This is all about bags and travel, and you should read the whole article before you make a purchase.

Just like you hopefully own different pairs of pants for different occasions, Camera bags fall into this category and unless you simply do one style of photography, you need more than one bag.  Never ever use or wear a bag that says Nikon, Canon, and so forth. You invite trouble.

Upfront over the years my favorites have been, the Domke line which for years have been photojournalist preferred.  Because of the soft side and body conforming style, they don't bounce all over the place while running after a shot. 

But my business today might be more inclined for mil-spec gear because I like simple and strong and in some cases I would like to see bullet-proof incorporated.

LowePro and Tamrac who have the largest selection of quality products on a par with each other.  Many, many models offered by both.

Pelican Products for hard shell, turtle like working professional cases for tough on the run type transport. And Blackhawk and MaxPedition, Mil-Spec quality products able to survive the worst in the "shoot em up" environment.  Think tank has an incredible, though pricey line of good too.

When you see the words BEST in the header, it is because I have used and abused these products.  I use the same judgement and criteria for bags as I do for tripods and brackets.  I use the airlines a lot and in the shot above I am dressed for travel, small cameras and minimal gear, food bars and loose fitting clothes.  

They all thought I was a Flight Marshall dressed as such. Little did they know that bag does have a hidden weapon compartment.  On this trip four Nature Valley Peanut Bars replaced one of my Glock's, my 27.  Check out the stares...


What do you really need?  How much can I carry, do I want that much to drag along and what do I really need to complete the mission.  The main categories of bags are shoulder, backpack, fanny pack , belt pack, or belt SWAT gear type. 

But the biggest mistake a bag buyer makes after misjudging needs and what it holds, is quality, how is it made and used.  I see bags that made the gear look pretty but slipped off shoulders, poor quality polyester straps, cheap Velcro that shreds and you have to give it a haircut ever so often, and after they were loaded really couldn't carry the weight, distorted and so forth.

You have to list the real requirements, not just the gear. Big mistake, to buy a big bag as you will find yourself filling it.  

Backpacks are great from point A to point B, but they are definitely not for working out of.  You were not born with hands on your back and one of the biggest problems is the bigger the bag you buy, the more you have a need to stuff it. 

That’s a stupid idea and is easily explained by the Gremkin-Flugals laws of Physics which states “the more you pile on an ass to carry, increases in weight and when the ass dies, Your ass is next in line to haul it”.  I totally agree with that hypothesis.

With a backpack you need a hand for the pack, one for the body of the camera and one for the lens, that’s three or you'll wind up using the sidewalk or forgetting the backpack. 

Some places I just don't lay the pack down to get something out. Situational awareness, as in a riot, outside the green zone, Bagdad, the movie theatre in downtown Kabul or some parts of my city, any piazza with motor scooters in Italy, or at a concert. 

No time, no place. It's also makes a thief's job easier as his point of attack will be from the rear.  Think about that. In a crowd I swing my bag to the front.  Sometimes right above hiding my Glock under my shooting jacket.  

In the badlands, where the mission can change in an instant, I prefer Mil-Spec gear like the harness shown.  My Camel Back mil-spec water bag and my fanny pack both hook to this gear as well as lens cases.  It is modular and fits over body armor.  Just as many guys got it wearing blue helmets and no protection other than the word press. Bad guys don't play by the rules.  

Now if you do landscape and scenics, who cares, the backpack is the perfect tool.  For a PJ guy good or suicide depending if you are a chaser and you need to bring food and water.  

I have backpacks and in this Florida heat sweated the labels off them, but for trekking and doing the OJ through airports a backpack is fine. But you might have to empty all that stuff on a table and miss the flight.  Black backpacks here turn white with sweat. The better packs by LowePro and others have a protective barrier to allow a little air through. 


How to pack quick for an airline / rental car  road trip.  This is the kind of work that is either planned or you get one of those phone calls and you have to bolt. You’ll be spending time having to find either transportation or accommodations so you really want your gear close, up front and personal, portable and not out of sight. No checked baggage.  

This is when I drag the my regular three day rough backpack by Blackhawk in Sand Color shown above that I made smaller bags to fit in my field pack heavily insulated for lenses.

The travelers best tool is one of those mini-hand trucks that fold to nothing. They are $23.00 at Sams. Folded, no airline ever refused me so far. It will depend on the carrier, baggage rules are nuts today. It has big rubber wheels that absorb bumps and vibration. I do not like the combo rollers on backpack aka roller, aka luggage, aka bag because like a multi-tool, they do something, but nothing great.  Those small non-absorbant wheels do nothing but jar the crap out of your gear when on tiles in the airport. I change them to rubber when I can.


Typical road kit for me was a D3S, and a D300 Back Up.
For lenses:  The 17-55mm, 35mm 1.8, 12-24mm, 70-200mm VR and a 1.7 tele-converter.  Two strobes.
We add flashes, a few external drives, cell phone batteries and download stuff, small flash pack, flashlight, pocket knife and a Gerber tool. 
Also I added a small insulated bag that clips on with my "meds".

Now the fun: Two sandwiches from SUBWAY with chips, Kasha bars and chewing gum.  It's called the Frickin Airline Survival Totem Bag In Transit Expeditions. (FAST BITE) or you can starve and eat Delta Dog Biscuits.  

If you are familiar with a TV travel show, "Traveling in Europe with Rick Steves" I have a friend who is a big fan of his travel philosophy. Tom and I have been friends and traveled to trade shows for 35 years. From Toms blog... he writes for his camera store, I gleaned the following.

Dear Friends,
I own one piece of luggage, a 22 year old Rick Steves Rucksack.  If it doesn't fit in there, it doesn't go.  I have done 30 days in Europe with just that bag. Travel is more fun the less you take.  There are some tricks to the trade however. 

I do not need extra shoes, now I know this is a touchy point with some of the ladies.  My question is if you are traveling how will the waitress at Denny's know you wore those shoes yesterday and will she care?  So for me no shoes in the bag, I wear the one pair. Comfortable, broken in shoes. I will be doing a lot of walking at trade shows. 

For shirts and pants, I pack some that are reasonably wrinkle resistant and place them on hangers; place them in the bathroom in the shower.  Turn on the shower to hot, let the bath room fill with steam, turn off the water, leave the room closing the door and go exploring the hotel, town or whatever.  When I return the shirts are wrinkle free.  A chair next to the room heater is the dryer. 

When I go to Europe I might need a suit / sport coat for business meetings. So I take an old sport coat, and have a dry cleaner treat it with water repellant.  I wear this on to the plane so it is not taking up space in the bag.  This gives me my business attire, a light jacket for cool evenings and a rain coat for light showers.  

Med's and Bathroom: Guess what anything you can buy here, you can buy in some form there.  I recall visiting an Apothecary in Germany once looking for Vicks NyQuil, and I found it.  Of course the label said it was Vicks Medinight, but it is the same stuff. 

Tom Bailey


Tom and I do not agree totally. Wearing the same shoes for six or seven fourteen hour days in Vegas will cause the smoke alarms to go off.  I use a different approach.  One pair to rotate and one pair to be thrown out after the end of the journey.

When those bastards played the baggage game and wanted 60 dollars for a suitcase to Vegas and back I took my small airline case with me to the PMA/CES show in Vegas. I packed for five days my oldest doomed to be thrown out golf shirts, undershirts and underwear. The oldest faded ones I had in the drawers. Every year I call them, "my travel collection". They got pitched in the garbage behind the hotel and replaced in the suitcase by things I wanted to bring home.  What gets used in Vegas stays in Vegas! 

When at a convention you accumulate tons of reading stuff and I am not a fan of doing all that reading in a town like Las Vegas so I want to go out after show hours and eat, drink, be merry, have fun with friends and colleagues.  

In my baggage I bring three large USPS unfolded boxes, they lie flat in the luggage, a small roll of tape and three self addressed USPS pre-stamped flat rate stickers.  As I collect, I fill the boxes, add a sticker and give to the hotel mailroom with a $2.00 tip and the stuff is home before I get there with catalogs and giveaways. The USPS costs are business deductible and since they are flat rate, heavy as heck and get delivered right to my door. If I don't use the third one, I cancel it out.


If it's a PJ extended interview, Wedding or Event work and we are driving, I include or add to the collection I mentioned, several of the battery packs I make, extended cables, two six volt batteries, cables that can combine to twelve if I must run the laptop in an emergency, the equipment I think I will need for the job and if it fits in the trunk.

For small articles needing one or two shots, a small reporter bag two, the usual pens, reporter notepad, interview recorders (2), CREE or Sure-fire flashlights, cables and power cords,  all purpose Gerber tools, one with the sharp blades ground down to screwdrivers, for airline, and one domestic, no fly normal model. 

I take small garbage bags for the car, for garbage hanging from the glove box, bad weather protection for the gear and laundry. I use the larger garbage bags for raincoats, even though some of my gear has a rain cover. I don't. Water kills cameras and I don't need a cold or chills.

In states applicable to Concealed Carry Permits, I carry two duplicate licenses, and my Glock.  It brings new meaning to the word "shooter" and in these tumultuous times very important.  Once or twice a month at the range is just as important. I stay very current occasionally shooting IPSC events.

A second duffle bag contains tripod, monopods, umbrellas, both for light and rain, reflectors, if I think I need it and rain gear. Nice quality dry insulated rain gear, first aid kit and other odds and ends. 

If we are within, say within 500 miles, or Tampa to New Orleans, Louisiana, we add a huge cooler with drinks, dried fruits, nuts, snack and fruit energy bars, lots of breakfast cereal assortment, soy milk and a few airline size mood changers for social reasons and the end of day in the motel room or tent.  Your call, but a good brandy and a couple of Oreos is very warming. Helps you sleep too and cheaper than hotel or restaurant pricing.


Medications for the trip are in sealed pouches marked for each day by the vacuum freezer machine which produces small airtight, waterproof, and clearly marked packs. The peel off prescription labels they give you extras of on the bag from the pharmacy are pasted into the packet and onto one sheet of paper and another in my ID case, another in the personal bag with shave gear and my wallet. 

That’s so the TSA guys at the airline terminals don’t think you are the local ecstasy dealer on holiday.  I learned how to make seals both directions so I cut out each day as needed. I also take some currency in small denominations and seal a small bag of it.  

Another thing I carry with my meds is a sealed printed condensed version of my meds, medical history, blood types, ALLERGIES, operations etc. and so forth marked “for medical emergency use only”.  It just might save your life one day ina foreign country like Georgia. ('s near southern Russia.


I have Pelican cases that I can use for travel, can ship to a site or location working from the car. Nothing protects like a Pelican case. In fact if I’m not on the job, the bigger one has become my standard car travel carrier in the trunk, just remove the photo insert and use those plastic HD clothing bags and they have rollers.

But weight will kill you with the big Pelicans on the airline. Limits are fifty pounds, and a 26 pound empty Pelican kills the deal. Expect a 50-100 surcharge. You ship and pray.

No Gorilla, even Norwood (see Picture) ever damaged my Pelicans. They (two of his human friends) did however destroy two of my wife’s brand new $400.00 American Tourister Classic Fancy Paisley GUCCI matching bags at Denver Airports brand new computer driven state of the art baggage system.  My stuff was in Mil-Spec. She loved the Gucci look.  The machinery thought it was food.

What a thrill, after the system went dead for thirty minutes, there was a loud noise. She and I and the other passengers eagerly awaited our luggage presentation.  Our luggage came back like magma from a volcano. 

Nice to watch your wife's entire wardrobe come flying out like an unscheduled release of flatulence, spilling out all over Denver's automated carousel, on their second day of operation.  The carousel and new automated baggage machines were the talk of the airport world.

Two things exploded, my wife's great packing job and her temper. The only time in thirty one years together I saw her that mad using language only I thought I could use.  It ripped the bags wide open, destroyed the zippers, and threw the clothes all over the place.  Airports - Ughhhhhh!. 

They ( the PR guy and the airline rep) first wanted to fix the zippers, and pay only for the other repairs. Bull manure, who pays for the dry cleaning, the rubber marks ruined some stuff and I took on the "No Way Jose" attitude, this was arbitration at it's finest, and my gear was recording for a short movie called "Airline Baggage Sucks, a Training Guide for Attorneys".

By that time I had the whole thing on film and my mini-tape recorders.  I also had a crowd.  You'll love the article I was also writing, as I told them on their day of grand exuberance.  It was called "Disaster in Denver, Millions Wasted on Destructive Baggage System.  Might as well make money on the road, I thought. 

They realized the dilemma they were in, I got a $400 hundred dollar credit for the two pieces of luggage in swap for that film not seeing daylight. Two free tickets as long as the Airline was not mentioned, it was really the Denver Authorities blame.  Call it "Journalistic Extortion" and I replaced the luggage later on with better ideas and more guts, less Gucci.  No more Samsonite for me…and by the way they own several other brand names under private labels, but the same lousy quality.  We left the airport, whats left of our clothes in garbage bags and headed for a mall outlet store.



So it's obvious I like Pelicans for the protection they afford and I have shipped everything from seminar projectors to weaponry in them. They are very useful and I only buy them with adjustable dividers, that foam is for the birds for me, but OK for  one shot deals, like a 600 mm Nikkor. 

I have a spare insert for both. But I caution you, the larger cases weigh half the allowance in weight for the airlines which is 50 pounds thus a 1620 weighs 26 pounds and you better be under the 24 lbs. of usable or you get slapped with $100.00 dollars in add-ons.

For most of you doing local stuff and short hauls the Pelican 1510 is an excellent choice with the wheels, carry on guarantee and stable interior if you get the dividers. It's just big enough for my kit above and little else. As I wrote above I hate small wheels but sometimes you put up with it.  Pelicans are indestructible, but sometimes soft side is a requirement.

As to clothing, now I find I use my load out gear, also called deployment bags and I have some from Blackhawk and they are tough. And they get checked and the camera gear stays with me. Nothing like cameras or personal gear goes in them, only clothes, boots etc.  

I also have a slew of Blackhawk accessories, holsters, magazine packs and backpacks.   Blackhawk like the Pelicans are a lifetime investment. For the airline I also have some HD soft bags from BlackHawk for travel. 

If someone wants to steal my underwear, have at it. Nothing but clothes go in it. I close the zippers with zip ties so I know if it got opened. I carry twenty spares in the side pocket. Usually it's not opened or checked since the X-ray just shows clothes.  And as explained in the tips above, most will not be making the return trip.

Many times I just buy my throw away toiletries at a CVS or Wal-Greens like a razor and use the stuff the better hotels provide. 

In the better ones they have toothbrushes and combs, just ask the concierge. I just pitch the half empties before I head home. Less hassle at the checkins and the TSA.

Nothing valuable goes in the checked baggage. Thus the load out bags work great and they don't say steal me.  A friend of mine in Italy told me GUCCI is STEAL spelled backwards. Duh, I asked, "ICCUG in text is "I Cana Cee U Gold.


BlackHawk Industries harness gear, are the standard of the industry. The belts and harnesses puts gear weight on my waist and partially on my back but has mesh on the water carrier for circulation. I have used Blackhawk merchandise  for years with the work I did with the Army Rangers. It helps to know the difference between a 50 Millimeter and 50 Caliber. They also make soft travel bags which are great for overnighters.

On harness gear, LowePro makes the civilian versions, so does Tamrac. Less intimidating than the Blackhawk as shown.  That’s the best for those doing zoo-spec work at the local Zoo.  War zones are different.

Working in Bosnia, South America, or Iraq is another story of what you wear and what you carry like the pot on your head and that Velcro, Kevlar, Plated sport Jacket by

I have fitted one of the Blackhawk three daypacks adapted for S & R and photo by adapting a base, again lightweight, form fitted aerated plastic for shape and added lens cases. 

Unfortunately in some countries or places you might get mistaken for a live target with web gear on.  A 70-200 has the same frontal profile as an RPG except it reflects light and is an easier target. Thats you!


Have great CQ concealment options for a bag. My Jumbo Versipack (shown here) is my day-office fitted with recorders, flash gear and a camera, plus the usual stuff you thrown in a day bag, like a Glock, CQ knife, Surefire, Cree, and a Gerber useless tool.  

Just count the number of journalists and civilians lost in the latest IRAQ conflict or in Chicago for that matter. At one time the count in Chicago was higher than the theatre of war we were engaged in. It still is, and alot of kids.

Shoulder bags, single shoulder, waist bags are easier to work from. But get good quality and you sleep better if you know the straps and padding are sufficient. Also the attachment points. Plastic or Metal...more choices.  Metal is strong and plastic is quiet. 

But shoulder bags are easy to work from and some create a panel you can balance a few small things on. (Tamrac) good shoulder bags have bumpers on the bottom so you don't wear the fabric. Lowepro and Tamrac lead the pack when it comes to assortment, quality and pricing. There must be a hundred to choose from. The one shoulder sling convertible models are the most popular.

You have to do a Ben Franklin. He was a smart man.  He took a sheet of paper and folded it down the middle.  He wrote down the pros and cons, on each side of the sheet of paper and then looked again and again at them before making a tough choice.  

The difference is one bag is not enough and you will need an assortment if you travel to location, use the airlines, go by canoe, or camels. Thats why there are a lot of different bags and you need to go to the manufacturers site because I have no clue as to what your gear looks like or the scope of it.

These are good reliable companies. You got LowePro, Tamron, Domke, BlackHawk and Maxpedition, and others. Stay away from decorator bags by luggage makers with branding. They are made for looks not usage, they are made to be robbed. 

What have we learned;  One bag, one style, one method, one brand does not cover all the bases. You need a selection, just like a baseball team of runners, hitters, designated hitters, and fielders are diversified. some bags sell because of the cheerleaders, not the players.

 © copyright aljacobs Stardate 10-18-2012