What’s in my Camera bag (2019 edition)
(November 1: for a few changes I’ve made since writing this, please see this post)
It’s time to update my post on what’s in my camera bag and what I carry with me when I head out in the field. There’s been a massive amount of change to my kit since I last documented it in 2017 — as in almost everything — but I think the changes have made me a better and more thoughtful photographer.
Since the last time I wrote about my gear, I have sold off the last of my Canon gear, I’ve upgraded to then Fuji X-T3, with my X-T2 going to my wife (replacing her X-T1), and I’ve added a Fuji X-T20 as a second body and as the camera I use for Behind the Scenes stuff, video and B-roll, and general “whatever my main camera body isn’t doing” work. I’ll also say that during the time when the brand-new Fuji X-T3 went off for repair after I dropped the thing, I used the X-T20 as my primary camera and I felt effectively no compromises in the work I did during that month. I’ve also put some effort into upgrading my lenses, as I’ll talk about shortly, and rethink how much stuff I carry and why I carry it — which I’ll also go into details about.
It’s not a bag
The first big change: I no longer keep my gear in a bag. I keep it on a shelf.
This may seem like a silly change but it’s helped me make some significant shifts in how I consider my photography and the gear I carry.
The obvious change is that it makes it easier for me to grab the camera and use it. I found when it was in the bag, where I’d have to haul it out and open the bag and grab things and.. and far to often, I’d look at the bag and not bother. So by making access to the gear easier and keeping it visible and close to hand, it’s a lot easier for me to grab and go and shoot at the spur of the moment. Stuffing everything in the bag was more about packing it somewhere to have an excuse to not bother pulling it out.
The other reason I did this, though, was more about changing a mindset. I was very tired of just grabbing the bag and heading out, carrying everything in case I wanted any bit of it. I felt that was being lazy about the photography and not really doing any planning ahead. By removing everything from the bag and putting it on the shelf, I started forcing myself to think about what gear I intended to use and what I was going to shoot, and so I started making choices before I left the house as to what my goals and intentions were. It was a conscious plan to change from just carrying around gear and hoping a picture would fall onto the lens and thinking through what I intended to do, so when I got to a location I was more ready to go and find the images I wanted.
On top of that, it means that in general I carry a lot less gear. For many day trips, in fact, I take the X-T3 and one lens, along with my neck strap and a spare battery and memory card. No bag at all? Heresy. Except, if you think about it, if I’m going out birding and park the car somewhere, I no longer have to worry about a break-in and having someone steal my bag, because it’s not there. And my back and neck are a lot happier because I’ve shed a lot of dead weight that rarely got used anyway…
Have you ever considered grabbing a camera and then decided it wasn’t worth getting it out of the bag? If that’s ever happened to you — you probably want to move everything to a shelf. It’ll change how you think about your photography in interesting ways.
Oh, and with it on a shelf, if my wife wants to borrow a lens, she can. She doesn’t have to find the bag or ask me for it, it’s just there where she can grab it. A small thing, maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Sometimes I do carry a bag, of course
For when I want to carry more gear, I grab this bag. It’s not a camera bag, it’s the Tom Bihn Maker Bag, basically a big open bag with a zippered pocket and some places to stick a few things around the edge. No foam dividers, no big, bulky padding. But I can fit a body and lens with a second lens in their easily. If I want, I’ve actually carried both bodies attached to a lens with a third lens, or with the X-T30 attached to a wide angle lens and my full birding gear setup in it, although it gets a bit heavy on the shoulder after a while.
But, I hear you ask, padding? I’ve tried a few things, and what I do most of the time is I wrap the gear in some nice, plush, microfiber towels. That gives me enough padding that for basic wander around use I’m fine. If I feel like I’m going to need more protection, I have some neoprene lens bags I can stuff things in and then I don’t need to worry about stuff getting banged up.
This is not, obviously, the bag I get on a plane with. This is the bag I do my day’s shooting from. If I’m going on a longer trip, I still use a more traditional bag, my long-favored Lowepro Runner 450. It carries everything I could possibly need and is a good, comfortable backpack. I use this when I go on multi-day trips, but when I set up to go out shooting for the day, I’ll pull the bits I want that day into the Maker bag and go out with that instead. If I leave this in a hotel room, I’ll put a TSA lock on it, which won’t stop a determined thief, but will discourage casual browsing. So far, I’ve never had an issue doing that.
What I’ve come to believe is there’s a good set of uses for a large, protective, comfortable bag to carry your camera gear around, but unless you’re hiking more than an hour away from your car, you probably don’t need it. Getting something smaller and lighter and more nimble lowers reduces the weight and bulk of carrying stuff around, and you become much less obvious that you’re hauling around a lot of expensive gear, and for most of us, most of that padding is unecessary for most of our trips.
Going light, on the other hand, is not only easier on your back and neck, it gives you options to go places where hauling around the big backpack would be inconvenient. It’s especially nice in a street photography setting where it’s nimble and doesn’t scream photographer at everyone around you.
I am a big fan of having a second body. Since I do so much work with a long super-telephoto, having the ability to stick a wide angle on a second camera for shooting location images while I’m trying to focus the big lens on birds and wildlife. It also gives me the option to do timelapsing, behind the scenes work or shoot video.
I realize not everyone can afford a second body, but for me, it simplifies a lot of things. Fewer lens changes means fewer chances for stuff to get on the sensor, fewer times I need to clean the sensor, less time spent in Lightroom cloning out dust spots, and fewer opportunities for me to drop a lens or a camera body in the dirt and break it (again).
That said, there was no way I was going to spend the money buying two X-T2 or two X-T3 bodies. I can’t justify that. When I did decide to add the second body I went with the X-T2’s baby brother, the X-T20. It has the same sensor and most of the electronics, so focus and exposure are quite similar to the X-T2, so I felt it would be a good no-compromise, cheaper alternative to buying a second X-T2. I was right, and the camera has been a champ, acting as my primary body during the month the X-T3 was being repaired without my ever feeling like I was missing out.
I know a lot of people who use their previous generation body as their 2nd. I think that’s fine, as long as the quality difference isn’t significant. Back in the ancient of days, I carried and older Canon Rebel Xt as a 2nd body, until I realized I had carried it for over 3 months without ever taking it out of the bag — every time I considered it, the sensor quality difference was enough I swapped lenses instead. Once I realized I was doing that, I retired the 2nd body and stopped hauling around the dead weight.
I’ve been working on a full review (I will drop a link in here when it’s done) of the Fuji X-T3, but it was delayed because one of the first things I did after buying it was drop it and break it badly. It spent a month at Fuji being repaired, but since it came back I’ve been using it happily and getting to know how it operates compared to my old favorite, the Fuji X-T2.
The huge difference between the two is the bigger and much improved sensor. A shift from 24 megapixels to 26 megapixels may seem minor, but that’s actually a large number of added pixels to work with, leading to a much bigger, more detailed image. On disk, my Fuji X-T3 raw images average about 40-45 megabytes per file, where the X-T2 created RAW files around 35-40 megabytes, and the X-T1 closer to 30.
The X-T3 captures 6240×4160, vs. the X-T2 6058×4012. This allows for more cropping of an image without losing significant detail, useful when photographing distant wildlife and birds. My sense is that there is a lot more embedded detail in an image, which means more detail in the final image. For my landscapes, the difference I see while doing post-processing is sometimes stunning, especially on things like granite rock faces. Not all of that is visible once the image is shrunk down to on-line sizes, but when printed or viewed at full resolution, the differences are stark.
I bought the X-T20 when I was seriously looking into launching a Youtube channel. Fortunately I came to my senses before I did that, but the primary reasons I went with the X-T20 were simple: it was a good video camera, it was compatible with all of my Fuji lenses, it was a lot cheaper than buying a 2nd X-T2, and I could use it as a backup or 2nd body when I wasn’t using it to create video as part of my photography expeditions.
I knew it had the same sensor and image processing as the X-T2, in a smaller body with some secondary features removed, like no second card slot and slower burst shooting. Because it was the same sensor, I knew what the image quality was like, and I didn’t worry too much about buying it beyond that.
What I found once I started using it was the X-T20 is a really good camera that doesn’t seem to get as much love as it deserves because it’s not the top of the line unit, and we photographers seem to have a sad fascination with buying the biggest and baddest, so really good 2nd tier bodies tend not to get a lot of discussion online.
That’s sad. I expect 90% of people who bought the X-T2 would never notice the limitations of buying the less expensive body. Unless you absolutely need two card slots (hello, wedding shooters) or the highest burst rate possible (hello, action sports shooters), the X-T20 would be a perfectly good camera for you for a lot less.
With Fuji’s X-T30 now out and getting solid, positive reviews, and having similar functionality restrictions compared to the X-T3, I think the same can be said here: If you’re considering an X-T3, think hard about whether you really need it, or whether the X-T30 will solve your needs well for a lot less money. I don’t regret buying the X-T3 at all, given my wildlife work, but if I was primarily a landscape shooter instead of that being a second area of interest, I’d buy the X-T30 instead and be really happy.
Buying advice: should you buy the X-T3?
I think the answer depends on what you currently have and what you plan to do (of course). I’ve got a few options that will hopefully simplify the decision for most of you:
- I have a Fuji X-T1 or older Fuji body: I think the answer is a no-brainer, yes, you’ll see a significant improvement in image quality and usability by upgrading
- I have a Fuji X-T2 or Fuji X-T20: For most people, I think the answer is it’s not a priority, and I’d suggest spending money on lens upgrades, or on a trip to take more photos. There are exceptions: if you really pushing the limits of the camera as an action, sports or wildlife photographer, the bigger, better sensor and improved AF may well be worth an upgrade. If you aren’t sure if you’re that person, you’re not, and I’d suggest an upgrade is probably not necessary.
Should I switch to Fuji?
If you are a DLSR shooter thinking it’s time to make the jump to mirrorless, the answer is maybe. I love my Fuji gear and when I made the switch, Fuji was the first platform to properly support all of the types of photography I do without significant compromise.
Today? Sony could also do the type of photography I do, and there’s a lot to like about the platform, too. I don’t have direct experience with Sony so I can’t directly compare the two platforms. I will say I’m completely happy with Fuji and I can recommend it without hesitation, but if you’re new to Mirrorless cameras in general, I do think you ought to research both Fuji and Sony and see which platform makes more sense for your photography before deciding what camera within the platform to buy.
I will say, however, that I’ve looked at both the Canon and Nikon mirrorless offerings and I see no reason to suggest either one as an option, unless budget is the over-riding decision point and keeping your existing lenses is a must. Even at that, I’d suggest considering what I did, which was pick up a Fuji body and a single lens to get started, and then sell off your DLSR gear a bit at a time to help fund replacing lenses with mirrorless ones until you eventually have shifted completely. I started my migration to mirrorless in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2018 that I sold the last of my Canon gear, and that made the move both affordable and relatively painless for me.
I want to buy a Fuji!
If you’ve decided you want to buy a Fuji, congratulations! Before you pay the money for an X-T3, which I think is an amazing camera body, please stop and take a close and careful look at the X-T30. It’s non-trivially less expensive than the X-T3, and it has the same sensor and most of the key features of its big brother. Chances are most photographers could live with the X-T30 and never notice the missing features, and I suggest you think about it before spending the extra money on the X-T3.
We don’t always need the best (and most expensive) gear, even if that’s what the marketing tells us we should want…
Fuji 100-400 F4.5-56 R LM OIS
As a bird photographer, it’s probably no surprise that the Fuji 100-400 F4.5-56 is my favorite lens. It’s not cheap at $1900 but it has the reach you need for bird and wildlife work, especially when paired with the Fuji 1.4x Teleconverter ($450). In fact, over half my images in my Lightroom catalog taken on Fuji are from this combo, and I’ve only used the 100-400 without the teleconverter for about 50 images total.
When I was shooting an equivalent combo on Canon: the 7Dmkii and the Sigma 150-600 Sport, the get weighed 8 pounds and realistically required a tripod with a gimbal to use well. My setup today, the X-T3 and the 100-400, weighs around 3.5 pounds and can easily be hand-held; in fact, I often don’t even bother with a tripod any more, thanks to the ability to boost the ISO without noise and the solid image stabilization.
This combo is solid, with fast and accurate autofocus and really crisp, sharp lenses giving solid and good contrast images. It’s expensive, but with my imagery, it’s almost a perfect system: fast, nimble and portable with long reach and high quality images coming off the sensor.
I expect this pair will continue to be my primary lens for most of my work for many years, at least until someone invents a 600mm F2.8 that weighs a pound and a half with image stabilization.
If there’s a criticism of this lens, it’s that I’m not always in love with some of the out of focus artifacts, especially if I hit some specular points in the blurred background. Without going so far as to say the bokeh of the lens is ugly — not what this lens is for, folks — in an occasional image I get a specular artifact that I choose to clone out because it really annoys me in the image. But this is an occasional, minor hassle.
Fuji 18-55mmF2.8-4 LM OIS
my second most popular lens is the Fuji 18-55mmF2.8-4 LM OIS, which is the so-called “kit” lens that comes with many Fuji bodies. On its own, it’s $699, and it’s a nice, solid wide angle lens good for landscape work. I used this heavily early in my Fuji life, but these days, it now lives happily in my wife’s camera bag, and I’ve moved to a different lens for this type of image.
I don’t think this is an outstanding performer, but it’s a solid one. It’s not one of Fuji’s “red badge” lenses and isn’t trying to be, but you won’t be grumping about the quality that ends up on the sensor from this lens.
Fuji 18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS
Third most popular lens in my collection, the Fuji 18-135 replaced the above lens in my kit, and in another month or so, should take over 2nd most popular in lightroom. At $900, it’s a couple of hundred more expensive than the 18-55, but it has more range, making it for me a more versatile lens for general use. This is my wide angle go-to; it will sit on my second body when I’m working with the 100-400, and it’s the lens I typically carry when I travel with a limited kit or go out with one lens for opportunistic street shooting.
It’s also not a “red badge” (Fuji’s equivalent to Canon’s “L” glass) but it turns in good, crisp images with good detail and contrast across a wide range of magnifications, meaning I can get away with a lot of shooting without feeling the need for a second lens.
If I were limited to owning only two lenses, it’d be the 100-400 and the 18-135. The two together make a really powerful combo across almost every practical need for photography, unless you need to get super-wide, which I rarely do. I really like this lens.
Fuji 16-55mmF2.8 F LM WR
Now, having said that, I’ve in the last few months added a couple of new lenses to my set, and the Fuji 16-55F2.8 is one of them. This lens is not cheap at $1200, but it’s a Fuji red-badge and equivalent to the Canon 24-70 F2.8, meaning it’s bigger, heavier, more expensive and with higher quality glass than the 18-155. it’s not a lens I’d particularly want to walk around the city with, but when I’m doing my landscape work, especially the slow-shutter, 5+ stop ND work I’ve been doing more of, the results are amazing.
So this is the wide angle lens I put on a tripod for landscapes, and the 18-135 is what I pop on to wander around with. And yes, I strictly speaking don’t need both, except they both do certain things better for certain kinds of photography I do, and I love them both for what they do best.
But this isn’t the lens you should buy first. This is the lens you upgrade to later when you need the extra sharpness and performance of a professional quality lens.
Fuji 50-140mmF2.8 F LM WR
The last lens I’ll talk about is the Fuji 50-140 F2.8.I bought this a couple of months ago because I realized I had a gap in my gear: I wanted to do more “intimate” type landscape work, but while the 100-400 covers the overall range, practically speaking it’s not a lens I want to do landscape work with. it’s too big heavy to be, well, nimble.
After much thought, I invested in this lens, another “red badge” and equivalent to Canon’s 70-200 F2.8, to make it easier for me to shoot in the moderate-telephoto range doing landscapes that start excluding detail rather than trying to suck it all in. at $1600 it’s expensive, but it’s a no compromise beast (and for folks who know canon, similar in size to their 70-200 F4). I’ve only taken it out a couple of times and I’m still learning it’s quirks, but it’s already produced two of my favorite shots of the last 18 months including one that’s already framed and gracing my wall.
it works nicely with my ND filters and turns out incredibly nice slow shutter images, and I’m finding the contrast good and images from it seem to lend themselves well to black and white conversions.
It’ll be interesting to see what I produce with it over the next year. In some ways for what I shoot it’s a specialty lens, but in the bigger picture, I see it opening up my photography to new things I had been avoiding because I didn’t have the right lens for those images…
At the same time, it’s possible to obsess about them and get into the mindset that this neat new widget is going to solve your problem, and that’s how you end up with that big box in the garage full of trinkets and toys you used once and stuffed into storage.
I used to be that person. I try not to be that person, but I don’t always succeed. But over time, I’ve tried to parse out the accessories I use a lot from the ones I don’t, and I don’t carry the latter unless I specifically plan to use them.
I also try to parse out the accessories I use rarely from the ones I find I’m not using at all, and those get given away, donated or simply thrown out. My storage box in the garage is a lot smaller than it used to be.
Let’s start with the accessory every serious photographer has to depend on, the tripod.
And allow me to commit heresy. I rarely use one these days. The only time I will always use a tripod is when I’m doing landscape photography, and even then, more and more often do landscape images hand-held (gasp). I even shoot some of my panorama stitched images hand-held (double-gasp). I am clearly an incompetent heathen.
Or maybe… technology has gotten so good, you don’t need a tripod as much as you used to. When my birding gear weighed eight and a half freaking pounds, of course I needed a big, heavy, stiff tripod with a massive gimbal head to use it. And hire a sherpa to haul it around for me. Today? it’s three pounds, it has image stabilization, and it allows me to boost the ISO so I can shoot at F/8 or F/11 at 1/2000 and get good, crisp images literally shooting from the hip.
Are the tripod images sharper? Yes, sometimes every little bit helps, but I find on a day to day basis, the different is increasingly marginal and the flexibility of hand-holding and being able to point the camera anywhere without having to haul around a big, heavy tripod and move it into position hoping the bird doesn’t fly first is simply not worth the marginal improvements.
Where do I still need and use tripods? Most of my panorama work, because sometimes you want or need multiple variants and you need the repeatability. And when I’m doing slow shutter work with the ND filters, where you absolutely need rock stable support.
But for most photography? The tripod is more hassle than help.
Remote Shutter Releases
I’ve decided there is a special circle in hell for people who design and sell shutter releases, one shared with those that write and maintain (hah) flatbed scanner software. I have been looking, on and off, for a remote shutter releases and intervalometers that work reliably with both my X-T3 and X-T20.
This is a problem that is complicated by the fact that Fuji has chosen to make the connection ports on these two bodies different: On the X-T20, I can plug in a remote either via a micro-usb port, or via the microphone port, which is a 2.5mm plug size. On the X-T3, they’ve switched to USB-C, and their microphone port is a 3.5mm plug size. In other words, four ports, zero in common.
I will forgive Fuji for shifting to USB-C, that’s a reasonable technology shift, except, of course, basically no shutter releases actually support it yet. But I do not understand why they use a different microphone port across models, especially given the minimal size difference. And that makes finding one good remote that works with both an incredible pain in the butt. (Canon, by the way, does this same kind of different connector thing between it’s consumer-oriented bodies and it’s pro-oriented bodies, so Canon users, don’t smirk…).
The way Fuji solved this? They ship two remotes: the RR-90 with a 3.5mm plug, and a RR-100 with a 2.5mm plug. Why? God, why? The RR-100 actually comes with a dongle that includes a 90 degree plug, but it’s still 2.5mm. They could have added another one to do the size conversion, but didn’t bother. Neither of these is an intervalometer, either, just a remote button.
I have been slowly trying (and returning) different models from third parties. I ran into one that required AAA batteries and had no power switch. Really? Another had an internal battery that could be recharged via a USB charger (good), but used a variant USB port that no other piece of gear I own used, requiring yet another different cable to be able to plug it in.
And then there’s the usability of the intervalometer. random buttons or a d-switch that you push from function to function, none of which is explained. I’d love a good intervalometer that doesn’t require me to carry the manual booklet with me so I remember how to use it without screwing up the first three attempts.
How about these new systems that tie to an app with your phone? The usability is a lot better, but…
I really want to be able to set up the shot, fire it off, and disconnect the phone and have it complete for me. Most of these systems force the phone and app to stay active and tethered. For a two hour timelapse, say, I really want to be able to use the phone for other things, and I frankly worry about the problem of theft if I need to attach the phone to the tripod while I wander around doing other things while the shutter is firing off.
This entire industry class feels like a dumpster fire to me. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m making a choice about which set of pains are most tolerable to me. So many of these are so poorly designed I’m amazed someone allowed them to ship. Maybe, some day, someone will build one of these that won’t annoy me. If they do, I’ll buy three or four, just to say thanks.
ND filters and Circular Polarizers
Okay, enough ranty whining. Let’s talk about something I actually like.
Last fall I decided it made sense my ND filters. I had bought a decent inexpensive set to get started and see whether I was going to use them, and I really ended up liking the results. They have a few weaknesses, including a bit of a color cast, so when I wanted to start doing more of this type of work, I started looking at upgrades.
I was considering moving to square format filters and something like the Lee filter holder, but about the time I started looking photographers I follow were starting to talk about this new screw-in round filters from a company called Breakthrough Photography. I’m guessing a number of them got review sets to work with, but they were invariably positive about them and the science behind them on the site seemed solid.
I did what I normally do with filters: I started buying a basic UV filter to put on one lens and test, comparing images with and without, and trying it in various situations where filters can cause flare and contrast problems such as shooting into the sun or at very shallow side angles. I saw very little issue I could attribute to the UV filter, so I decided to go ahead and try them out.
I ended up picking up three filters, the circular polarizer, the 3 stop and 6 stop ND. I picked them all up at 77mm, since that’s the size needed for my largest diameter lens, and then I added in two step-down rings, 58-77mm and the 72-77mm.
The step down rings let you use one sized filter on all of your lenses, which is a lot cheaper than buying a set for each lens size by a huge amount, at minimal hassle or problem. In my testing I saw no indication of vignetting, the biggest worry when you’re stacking multiple sets of lenses together.
These are definitely not inexpensive filters — each one cost more than the entire set I was using before in total — but I was really impressed with the build quality. These are really thin lenses, which minimizes the width of the filter set in front of the lens, and it’s that thickness that can lead to vignetting and encourage flaring.
In my working with these filters, a couple of things about their build quality stood out: first, they’re very thin but rigid and they feel stable; second, the outer edge of the ring is serrated, a surprisingly nice detail. If you’ve ever tightened a filter on your camera that has later refused to come off, you know the fun that can entail that might include anything from a rubber band to a set of Vice-Grips, combined with much cussing and fussing. The outer ring of these filters has a much more pronounced texture to them, making them easier to grip and turn than any lens I’ve used before. It may seem like a minor thing — until you really need it. In my tests, I never had a filter jam, but I haven’t put a lot of time in the field with them yet, but even if one jams, it should be easier to get it removed without having to pull out the pliers.
In the shoots I’ve done they’ve worked quite reliably. In processing the images later I saw no hint of a color cast, even when I stacked all three together. The polarizer adjusts smoothly but stays in place once you set the angle.
All in all, these are really good filters that make the process of slow-shutter photography that much easier. At their cost I’m nto sure I recommend them as a beginner kit, but once you get serious about slow shutter work and move beyond that first set of filters, unless you want to spend the big bucks on something like a Lee system, these are the filters you want.
If your curious how they perform, I’ve set up a gallery of images taken with them. There are only a half dozen so far, but I will add to it as I continue to get out into the field and work with these thigns.
When I decided to do away with a dedicated camera bag, I realized I had a problem to solve: there’s a set of things you really should carry with you, but I knew if I didn’t keep them handy I wouldn’t bother and I’d ultimately regret. Look inside any photographer’s camera bag behind the lenses and there’s a bunch of stuff stuck in pockets or hidden in the bottom of the bag, just in case you need it.
I ended up deciding the answer was a small pack that I could stuff all of that into, and then stuff the pack into whatever I was going to carry when I went out. Sometimes that’s my camera bag, sometimes it’s my new Tom Bihn carry bag, and sometimes it’s my computer daypack — and the last thing I wanted was to end up triplicating my stuff into three bags, which would be almost as painful as doing without.
After some research I decided what I was looking for was some kind of small bag. The one I ended up getting is by OneTigris and they call it an Admin Pouch, although you can find other bags like this on Amazon by searching for Tactical Bag or Tactical Pouch. It cost $30, it measures 8″x5″x4″ when fully stuffed, and weighs just over 2 pounds loaded.
There are smaller bags and larger bags depending on what you need to carry, but this turned out to be about right, in that it is large enough to carry what I need — and small enough to force me to think hard about what should be in it.
It may surprise you, but this bag isn’t set up to carry camera gear; it’s intended to carry all of the stuff you need to have handy that isn’t directly tied to taking pictures.
What’s in it? Let’s take a look.
The gear in the kit
First thing I put in any of my kits if a good and reliable flashlight. If you haven’t looked at flashlights in the last few years, there are some really interesting options; flashlights have for the most part shifted to LED lights, giving amazing brightness with very long battery life. Some now have zooms so you can throw light across a wide area or focus it in a small beam. Others have flashers and strobes. The one I’m using here is the J1 Tactical V1-Pro with a 300 lumen light with both a strobe feature and a zoom lens. At $15, it’s a great bargain and it includes one of my major requirements: it runs on a single AA battery.
I also carry a headlamp in the bag, for when I want to walk at night with hands free. I’ve used various brands over the years, but my current model is the Foxelli, with 165 lumen and a red light. What I look for in one is weather resistance, standard batteries (3 AAA), and when not in use, I want the strap to either retract or compress into a tiny lump for easy storage. If you have a preference, feel free to use it. If you aren’t carrying one, it’s only a matter of time before you regret that.
The other thing that always goes in my bag is my trusty Leatherman multi-tool. This jack of all trades comes in handy in so many ways, and means I don’t have to carry a bunch of other tools that can get lost when you aren’t looking.
The one I keep is a basic unit with pliers, wire cutters, screw drivers and the ever important bottle opener. I’ve never felt the need for some of the features you see on more expensive models like the scissors or can opener, but perhaps some day I will, and when I do, I’ll upgrade. But this goes with me everywhere, and I know in the last month, I’ve needed to use it three times, twice to make quick repairs on tripods and once to convince a clamp that refused to cooperate to release from the camera (so I could get it on a tripod). All three of those are “end of the shoot for today” problems if you can’t solve them in the field, and so this tool keeps paying for itself.
I also keep a knife in there for those times when you need it; in this case, it’s by Kershaw, and it has a 3″ stainless blade. It’s sharp, it’s safe to carry when closed and serious about getting your job done when it’s open. It won’t stop a bear but it might annoy it a bit before you get eaten, and it’s really good for those random times you need a knife, whether it’s cutting a rope or slicing up some cheese for lunch.
Next up: the first aid kit. You can’t carry a full kit in a bag like this, but you can carry some essentials. My goal here is to have what I need to get me the 45 minutes or an hour back to the car where I have a more fully-equipped kit stashed — or perhaps not need to return. To fit it out, I picked up this inexpensive first aid kit ($10), and then pulled out the bits I wanted. What’s packed in my kit is the tweezers, the splinter removal tool, some q-tips, an emergency blanket, some safety pins and a variety of sizes of bandages. I ended up not packing tape, gauze or ointments because I don’t intend to be too far from a vehicle — if I were going on a longer hike I’d put a more full-featured kit in my daypack.
And for the kit I keep in the car, I’m currently using this one by Surviveware, which at $35 I think is a good overall value.
I round out the kit with a lot of little things that sometimes come in handy. For instance:
- Batteries: I carry spare sets of both AA and AAA batteries, and I try to make sure all of my gear uses one of those sizes.
- Gaffer tape: Rather than carry large rolls, I’m carrying some small 3″ x .5″ rolls in flourescent colors, which allows me to use this both for attaching stuff to other stuff, and to mark things with a very visible color if I need to.
- Paracord: I carry a length of bright orange Paracord rope, useful for both tying stuff up and tagging stuff with something you can see, and like gaffer tape, it’s one of those things you may think you can do without, until you can’t.
- Safety Whistle: one of those things I hope I never need, but if I do, I want one. This one by HOLDALL is another fluorescent color so I can find it in the dark, and I hope I never need to.
- Compass: A basic compass, another one of those things you hope you won’t need.
- Hand Warmers: I carry a couple of pair of these by HotHands, which have saved my sanity and my shoot more than once.
- Purell Hand wipes: do I really need to explain why I keep some of these hand wipes in my bag? You’ve seen some of those latrines….
- Lens Wipes: finally, I keep a few of these Nikon Lens Wipes in the bag, along with a standard lens cloth. There are times when a bit of moisture will get something off that a dry cloth won’t, and these are good and won’t damage your lens coatings.
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