Okay so let’s talk about what to pack in terms of camera gear when you go on a trip. I get that question a lot, not just from our photography tour members, but from people going on a family vacation or even just heading to the lake for the weekend.
What camera equipment should you bring along?
Knowing what to pack, how much to bring, and what to leave at home is a bit of an art form and it can be tricky deciding.
Often the tendency is to bring everything you own just in case you might need it. So you pack all your camera gear and the kitchen sink!
But do you really need all of that stuff? Will you use it all or is there some possible FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) going on here?
I know I’ve been guilty of the latter myself, can you relate to any of these scenarios?
- You bring your super long (and heavy) telephoto lens along on a trip because you might see some birds or get the chance to see wildlife. But you’re going to New York City and you lug around for four days and never use it.
- You pack your full-sized tripod, wide-angle lens, macro lens, telephoto lens, zoom lens, prime lens with a large aperture, all your filters, a flash, extra batteries, chargers, and so on. Then your camera bag is so heavy that you end up leaving most of the stuff in your hotel room (or make your partner carry it, I admit that I’m guilty of that one!).
- It’s a family vacation and you haven’t really planned to do any photography but you bring your full DSLR and 3-4 lenses anyway and never take it out of the bag or the car.
Any of those situations and outcomes sound familiar?
Tips to Help You Decide What to Pack
After many years of hauling all my gear everywhere I went, I’ve learned how to streamline and just take what I need.
So here are some questions to ask yourself to help you figure out what to put in your bag, and what to leave at home.
#1 What kind of trip is it?
First thing you want to consider is what kind of trip is it?
Are we talking family vacation, road trip, girls weekend, backwoods hiking and camping, or is it a dedicated photography trip?
Think about the purpose of the trip, why are you going? How much time will you actually have for doing photography?
And finally, a quick reality check.
If it is not a trip you are taking with the sole purpose of doing photography, how likely are you do that much shooting?
#2 Who is going with you?
This fits right in with number one above.
If you’re going on a road trip with a friend who also enjoys photography, that’s very different than going to a beach resort with your spouse and kids or grandkids.
If you’re going alone, great the sky is the limit.
But if you’re traveling with a companion the reality is that in deciding what to pack you also need to take their needs and wishes into consideration.
It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about photography (even though we like to think it is right?!).
The ultimate experience, of course, is to go on a photography vacation.
You’ll be surrounded by other photography enthusiasts and the trip is geared towards doing as much photography as possible.
#3 Are there luggage restrictions?
Think about your method of travel here.
If you’re flying there are both checked and carry-on luggage weight and size restrictions that you need to adhere to.
Taking the giant tripod that you use for landscape photography isn’t practical for air travel. Perhaps pack a smaller, more compactable one that’s carbon fiber and is a lot lighter as well.
As far as carry-on goes, most airlines now have a limit between 8-15 kg (17-32 pounds).
When you’re packing camera gear and a laptop it adds up fast and you can easily exceed that. Keep in mind the bigger your bag is, the heavier it will be if you fill it to the brim!
So what I recommend is to find out the limit and make sure you are under that or are at least close.
You don’t want to be forced to check your camera bag or to beg an airline agent to let you take it on board.
If you are driving yourself then space in the vehicle is your only limitation.
Feel free to pack a bit more and bring a small waist pack or sling bag that you can use as a daypack. Then you can just take what you need each day and leave your big bag behind.
#4 How long is the trip?
The length of time you’ll be away from home may dictate what to pack as well.
For example, if you know you’re going on an extended trip (4 weeks or longer) you may want to pack your laptop so you can download images on the go.
But for shorter trips, you might be able to get away with just having enough SD cards and not need to bring your laptop.
So factor in trip length when considering what to pack.
The longer you’re away the more variety of photography opportunities you may encounter. You can’t prepare for everything, but you can be prepared for most situations.
#5 Where are you going?
Next, think about your destination and what you might be likely to encounter there in terms of photography subjects.
If you’re going to a tropical location with lots of birds, you may want a long lens. Lots of beach time means you may want a wide lens for some sunset or landscape shots.
Heading to a bustling city, then you may want your handy nifty-fifty (50mm lens) or a compact rangefinder-style camera such as the Fuji X100F, Sony RX100 or similar type camera.
The Fuji F100X is my go-to camera for city or street photography and I’ve been known to take just it and nothing else. That’s all I took to NYC two years running when I went for a non-photography conference. I was there to learn and meet friends, and photography wasn’t the prime directive on that trip.
So this little Fuji served the purpose well.
Downsizing has other benefits
There are actually a lot of benefits to downsizing to a camera or rig like this and limiting yourself on purpose.
In Delhi when we were doing another photography trip, we did a walking tour of Old Delhi. The streets are so narrow and chaotic that this camera was perfect for that scenario as well.
- There’s no need to think about what lens to use.
- Its operation is simple.
- The fixed lens makes shooting simpler too and makes you get more creative.
- Finally, it’s so small and lightweight that you can carry just the camera, a memory card wallet and a couple of extra batteries in a small bag or purse and still have room for a water bottle.
Finally, consider whether or not you’ll need a tripod.
If you aren’t sure what you’ll be shooting, do some good research on your destination to see what is there and what sorts of scenes you might want to shoot.
Plan ahead as much as you can, then you’ll know what you need and what to pack.
#6 Reality check – what do you REALLY need?
Okay, this is the time when you need to get real.
In a perfect world, you’d take all your camera gear with you on every trip. But that’s not always feasible or practical.
So make a list of what you absolutely must have, and go from there.
Add stuff in if you have room in your bag and you can manage it. If not, leave the rest at home.
Minimalist’s Guide for What to Pack and Packing List
Now it’s time to make your list.
I’ve compiled a handy little printable packing checklist for you.
Download the packing checklist as a PDF (using the form above) so you can print it or save to your mobile device and have it handy when you need it. By clicking the link, you will be sent a download of the travel packing checklist and be subscribed to our weekly photography emails.
So what do I pack?
I’m sure you’re curious as to what I take with me when I travel.
That changes based on all the factors that I mentioned above. But here are some lists of the gear that I take in three of my most common travel situations.
Yes, I do have these too.
Most often it’s a conference or something like that so my schedule is already full of meetings and lectures, etc. Or it could be a trip to visit family or a friend.
So on this kind of trip, I bring with me:
- My Samsung S9 android phone
- My Fuji X100F (with 3 batteries and charger)
- A few memory cards (like two 64gb ones which more than covers it)
- iPad (maybe and that’s for reading mostly)
That’s it! Sometimes I don’t even bring the Fuji, just my phone.
Short trip (2 weeks or less)
If I know I’m going for a bit longer trip but will be doing a fair bit of shooting I will usually pack the following:
- Fuji XT3 camera body
- Fuji X100F camera
- 18-135mm lens (it’s weatherproof so great for travel)
- 35mm f/1.4 lens
- Rokinon 8mm fish-eye lens
- 6 Fuji batteries (for both cameras)
- Battery charger
- Flash (with battery and charger)
- All my memory cards. I have five 64gb cards, six 32gb ones, and a whack of 16gb ones)
Long trip (3 weeks or longer)
For trips three weeks or longer, I will usually take all of the stuff above but swap out my laptop (with charger and one or two external hard drives) for the iPad.
If I anticipate filling my memory cards I will bring the laptop so I can download and back up all my images. Or if I need to stay connected with the rest of the world and do some work, the laptop comes.
Just a quick note about camera bags.
I have six different camera bags, each with a unique purpose. I used to have a lot more (over a dozen) but I’ve downsized and tried to just keep the ones that I use most often.
Bags are a very personal thing and you have to try one out on an actual trip before you know whether it fits your needs or not.
On the shelf and on paper it can look great, but once you use it for a while you’ll know whether or not it holds enough stuff, has enough pockets, is comfortable when fully loaded and heavy, if it is weather-resistant, and so on.
That’s why I have accumulated so many bags over the years.
Also sometimes one has served my needs for a while then my needs changed like when I switched from Canon to Fuji I wanted a smaller bag too.
Sometimes I use a bag that holds my laptop, other times I use a different one that is smaller and just holds a tablet. That works for bus trips as well as small airplanes and domestic flights in some countries where the carry-on limit is lower.
I also have a small sling bag (like the one above) and a waist pack and I will often stuff one of those in my checked luggage when I’m using my main larger backpack (the ThinkTank Shape Shifter 15).
Then I have a daypack to take out on excursions and my big bag stays locked up on the room.
You can see all the stuff I use and/or recommend in one place over on Amazon here. As you can tell I love ThinkTank products. They’re super well-made, sturdy, comfortable, and thought out. I highly recommend them.