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|| News Item: Posted 2009-05-26

Travel Smart: Advanced Packing
By Doug Murdoch, Think Tank Photo

Photo by

Protect your DSLR when you travel.
There is a significant difference between packing your roller or backpack for around town use, verses flying on a plane.

You may be required to check your bag at any time, for example when all the overhead bins are full and it will not fit under your seat. Even if you intend to keep your gear with you at all times, you need to be prepared mentally for the worst-case scenario.

Before we discuss some advanced packing techniques for flying, here is a very important rule:
If you are forced to check your bags, remove your DSLR bodies from your roller or backpack, and put them into another bag or hand carry them onto the plane.

In general, lenses are pretty durable, compared to your DSLR's. Although your lenses can withstand impacts and bumps even in a semi hard roller, your DSLR's can be damaged, especially the prism area on top. Since Think Tank was founded in 2005, we have received three reports of damaged prisms based on bags that had to be checked.

Here are two advanced packing techniques to protect your equipment:

Protecting your DSLR
Many photographers will think this is a hassle, because you have to move your dividers around especially for travel. This is not the normal way you would pack your DSLR if you were working around town, but it is a very good technique for protecting your camera.

1. Make sure you keep as many of the "stiffened" vertical dividers as possible in your roller. In case the bag is checked, these provide significant impact resistance.
2. Do not pack your DSLR against the edges of the bag, meaning the top or sides.
3. Pack your DSLR body against the back of the bag, in the middle.
4. Cradle your DSLR with extra dividers above and below.
5. Don't pack excessive amounts of gear on top, in case there is impact from above.
6. In general, keep all of your lenses and other gear below the stiffened dividers.

Photo by

Protect your lenses when you travel.
Protecting your Lenses
Most rollers and backpacks come with too many dividers. In fact, most photographers have a closet full of them in a giant ball, and they seem to propagate as well. Take some of those dividers and put them to good use "cradling" your lenses.

1. Put a divider in horizontally near the bottom of the bag, but leave some space.
2. If your packing a lens near the bottom of the bag, then add a vertical divider so some space is created.
3. Put a divider on top of the lens, making sure the arrangement is below the top of the stiffened dividers.
4. Make sure to utilize the space below the lens and on top with smaller items like cords, cables, etc.

Some photographers will complain that the above techniques take up more space in the bag, and depending on how you pack, that may be true. So you need to determine the risk factor of your particular trip, and how you should carry your gear. Many photographers use hard cases like Pelican or Lightware and either check them or ship them in advance to solve these issues.

However you pack your roller or backpack, I always recommend the following:
If you are forced to check your bags, remove your DSLR bodies from your roller or backpack, and put them into another bag or hand carry them onto the plane.

(Doug Murdoch is the president and a designer at Think Tank Photo. You can also read his blog at His column "Travel Smart" discusses information and concerns for the traveling photographer.)

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