Packing for a Wander

I’m back on the road, this time for at least a year or two of various-length stays; a week here, a month there, a day somewhere else. My destinations are equally TBD, but climate range will mostly be 3-seasons because the cold can go eat a dick.

Packing for a trip like this can be tricky enough as it is, but I also plan on doing a lot of camping and picture-taking, so I needed to be equipped for both. And, because there’s no challenge I can’t make more difficult, all of it needed to  all fit in carryon luggage.

Piece of cake.

The Camp Bag

Pack Weight: 26lbs

After exhaustive searching for a carryon-sized backpack, it ultimately came down to the Osprey Ozone 46L and Porter 46L. I loved the sleek design and suitcase-style opening of the Porter, but the lack of side pockets and a footlocker made it less suited for outdoorsy stuff. If I weren’t planning on doing any camping or hiking, it’d be perfect. But as I plan on hitting the back country, the Ozone was the better fit.

Since taking this picture, I’ve added: a 1L Nalgene bottle, a 1L Platypus waterskin, a pair of REI convertible pants, a Columbia travel shirt, and a pair of board shorts.[/caption]

  1. Water Filter : Even if you never leave the city, water filters are a good idea in general because they let you refill your bottle at any tap, no matter where you are. I dig the Lifestraw because it’s pretty hassle-free, but any filter will do.
  2. Emergency Blanket : Also not just for trails. One of these saved my ass when my heat-less hostel room was stuck at 10ºC/50ºF all night.
  3. Ultralight Hammock Straps and
  4. Hammock : I love me some hammock camping. I keep a tent for “just in case,” but I’ll always try to hang first.
  1. Inflatable Sleeping Pad : Inflatability was a must (for packing). Since I’ll only be using this when I need my tent, I went with the Klymit because it was cheapest.
  2. Thermal Sleeping Bag Liner : Sea to Summit makes amazing gear and this is no exception. Between this and my sleeping bag, I can sleep comfortably in temps as low as -7ºC / 20ºF. I never will, but I can.
  3. Pack Rain Cover : Also Sea to Summit. I learned the hard way what happens when your pack cover isn’t as waterproof as it claims to be. Once is enough.
  1. Sleeping Bag : Easily the biggest thing in the pack. Jury’s still out as to whether or not I need one this heavy when I have the liner. My upcoming Iceland trip will give me a better idea.
  2. Clockwise from UL: basic paracord, since replaced with this much-superior multitool paracord; waterproof phone case for swimming / diving videos; lite clothesline for drying clothes; head lamp for hands-free illumination; cable lock for securing my bag to things; repair tape because rip happens.
  3. Down Jacket : The perfect 3-season companion because it packs up so small when you don’t need it.
  1. Clockwise from UR: never forget your (ultralite microfiber) towel; $20 boxer briefs (x3), because I’m worth it; $25 merino wool socks because they’re super comfy and guaranteed for life; two Uniqlo Airism shirts because they’re amazingly light and dry in an instant, two things you look for in a travel shirt; two merino wool tees because they’re good in both cold and warm weather.
  2. Lightweight Solar Panel : A panel this small won’t really quick charge anything, but it’ll keep a powerbank topped off if left out in the sun — perfect for keeping charged up on long hikes.
  1. Rain Jacket : Just a shell, the thinner the better. I’ve got enough clothes for warmth, this is just to keep dry.
  2. Cookset: collapsible cupspork, and stowaway pot which perfectly fits the camp stove
  3. Packable windbreaker : This thing packs up impossibly small and does a surprisingly good job of cutting wind chill. It’s a little snug, but works great as an underlayer.
  1. Tent poles, stakes, guy lines for my
  2. 2-person tent : My old solo tent worked well enough, but this tent actually packs up almost as tiny (thanks in no small part to the magic of packing cubes) and offers a lot more room for activities
  3. Tarp : A must-have for hammock camping but otherwise skippable; I likely won’t be bringing it to Iceland, where there aren’t a lot of trees to hang from anyway
  4. Stuffable Daypack : Perfect for taking on day trips (so the backpack can stay behind) and packs up super small when not in use.

The Gear Bag

Pack Weight: 27lbs

This one took some searching as the gear bag needed to fit beneath the plane seat in order to qualify as a “personal item” — a max size of 18″ x 13″ x 8″ or so. Thing is, people prefer not to look like turtles, so most backpacks max out at 5″ or 6″ deep, which wastes precious vertical space.

Thankfully, I found a bag the perfect size (and price) in the AmazonBasics DSLR & Laptop Backpack. It was practically built to spec and fit everything I could throw at it and then some. I won’t go into it too much here, but watch my review for more info.

It’s basically a portable locker you can partition out.[/caption]

This is only half the picture. So many bits and bobs are filed away in the Strapbooks (3 & 4) and the Rando Box (22)[/caption]

  1. Nintendo Switch : I just got this for Christmas. Like hell I’m gonna leave it behind. Besides which, between its small form factor and ability to charge off USB, it’s the perfect game system for travelers.
  2. Travel Tripod : A tripod makes all the difference in the world with landscape photography. Preferring to keep light, I typically only travel with Ultrapods (one small and one large), but the last thing I want is to be in the middle of a beautiful treeless expanse and have nothing to strap it to, so I picked up the aluminum compact tripod. We’ll see if it was worth it.
  3. Tech Strapbook
  4. Camera Strapbook
  5. Earplugs are the best things you can do for your sanity and quality of sleep, so cheaply. An absolute must for any kind of communal sleeping arrangement. Likewise, never leave home without a decent pair of earbuds.
  1. Med Kit : a small assortment of bandaids, q-tips, Imodium, antibacterial cream, sharp tweezers, needles, and others
  2. 8″ Tablet : My computer is so vital to my livelihood that I try to use it as little as possible to minimize risk of damage or loss. Better to do the simple things (watch movies, dick around, etc) on an $80 tablet and save the $800 Macbook for when it’s absolutely necessary.
  3. E-Reader : It might be overkill to bring both a tablet and an e-reader, but reading in a sunny outdoor spot is one of life’s simple pleasures and it’s a bitch to read on an LCD in bright sunlight.
  4. Air Blower : Absolutely critical for dealing with sensor dust, which is inevitable when swapping lenses in the field.
  5. 3-outlet Tap : Simpler, smaller, and cheaper than a power strip. No fuse, but it’s not like I worry about that when plugging straight into a wall. Has since been moved to a Strapbook.
  1. Surf Wallet of foreign currency, emergency bank cards, and a few slim nicknacks, and a SIM Card Case corralling my various micro-SD cards (so many cards) as well as a couple mobile carrier SIMs.
  2. Toiletries
  3. Folding Book Light : This one is a bit of an indulgence. It’s unnecessary weight just for a light source, especially when I have both a head lamp and my phone light. But while it’s not an obvious choice, this light has saved my ass on at least three separate occasions when I had to camp somewhere that starting a fire wasn’t an option. And few things are as magical as having a book chandelier hanging from a tree beside your tent.
  4. Digital Recorder and windsock : handy for both collecting various aural souvenirs as well as separately recording voice tracks for videos (nothing makes a video seem cheap like bad audio does).
  1. Wireless mouse : this one might actually get chucked as I hardly use it
  2. Powerbank : Powers and charges every single device I own, from my laptop to my cameras. An absolute must (I cannot overstate how great it is to be able to charge my laptop from an external battery.
  3. Clockwise from UL : (all focal lengths effective) 24–70mm f/2.8, killer all-around zoom lens (also my only zoom lens); 85mm f/1.2, portrait monster; 18mm f/2 ultrawide; 50mm f/1.4 workhorse, my most-used lens of all. Not pictured: the 28mm f/2 lens used to take this picture and the Fuji XT-1 it’s sitting on.
  4. Krama
  5. Laptop : I opted for the 2015 Macbook because it’s the oldest (read: cheapest) USB-C Macbook out there. It’s also damned light and incredibly travel-friendly.
  1. Journals, pens, and House Stark carry pouch.
  2. Metro cards, credit cards, passports, and backup ID photos. You never know when a visa or other official document might require an ID photo and it’s good to have a couple spares handy.
  3. Rando Box

The Real MVPs

The Catch-22 to these fantastic bags is that what makes them great—the fact that they’re really just large pockets with shoulder straps—also makes them tricky for smaller items. They both offer front panels with smaller pockets for items and the AmazonBasics pack lets you partition it out with velcro dividers, but I travel with a lot of small items and those features weren’t enough.

That’s where containers come in. Between two Strapbooks and one old lens case, I’m able to corral my menagerie of chargers, cables, filters, and a million other things.

(No clue what a Strapbook is? Have I got a video for you!)

So many devices, so many different connector types and batteries and needs. Thank god for my Tech Book keeping them wrangled in one place.[/caption]

  1. USB-C Charger : for phone, laptop, Switch
  2. USB-A Charger : for everything else
  3. USB Hub : The Macbook’s single USB port normally isn’t a big issue, but every now and then I need to connect multiple external drives. I do need to find a smaller solution, though.
  4. 3-Outlet Tap
  5. Port Adapter : Another Macbook necessity
  1. Basic USB Cable Adapters : Rather than bring different cables for each type of connector my various devices require, it’s simpler to just pack the most common USB cable (A to Micro) and pack adapters. This is especially useful for my USB-C devices, as those cables can still be tough to find in some places.
  2. More Basic USB Cables
  3. Phone USB Cable : I do still pack a USB-C to C cable for quick charging my phone
  1. Thumb Drive : Thumb drives are indispensable by themselves, but the Kingston Data Traveler is particularly great because it’s got both USB-C and USB-A connectors, which means I can just plug it into a computer, copy a file, then plug it right into my phone for easy file transfers.
  2. Headphone Adapter : for my Pixel 2
  3. Card Reader : The one thing I hate about the new Macbook is the lack of an SD reader forcing me to rely on external ones.
  1. Backup Card Reader : No seriously, I lose these and I’m hosed.
  2. Universal Travel Adapter : I normally avoid universal adapters because they’re often big and boxy to accommodate the UK’s ridiculously big outlets (ex). This one, however, cleverly figured out how to make a slim adapter that works in the UK.

My Camera Book, meanwhile, saves me so much space in filter cases alone.[/caption]

  1. Circular Polarizer : I’ve always loved what Circular Polarizers can do for a photo, but because you’re constantly screwing them on and off the lens, they were too much of a pain in the ass to bother with. Then Xume came along and introduced magnetic quick release filters, and everything changed. I now keep the Xume base permanently attached to my 28mm and the ring on this polarizer for effortless use.
  2. Backup Camera battery
  3. Lens Pen : For those times I know better than to use the edge of my shirt
  1. Notebook and Grey card : I really only use the grey card for portraits, and even then only sometimes, but it’s nice to have in case I need it.
  2. ND Filter (67mm) : Handy not just for long exposure shots but also shallow DOF portraits in the bright sun. Sized for my 18mm ultrawide
  3. Shutter Release : I’m not normally an astrophotography guy, but come on — it’s Iceland
  4. Card Reader and Adapter : I wasn’t kidding when I said I’d be screwed if something happened to my reader.
  1. SD Cards : DIY card sleeve made from duct tape
  2. ND Filters (52mm) : Sized for my 28mm walkaround lens
  3. Shutter Release cable 
  4. Teleportation Device
  5. Pocket Screwdriver
  6. Another Backup Battery

And everything else goes into the Rando Box, an old Nikon lens case bolstered with some cardboard.[/caption]

  1. Cell Phone Tripod Mount : Pairs well with my UltraPod to let me strap my cell phone to pretty much anything. My whole “video production setup” for my review videos is to mount my phone and UltraPod to a lamp or stool or something tall to use as a substitute tripod.
  2. Action Camera : This one might not be long for my pack, as I don’t think my life is action-y enough to justify an action camera. My Pixel 2 is more than good enough for my video needs, and I can only really see needing an action cam in special instances. We’ll see, but I’m not holding my breath.
  1. Spirit Level : Handy for leveling video cameras. A janky horizon is a sure fire way to spoil an otherwise good video.
  2. Spare AAAs : For my head lamp after the current disposables run out
  3. Backup Earbuds
  4. SD Card Backup Device : With a quick tweak, this media hub turns into an SD card backup tool. Utterly priceless for travel photographers. I’ll do a video and/or a longer post when I get a chance.
  1. Camera Battery Charger : Plugs into USB, which is an utter life saver when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
  2. MicroSD Adapter : Even though my three card readers all have MicroSD slots, you can never be too safe. Especially when so many of my devices use it.
  3. Travel Lock : Rarely needed, but good to have when it is.
  4. Hard Drive Cable : For my 500gb SSD (not pictured)

Looking at this it’s hard to believe I used to be a massive packrat, buried under a mountain of Stuff. And now I look at my two bags laid out like this, displaying the handful of items that’ll be my entire life for the next few months, and all I can think is,

“What else can I get rid of?”

To be honest, there’s a lot. I haven’t made any of the tough cuts yet because the rest of my year is going to mostly be traveling the States, spending a month or so at a time at my various stops. I’ll likely cut this down considerably at the end of the year when I flee the country. I’ll be sure to post an update when the time comes.

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