. My Hold Luggage - what additional camera equipment should go in the hold luggage? What can I afford to lose should the worst happen?
4. Pooled Hand Luggage - what equipment could Rachel take if necessary?
5. Hotel Security - what will I take to keep my equipment safe at the hotel?
Hand Luggage Solutions -
Here is a worthy trio of hand luggage options that I can thoroughly recommend to the digital shooter. All fit the legal hand luggage restrictions sizes before you ask...
From the left - Pelican Case 1510, ThinkTank Airport Acceleration, Lowepro MiniTrekker

1. The Pelican 1510 - This is the heaviest of the three. This roller carry-on (it has wheels at the back) is dust proof, water proof and literally bullet proof. Its the toughest, safest legal hand luggage there is.
Empty Weight - 6 kilos (13.2lb)
2. Think Tank Airport Acceleration - This bag is the tardis of camera bags, it can hold a ridiculous amount of equipment inside, far more than the Pelican 1510 despite its smaller physical size.
Empty Weight - 1.5kg – 3.1kg
(3 lbs. 5oz - 7 lbs.)
3. Lowepro Mini Trekker - Can hold a surprising amount of equipment inside. My bag looks old, tired and usually rather dirty, very good for keeping low key (which is virtually impossible with a tripod)
Empty Weight - 1.4kg (3.6lb)

Which one(s) to take? Well I have realised over time that this depends on the amount of hold and hand luggage. The Mini Trekker is my main travel day bag, but which one I choose as my transit luggage depends on the type of trip. Let me strip it down by examining some destinations I have been to recently and how this affected the choice.
Airline Type of Trip
Restrictions Bags chosen
Southern Ireland Ryanair Walking/ Coastal 10Kg hand/ 15Kg hold Lowepro Mini Trekker
Istanbul Easyjet City Break Umlimited hand/ 20Kg hold Thinktank AA in transit, Lowepro Mini Trekker packed in hold.
Bali Various Travel/ many hostels Umlimited hand/ 20Kg hold Pelican 1510 for maximum equipment safety and Lowepro Mini Trekker packed in the hold.

Hand luggage essentials - don't leave home without it.

YOU MUST PACK the list below in your HAND LUGGAGE, not your hold luggage - You are only as strong as the weakest link. Lose something utterly vital such as your main camera charger or a tripod head by putting it into the hold luggage and your whole trip can turn into a nightmare upon arrival. Tripod legs can be sourced in most major cities, but a missing tripod head is going to cause the biggest headache ever. Always pack the following peripheral items in your hand luggage -
  • Main Camera Charger - also include a lead and a plug converter.
  • Tripod head + plates - make sure you pack a few spare plates. I use a L bracket system so this is not necessary.
  • Extra Batteries - one in the camera is not enough, keep the spare with you at all times.
  • Flash Cards - I have 48Gb of Lexar Cards, SD and Compact Flash (Canon 1Ds MkIII is dual socket) so if my operating system, hard drives or external storage fail I can keep shooting for at least a week without the need to download a single shot.
  • Polarisers/Filters - As I dont use graduated filters in favour of exposure blending my images, all I need is a few polarisers and a couple of step rings. Do not risk losing them.
  • Card Readers - can be replaced, but try sourcing an SDHC reader with ease, pack it don't lose it.
  • Hard Drive - A Freecom 320Gb USB drive is wallet size and ideal. I have two of these. I carry one with me all the time and another stays with Rachel, just in case my laptop is stolen from the hotel or God forbid I'm mugged for my camera bag. That way I am pretty well covered for every eventuality. It is also great for carrying films/documentaries to inspire you back at the hotel.
  • Passport, Driving License Copies - Did you know you can get home on an A4 copy of your passport? If you lose you passport, you stand a 99% chance of getting home without it as long as you have a paper copy. Rachel and I also have copies of each others passports/driving licenses so should the worst happen we can get home safe.
  • Equipment Receipt Copies - Ever been pulled by customs for a bag inspection? Neither have I yet. Keeping copies of equipment receipts will help to validate that your cameras and lenses were purchased in the UK, not in the country you're returning from. Keep them in your camera bag at all times.
SYSTEM 1 - No hand luggage weight restrictions (Easyjet's relaxed weight policy). ThinkTank Airport Acceleration v2.0 Hand Luggage.
Weight with laptop = 15.2kg
Weight without laptop = 13.2kg
UK Price = £180
One of the most complicated and harrowing decisions to make when travelling is what equipment you can afford to lose. I know that sounds somewhat negative, but imagine turning up at your dream destination only find out your hold luggage is now 8000 miles away in New York.
The best thing to do is take look at the kit I packed for an easy trip such asIstanbul, to highlight some important equipment choices I took with me on the plane.
  • Genius - The ThinkTank AA v2.0 is absolutely huge inside and is now the weapon of choice. There is simply no other bag I could take this much kit inside and still meet the hand luggage size requirements. It has been a revelation. This company simply wipes the floor with the competition and I cannot recommend this travel solution and their products enough.
  • Quality - Robust, light and with generous bag depth, it can store pro bodies and multiple lenses with ease.
  • Comfort - With quality straps and a removable waist harness, it is extremely comfortable.
  • Depth - Deeper than any camera bag I have seen. Optics like the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS can be stored upright, a total space saver.
Right, here's my kit for Istanbul:
A hefty pack but this is all essential kit as far as I am concerned.
Easyjet are the Eurpoean photographers airline of choice. With a sensible policy they allow hand luggage that can be lifted into the overhead luggage on their planes. How refreshing.

Bag Content
   Bag Content Description Why?
Contax 28mm f/2
Super quality wide angle prime.
  J Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII Battery Charger
Lose this and it's gamr over!
Contax 35-70mm f/3.4
My main medium telephoto, super sharp and compact.
  K Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII My beloved!
Olympus 35mm f/2.8 Shift
Architecture/travel imagery, for shift stitching panoramas.
  L Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
Just incredible for interiors.
Canon 24mm f/3.5L Shift
Architecture/travel, for interiors and making panoramas.   M Kirk BH1 Ballhead
Lose this and curse the day you did. Pack plates as well.
Extras, batteries, remote
Lose these and life will be difficult! Keep these with you at all times.

Zork MFS + 1.4xII Extender beneath
Tilt/macro lens with 1.4xII below.
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS
Incredibly sharp medium IS tele, useful for details too.
  P Canon 24-105mm f/4L
When I need IS and AF, but poor quality at the longer end.
580 EX II Flash For interiors and portraits, very useful when tripods are not allowed.
  Q Travel Pillow Very useful.
H Epson P2000 Storage
Non Windows based backup.
  R IRiver H20 MP.3 rec/player Exquisite electonica in the air. It also doubles up as emergency HD storage too.
I EOS 5D Backup body, less intrusive but rarely used.

Upper Panel and Free Laptop Bag -
Use the upper panels for all your paperwork and important documents. These tough plastic pouches have lots of space inside for extras. The other side of the front pockets are for carrying a laptop. You get a free laptop bag as standard with the Airport Acceleration, yes you did read that right. It takes up to a 15in laptop and there is space for the AC adapter too.
The only drawback with carrying a laptop in the outer pocket is that it will exceed the airport hand luggage dimensions by a little over an inch in height. I have never been asked to put the bag in a cradle when carrying a laptop, but it seems most airlines are after far bigger bag offenders and it will go very undetected.
A = Passport, flight docs, equipment receipts
B = 48Gb of Lexar Flash Cards
C = USB Cable for...
D = 320Gb Freecom (no charger needed)
E = Card readers, CF SD and SDHC
The Airport Acceleration comes with this superb laptop bag. It also has its own straps so it can be used as a totally separate bag if you wish.
Beautiful fit, it slots in with precision and without additional pressure on the computer.

What's the worst thing about backpacks on a plane? Straps. The seem to get everywhere. Smiling nervously at other passengers on a trip to Guernsey, trying to shoe-horn a larger oversize photo-rucksack into the overhead lockers is not something I want to repeat. I could barely pull it out when we landed. Thankfully I will never have to again.
Peel the velcro back panel support away and the straps slide out of the way- totally ingenious. It slots perfectly into the cradle and works brilliantly when placing the bag into the cabin lockers or underneath the seat in front.

At the hotel - Now it's a storage safe.
Having a large storage case like the ThinkTank Aiport Acceleration v2.0 or indeed the Pelican 1510 means you can not only leave lenses and other equipment somewhere safe, you can also leave money, passports and other important items without fear. Lockable zips are a standard feature unlike other camera bags, but even after clipping the zips together with a travel padlock how do you keep the bag in your room? The answer is a PacSafe 55L.

This ingenious piece of equipment is so utterly useful. It's a mesh bag with a large loop of steel wire. Drop the bag into the mesh and pull the loop tight. Wrap the extra around a bathroom fitting of your choice and lock tight with the padlock. The bag is now staying put. This system is a superb and lightweight method of ensuring your gear and valuables are safe.

It is not going to deter a thief from getting their hands inside the loops and opening unsecured pockets so be sensible. It's also not going to deter a thief with cutting gear or a serious knife from slashing the bag open - lets be realistic. That's what insurance is for.

If you need the best protection then I can thoroughly recommend the Pelican 1510. This case and the PacSafe are the perfect combination.
System 2 - 10Kg weight restrictions (Ryanair / Flybe policy), Lowepro Mini Trekker Hang Luggage/ Day Bag.

Weight with Laptop: 10.4Kg
Weight without Laptop: 8.8Kg
UK price = £79

This small bag is also capable of storing a large amount of kit and with adequate comfort. Its low key once all the extra straps and catches have been removed. After ten hours of city walking it can get uncomfortable, but it's probably time for a rest by then.
My laptop fits into the outside pocket along with the AC charger. Inside pockets have the all important passport, hard drive, flight documents, photocopies and card readers that cannot be left in the hold luggage.
This is also my daytime set-up that I carry throughout the trip.

 Bag Content Description Why?   Bag Content Description Why?
A Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS Incredibly sharp medium IS tele, useful for details too.   F  1.4xII For that little bit more.
B Contax 35-70 f/3.4 My main medium telephoto, super sharp and compact.   G  Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Just incredible for interiors.
C Canon 1Ds MkIII and Canon 24-105mm f/4L Good between 35 and 70mm but stays in the bag most of the time.   H  Canon 24mm f/3.5L Shift.  Architecture/ travel imagery, for interiors and making panoramas.
D Zork MFS Tilt/macro lens, very precious to me.   I  Extras, batteries and a remote. Back-up body, less intrusive but rarely used.
E Olympus 35mm f/2.8 Shift Architecture/ travel imagery, for interiors and making panoramas.        

Hold luggage essentials - Don't go overboard.
Standing on the luggage carousel waiting for your bags, it's interesting to see what other travellers use. From the over protective to the plain stupid, its often a sea of non descript luggage thats easy to confuse. Soft rucksacks are no use to the photographer, it's better to use a hard shell case than anything else. It is going to contain your tripod for a start as well as anything you can afford to lose so here are some pointers to consider.
1. Use a Quality Hard shell Case - It is important not to go overboard on protection as you will sacrifice weight in the process, but do purchase a quality case. Make sure your case is tough but does not exceed 6kg when empty. With all your clothing, wash bag and extra foot ware is inside, you will be surprised how little of that precious allowance is left.
2. Protect Your Tripod - When packing your hold luggage it is best to build your packing around anything breakable. As there is no scope for carrying a decent tripod in your hand luggage, the only answer is to wrap clothing and other soft items around it to ensure that if your case suffers from impact, you wont be turning a tripod into a monopod.
3. Make your Case Recognisable - You will be surprised the amount of similar looking budget cases there are these days. Mark your case with a sticker and make it easy to identify for you and other travellers. Buy a cheap combination case strap in bright colour to give you extra piece of mind that your luggage has not been tampered with.
ThinkTANK Cable Management - Sick of putting your cables and wires into plastic shopping bags? It's like unpacking a bag of snakes at the hotel. Cable Management to the rescue. This simple zip up bag is perfect for cleaning equipment, cables and other smaller items that we photographers need. The clear plastic side makes it very easy to see what you have packed, so you don't have to empty it all out to find a USB cable for instance.
It's well thought out working methods like this that keep ThinkTank far above conventional camera bags systems.

Closing thoughts - The best thing to remember is that travel is lots of fun. If you get the packing right, you'll enjoy a relaxing journey to the airport. Check-in will be smooth, the trip will be safe and your photography compelling. Bickering with your wife as you repack your underpants in front of an unsympathetic check-in staff and impatient travellers is embarrassing enough, but choosing which one of those precious optics you would like to lose at the airport, that's idiotic.
It's been nerve racking for me many times, these 'systems' have taken some serious consideration and I feel I am literally there. How did I manage to travel both hemispheres across three continents with a max 5kg hand luggage limit, now that's another story.

Vist David Clapp's website for more details.

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18 May 2009 8:28PM
This is so incredibly useful David and I thank you very much for sharing this.
In a few months, I and my beloved wife are going on our annual vacation and she has already convinced me into leaving my equipment behind, the thought of which is pretty sobering.
The issue I have, is having the facility to secure my equipment for the duration of our stay and without going out and purchasing your recommended 'Think Tank Airport Acceleration' I think I'm pretty stuck...
Something worth considering in purchasing I think.
Thanks again.

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