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|| News Item: Posted 2008-11-02

Travel Smart: Going Light - Carry On Issues
By Doug Murdoch, Think Tank Photo

"Going light" for sports photographers is an oxymoron.

Before the Olympics, I received calls and emails from photographers around the world asking about how to get their gear to Beijing. For the record, I always recommended that they should try to meet both the size and weight requirement for their chosen airline. We received reports from Bert Hanashiro and others that there were hundreds of our rollers at the Olympics, and I know that the majority of them exceeded the stated weight limit.

Size and weight requirements is a moving target in that they are inconsistently enforced by the airlines, which can be extremely frustrating. It's a predictably unpredictable and maddening reality.

We get more reports from photographers concerning being checked for weight rather than for the size of the bag itself. If you're carrying a 400 2.8 or similar, it's going to be heavy bag.

Since more airlines seem to be checking the weight of the bag, here are some strategies you can consider.

1. Know Your Assignment
If you know exactly what your assignment is and what the expectations are photographically, it's easier to sift through your gear and take just what you need, and no more. Perhaps the most challenging situation is not knowing exactly what to expect, which normally means that photographers need to take more gear in order to cover more potential situations. Of course, shooting sports is radically different than shooting breaking news so, if possible, carry just what is specifically required.

2. Weigh your bag prior to leaving
Whether or not your bag is overweight, it's useful to know exactly what your bag weighs before going to the airport. If it's right on the carry on weight, great. If you're over the stated weight allowance, you can think about what to do if you're challenged.

3. Put as much as you can in your checked luggage
One effective strategy is to hand carry what you absolutely need for your assignment and to check everything else. Anything you put into your checked luggage should be able to be replaced, rented, or borrowed once you reach your destination. And then there are those like Darren Carroll who just hate to carry anything, and just ship it in advance.

4. Look Small
It stands to reason that most people believe that a large bag is going to be heavy. By minimizing the appearance of your bags, you can create the perception that you are bearing less weight. You can minimize your visual impact simply by carrying things that don't attract undue attention to yourself (bright colors, unusual types of bags or cases, etc.)

5. Rolling Refrigerators
Rollers are one of the most popular methods for transporting gear, but the base weight of all rollers are usually 8 - 12 lbs, which is significant. A roller is the ultimate in convenience, but if you are trying to meet a certain weight requirement for an airline, it's going to be difficult. One strategy is to use a roller with a shoulder bag that fits onto the handle of the roller so that you can equalize the total weight of all of your gear and accessories between the two, instead of just having a roller that feels and looks like a refrigerator. If you read Donald Miralle's recent article (, he uses the Airport International roller and the Airport Check In briefcase to balance the weight. It is often better to have two lighter bags rather than one super heavy roller.

6. Backpacks….the fastest means for travel…..and lighter.
The advantage of backpacks is that you will immediately drop your base weight 5 - 8 lbs, depending on the brand of the backpack. If you are flying on KLM and your carry on weight is 8 kg (18 lbs), then this becomes especially important as the airlines monitor weight closely. Backpacks can be heavy on your back but they are significantly faster for carrying gear up and down stairs, escalators, in and out of crowds, etc.

If you look at Donald Miralle's latest article ( ), this entire outfit can go into the Think Tank Photo's new Airport Addicted V2.0 backpack (soon to be released). It's basically the same size as the Airport International roller, sans wheels. If you are carrying a smaller kit, many sports photographers also use the Airport Acceleration (, which holds two bodies, a 400 4.8, 70-200 2.8, and a wide, which is often the standard sports kit.

7. Backpack/ Shoulder Bag Combo
In my opinion, this is the most significant alternative to a roller, because you end up distributing the weight between two smaller bags. Specifically for sports photographers we recommend:

• Glass Taxi ( - This backpack/shoulder bag will hold up to a 500 4 with the hood reversed. This bag looks so small no one actually believes that the lens fits inside. The benefit is that your heaviest single object is going into one bag, minimizing the size and weight perception. Plus, it can go under the seat of almost all planes and the majority of overheads. It comes with a shoulder strap, so you can tuck away the shoulder harness and use it as a shoulder bag.

• Urban Disguise 50 or 60 ( - With the Urban Disguise 50 or 60 you can carry all your other stuff - a laptop, two bodies, a 70-200 2.8, your wide, and other stuff. Since it looks like a briefcase, the average person (and gear thieves) will not think it is filled with heavy and expensive equipment. Important note: The accessory called the Shoulder Harness is highly recommended. Shoulder bags filled with gear and a laptop is damned heavy, so the option to carry it like a backpack is a lifesaver.

• Shaper Shifter ( - This backpack (coming in December) will hold your entire kit except for your 300 2.8, 400 2.8, or 500 4, which you can carry in the Glass Taxi. This new backpack will allow the photographer to hold a larger amount of gear in a smaller package, and it can be reduced in size down to three inches when the gear is taken out.

8. Modular System in Unpadded Backpack
If you use a modular belt system, another strategy is to keep your belt system assembled in one piece as you would wear it, and then drop the whole thing into an unpadded daypack. Advantages: the backpack's bulk is minimized, it remains flexible so it is easier to put in the overhead or under the seat, it does not look like a photo backpack, and you can just pull your belt system out, put it on, and you're ready to go. Your big glass would have to go into the Glass Taxi or something similar.

As a final note, anything that is taken in your bag or roller should have a strategic purpose, and you should have a real intention for using it at the event. If not, leave it at home

(Doug Murdoch is the president and a designer at Think Tank Photo.)

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