I’m getting ready for an overseas trip to China. I made a similar trip a few years ago and learned a few lessons about how to pack my gear. The goal was to travel light, but with redundancy. I also knew I’d be shooting in lots of different shooting situations. The goal was to be able to fit virtually all my gear into a single piece of carry-on baggage (there was no way I was going to deal with lost items).
Why Go Carry On?
As soon as you let your gear out of your site… things can go wrong. From lost baggage and delays to outright theft I’ve experienced it all. And let me tell you, the insurance provided by airlines doesn’t come even close to covering the cot of your gear. With a carry-on bag, its possible to keep your gear within your sight… if you follow these tips.
- Consider paying for a priority boarding group. Be sure to get on that plane before all the bins are gone.
- Don’t overdo the laptop bag. If you carry a small briefcase with a tablet or laptop, you’re probably ok. Try to sneak another case on or an overstuffed second bag and you’ll get flagged.
- Be prepared to thin it out. I make sure that the top layer can be easily thinned so that the bag has no trouble fitting into the overhead. Overstuff the pocket or put too much on top and you’ve got problems slipping the bag in place.
- Check the plane specs. A lot of commuter jets have really small baggage compartments. You’re going to be out of luck on these. Make sure you check out what type of plane you’re booking or be ready to gate check. In this case I’ll pull as many pieces of the “good stuff” into a small canvas tote or shopping bag to put in the overhead bin. Lenses and bodies will stay with me as much as possible.
My Go-to Bag
My favorite bag for international trips is the ROADIE II HYBRID BLACK from Tenba. What makes it a winner is how much it can hold (and how well it holds up). For International trips where I am shooting stills and video, I often go with Micro Four-Thirds due to the smaller size and weight. This makes it easier to pack spare pieces of gear so I have backups while abroad. What I can fit into one bag amazes even me.
- The bag fits in a standard overhead compartment easily (handle facing out)
- With rare exception do I have any issues with gate staff
- The bag does fit under a seat.
- It can get through customs with no problems
The bag offers some useful features and is durably made.
- Ballistic nylon exterior
- Dual ball bearing wheels that are user-changeable
- Weight 10.5 lbs (4.8 kg) without gear
- Exterior dimensions 14W X 20H X 8.5D in. (36 X 51 X 22 cm)
- Meets international carry-on requirements
- Backpack harness to use in a pinch (not comfortable, but useful when rolling isn’t going to work).
How much gear fits (and what to bring)
Traveling abroad requires a lot of redundancy (its often hard to impossible to buy replacement gear). For me, trips are even more challenging as I shoot photos, timelapse, and video. Here’s a breakdown of what I bring.
- 2 Olympus OM-D E-M1— My preferred still body for MFT
- 2 Panasonic DMC-GH4 Body— True 4K video and great in-camera timelapse controls.
- 2 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras —Useful for highest quality video shooting.
- 2 Olympus BCN1 Charges
- 10 Olympus Batteries
- 2 Blackmagic Chargers
- 10 Blackmagic Batteries
- 3 Multiformat Chargers – With plates for Panasonic and Olympus
- 5 Panasonic Batteries
- Olympus 12MM Prime ƒ 2 – A fast wide-angle lens
- Lumix 12.5 3D Lens (discontinued) Takes 3D still images
- M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens — A great zoom that is fast and sharp.
- Lumix 14 MM 2.5 – A good lens for shooting wider.
- Olympus 15MM 8 Body Cap Lens — Leave on the camera so you can take a picture if needed when going through security or customs.
- Lumix 25 1.4s
- M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens — A great lens for shooting from a distance.
- Olympus 45 1.8
- Olympus 60MM MACRO 2.8 —Super sharp and very flexible
- Olympus 75 1.8
- Lomography MFT SET —Fun for experimental shooting
- PINWIDE PINHOLE LENS — A retro pinhole lens
- ZOOM H4N —A solid audio recorder with built-in mic
- Olympus Microphone Adapter — Let’s you add a mic to the hot shoe
- 2 XLR Audio Cables
- 2 TRAM Lavaliere Microphones
- Wooden Camera XLR Audio adapter —Expensive, but solid way to connect audio direct to camera.
- 2 Platypod Pro Plates —Perfect alternative to tripod
- 1 Platypod Max Plate —Useful for heavier lenses.
- 1 Olympus 600-FR Flash
- 2 Remote Shutter Releases
- 1 Olympus Macro Light MAL-1 — Small LEDs that attach to the top of the camera
- 1 HDMI Coupler — Join 2 cables into 1
- 3 HDMI Cables
- 4 Camera USB Cables
- 1 Toolkit Really Right Stuff — A carry-on safe multitool
- 6 Allen Wrenches
- 4 Really Right Stuff L-plates — Rock solid camera plates
- 2 Really Right Stuff Base-plates
- 2 Lenspens — To remove lens dust or smudges
- 1 Tether Tools Rock Solid Accessory Extension Bar —Perfect for accessories on the Hot Shoe
- 2 Vulture Camera Works Straps — The best strap on the market
- Giottos Rocket Blower —Because sensor dust blows
- 14″ Photovision Calibration Target — Doubles as a reflector and a quick references target
- ColorChecker Passport Video — To calibrate your shot
- 2 Pelican Hard Case Card Wallets — Lost cards mean lost photos
Checked Bag Gear
Packed in my suitcase (checked baggage) were.
- 2 Giottos Voyage Compact Tripods
- 3 Really Right Stuff Tripod Ballheads — Rock solid and durable
- Sirui Monopod — Doubles as a walking stick
- DJI Osmo Kit — A smooth gimbal camera system for video and hyperlapse
The Bottom Line
Make sure you don’t pack your bag until it bursts. Airline bags tend to ‘just” fit in that small space. I also recommend tossing in a few smaller fabric shopping bags as well as using some zippered pouches. You may need to quickly reconfigure or move to make things work for the airlines.