At the end of this month I’ll drive down to Las Vegas, eschewing the speedier interstate route for scenic Highway 395, and meet my friend Ulrich Rossmann, who’s flying from Berlin. After a brief pause along The Strip to play one of the Coke machines (I always win!) we’ll head for the lightly-touristed North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the first leg of a three-week tour through Arizona and Utah.
So I have organizing to do, lots of it, making hard choices about what to take or leave behind, and how to pack it all in, and yesterday I resolved one of my biggest concerns: where to store the 4Runner’s spare tire. It normally rides underneath the rear of the vehicle, but we’ll be off the pavement for long stretches on roads that are unimproved and I don’t want to crawl around on the ground if I have to retrieve it. The interior offers the easiest access, and I almost went with that until realizing that every time I reached for a box or bag the big rubber doughnut would be in the way. Finally, the 60-watt bulb above my head blinked on and I hoisted the tire onto the sturdy BajaRack I bolted on the truck’s roof just for this purpose. Sometimes, obvious is the best solution.
With that heady problem out of the way I turned to another: what camera equipment to take. I don’t own a lot of gear—there’s no room in the house devoted to stacks of equipment cases—just a couple of camera bodies, a half-dozen lenses, tripod, and varied accessories I can’t do without because they make photographic life easier. Once, I would have stuffed everything into soft Lowepro bags and been done, but now—after a few unwieldy trips—I’ve learned the benefits of traveling lighter.
Ulrich and I will be hiking at higher elevations than we’re accustomed to, so whatever equipment I tote should be lightweight—I don’t need an albatross. It should also fit into my Deuter daypack. I favor telephoto lenses at sweeping vistas like the Grand Canyon, for example, where I’ll pick out isolated pieces of the landscape, but elsewhere we’ll be close-up to our subjects where wide-angles will excel, so a combination of 17-40mm and 70-200mm zooms is a no-brainer. But the 400mm? Aside from a random antelope or two I don’t expect to see wildlife, it’s heavy, and it eats up valuable room in the pack. Hmmm. The 100mm macro? That focal length is covered by one of the zooms. Hmmm, again. I’ll set them aside for the moment and think about it. (A diminutive 50mm macro always gets packed, by the way.)
I’ll gamble that I won’t destroy or lose my camera, so a second body is unnecessary—and that’s another two pounds off my back. (If it malfunctions or is stolen, I’ll have the other boxed and ready to be shipped, just in case.)
With fewer lenses and one camera I won’t even need a shoulder bag—in its place I’m using a belt system from ThinkTank Photo. Lenses will be in Lens Changer pouches, the camera slips inside a Digital Holster (which doubles as a smallish shoulder bag in a pinch), and these are all attached to a comfortable Pro Speed Belt. If necessary, everything fits into the daypack alongside my new tripod—I’ve just purchased a used Gitzo 1228Mk II, a carbon fiber model half the weight of my aluminum Manfrotto. As the English will tell you, a pound is a pound.
I expect this lighter, simpler kit to help me concentrate on the photographs at hand, not on equipment. Whether clearer thinking will lead to better pictures is another question altogether, but I believe I know the answer.