one-bag system for hitch hiking Mongolia (w/ tripod inside?)

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by jeff_wilson|17, Dec 16, 2010.

  1. I am planning a two week tour of Mongolia this summer. I am bit obsessive about going very very light. The past two summers I have dispensed with the SLR and big equipment and just brought along a little Lumix LX-3 in a very small Mountain Smith hip bag. Here's the packing list and photos from last year's hitch hiking trip to Egypt>Jordan>Israel. I haven't been able to afford my therapist due to the economic downturn, but I assume I have some sort of condition(s) that are as-yet undiagnosed (or unacknowledged).
    As a New Years Resolution, I'm going to start traveling with a full kit, including: D700, 14-24/2.8, 24-70/2.8, Manfrotto 190CXPRO4/496RC2 ball head, SB600, and a few other goodies.
    My aim is to fit all of the stuff in the packing list link above, plus the kit, into a bag that does not scream photographer. And nothing says 'photographer bag' like a tripod hanging off the back. So, what I am looking for is a bag that can allow me to jam the tripod inside (even at an angle). I will be hitch hiking and often walking long distances, so I need something with excellent back/lumbar support. Super-fast accessibility is not a huge deal to me. I will not be traveling with a laptop. Oh, and it needs to all be carry-on.
    The options I'm considering (with cons):
    I'm a Domke guy but I just don't like the feel/comfort of the Domke stuff for long treks. I would prefer not to have a large backpacker-looking bag. I've never been partial to the built and/or look and/or feel of Clik, Kata, Lowepro or Tamrac.
    I have the tripod and the ball head in the cart at B&H but am waiting to hear back on this post before I purchase to see if anyone has suggestions for:
    1. A bag or brand of bags that I am missing.
    2. A different tripod/head of similar quality but smaller fold-down length (tangent)
    3. A good therapist that is doing pro-bono work
    Help Me, Santa.
  2. in general, the camera bag companies don't have a clue re: making a good pack suitable for hiking/trekking and from what I've seen, most people who do that use a real pack and put the camera gear in that. If your goal is 'ultra light', then dragging around all that heavy camera gear may not be what you want, esp if you're doing a lot of walking or hitching. I'd rather be seen w/ a hiking bag than something from a camera company for personal and equip. safety reasons. A lighter tripod (ala Gitzo 15xx and Markins Q3T) might be better too.
  3. Thank you Howard. I really like your recommendation for tripod/ball head. I am thinking of going now with the GT-1541T and the Q3T. Should I order both the L-bracket and the camera plate or would I be able to get along with only the plate? Just wondering if I want to haul along the extra weight/space and the L-bracket is also an additional $130. The 'ultra light' thing has been thrown out the window with the equipment on this trip. And, yes, my main point with those three bags is that they do not look so much like photog equipment bags, but more like small-midsize backpacker packs,especially the C-List.
  4. get either the plate or the L-bracket. the L-bracket is VERY handy and allows vertical composition on the ballhead w/o using the drop socket in the head. Really a win. Given your equip, dont argue over $130 or at least the delta between camera plate and L-bracket :) The L-bracket is amazingly light (I use one on my D300)
    That crumpler is silly expensive. I think there are better choices although I can't say which. You might want to go over to in their gear forum and do a search. Lots of prior talk about backpacks,etc
  5. Ouch, that was painful. I just typed a nice, big long response and my computer locked up before I could hit the Submit button.... Here's the short version:
    I agree with Howard: Camera bag manufacturers are 50 years behind the times in terms of comfort and weight. Look at a pack made by hiking equipment manufacturers. Arcteryx is at the top with packs that are comfy, functional, well built AND lightweight. Others may suggest a Kelty Redwing which is great but a bit too big for what you're looking for.
    The Mountainsmith Parallax is a nice bag. I had one like it but it is boxy and a tripod won't fit inside. The only camera-specific bag I own is the LowePro Rover AW II. This could work well for you. It has two main compartments. One for necessities like food, water, clothing and the second for camera gear. In your case Jeff, you could spread your stuff out between the two. The pack can carry heavy gear like 2.8 lenses comfortably. The tripod won't fit on the inside tho. Also, I like it because it doesn't look like a camera bag.
    Consider a smaller tripod, something that extends up only 4' or so. These are light and easily carried. Photogs are obsessively fixated on tripods that extend to eye level, which make for the most boring of photos. They are also cheaper.
    Carrying a tripod on the outside of the bag may not be a big deal. I can pretty much guarantee that no one in Mongolia is going to try to rip the tripod off your pack or your pack off your back. There is crime there but it's pretty much limited to pick pocketing in Ulan Bataar which, they are very adept at, speaking from personal experience (!)
    You may want to read up a bit more on traveling in Mongolia. There is no such thing as hitch hiking. Very few cars leave the city each day heading for the hinterlands. And travel between the aimags (towns) is limited to maybe 2-3 cars a day. Mongolians have no need to travel except to the closest aimag, aside from their nomadic movements. There are no buses either. Travel between aimags is via airlines. The way to get around (as a tourist) is by hiring a driver who has the car and an interpreter. You need both as the Mongolian language is difficult. I gave up trying to pronounce any words and even after a month, I lstill couldn't speak any phrases. Like you, I like to travel lean and the thought of hiring both made me cringe. But, it was surprisingly cheap. I shared costs with a friend so, you may want to frequent some traveler's websites and see if you can line up being there with another tourist so as to share costs.
    Also, since travel is on dirt roads and in four-wheel drive vehicles, it's slow going. With only two weeks, stick close to the city otherwise, you'll spend your whole time on the road getting from place to place.
    I've traveled a lot and without question, Mongolia impacted me most. The people who are warm, friendly and giving won me over. I'd end this post with "Have fun" but that's a given.
  6. Oops, forgot to attach this..
  7. Hey Bob. Many thanks for the post. Fantastic 'head' shot with large format. I will read up a bit more, as you suggest, on the hitch hiking thing. I do have a friend there in UB that has arranged some guides in the past, so I might go that route if it is indeed too much in too little time to try and hitch. And I completely agree with the 4' tripod comment. Shooting from a low vantage point always makes my 3-yr old's photos so much more appealing than my own. Any recommendations for shortie tripods that are also sturdy enough to hold ~10lbs of equipment? Cheers, Jeff.
  8. there is the RRS ground tripod ($$$)
  9. my main point with those three bags is that they do not look so much like photog equipment bags​
    All three are still easily identified as camera bags, the "stuffed" appearance caused by the padding inside is a clear indicator. I would go with a regular mid-sized hiking backpack and figure out some way to protect the camera equipment inside. Maybe a small shoulder bag for the camera, lenses and flash? Fitting a tripod inside will always be a challenge though I agree that carrying it outside is a clear give-away of what else is in the bag (though not more than you actually using the camera). Maybe there is a bag with an attachment that covers the entire tripod?
    Here is another tripod suggestion: the small folded size of which makes it easier to fit it inside a bag.
    Regarding the L-bracket - I definitely recommend it. It adds a little weight to the camera which I find is easily offset by its versatility.
  10. I hear everyone saying they don't want a bag that looks like a camera bag. I plan to travel to Europe this summer and I will be purchasing a bigger pack to carry all my gear, should I be worried about it looking like a camera bag and getting stolen for that sole reason?
    Sorry to thread jack.
  11. There is a (in the Jan. 2011 issue of Popular Photography is the advert) tripod on the market that folds flat, and it is in a variety of sizes. For travel, it would pack better compared to a regular design tripod.
  12. Since you are going on a real hike, perhaps consider getting a real backpack designed for actual long distance hiking. Something like a Gregory or other pack designed and fitted to the person, for your size and shape. Best fitting and most comfortable pack I ever had was a Gregory. Photo packs are really foam crates to protect gear, not your back or feet. Search hiking spots like REI.
    As to gear, one can pack precious optics in neoprene pouches. Far less weight than dedicated camera bags. E.g.,
    Finally, why a D700 and the heaviest pro optics made? I have the D700 and the 24-70mm, and am still in the lust stage for a 14-24mm. The first two are heavy, and I love using them. They are also a real pain to carry around all day long. Why not consider a D7000? Lighter. Very similar low light potential. Metal frame. Image quality is looking good. Lenses can be lighter too. Perhaps a Sigma 10-20mm or the like for the super wide angle on a crop sensor.
    As to lenses, why not consider lighter alternatives? If you're using a tripod, then wide apertures will not be necessary. 28-300mm plus the 16-35mm? The new 24-120mm F4? One could carry a fast prime for the odd time when low light lens is necessary, say one of the 50mm lenses.
    I am partial to Gitzo pods and to a quality ball head, like the Markins. The Q3's are strong and light weight. The Gitzo travel pods are very pricey, though.
    The optics you have chosen are top notch. But it is your back when considering a trip on foot.
    Let us know what you do. Perhaps post some images of the trip.
  13. Who's gonna mess with you with one of these backpacks?
    Or call Mystery Ranch about your ideas. Best frame and suspension system available.
  14. I bet you'd get the same pics with a D5000, 50 1.4, 35 1.8, and an ultrawide zoom. I backpack as well, with photo gear, and you should seriously ask yourself what heavy 2.8 zooms and FX gets you for the weight penalty.
  15. For my ageing body but unimpaired wish to get up mountains, the suggestions above about using a proper mountain pack with a camera bag inside, and about choosing gear carefully for weight, both make sense. Currently for day hikes I use an Osprey 35 litre pack with a superb harness, a lightweight Gitzo, and gear in a Tamrac Pro 5 inside; because this is a top loader and the Osprey a zip-top pack, you can get the camera gear out with little fuss. And yes, for the hills I leave the 17-35 at home and just take 20/2.8 and 75-150 old manual lenses, maybew with a 50/1.8 AF. The 75-150 is a fantasctic mountain lens.
    Have a good trip.
  16. I would never consider hithchhiking with a made-for-cameras pack. Not least because if it proved unsuitable and I started getting back problems three days into a 2-week stay it will be hell after that. But if hitch-hiking turns out to be impractical and you will be only doing short trips then it may not matter. If you want ready access to lens/flash then you can either put them in a side-pocket of the pack or most pakc now have the option of adding belt pouches.
    If you are worried about a tripod giving you away as a photographer, why not make a cheap bag out of a leg from a pair of denims and strap it to the outside of the backpack?
  17. Woa. Thank you everybody. Great advice (and laughs). Below, I'll first update on what I have done, try to address each of the posts systematically, while, of course, asking all of the new questions just to drag it all out a bit further.
    I've placed an order with B&H and Markins yesterday. In the box(es):
    If you are my wife operating under some false handle, I'm sorry, honey, that your Christmas gift costs approximately 11% of mine. It's my side 'business', you see, and I have to have all of this stuff to feed the baby. And I promise to bring you back a lock of Yak's hair from Mongolia. If you are still peed off, there are some guys named Howard, Dieter, and David that made me do it. I love you.
    Other tripod/ball head suggestions. I really shouldn't go there, as I've just dumped down a load on my credit card, but here goes. On the RRS Ground Tripod (Howard), that takes ground-level to a new higher ground. I guess you would have to be careful not to be mistaken for a sniper with that thing. On the Feisol (Dieter) - very cool and appear to be very very sturdy build. I guess my one concern would be moving those on the second hand market once I decided to move on (which would, arguably be a long long time). But, after checking just now, I'm mistaken, for there are a few out there on eBay.
    Why the big guns? I'm willing to deal with the weight. I plan on shooting interiors of Yurts (Gers), which as I understand are tight spaces, with very low light, smoke, low ceiling, etc. I really need to do some reading on how to shoot in one of those. I've seen VERY FEW good examples. So, I will need wide, fast, and from what I can tell the 14-24 is as good as any of the primes (I know I am asking for it with that comment.) 24-70 is for portraits and walk-around. I assume I'll probably only spend 10-20% of my time on a tripod, but those will be critical shots. A D7000 (David) or other DX is a great suggestion, but based on what I want to shoot.
    'Real' Packs vs. Camera Packs. I've all but given up on the camera bag manufacturers. I think that one of the reasons why I've had so much trouble with this is that they all, basically, do not understand that there is a market (of 1?) for bags that arean't obviously camera bags, but maintain the functionality/accessibility of a camera bag. David's suggestion on using neoprene pouches is fantastic. And the blue jean leg pouch is brilliant, Mike. I opted out of getting the Gitzo travel bag yesterday, figuring I could order one later and I think I've found a solution. The whole point of having the tripod inside and not looking like a photographer is that I can blend in a bit better with the backpacking crown when NEEDED. Obviously (as pointed out above), with $5 worth of glass and body poking someone in the eye, it is fairly obvious that you are not just WWOOFING your way through the region. One of my friends that works in extremely dangerous places, war zones in SSA, Somalia, Northern Mexico, just goes and buys a diaper bag at the dollar store before heading out, then stuffs a D3 and a 24-70 in, and he says he's never had anyone ask 'what's in your bag?'
    So, my current 'best guess' for what I am going to do (now that I've taken care of the tripod tangent), is the following:
    • find a 'non-camera bag', e.g. a regular backpack - I have quite a few (NorthFace, Patagonia, etc) that I can practice on.
    • steal some of my wife's blue jeans and cut them (I only have one pair)
    • ask wife to sew up one end of 'these jeans I found at the thrift shop'
    • get neoprene for 14-24/24-70 (and possibly D700).
    New questions:
    1. Any creative ideas on dust management, especially in 'non-camera' packs that might not be as air-tight? If I do manage to hitch hike, based on past experience (and Bob's comments), I'll be riding in the backs of trucks on dusty roads quite a bit. I have the standard blower, brush, and clean the sensor between lens changes (probably not necessary), and plan to keep the D700 rather wrapped up. Will those neoprenes effectively seal out dust?
    2. If I am going to go the open pack way with loose gear floating around, does anyone have any suggestions for a padded apparatus that would fit EITHER the D700/14-24 and the D700/24-70 mounted? I would be willing to sacrifice the hood on the 24-70 while using this method just to make them both fit. Maybe one of those hipbags? When I was not using it on the hip, I could just toss it into the bag?
    I will report back here on the pack that I decide upon. But please, keep the suggestions/comments coming. I'm going to spend some time in REI, Whole Earth (A Texas Outdoor Shop), a few camera shops, and Wal-Mart and try to come up with a system. I've got some time until this summer. And of course, I'll post some photos once (if) I make it back alive.
  18. A beltpack for your camera gear might be the best solution - have a look at Think Tank (Wired Up 20 or others) and LowePro (Inverse 200 AW or others). The two lenses you will be taking are quite long (about 5 inches) and "fat" (3.2" and 3.8") - not to mention that each weighs more then 2 pounds. With camera and flash and including the pack, that's 8lbs or thereabouts. But any bag that is at least 8" deep, about 10" long and more than 5" wide should at least hold the body with one lens attached and the second lens.
    Never found a use for any of the lens pouches - they are too thinly padded to really provide protection.

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