Carrying An Albatross, & Other Weighty Matters

OK, I’m going to write a bit about what I had in my pack during my Dales Way walk: photographers love to relate what they include in their bags (it’s the prelude to any justification for purchasing a newer, improved model) and sometimes we pick up valuable ideas this way (there’s more rationalizing at work!).

Heading off on a hike advertised as eighty miles long, a daypack was required. My choice was the Deuter Futura Zero 40, a top-loading pack of excellent build and materials which also fit nicely, and legally, into the overhead bin on our airline flights. It’s not a photo-specific bag, with dividers and cubbyholes, but it’s comfortable and carries more gear than most of those packs…and it weighs barely over three pounds. Did I mention it’s comfortable?

A small assortment of gear went into the Deuter: as you would expect for any walk in England (at any time of the year), rainproof pants and coat…a pair of fleece pants…a fleece neck warmer…thin, warm gloves (I took the English seriously when they said at any time)…compass, torch, spare socks, water, et cetera, et cetera…and Photo Essentials.

I’ve used a Canon 1Ds (the original 11-megapixel model) for three years and, if I have a complaint it’s the same one voiced by other Canon 1-Series users: these things are heavy! That is, of course, offset by their sturdy professional construction and weather resistance, but still…58 ounces without a lens. I will admit, I considered a smaller, lighter camera body for this trip, at one point even thinking Nikon.

But, no. In the end I decided the quality I had was too great to give up. I knew I couldn’t carry an albatross around my neck, and I didn’t want to dig into the pack each time I stopped to shoot, so I ordered a Digital Holster 40 from ThinkTank Photo, added two straps to the Deuter’s top compression strap buckles, clipped the holster to these, and the problem was solved. Like the Deuter, the holster is well-made and it didn’t intrude into my “trail experience:” I could see my boots, and any rocks, roots or other trail surprises that came along.

My lens choices were based on their weight and how I perceived (from viewing other photographers’ work) the rural English landscape I’d be passing through. I carried a 17-40, 50mm compact macro, 85 1.8, and a 135 f/2. (At home I use a 70-200 f/2.8 frequently, but its 46 ounces literally outweighed any conveniences it could offer). The most-used lens surprised me: if and when I check EXIF data it will indicate the 135 got 90% of the action…or more. I hadn’t owned a 135mm prime since the early 70s, but this Canon L lens has a reputation (especially wide open at f/2) and so I decided to trade off a 28-70L and try something new. For me, on this walk, it proved to be a nearly perfect focal length.

When not in use I kept lenses in padded cases, at the top of the Deuter.

I didn’t use any portable devices to store gigabytes, instead relying on CF cards entirely: I carried 70GB worth, in 4 and 2 gigabyte sizes, a mixture of SanDisk, Lexar and Kingston brands, and shot about 40GB worth over two weeks. In the evenings I enjoyed a meal and conversation, or went out walking in a village, instead of sorting through or editing anything I’d shot that day; people are certainly more interesting (and interactive) than any laptop. (I never backed up film, either: if it was x-rayed or damaged by heat that was my fault).

One item I’d been told I wouldn’t need to tackle the Dales Way was a walking stick/trekking pole, so in defiance of that advice I brought a pair of Black Diamonds. The Way is mostly level, but when it isn’t…and when I had to scramble up-and-over one of the many fence stiles on the route…an extra leg kept me grateful if not graceful.

That’s it for What I Packed, and Why. I kept it (reasonably) light, no doubt could trim a pound or two the next time, and will probably again agonize over what to take, and what to leave out. It’s all part of the fun.


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