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Travel with 8x10 but without car - any experieces?

lars ake vinberg

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I am contemplating traveling backpacker-style for several months with

an 8x10 camera. Does anyone have experiences to share? What can be

done to minimize weight and bulk of gear? More specifically,


- Which two lenses for color? Fuji-A 9/240 and C 11.5/450? My current

lenses are all large-aperture lenses.


- Lightest changing bag for field use? With a usable changing bag I

can settle for one film holder, whereas if I need to be indoors to

change then I probably need to bring two film holders.


- Lightest darkcloth solution?


- Smallest usable tripod? My candidate is a Gitzo G226 with either a

smaller ballhead or 3D-head.


Best regards,

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There is no way that you would be able to pull this off of the beaten path without a pack animal. The requirements for weather protection, food and sleeping with 8x10 are significant for this situation. If however, you are on the road in Europe, relying on provided accomodations for sleeping and food this would still be a challenge, but it could be done.


Logistically, when you consider the balancing act between 8x10 (as you posted) versus 4x5 I feel it really gets down to a balancing act between quantity versus quality. If you are a seasoned pro, you can clearly high grade your image prospecting on the fly to know what is going to work and what is not. From my point of view, I would make a case for a lightweight 4x5, readyloads and spending your time making as many images as possible and not struggling with the 8x10. Many times flexibility and going with the flow are more productive than constantly having your hands in a changing bag. Film and processing are cheap relatively speaking and I would rather be over a light table with 200 images than 50 images no matter the (relative) size considering the time you are allocating to this trip.


However, if you must press on with 8x10, the two lenses you mentioned are perfect. I would recommend the light weight darkcloths from The View Camera Store in Arizona. Fold up to about the size of a soda can and they weight nothing. Any carbon fiber with a ball head, such as the Arca B1 would be fine.


Unless you want to be constantly changing film, I would try my best to bring at least two holders. Harrison changing tents are what I have used, but they are probably not the lightest. I will look for other comments. Good Luck!

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"TROLL (one way or the other)."


I'd reserve judgement - Ake has been a regular and usually thoughtful contribitor.


Ake - first, what's the camera?


My 8x10 setup is now about 16.5 to 17lbs for camera, tripod, head and 8 holders (not including lenses) - which isn't too bad.


My lenses tend towards wide, and two are very tiny and light (Wollensak 159mm and Kowa 210 - my Fuji 250 is somewhat heavier). The G-Claron 240mm might be worth considering.

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I agree with the BTZS darkcloth choice from the View Camera store. I use both the

4x5 and 8x10 versions. I have no info on weight of changing bags beyond the one I

own which is the RedWing which weighs next to nothing but would be a pain to

backpack because of its rigid frame; OTOH I also have an ancient Burke and james

bag that folds/rolls very small but is not that lightweight. Space is as important as

weight for long backpacking trips. As far as lenses go I agree with the 240 A bu

treally have no suggestions for a longer lens; I would probably take my Docter Optics

360 but it is in a #3 shutter with the weight. Camera is also key, my current 8x10

Phillips Compact II weighs in at under 9 pounds, my old Wista at over 13.


Equally importantly to me is the whole planning of the trip ... which you didn't

mention. I no longer do month long and longer wilderness trips but I used to do so



When I was doing them in the late 50's through the mid 80's things were a lot

tougher than they are today in many ways but the same principles apply. If you keep

your camera gear down to 15-18 pounds that will be only be a quarter or less of the

total weight you will be carrying.


Not to mention questions of the right sort of pack that will enable you to carry all

your photo and non phont gear ... frankly I am not sure I can see how you will do it

without a pack animal ... seriously ... I have packed with mules and burros and horses

.... I gotta say I have never atempted 8x10 for more than a few days, I think 3 has

been my max. From my experience food is goin got be yoru msot serious problem.

Unless you are confident in your ability to catch it, shoot it, etc. you are going to

have to carefully arrange food drops; if food drops are not possible you just won't be

able, even with all the modern marvels of dehydrated foods, etc. be able to pack 3

months worth of food.


Good luck and keep us posted

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Tim - I took Bill's comment to be directed at Jon's somewhat terse response, not Ake's post. But, I might be wrong.


Ake - As Michael K suggests, this sounds like a real endurance test, even if you're planning on using commercial sleeping and eating accommodations. Even after minimizing the weight of your camera pack (whether 8x10 or 4x5), you'll have all of the usual clothing and incidentals to contend with. But then, not changing clothes, shaving, or brushing one's teeth for several months would be a good way to keep the "Is that a Hasselblad?" crowd at a distance. (lol)


The lenses you mention sound like good candidates to me, assuming you can live with focusing the f/11.5 image with the C 450. Trimming the kit to a single film holder, however, strikes me as being both risky and very inconvenient.

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Ake, just one small suggestion to keep weight at an absolute minimum. If you will be doing landscapes, the camera will always need to be level. If you have a tripod with a bubble level and you take time to set it up level, you won't really require a tripod head. I rarely use one any more.
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I've done the 8x10 backpack, with a monorail (Cambo N).


I use an unshuttered repro lens, apochromatic (though I only shoot B&W). For changing, get a BIG one. I have one that's just too small, and it's a real pain. Lightest darkcloth? Start wearing a light jacket, or a flannel shirt.

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>Tim - I took Bill's comment to be directed at Jon's somewhat terse response, not Ake's

post. But, I might be wrong.


Not sure if Bill's comment was directed at me, but there's no troll here. Spending

*months* traveling with an 8x10 rig in a backpack is an interesting choice. I wondered

why Ake chose it? It was a short and concise response asking for more information

about the original posting.

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As far as I know:


Outside of the USA, the word "backpacker" generally refers to a traveler carrying his baggage in a backpack, using public transport, and staying overnight in inexpensive accommodations.


In the USA, the word "backpacker" generally refers to a traveler hiking in the backcountry for days or weeks on end, carrying his own supplies and shelter.


Not the same thing.

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Sorry about the TROLL comment. My point was that it was either 1) an absurd and/or rhetorical question, or 2) One would have to have the mentality of a troll to consider such an undertaking, or 3) One would have to have the constitution of a troll to backpack all that 8x10 stuff in addition to the ordinary stuff one would carry when backpacking for several months. My apologies to anyone whem I may have inadvertantly offended. Bill
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Ake, I can fit my 8x10 kit inside(and on, in the case of my tripod) a large ALICE pack---army surplus about $60 and have more than enough room left over for everything else. It is quite comfortable but fully loaded, it gets heavy---too heavy. For any distance it is my second choice(the first being a pack mule!) Inspired by your plans, I think that if I had an ultra light camera, like the Gowland, a carbon fiber tripod, an itsy bitsy lens like my 240 G-Claron, and limited my self to maybe 2 holders and a changing bag/dark cloth serious 8x10 back packing would, for me, be do-able(actually I'm thinking more along the lines of a kit for back country skiing!). Please stop giving me crazy ideas!;-)
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Ahhh - 2 and 3 make sense... now I see what you mean by one way or the other :-) Yes, a camera packing toll could be very useful - and would keep the "is that a hassleblad" crowd at bay...


John, I just got a dozen 8x10 Mido holders - OMG, a touch fussy, but what a difference it makes to weight.


Ake - "backpacker style"? - European travelling on the train and youth hostels backpacking or N Amnerican living in the woods with a beard and a big plaid shirt backpacking?

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I've travelled internationally with my 8x10" Gowland, though just for short trips, not several months. I haven't done overnight camping with it, but I have done full day hikes several miles in an out.


I can fit the camera, a conventional darkcloth, five lenses, five filmholders, and all the usual accessories in a knapsack designed for a laptop computer, and I carry the tripod on a strap over my shoulder. If I'm traveling entirely on foot, I cut back to 3 filmholders. If I also had to carry everything I needed to travel with (Euro style backpacking/hosteling), I would look for an internal frame pack with compartments. I usually find a way to change film in hotel closets and such, but if I needed a portable solution, I'd get a Harrison tent.


Would I do backcountry hiking with the Gowland 8x10"?--maybe a 3-day trip. Longer than that, I'd switch to my Gowland 4x5".

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Backpacking with an 8x10 is very much workable, just pick your gear and pack your gear carefully. I suggest getting a quality internal frame back pack that is NOT a top loader, you'll go insane packing and unpacking gear if you do. Go to an EMS, REI or other well known outfitter and they should be able to help you with this choice.


To help cut down on weight, forget the tripod head, you can make most of your adjustments with the legs of the tripod and camera movements. To address water issues, use large ziplocs and heavier weight trash bags to wrap up your gear then put it in a nylon stuff sack. This keeps the bags from getting holes in them.


Having just returned a month or so ago from a 3 week trek through the woods and water with 8x10, think minimal. Take just what you need 8x10 takes up a lot of room! I pondered taking 4x5 instead, and at times cursed myself for having the extra weight, but the end result was well worth it and I would do it again!


Good luck!

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If you find you need to down size consider 5x7. (Always looking to recruit another 5x7 user here.) Everything gets smaller and lighter. Film might be a problem if you're expecting to buy it along the way. Where did you say you were going? Europe, or the woods? What are you doing about film? Processing? A few more details about your adventure would help make the suggestions relevant.
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My best advice would be to get in shape before you go.


Photographers tend to moan about how big and heavy LF

cameras are, but they really are not that bad compared to, say,

an pack full of ice climbing or aid climbing hardware. Acceptable

weight also varies so much with the person concerned that

throwing up your hands and saying 'you're mad' is just another

form of parochialism.


My standard out-into-the-wilderness climbing pack weight is 60

lbs or more, depending on how much food I'm carrying and

whether the Bollinger and tinned peaches made the cut. Lose

the technical gear, the rope and swap the alpine boots for

something lighter, and you can easily accommodate an 8x10.

Lose the tent, and take a brew kit instead of a full kitchen range

and you're laughing. Reckon on being able to wash clothes

regularly and sleep in a sheet bag and you're walking on air.


So my advice would be to load your ideal setup into a backpack

and go for a weekend walk in the woods with it (or a break away

to Visby or Vadstena if you're going hostelling round the pretty old

towns). See what you can live without and see which

compromises are a cut too far.

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Wow, what a response in just a few hours! Thanks everyone!


jon - Why, really? Well, I have a choice from my current gear of either 8x10 or 6x9cm. As I have been to Chile and Bolivia before, I just know how 8x10 Velvia or VS would just love the beautiful nature there. My images would also be fairly unusual. But bringing the 8x10 might be too ambitious, hence my question.


Bill - there are plenty of trolls this far north I am sure, but I am not one of them (thanks, Jim & Tim). I'm just not that ugly :-) Although sometimes I wish I had the physique of a troll.


jon's question "Why?" certainly is provocative, but in a good way. I'm dead serious about this, just need to figure out if it will be possible to bring the 8x10, as I already own it. 5x7 would have been nice, but the big film makers tend to disagree.


The term backpacker - Well, certainly in the meaning of world travel, rather than backcountry hiking. Sorry about the confusion.


Destinations - Chile and Bolivia, for now.


Changing tent - I have a Harrison tent, but at a kilogram or 2.2 pounds it's just too heavy. I think I have seen some kind of collapsing tent, but it was too small for 8x10. How about a black plastic garbage bag in a dark room? too much static & dust?


Tripod - great idea to skip the head, that's certainly a weight saver in more than one way. A lightweight leveling base would have been great, but you can't have everything. Now, there is a strong possbility that I will also bring a smaller camera (XPan or GSW690) which will require a tripod head, but then I can always bring a small ballhead.


Michael - regarding tripod head, a B1 is unfortunately just too heavy unless absolutely needed.


Camera - a Gandolfi Variant at around 4 kgs or 9 lbs. Not the absolutely lightest, but I do not have the money for a Phillips or Gowland, plus I really like this Gandolfi. I have a plexiglass GG protector but I'll try to make something lighter out of plywood or plastic. Or possibly a film holder can be used to protect the GG?


Darkcloth - John, I was thinking about doing something similar to a black t-shirt, attaching a stretch string to the bottom end to fit on the camera. Haven't tried it yet.


John - never heard of ALICE backpacks, and I do not have access to U.S. army surplus stores. Sometimes it is easy to forget that this is a worldwide forum in terms of its participants. But thanks anyway!


Backpack - my current pack is internal frame but toploading only. I'll look for one more suitable for carrying 8x10 gear.


Struan - I'm actually in Visby right now, have been scouting around Gotland for the last few days but the weather has been so-so. Will be here for three more weeks. I have my 8x10 and 6x9 gear in a Super Trekker, it weighs in at about 29 kgs including two tripods, but feels much lighter on flat ground. I'm confident that I'll handle 25 kgs with a good harness - I'm more worried about the airline limits at 20 kgs. I made a 3-month trip to Chile a few years ago, so I certainly learned some things about traveling light - an F5 and a few lenses can certainly be as heavy as an 8x10 setup!


Thanks again for all answers!

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At 9 lbs, the Gandolfi sounds fine. My Gowland is around 6 lbs, so it wouldn't be worth getting another camera to save 3 lbs, in my opinion, although I'm familiar with trying to save every ounce in the backpack.


I'd also take the Harrison tent, if you already have one, and if you're not going to be staying in the kind of place where you can count on a light-tight closet or bathroom. You can rationalize the weight against the additional filmholders you won't have to carry, and it's hard to find a better tent. Changing bags are an invitation to dust problems, particularly if you won't be able to clean it regularly.


I don't use a GG protector, but my knapsack is padded, since it's designed for computers. You could just use a sheet of foamcore cut to size, and if the foamcore gets damaged along the way, just get another sheet or use corrugated cardboard.

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Once upon a time.... (it was last month) I've gone for a photographic weekend with a friend.

My backpack: Canham 8x10 metal, 3 lenses (Super Symmar 150XL, Apo Symmar 240, Nikkor 450M), 3 film holders, dark cloth, changing bag and a box of 25 sheets of TMX.

His backpack: 2 Nikon F5, 1 Nikon FM2, 5 lenses (17-35/2.8, 28-70/2.8, 80-200/2.8, 60/2.8 macro, 300/4), flash, 20 rolls of film.


All other things being equal (lightmeter, Gitzo carbon fibre tripod and head, etc.), guess which backpack was heavier?

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I don't know what Chile or Bolivia are like on this point, but the last time I dealt with Peru you could hire a good porter for just over $100 a month $200 would get you someone very good. The ones I know carry 100 to 150 pounds. My wife saw one man carry a 150 lb sick woman out off the trail to get her to a hospital overnight. It was over 20 miles in the mountains of Peru to Cusco. Check into porters. I have connections in Peru but don't know a thing about Chile or Bolivia.
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