One bag travel is challenging enough, without throwing another six, seven, eight or more kilos of camera equipment into the mix. That’s just one reason why the emergence of the iPhone and its competitors as serious photographic tools is so compelling to the minimalist traveler who also happens to be a photographer. One truly can take fine images with nothing but a phone. That’s the power of computational photography. But it has its limits. For some types of photography, its limitations are probably more important than its capabilities. So, when one has to carry a “real”—i.e., large and heavy—camera, that changes the way you approach one-bag travel. If you’re flying, it really changes it. A lot.
On a recent trip to Italy, I carried a kit consisting of the Sony A7r4, a Canon TS-E17 tilt/shift lens, a Sony 24-100 zoom, the Peak Design travel tripod, and miscellany imcluding filters, batteries, charger, etc. All that fit inside the main compartment of a Tom Bihn Synik 22, one of my all-time favorite bags. Including the tripod. And I still had room in the base compartment for an emergency change of clothes, room for my iPad Air in the laptop sleeve, and various odds & ends, including snacks and the 311 toletry kit. If someone at a budget or regional airline weighed it, it came in at about 9kg, a bit over the technical limit. But combined with the Synik’s compactness, this pack would probably not be gate-checked. Combined with the Tom Bihn Techonaut 30, which is just about the best all-purpose travel bag I have ever used, I had everything I needed for a 10-day trip to Barga, Italy. I am confident that for both our flight to Frankfurt and then on to Pisa, I could have walked aboard with both bags. In the past, I have run into some rigid enforcement of 10am carry-on in Europe, but this year, I saw an awful lot of people carrying on a bag plus the proverbial “personal item” that happens to look a lot like a second bag. The Synik 22, as compact backpack, would not have been given a second glance. Still, we chose to check our bags, because it afforded my rather the space she needed for everything she wanted to bring. This was a vacation, not a business trip or forced march photographic workshop, and we had ample layover time in Frankfurt to ensure our luggage transfer; We weren’t part of a group, and weren’t stuck on tour buses. There was no reason to constrain ourselves unnecessarily.
Still, the Synik 22 and the Sony kit illustrates that 1-bag travel is not out of the reach of the serious photographer who is willing to travel clothing-light with Merino wool, and doesn’t require huge lenses, such as one might employ for wildlife photography. As I’ve written before, the challenge when flying is usually the European or budget airlines that can, without prior notice, become very aggressive about enforcing their 8kg weight limit. It’s not so much the size of a carry-on that’s the problem; it’s the weight. On that trip to Italy, the Synik 22 was smaller than the Techonaut 30, but the Techonaut weighed a full 2kg less.
And if one wants to push the envelope s bit, the TB Synik 30 might just be the ticket. Purportedly the sme volume as the Techonaut, the Synik feels a tad smaller. It’s also a backpack, straight up, with no ability to hide the backpack straps. I think that’s okay, because you want desk and gate personnel to see it as a carry-on, not a suitcase. It also has the well-known Synik surfeit of organization, in contrast to the Techonaut’s minimal pockets. With the same Sony kit I took to Italy, one could easily pack a week’s worth of clothing in the Synik 30 and truly have a 1-bag solution that would not noticeably exceed the 8kg limit. And on US airlines, it would pretty much be a non-issue.
But what about an even more serious kit, one such as the Phase XT and larger RRS tripod that I am currently carrying on a cross-country trip? I think again you have a very good shot of getting it on to most airlines both here and in the rest of the world. The key is preparedness. Carry your tripod in a slightly oversized tripod bag. One will likely be able to carry it all on. IF not, make sure your tripod bag is stuffed with some of your clothing, so that’s the bag you let them force you to check. I would not want to lose my tripod to a baggage disappearance, but even in a foreign country, it would be easier to replace that than my camera equipment.