CAMERA PACK, PELICAN OR WATERPROOF PACK?
How To Travel When You Need All Three
What’s the best camera bag for fly fishing photography? In my opinion, there isn’t one to rule them all. But there are a few ways to carry your camera gear depending on the situation, and there are some great pieces that make things easier to shoot all day on the water. However, with fly fishing photography there are many variables to factor in when carrying your camera gear that most other sports and styles of photography don’t deal with.
A professional camera pack works great. I can travel, fly, and shoot in the city, mountains, and snow with a single camera bag. The biggest hurdle with fly fishing photography is water. We are surrounded by water — a camera’s mortal enemy. We shoot on water, and we travel on water, but we also travel on foot and in boats and in rafts and on planes and in trucks, and on horses … you get the idea.
As a traveling adventure fly fishing photographer, I’m constantly dealing with different scenarios, environments, and transportation methods. It’s one thing if I’m in a drift boat all day — I use a Pelican. If I’m hiking or wade fishing small steams — I go with my favorite camera pack. What happens when you need to be mobile for both boat and wade shooting in the same day?! What if you have to travel in a plane to get there first? Well, by doing it wrong many times, I’m slowly narrowing down how to make it work.
There’s no right way, but there are ways to make it easier and more efficient to carry your camera gear and be prepared for any situation.
Packing for Air, Land and Sea
Just for fun I’m going to walk you through a general worst-case pack selection scenario: when you have to bring it all but you don’t need it all. For example, when I travel from my house in Montana to South America for trout fishing and shooting culture and cityscapes, I need to prepare to walk the city and shoot easily while keeping my gear safe and compact. Then it’s off to floating in rafts, drift boats, hiking trials and wading in, through and around deep swift water.
When traveling in numerous planes and different types of boats, a Pelican is an easy choice. It fits in the overhead compartment (don’t check your camera bodies and lenses if you don’t have to!) and is easy to work out of in a boat. From experience, I know that most of the time the camera gear gets tossed in the back of a pickup before we zoom 60 miles an hour down a bumpy dirt road. A Pelican case is a must-have for me here. BUT there are a few days where we have long approaches with a lot of gear. For this, it’s an easy choice: grab your trusty camera pack.
And then there will be a few days of all-day wading. I definitely need a waterproof pack and an easy way to change and store gear. It really sucks lugging your Pelican case on your shoulder all day, through the muck, and trying to shoot and hold your case while standing in the water trying to avoid saltwater crocodiles. Same can be said for your trusty comfortable camera pack: one wrong move and you’re in the drink, and you and all your gear are soaked and the shoot is over.
Packing Your Equipment for Travel and Field Use
If I’m really limited for space and weight but need the kitchen sink, I carry my gear onto the plane in my pack. I use an internal cube system so I can easily remove the cubed guts out of the pack shell. I check my underwater housing on the plane (this travels in a Pelican 1510 — same as my carry-on size). When I get to the location, I put my housing together, remove the padding of the Pelican and add my internal cube from my backpack. Now I’m ready for the boat.
But what if you need to use the boat to get to a wading spot or the salt flats? For this I use a waterproof pack with separate padded units for camera body and lens. I carry the longer versions of the Trekker, so I can have on my 70-200 or 100-400. I have two lens barrels and a Trekker: one with a wide angle or fixed lens and a longer one for the zoom. I keep one of these empty for fast and easy lens changing. I’ve found you can get away with using a small and a large size case with a body, and this covers your three lenses and is easy to switch in the field while standing in the water. (If you haven’t practiced this cool juggle, I suggest you give the old college try at home a few times first.) When I pack this kit for airline travel I shove it all in itself, from big to small, like a game of Tetris and use any available room to store loose end gear, such as a diffuser.
There are many uses for this kit. You now have a waterproof bag for when you’re in the boat. The Trekker can be used as you travel location to location, keeping your camera with you and available at all times. It’s no good if your camera is stuffed away and hard to get to. Using the ICU blocks you can easily switch from camera pack to Pelican case. This system allows me to mix and match for any situation and environment while being streamlined and efficient when shooting in the field. Got all that? How about a little recap.
What Pack to Take?! Refrence Chart
+ Walk wade / Day at the lake = Camera pack
+ Drift Boat, Skiff, Power Boat = Pelican 1510
+ Drift Boat / Skiff + wading = Pelican 1510 & Waterproof pack and padded case
+ Small stream hiking and fishing = Camera pack
+ Big river, lots of wading = Waterproof pack and padded case
+ Rainforest = Waterproof pack and padded case
+ Jungle = Waterproof pack and padded case
+ Kayak/Canoe = Watershed Chattooga w/ Padded Camera insert
+ Big Water Dori =Watershed Chattooga w/ Padded Camera insert
<+> Tip: Use your lens barrel holder as pouch <+>
Are you tired of trying to find which pocket your lens cloth is in or where your rocket blower is? Most packs have the mole strap system these days; I use my smaller lens barrel on my hip belt to carry things I need constantly and at the ready. Save time and shoot more.
FLY FISHING PHOTOGRAPHY CAMERA PACKS
GENERAL GO-TO CAMERA CARRY EQUIPMENT
I’ve used most packs, bags, cases, and fake cases, and I’ve been known to wrap my gear in clothes. After years of use and abuse I’ve narrowed it down to these pieces of gear. (Of course there are many great brands out there that may also suit your needs.)
PELICAN 1510 with padded dividers
This case is my workhorse. There isn’t a shoot in the world where I wouldn’t go without it. It fits in the overhead, it’s tough and strong so it can be checked as luggage, and it has wheels and a handle for ease in the airport. I use the padded divider for a few reasons, namely to avoid issues with water. When you are working on water, if it is raining, or you are opening and closing your case often, there is nothing worse than needing to dry out your Pelican at the end of the day. Foam and water do not mix.
** This is a staple for all boat situations. It’s TSA and FAA approved for carry on overhead storage.
F-STOP CAMERA PACKS
I use a variety of F-Stop packs for both mountain and travel. This pack here has all the bells and whistles that you’d expect on a professional adventure pack. This goes with me everywhere. I use their “Internal Camera Units” (ICU). These ICU blocks work great with my system and style of shooting. The pack handles weight well. I’ve loaded this thing down with camera gear, tent, sleeping bag, etc. I’m sure it looked like a disaster, with stuff strapped to it, but it handled an overload of weight. It’s well made and built tough.
LOWEPRO WHISTLER 450
A tried and true top-of-the-line brand, and creators of great photography packs and padded travel gear. A great all-season and versatile pack, the Whistler BP 450 AW delivers amazing performance for wilderness photographers and adventurers.
DRY BAG – BACKPACKS
From the salt flats to mountain streams, these packs have been with me around the globe and are still going strong: Patagonia Storm Front and Watershed Animas. I use the padded Trekker and lens barrels with this system, which allows me to keep my gear dry in the backpack and also have access to the camera. I can wear the Trekker on my hip or mount it to my chest connectors. This is my go-to system when wading in rivers, on the salt flats, and when I’m faced with pouring rain.
The Watershed Chattooga combined with the padded liner and divider set is a perfecto combo when weight and lots of moving water is a factor. In big water, this is my go-to bag. The seal on this bag is one of the best I’ve seen. Class 5 whitewater? 15 foot seas? Not to worry, this bag locks down tight! Along with the seal, the compression strap design is superb, and with the padded insert, you have a streamlined watertight camera bag. Now you’re ready to send it off that waterfall.
PADDED ORGANIZERS: LOWPRO TREKKER
I use the small, med, and large padded lens barrels with the Trekker chest. This system is used in conjunction with the Patagonia Stormfront pack and other Lowepro lens cases.
CAMERA PACK GADGETS
SEA TO SUMMIT PACK COVER
These come in handy more often than you think and can be used as a makeshift waterproof camera cover in a pinch. I always get a bigger size than needed, and I often use off-brand labels. Some covers are so tight that you can’t have a layer (or anything) strapped to the outside of your pack. A larger cover is more versatile, and if you ever end up hiking in the rain and shedding layers, you’ll be happy you have the extra room.
PELICAN CASE LID ORGANIZER
This gives you more room, organizational options, and allows for easy uncluttered workflow. Less fumbling on a shoot means more time for shooting or fishing. I can also store items like cards, batteries, SAT phone, lens cloths, headlamp, bug net, insect repellent wipes, sanitary wet wipes, camera cords and remote. You don’t want the little things floating around in your case. The Pelican 1519 Photographer’s Lid organizer is designed specifically for the Pelican 1510 case. It installs easily with the included screws for mounting the organizer to the lid.
If you have an ohhhh sh*t moment in the middle of nowhere, and there isn’t a convenient bag of rice standing by, this can help save your precious gear. It’s been my experience that if it’s in salt, you’re done by default, but if it’s in freshwater, you have a great chance of saving your gear. Those damn salt crystals and electronics just don’t get along. The standard rule applies: remove card and power. It slips into a pack and behind the padding in a Pelican case. It’s a no-brainer to have a BHEESTIE Bag on hand.
Are you tired of trying to find which pocket your lens cloth is in, or where your rocket blower is? Most packs have the mole strap system these days; I use my smaller lens barrel on my hip belt to carry things I need constantly and at the ready. Save time and shoot more.
NRS HEAVY DUTY TIE-DOWN STRAP
NRS straps or other tie-downs can help keep your bag secured when in moving boats, whitewater, planes, bouncing truck beds, etc. I never leave home without a few in various sizes.
PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS ARCHIVES:
HOW TO SHOOT IN THE RAIN: FLY FISHING PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS
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Disclaimer: There are numerous ways to get the same thing accomplished. My working photo kits are designed for me, a single shooter with no assistant (usually) working in the outdoor elements who needs to be mobile and able to carry all my own gear. Of course, everything is subject to change, cost, technology and what works for me, might not work for you. After years of trial and error, mostly error, this is my current method to the madness.