Story   Photographer   Editor   Student/Intern   Assistant   Job/Item

 Front Page
 Member Index
 Latest Headlines
 Special Features
 'Fun Pix'
 Message Board
 Educate Yourself
 Equipment Profiles
 Classified Ads
 Monthly Clip Contest
 Annual Contest
 Current Issue
 Back Issues
 Members Area
 "The Guide"
About Us:
 About SportsShooter
 Contact Us
 Terms & Conditions

Sign in:
Members log in here with your user name and password to access the your admin page and other special features.



|| News Item: Posted 2006-10-04

In the Bag: Equipment To Go
By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Jack's stuff.
The first thing I do before every trip is to sit and stare at the big pile of stuff on my floor wondering how am I going to get it all into one bag.

Most photographers keep some gear packed in "go kits" ready at a moments notice. Problem is, every assignment is going to call for a little finesse packing. The best thing I have found in keeping track of that big pile of stuff is to check things off a list.

I call it my Load Out Sheet, a printed checklist broken down into different categories.

The good thing about the Load Out Sheet is you can't forget anything. Like pilots running through a preflight checklist, you do the same thing. Checking off the things that you will need while skimming past the things you don't for any specific assignment. Which sleeping bag is needed, how many pairs of pants am I taking or did I remember to pack cash and toilet paper. Cameras, yes, I remembered cameras. Check.

The list puts everything and the kitchen sink down in black and white allowing me to customize each packing nightmare for each trip. This is a great way of also keeping an inventory of all your "tools" from the 600mm down to the Imodium. This same list can keep track of all essential serial numbers as a printed record in order to fill out carnet lists, insurance considerations and other customs issues.

If you take the time and tick down through the list, in a perfect world, forgetting something shouldn't happen.

Since flying has become a one carry-on item kind of thing over the last few years, I have gotten back to basics on some trips. I am a huge fan of the Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted and Security roller but in some environments, lightweight mobility is key. Working in harsh conditions, you can forget about using any roller bags. Dragging a case through sand or snow just isn't going to cut it.

Weight is a huge consideration on most overseas flights as well as having to manage this gear at all times on the ground. As a rule, anywhere you go, in a car, small boat or helicopter, this must-have kit goes with you. It needs to fit and you need to be able to carry it quickly and on your own.

In order to walk off a plane or out in a remote location with everything I need to work and transmit images, I have started using a Kelty Redwing 3100 front-loading backpack. I pack a small Domke bag with most of my basic camera kit, two see through Columbia mesh pouches containing the mess of chargers, adapters and other stuff and the other mesh pouch containing a complete Thrane and Thrane Explorer 500 satellite unit. This small lightweight satellite device works anywhere in the world now including the United States allowing high-speed data transfer as well as voice calling.

Click here to see a special gallery of 20 images that reveal all of Jack's secrets:

The Columbia see through mess pouches are a great idea allowing airport security to see what is in the pouch without having to open the kit. Think Tank Photo has new super nice pouches for this also (Think Tank Photo Cable Management 50) but I just keep using what I have laying around until they wear out.

If everything in the pack needs to come out for inspection at the airport, easy enough with the compartments. The loose item mess is kept to a minimum.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

The Jack Box is strong.
I also carry an Apple PowerBook 12-inch laptop computer in this pack protected in a custom made Lucite vault I like to call The Jack Box. This thing has saved my ass more than once or twice in the past three years. Not only can I stand on this case without worries of damaging the computer (no, I do not routinely stand on my computer!), I can safely keep the computer in my carry-on backpack or a smaller kick-around daypack on the ground regardless of dropping and pounding. Pulling the computer out at TSA inspection and x-ray is a snap. Computer inside the clear vault gets put in a tub and passes through x-ray. Only one TSA inspector in the tiny airport in Cody, WY has ever balked and taken the laptop out of the vault. It might have been the first computer she had ever seen.

If the pack and all the enclosed electronics need closer inspection after TSA x-ray, the pack opens from the front allowing easy access and full view. The degree of scrutiny of the contents varies from airport to airport and country to country but the most extreme inspections are pretty painless with this setup. Usually, most TSA x-ray screeners see the dense shadows of electronics and cords jammed in the pack and flag it for a secondary screening. Everything, however, comes out quickly and packs right back into the Kelty.

With about 25 lbs of camera gear in the Domke, the entire backpack loaded with essential "must-have" items weighs about 50 lbs total. It is heavy but the Kelty has a comfortable harness and back cushions making the pack feel lighter than it weighs. Sure, it is going to max out most airline carry-on limits but I have never been denied boarding with it fully loaded. For one reason, it doesn't look large and heavy. The great thing about configuring the gear in this backpack is no one assumes it contains nearly $20K worth of camera and computer equipment. Just another tourist heading to the sandy beaches of Afghanistan for a holiday.

The pack's dimension when stuffed to the gills is about 25" x 17" X 13" (TSA carry-on limits usually around 22" x 14" x 9"). I have had zero problems carrying this on any large carrier aircraft. Smaller regional jets or turbo props, no way in the overhead. Time to get creative or planeside check.

If I boarded a plane only to find all the overhead space filled with rollers or on the smaller turbo props, no problem, I just pull the Domke with gear out of the backpack and instantly halve the size of the backpack. Finding overhead room is now not a problem and the Domke fits below the seats or in a smaller overhead space. Either way, I have options and haven't had to think about checking the pack through as luggage.

The great thing about this set up for me is the mobility along with having room in the front and side pouches to stash phones, paperwork, wet wipes, passports, cash, books, pen and notebook, food, a silk travel sheet, flashlights and the other stuff that comes and goes during the day.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Jack's computer stuff.
After arriving where I need to be, I pull the camera gear out of the pack and either use the Think Tank Photo belt and pouches or just the Domke bag to work. With more space now in the pack, I can add food, water, clothing and so on. Pretty simple, but effective.

Covering hurricanes or other hostile situations, working conditions can be in total darkness, rain or the back of a Humvee. If you pack the basics the same way time and time again, knowing and finding a ballpoint pen or a flashlight in a side pocket is simple because you know it is there without even looking.

I love the Think Tank Photo Airport Addicted and Security roller for most "normal" events and assignments carrying long glass. Hitting the road for destination spots like Afghanistan and Iraq or natural disasters, I find less is more in order to get around with the basics.

This backpack configuration has basically become my "go kit". With the new Thrane and Thrane Explorer 500 operational worldwide now, I keep this kit and the PowerBook 12-inch computer packed and ready with the basics. With only a few minutes of checking my load out list, I can add anything else I might need before heading out on the road.

If all my checked luggage is somehow misplaced, I am usually pretty sure I can manage wearing the same clothes for two or three days. Without cameras or a way to transmit, I might as well turn around and head back home.

One recent nut that is tough to crack: I have been on flights in the past few months, mostly UN charters or some Middle East carriers, that require all batteries in cameras and computers to be placed in checked luggage even following x-ray and screening. I got off a flight in Kandahar, Afghanistan the other day with my carry-on Kelty, two Canon EOS-1D cameras around my shoulders without the batteries, ready for action. My checked luggage didn't.

Two cameras, no batteries and out of luck.

Luckily, a few quick phone calls got the flight to return with an emergency clearance to land back on the military airfield. If that wouldn't have happened, I was out of luck. I don't have a good solution for this one. There was no Samy's Camera downtown Kandahar and Canon Professional Service was definitely not sponsoring a "clean and check" during Operation Medusa.

I guess there are as many ways to pack for any trip as there are members on Sports Shooter. The key for me has been to find a solution for each problem. That has meant an attic full of bags and cases. When I realized I desperately needed a front loading backpack like the Kelty a couple of years ago just hours before a trip, I was forced to get the only one in stock at REI. It just happened to be purple. Now, my wife just can't understand why I need to spend hours online looking for the same backpack I already own but in a more discreet basic black?

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Jack's Kelty Redwing 3100
Domke Camera Bag Basics:
Canon 16-35 f/2.8
Canon 70-200 f/2.8
Canon 300 f/4
Canon Speedlite 580EX
Canon ST-E2 Wireless Transmitter
Canon 1.4x Teleconverter
Canon ZR-100 DV Video Camera
Compact Flash 2 Gig Cards
Firewire 80 Gig hard drive
Canon Camera Battery (2)

Kelty Redwing 3100 Specifications:
• Dimensions: 25" x 16" x 14"
• Weight: 3 lb 6 oz
• Volume: 3100 in3
• Torso Fit Range: 18.50" - 21.00"
• Material: Nylon Micro Ripstop & Nylon Kodra
• Frame: Internal

Jack's Must Have Stuff
Load Out List

Not just a list but a complete inventory set up to check items off as you pack. Can easily be adapted for your own personal needs.

Downside: You realize just how much stuff you have accumulated and wonder if you really need six different kinds of sleeping bags.

Thrane and Thrane Explorer 500
The Holy Grail of satellite units. Small as a laptop with worldwide coverage. Remote regions of Afghanistan to forest fires in Idaho or hurricanes down south, nothing comes close to this for all around data connectivity and reliability. Sets up in minutes and offers voice calling also.

Downside: Not cheap. The unit itself is around $2500 for the Explorer 500 model. The cost per megabyte of data transfer can be as high as $10-15 per megabyte. You can leave the unit turned on and connected to the satellites for any amount of time and are only charged for amount of data transferred. Voice calls are not cheap either (range can be $1.00- $2.00 a minute).

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

The Thrane and Thrane Explorer 500
The Jack Box
Nothing slick and glitzy here. Basic protection for a computer born out of necessity through TSA checkpoints and planeside baggage check. This thing has been a lifesaver more than once.

Downside: This thing will crack if hit hard enough but that is what I want it to do. Take the hit instead of the computer. If you are interested in one, let me know and I can get it made. I currently have 12 and 15-inch PowerBook sizes.

The North Face Paramount Convertible Pants
The greatest pair of pants known to man. I once wore a pair of these pants for seven straight weeks in Iraq in 2003 without taking them off or laundering. I still wear the same pair of pants three years later but with a more normal laundry schedule. Only recently had to have a rip repaired after snagging on a nail during Hurricane Katrina. Perfect amount of pockets and placement. I own four pair.

Downside: The inseam always seems to be long on these pants. May have to have some minor alteration done on pants length.

GSM phone with local SIM
A GSM phone and country specific SIM cards are a must for any overseas travel. It is just too easy to keep one unlocked GSM phone around and purchase SIM cards from dealers in the US before any trip overseas. It is much cheaper and easier to call back to the U.S instead of pricey hotel phones. You always have a local number in the area you are visiting in order to receive local calls. Your family and bosses can always get in touch with you. Top off scratch off cards are always available in shops and markets in even the most remote countries in usually $10 or $20US amounts.

Downside: The SIMS and the phone number associated with that SIM usually expire after six months unless you add credits via a top off card. So if you bring a GSM phone back from Afghanistan with 1000 credits (worth about $20US) and the phone sits unused for six months, that SIM will not be active when you return to Afghanistan seven months later. Those remaining credits are also history.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

More of Jack's equipment.
Cheat Card
Have you ever gotten frustrated with a wallet full of frequent flier cards, notes with passwords, work FTP information, combination for locks, web URLS, phone numbers and addresses? Why not consolidate all that down to one document with the information reduced to credit card size. Laminate that card at Kinko's for $2.00 and stick it in your wallet.

My cheat card has at least two-dozen perk clubs listed along with vital web URLS and other sensitive information. Show up at a hotel, you have the perk club number at your fingertips, forgot your webmail URL and password while in transit in Dubai, it is right in your back pocket. Your wallet is now much thinner.

Hold on a minute, if you lose this card, won't you be giving instant access to some of your most vital information. Nope, all my usernames and passwords are listed in parenthesis in code as helper hints. If you know what you are looking at, you get it but if someone just found this card, it would read like a German code from World War II.

Example, if my password is really "1926" (my not so real birthday), I have it listed on the card as {bd}. In Jack speak, I know that is short for birthday and I would type in "1926" as the password for that account. Usually my passwords are a little more complex. Something like {bdpet} would be "1926obie". My not so real birthday and my cat's name.

Downside: Most of this information is personal and if lost could be used by unknown evil-doers. Just try to describe things in code so that only you will be able to recall the info of things that are vital to you.

(Jack Gruber is a staff photographer with USA TODAY and is based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a frequent contributor to the Sports Shooter world.)

Related Links:
Gruber's member page
Galley of Jack's secrets

Contents copyright 2022, Do not republish without permission.
Copyright 2022,