That’s it. You have broken free of your ties, and you are going to travel for some time on the road trip you have been planning for a while. What photo gear would you take with you? I found myself in this situation when I decided to go on a road trip to South America for several months, which I knew would also be the opportunity to complete some photo assignments in this geography for clients such as L’Oréal/Pur Projet on reforestation projects. I also knew I would have to shoot several photo stories for my Climate Heroes project, which would be published in Géo Magazine France. I therefore needed to bring all the necessary equipment to fulfill the visual aesthetics of the project (flash-lit portrait, reportage images, video interviews and short movies).
Planning the photo gear
It certainly was difficult to choose what gear to take. I love working with flash for my environmental and location portraiture work, but my usual go-to flash pack, the battery-powered Profoto Acute B2, is quite big and weighs about 5kg. I usually pack it in the Lowepro Vertex 300, which makes it reach about 15kg once fully loaded with cameras and lenses. Not something you want to take lightly (litterally!) when you are going to trek for two weeks in Patagonia, and then carry that bag over 4 to 6 months!
A lighter option
This time I wanted to travel lighter with my smaller photo bag: the Lowepro Flipside 400. It opens at the back between the shoulder straps for added safety (no pickpocketting for your photo gear) and is great for traveling without bringing too much attention. I really didn’t feel like carrying two large bags, because I would also be hauling a large backpack with all the hiking and clothing equipment, checked in the plane (and containing a softbox, speedring and tripod that couldn’t be placed in my cabin bag). I really love the Flipside bag and have been using it since my first travels in Indonesia where I photographed the Mentawai, resulting in some sweet portraits, and the first Climate Heroes story in Sumatra:
I did try to fit the newer Profoto B1 in that bag — because the newer B1 only weights 3kg and has a battery included on the monobloc, which makes it super compact and appealing to me. It definitely is on my list for the future, but sady it was still too big to leave enough room for the rest of my camera gear, and it is still quite pricey. I therefore found a speedring made by Profoto in order to use two SB900 speedlights in a smaller 40x60cm softbox, and am very happy with the results. Even though you don’t get nearly as much power as with the Profoto, this setup is also much smaller and lighter! This is the kind of setup I had first used in Indonesia for the Mentawai, and I knew I could make it work this way.
So what’s the final list of gear that I put in my photo bag?
- Nikon D800 and a range of lenses: 24-70mm 2.8, 70-200mm 2.8, 50mm 1.8
- Lots of memory cards, 4 batteries, battery charger, card reader, wires, sensor pen in case of emergency for cleaning dust on the sensor if anything gets in while I’m changing lenses. Lens cloth.
- 2 SB900 speedlights + 8 rechargeable batteries (this is way more ecological! And they have a higher Amp output, which makes them faster to recycle when shooting, something I found out while I was investigating rechargeable batteries vs. disposable ones – and those batteries can be used in the Steripen — see below
- Battery charger (Lacrosse technology) that allows me to control the current intensity during the charge, as well as refresh the batteries after they have been used for some time, in order to preserve battery life
- 10” laptop – for backup of the files, and minimal retouching (it is too slow to handle the D800’s RAW files, but I can work on small JPEGs with it, enough for blogging) NB: after 4 Months, this laptop has become so slow that I am planning to replace it with a used MacBook Air 11” as soon as I find one. Why used? Because as I throw my bag around quite a bit on the floor when I’m shooting and as the laptop pocket is on the front, I don’t want to buy a new computer to see it dented or trashed. A used one will work very well.
- Go Pro+LCD back+cable (used with the iPhone plug)
- Lavalier microphone (Audiotechnica) with 5m cable for interviews. A real bargain to travel light considering it only costs 30€!
- Zoom H4n audio recorder for filming and interviews, ambient sounds etc.
- Neutral density filters from 3 to10 stops that I use for flash portraits, and for filming in bright light with a wide aperture
- 2 hard drives for backup, with cables (one is common with card reader): I use Lacie 1To Rugged orange hard drives as they are super durable
- 3 radio transmitters for flashes : 2 for flashes, 1 for the camera (I had packed the fourth one seen on the picture above to remotely trigger the camera, but removed it to save weight)
- iPhone, charger
- Universal plug adapter
- Passport, pen, moleskine notebook
When you think about it, it is quite amazing the amount of gear that fits in this bag!
The rest of the gear
In terms of clothing and all the rest of my gear, I also knew I was going to travel from Patagonia to Mexico, Ecuador, and probably the US, so I had to be ready for many different types of climates. And while warm climates of tropical countries don’t require much in terms of clothes or protection beyond a hat or sunblock, the hiking trip in Patagonia (or the rains that I could expect in Ecuador) called for an all-season set of clothes. This made the backpack quite heavy, but at least, all the bases were covered!
So what’s in the larger backpack?
- Lower bag compartment:
- Footwear: GoreTex leather hiking shoes for Patagonia, Havaianasfor beach time and sunny days
- Thermo Reactor Extreme liner (Sea to Summit, adding up to 9°C to your sleeping bag)
- Sleeping bag (as lightweight as possible, only rated for 15°C)
- Main compartment:
- 4x merino T-shirts, 1x pair of hiking pants (convertible into shorts with detachable legs), 1x pair of shorts, 1x bathing shorts, 1x warm under-layer (Patagonia capilene with hood), 3x merino boxer underwear, 5x merino socks (this is a hiking trip!), 1x shirt and 1x pair of jeans (for when I am in town and need to dress a bit better)
- 1x Patagonia Gore Tex rain jacket
- 1x Patagonia Ultralight down jacket
- 1x fleece : I knew I would probably be underdressed at the beginning of the trip in Patagonia, and that I would later be able to donate that fleece in order to travel lighter on the remainder of my trip
- Gloves, beanie (lost in Patagonia on the first days, advantageously replaced by the hood of the Patagonia underlayer though!)
- Cheich: very versatile and useful to be used as a scarf in the plane or in the buses that get crazy on Air Conditionning, or as a beach towel, hat for the sun, etc.
- Gitzo Tripod (to save weight, I use it both as a tripod and as a light stand to hold my flashes with the speedring), 40×60 softbox, speedring, fluid video head (for video corporate commissions such as the one I did in Brazil)
- Whatever space is left is filled with the following:
- First aid kit
- Water bottle
- Watter bladder Source for trekking
- Shaving/toiletry kit (with a Dr Bronner soap, used for body, hair, teeth if you run out of toothpaste, and even wahsing your clothes)
- Steripen for water purification (I will dedicate a full article to water purification methods, stay tuned for more on this)
Overall, this is a 19kg backpack, quite a bit heavier than Ryan from LeSacados, who manages to keep it to 8kg! I wish photo gear was not that bulky or heavy!
And during travel, I’m wearing a pair of low-rise hiking shoes (Salomon), a Stashbelt (a leather belt handmade in Kenya, by a friend of mine, with sustainable wages above average paid to the workers, and featuring a hidden zipped pocket to carry a copy of your passport and some money, and a 4Gb USB drive to have an electronic copy of your documents and files on you at all times), plus a pair of shorts/trousers and merino Tshirt, my cheich and Capilene hoody for the cold nights on the plane.
In a follow-up article I will talk more about clothing and make a comparison of several brands I tested on this trip, from head to toes. So stay tuned for more soon!
How about you? How do you pack your gear and what do you take with you when you go on such long travels?