Ask James – Traveling with Camera Gear

Hi James,

What’s the best way to take your photo gear with on a plane you when going on travel (holiday) ?

Cabin luggage size is limited in size and weight, how to you manage to take with you a heavy DSLR + 4 lenses + a flash + memory cards etc. without exceeding the limits ? Or do you make a specific gear box that goes as registered luggage (and has more risk to be lost or stolen) ? Or is there a way to be allowed with more gear in the cabin ? And of course we’ll also need a PC and hard disks to store the daily photographs.

I’m asking because I will be flying to Iceland next summer, and would like to take at least the 24-120 and the 70-200 with me.

Paul P

I’m a minimalist when it comes to traveling. I take the least amount of gear as possible. Some photographers are the total opposite and take everything they own gear wise wherever they go. I don’t like being weighed down when I’m on the move, so I take that into account when packing.

I use an F-Stop Tilopa backpack to carry all my gear when traveling. Here’s what goes in it on just about every trip:

  • Macbook Pro 13-inch and charger
  • Bose headphones with case
  • Sony a7
  • Sony a7s
  • Sony 16-35 lens
  • Sony 70-200 lens
  • Sony 55 lens
  • Rokinon 14 lens
  • Filter pouch for all my Formatt-Hitech filters, along with adapter rings and foundation kit
  • Really Right Stuff tripod
  • Garmin Oregon GPS
  • External HD and memory cards
  • Batteries, chargers, remotes, misc gear

The backpack never leaves my site in most cases. While it’s a tight fit, I can almost always fit the backpack under the seat in front of me on a plane. This doesn’t work on certain airlines though, like Spirit who intentionally makes there under-seat compartments smaller. I always fly American when possible because I’m an Admirals Club member and have the most miles with them, and they fly the most places. When I’m with them or any other standard airline, I just take the tripod off and put it in the overhead bin. If it’s a short trip, I’ll usually just take a carry on suitcase for clothes and pack as light as possible (the backpack counts as my personal item, never had issues before). People tend to forget that there’s almost always a way to do laundry when traveling so you don’t have to pack a pair of clothes for every day. If it’s a longer trip, I’ll bring a larger suit case and just check it.