My Pack: South America
Update: I did not go with the original setup described before my trip to South America. I became frustrated during my final packing and made some changes late in the evening on the night before I left. What follows is the amended version.
One of the biggest things a traveller worries about is their pack. A common question on the travel forums is “Which pack should I buy?” and with good reason. Sometimes it seems that there are so many options to choose from and no easy way to decide what is best for you. It helps to see what others are using, so keep reading to see what I’m currently packing when I hit the road for more than a couple of weeks.
The pack itself is a 45L F-Stop Tilopa. Designed as a camera pack with adventure sports photographers in mind, it translates very well to a travel pack
once the large ICU is swapped out for a smaller one. Camera gear stays safe, leaving plenty room for the rest of my travel gear. Some may get nervous at the thought of having roughly 25L of space left once the camera gear is dealt with, but with a bit of planning, everything you need for a month away will fit just fine. After a few longer trips now, I’ve learned what I can and can not get away with in various climates. The small ICU is an odd enough size compared to the bag, that it just isn’t an efficient use of space, and makes it very difficult to pack clothes and other necessities inside the bag. Without the ICU, I could easily afford to just toss my warmer and bulkier clothing in and out of this pack without having to carefully arrange every last bit. My strobe and GorillaPod spent most of their time in this main pack.
Along with the Tilopa, I will be using an F-Stop Mala. A more traditional top-loading camera bag, this allows me quick access to all my gear when I need it. With a bit of extra high-density foam along the bottom of the main compartment, I was able to store my chargers and cables while still allowing the D300 and 18-300mm to sit flush with the top of the bag. A pair of light gloves, a guidebook, notebook, pens, random tickets and papers, and other junk can be stashed in the clear top pocket or larger front pocket.
Post Trip Update: What did I learn?
While I’m immensely happy with my other clothing and gear choices, I would not go with this bag setup again. Part of this has to do with my frustration at the Tilopa zipper and how the weatherproof zipper covers stretched and caused the top zipper to stick and become nearly impossibly to close without a struggle. It also didn’t help that the bag just wasn’t that comfortable when loaded. The back panel seemed to buckle in a way that I’ve never experienced before. The main benefit of the bag was its compact design and the large opening of the back panel.
The Tilopa worked quite well for what it should do, but I personally do not want to ever again carry a shoulder bag everywhere I go for 5 weeks. I was not staying in the most expensive and secure of guest houses at all times and–having had a pack stolen in the past–rarely felt safe leaving all my camera gear in the room. This meant hauling the heavy bag everywhere. The hip belt does a lot to reduce the strain on your shoulder, but at the end of the day, it’s just not the most comfortable option. It also becomes difficult to carry a water bottle and jacket without adding yet another pack to the setup.
What would I do next time?
My next plan is to find a camera specific backpack and a medium-small duffel bag. I want three things of my camera bag: quick access to camera, comfort when carrying all day long, and enough extra space to fit extra items. Every time I had to travel with both bags, I found myself carrying my clothing on my back and my camera on my shoulder. I’d rather have a light, rugged, easy to open duffel bag over my shoulder, and my camera on my back.
That’s it, that’s all! More images of the pack in action will be added to this post upon my return from Chile and Peru sometime in mid-August.