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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

How it all Went, Part One (Backpacking)

In which photography gear carrying options were hacked with varying levels of success and failure.

There is a huge volume of products designed for various ways to carry and use photography equipment, but most seem to be designed with the idea that they will be used when photography is the primary activity, and the bag used, will be the primary bag. Of course, as a photographer, it can be argued that photography is ALWAYS my primary activity.  But when the other activities occurring require non-photography-centric gear or activities, the methods of carrying photography gear are not always flexible in ways that are needed. 

After any adventure I like to reflect on the gear brought along and how well suited it was to the particular activity. Then compile a wish list of what would be desirable for the next such adventure.

Sign marker along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path,  Pembrokeshire, Wales, U.K.
The adventure undertaken was a backpacking trip along the Pembrokeshire Coast path (partial) in Wales with a side jaunt inland to Brecon.  Travel consisted of planes, trains, buses, walking/hiking (with and without fully loaded backpack) and bicycling (one-day bicycle hire).

Photography gear brought on the trip was a full-frame body with two lenses, a couple filters, and a compact tripod.  The challenge was to find a way to carry the photography gear while carrying the full pack, keeping the camera and extra lens accessible for use while walking or cycling, and dry in the variable Welsh weather.

Backpack and daypack (REI), small bags for camera+lens (Tamrac)
and lens (Think Tank) plus toggle bungee cords
For the airline travel, large backpack needed to be checked, while camera gear not checked.  A dedicated camera bag would take up too much room in the backpack.  The trip was 10 days in length so space was at a premium in the main part of the backpack. I needed to be able to carry everything on my person at one time, yet still divide up into carry on/checked luggage for the flight.  

The solution became two small camera bags with belt loops, one for camera plus lens, (and older Tamrac something, 5510 the tag says) the other for the additional lens (a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10-repurposed as a lens case).  These were carried on the plane in a packable day pack (stuffs into its own pouch when not in use). The small camera bags fit into the daypack for carry-on bag. When carrying the large pack, the two small camera bags could attach to the pack’s hip belt through the belt loops their backs. This solved the problem of carryon bag, plus having a general purpose day pack for exploring without the full backpack. 

So far so good.  

All seemed well when testing pre-trip.  The reality, not so much.  It might have worked out on a larger person, but for me (smallish female), I did not have enough of the webbing available past the padded portion of the belt to get the bags to the sides.  Instead, they rode more in front, right over the front hip area, adding weight to the lifting of legs while climbing hills (and on the Pembrokeshire coast path you climb a LOT of hills). 

It was very very wet with much sopping overgrown vegetation
The camera bags needed to move more to the side.  But unfortunately, the belt loops were not large enough to accommodate the padded portion of the hip belt.  The solution to this problem was to attach the bags further back using the bags’ belt loops and a couple elastic toggle cords.  It was an imperfect solution contrived on trail and caused the bags to ride sideways due to the vertical orientation of the belt loops.  On a normal day it would not have been a problem, but on a day of spitting rain and narrow, overgrown trail, the vegetation brushing against a sideways (yet rain cover covered) bag compromised the weather protection, allowing moisture to get between myself and the back of the bag.  Thank you weather sealed lenses and camera.
While each bag has a top handle which would have allowed the bag to ride in the correct orientation, this was not a good option as the handle slack would cause the bag to more or less dangle and jostle around.  With the weather and trail conditions, the aim was to keep the bag as close and as motionless as possible. 

Thus, the first item(s) on my camera gear-carry wishlist is a way to solve this problem. Small, padded camera and lens bags with horizontal belt loops on the back would have allowed the bags to stay vertical and the rain covers functioning as intended.  Belt loops are not always used for belts.  

Ideally it would be nice to see camera-carry gear designed with greater versatility, considering ways in which it might be used in conjunction with other, non-camera-carry gear.  Such as a backpack (not the camera kind).  Bags are constantly improving.  Let's hope that improvements in versatility continue as well.

Pembrokeshire National Park and Coast Path, Pembrokeshire, Wales, U.K.
Coming up, Part Two: Bicycling! In which it has been discovered that the solution I have been looking for might be found, but not in time for my trip. 

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