This is a post about saving your back and time/hassles in airports.
About a year ago I suffered one of those wake-up calls that we always hope we don’t get, but inevitably do because we treat our anatomy like a beast-of-burden. Years of hauling around prime lenses and meaty camera bodies, all pre-lightweight, auto-everything, zoom-everwhere, advances, finally sent my sciatic into convulsions and my feeling in the right leg on holiday. The outcome has been lots of yoga, a three-day a week regime of fitness workouts with a coach, a daily diet of glucosamine, loving care by Cheryl my LMT, and a conviction to do better for my back, i.e. don’t think you are an indestructible 20-year-old! I treat my back like my best friend.
The above image is the new bag combination I have just about settled into. I’m still tweaking it a bit, but the overall set up is doing the trick. Let me run you through it.
The roll-aboard is made by thinkTANKphoto, it’s called the Airport TakeOff. thinkTANK makes a couple larger sizes that still meet flight carry-on standards (barring the uppity flight attendant that has decided to make it her or his personal mission to keep your gear off the flight – see my solution below). I chose the slightly smaller size for a couple of reasons, both of which I have been happy about. The first, is it fits in every overhead compartment except a small prop commuter – but then on these flights they take your bag at the plane and give you your bag immediately as you come off the flight, so no hassle there. Second, it has a nice compartment right on the front of the bag for my MacBook Pro which is extremely convenient in airports and transit bars :”). You can literally charge the laptop in the bag.
The extendable-handle roll-on feature of the bag (and its larger cousins) insures racing through airports is done with much reduced wear and tear on my spine. The extended handle also doubles as a rack mount for the second bag I carry, the KATA sling-pack (my model is the 3N1-11), so that both bags are mounted together and act as a single unit when I’m traveling. And again the great part – nothing is on my shoulders or back.
The KATA sling-pack did give me some issues at first. My whole career was spent with camera and video bags large enough for the sling-pack to fit into. In India, especially traveling in confined spaces like the back of an elephant its reduced size began to make sense. Trial by trial I worked through the smaller size. Part of it was simply wrapping my head around the idea of being more efficient with gear and resources. I’ll be the first to admit this bag only works for me now because the gear has changed. It would have been nearly worthless 20 years ago. Now I have Canon 7Ds that also shoots HD video and digital audio, so gone is the need for a video camera. Three compact zoom lenses cover the range where eight fix focal-lengths were required. And best – no film! Pounds of chrome are replaced by a few ounces of 32gig cards and I’m set for days if needed.
As I mentioned above the KATA sling-pack provides another advantage should you run into the one flight attendant looking to win the coveted PITA award*. It is small enough to slide under any seat – yet carries all the primary gear I need to go to work. Coming back from India for example I had loaded most of the gear in the thinkTANK and just a body/lens and reading material in the KATA. In the jetway, a few feet from boarding the flight from Singapore to Seoul a boarding attendant said the roller was too big, then lifted it (I’m guilty – it does weigh a lot when I have it fully loaded) immediately declaring it was impossible for me to take it aboard, “it has to be checked.” she said, as she wrapped a luggage tag on the handle. I of course tried to explain my way through it, but fat chance. So there in the jetway I unzipped the roller – loaded all the key gear into the KATA, put one extra lens in my pocket, and the laptop and books under my arm. Then zipped up the near empty thinkTANK and handed it to her – she looked thoroughly disgusted. And then walked on with all my stuff. Ya, a hassle, but between the KATA sling-pack and the seat pocket everything was secured for the next 20 hours of travel.
This combination isn’t perfect for everyone, but my advice is keep looking and trying, something out there will work. Returning to photography full-time has had new challenges for me, and flexibility and mobility are critical issues. I have tried to become more journalistically agile and at the same time must save my back. What’s really clear is there are an incredible range of options for traveling with gear – I urge you to explore them all.
Finally, a huge thanks to Rob at ProPhotoSupply for pushing the thinkTANK roll-on bag at me last January when I was heading off to India – it has since become a savior, especially of my back!
*pain in the ass