Most of you reading this won’t be a full time traveling wildlife photographer as I am. You probably have a place you call home and occasionally travel from there. Even though you travel often you have a base, a place you can keep things. I don’t have this. My bag is my home and everything I own has to fit in there. If you have a house and travel only occasionally, this article probably isn’t for you.
This has been my situation for the past two years. I’ve learned what I need and what I am likely to throw away after carrying it for a month. I’ve made some hard decisions on what stays and what goes and done more hours of research than I care to count on products that are great at their job and at fitting into a small suitcase.
Over the last two years I have found some great products and had some valuable insights that I hope you can learn from. Here is a list of items that I have in my suitcase that I believe every wildlife photographer who travels often should have in theirs.
Sea to Summit Clothesline
This little clothesline doesn't fit many clothes, but it packs down to half the size of my palm and can be hung quickly without any clips or extra things you have to carry. It has small beads on it that clamp your clothes to it.
Get it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2UEhdiV
Peak Design Everyday Backpack
I carry a backpack rather than a rolling suitcase because outside of America most airlines have weight limits on carry-on baggage (typically 7 Kg or ~15 lbs). My bag usually weighs at least double this. I always see people having to weigh and check the size of their rolling bags that they wish to carry on the flight. I have only had my backpack weighed once, and when I removed a couple items to “carry” them, I was allowed to go without paying an extra fee.
Get it on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2UDNSVH
The North Face Base Camp Duffel
I’ve had this duffel bag for about a year now and I love it. I fully intend to purchase the same one again (though a larger size as I now have more shit) when this one has had enough of a beating. So far it has been beaten quite thoroughly, but it keeps on surviving. It’s waterproof, can be a duffel or a backpack (I usually use it as a backpack) and it fits a ton of stuff.
Get it on Amazon: amzn.to/NF-Duffel
The North Face Dry Bag
I bought a 20L North Face dry bag backpack a few months ago and it has quickly become one of my favorite items in my bag. It stuffs into a built in pouch smaller than my hand, packs and unpacks quickly, holds my camera, a jacket, a large water bottle, and still has room for more, and it is lightweight and comfortable. Can't recommend it more if you find yourself going on a lot of day-hikes and don't want to bring along a bulky bag.
Get it from The North Face: bit.ly/NF-flyweight
Vibram Five Fingers V-Alpha
The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are one of my favorite summer items in my bag. They are extremely light, pack easily taking up very little space, and are great hiking shoes. You can even hike through the water in them with no issue and they will dry quickly. If they start to smell, just throw them in the washing machine and air-dry. I wore these when I did a five day hike through the rainforest in Sumatra and they were my favorite item of the trip.
Get it on Amazon: amzn.to/FF-VAlpha
Tape is something I always find myself needing. That's why I bought a roll of gaffers tape and rolled it around a few pens to make it smaller and more packable. I use this weekly so it is worth the little space it takes up. Gaffers tape is about as strong as duct tape, but lighter weight and more comfortable if you use it on a surface you need to grip, etc.
Get it on Amazon: amzn.to/Gaffers-Tape
Slim Waterproof Camera Cover
You never know when you will be out on a shoot and a downpour will begin. Especially in the rainforest. That's why I carry a very cheap, lightweight rain cover for my camera and lens.
I can’t find the thin, plastic, throw-away one that I have. I bought it at a camera shop in Christchurch, NZ. But here is a better one I will get next time: bit.ly/Camera-Cover
Pelican Case For SD Cards
You're a wildlife photographer so I can only hope you bring more than two SD cards with you when you go out in the field. Therefore you need something to carry these fragile little chips in. Spend the $34 and get this one rather than going the cheap route. This case is waterproof and crush-proof. It's also slim and lightweight.
Get it on Amazon: amzn.to/PelicanSD
Tripod And Ballhead
An excellent tripod and ballhead are necessary for great photography. Even though they are bulky and heavy, do not skimp on these items in order to save space and weight. My tripod takes up more space than almost anything else in my bag (besides my huge boots), and even though I hate packing it, I’m always glad I have it. I have an old tripod at the moment while I save up for a high-end Gitzo, and I have an RRS BH-55 (lever release and panning), which weighs quite a bit.
Get the RRS BH-55 here: bit.ly/RRS-BH-55
Get the Vanguard tripod I currently own (264AB) here: amzn.to/Vanguard264AB
Get the Gitzo I want (GT5543LSUS) here: amzn.to/GT5543LSUS