Sunday, August 1, 2021

Travel Tips: Oh Snap
By Brian Irwin

I thought my Clik Elite Contrejour 40 Liter pack was a great system for carrying my photography equipment around the world. It holds a bevy of lenses, a flash, two camera bodies, and a MacBook Pro. The back of the pack unzips into a labyrinth of foam trays. There’s room for a travel pillow, hard-drives and all the toys. This system worked great, until I boarded a puddle jumper during an exploratory tarpon fishing trip in Curacao.

            I always check my rods when flying, mainly because they’re cheaper to replace than my glass. And if I lose them, a lodge usually offers loaners I can throw. I checked my rods successfully on this trip, but this time my photo pack was turned down at the gate, deemed too large to stow in a tiny overhead luggage rack. I was forced to check that valuable kit and the end result was missing gear for three days and a broken $2,000 lens.

Want a great underwater shot like this? You’ll need a quality camera housing and they don’t come cheap. But, the reward speaks for itself.

           Fast forward to 2020. I now handle my gear differently and use a series of Patagonia dry bags and a Pelican Air 1485 briefcase, to harbor my goods. This system is equally effective in the air and on the water, allowing me to get my pricey underwater housing, and other equipment, to my destination and beyond.

            First the Pelican case. This case has customizable padded bays for housing two camera bodies, four lenses and a flash. Yeah, you look like you’re carrying a briefcase full of diamonds chained to your wrist, but if the contents are worth as much as diamonds, and in some cases more, it’s worth wearing that look. Should shit hit the fan and you have to gate check your equipment, the Pelican case locks. When allowed as carry-on, I store this case in the overhead. When I get to my destination, I unpack the Pelican and toss it next to the minibar. Game time.

            In addition, I wear a Patagonia Stormsurge Roll-Top 45L backpack. Inside, nice and cozy, is my Mac, numerous hard-drives, a passport and any other precious cargo. It stows neatly, cleanly in the carry-on metal frames at the ticketing desk, and under your seat once your onboard. When you get to Punta Gorda, Belize, or wherever else you might be chasing fish, you can use it on the water as you wade.

The author doing the work. Is that a shark below?

           Regarding my Ikelike housing, it fits perfectly inside my Patagonia Great Divider 29L boat bag. I do check that as luggage—best to keep the absolutely essential stuff—the camera bodies and lenses—by my side, and check the, albeit overpriced, housing.

            These Patagonia bags, except the Great Divider, are not padded. When you hit the water, place a face towel in your pack and wrap it around your other camera body. This prevents lenses and the camera body from slamming against each other. And that towel comes in handy when wiping down the dome port. Doing so keeps water spots out of your images. Keeping your lenses in cases also prevents damage.

            When I fish and shoot, I carry two cameras. One, the Canon 5D IV with a 12-24mm wide-angle lens, stays in the housing in a third (yes third) roll top Patagonia bag. Then, when the swordtail nears the boat I whip it out, jump in the water, and fire release shots. The other camera is a Canon EOS R5, with a 24-105mm f4 lens. It lives in the boat bag, nice and dry. I use it for landscape, profile, and action casting shots when shooting on deck. With a two-camera system, you’re set for that sailfish release photo (fins and mask not included), your hard-running grey ghost image, and everything in between. I’ve used this system to shoot trophy lakers in Manitoba, fall-run browns on Montana’s Madison River, and mahseer in India, among other locales.

Pelican’s Air 1485

           Let’s not forget the juice. Powering up all that gear is a daunting task. I rely on a Goal Zero Sherpa 100 battery bank. Yes, this tops off power with a solar panel, but I usually charge it from the wall (unless I’m doing something like Hurricane Dorian relief in the Abacos, which I did in 2019). This way I’m never without power. This beast is smaller than your high school yearbook, but charges my MacBook Pro twice, or camera batteries dozens of times. USB-C is the wave of the future, and it has two such ports, as well as an AC port for plug-in items, like the mini speaker you’ll bring along to jam Phish (pun intended) while you edit and write at night. And of course, it offers two old-school USB ports as well. Don’t leave home without it.

            This entire system allows me to work during those countless hours on airlines, and while sitting in airports. By doing so, I arrive home with a folder of edited photos and a feature article written. Then it’s back to my day job.

            Most of these packs have small zipper pockets for keys and all things easily lost. I even heard that they fit a dozen face masks. I look forward to testing that theory this spring.

            One last note: Shoot photos of your gear before you head out, and label all of it—every last bit—so you can recover that insurance claim if things slide down the tubes.

Patagonia’s Stormsurge Roll Top Pack 45L.