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How to Pack a Camera Backpack

Packing a camera backpack or bag well can mean the difference between the equipment making it safely to its destination, or alternatively becoming damaged in transit.

Worst case aside, there are other benefits to putting thought into the packing process and what is physically included in the setup, including getting the most out of the space available and preparing for unexpected scenarios where additional equipment could come in useful.

The below points should help to highlight what considerations to make when preparing for a vacation, extended shoot, or business meeting.

When packing the backpack

Most camera backpack come equipped with compartments constructed from a variety of padded materials, typically divided up by Velcro attachments. In most cases, these divides can be manipulated to create custom compartments of different sizes, depending upon the equipment owned and being carried.

When packing gear into said compartments, care should be taken to ensure that the fit of equipment into a compartment is like slipping on a glove. There should be no scope for movement of the camera or accessory within the designated compartment, as this could lead to damage if the bag is subject to sudden movements. For the same reasons, each compartment should be limited to holding just one item.

Any attachments or peripherals should either be completely dismantled and stored separately within their own compartments, or at the very least fitted tightly to the camera. Any bumps or jolts, or pressure applied to the bag in transit, could snap off a loosely fitted attachment, damaging not only the accessory, but potentially the DSLR.

Considerations when traveling abroad

When traveling, it’s important to consider how the method of transport could affect what you should and should not carry, as well as the best way to carry equipment. Generally, this will only apply to travelling by airline, and there are two main points to cover.

Firstly, though it may be tempting to take numerous spare batteries for a long vacation or work away from home, it’s important to remember that there are limitations to the volume of lithium that can be taken on a flight; lithium is the main component of most DSLR batteries. With the cost of such batteries being what it is, the last thing you need is to dispose of them at the gate, so it’s best to take no more than two.

Secondly, it’s strongly advised to take camera backpacks onto the flight, as opposed to checking them into the luggage hold. Checking a camera backpack exposes the equipment to two main risks; theft or damage. Though this may mean sacrificing some capacity for other carry-on luggage, main airlines will allow a secondary bag as a carry-on if it is a laptop or camera backpack, though rules vary from one airline to another, and particularly with the increase in security over recent years.

Finally, if security is a concern, there are many simple accessories that can alleviate some of the stress of carrying around a bag packed full of expensive equipment. Consider backpacks that come with chest straps to keep them securely attached to you from both sides, bags that support miniature padlocks on the zippers, or even GPS or Bluetooth inserts that can allow tracking from a smartphone. There are many simple things that can be done to reduce the risk of misplaced or stolen belongings.

Additional gear that may be required

Once the essential equipment is packed, it can be easy to overlook simple extras that may be situational, yet very useful. One such extra that takes up very minimal space in a camera backpack is a pack of lens-cleaning wipes. When shooting outdoors, there’s no telling when dirt could cloud the lens; wiping it with anything unsuited for the job can smear the dirt as opposed to cleaning it, so these can be a lifesaver.

Another situational piece of equipment is a waterproof case, something that should always be carried by photographers who shoot underwater, but one that could also be useful to anybody travelling abroad who finds themselves in a scenario where they have the opportunity for some aquatic photography. Similarly, this type of case can prevent you from missing out on some incredible shots as a result of weather conditions.

Of course, there are more common accessories that will likely make it into the camera backpack, too. These include the additional batteries as mentioned above, battery chargers, SD memory cards, straps, and other basic supplementary pieces of equipment. Ideally, these should be kept in separate zips or pouches away from the main compartment of the backpack. 

Not only does this prevent smaller items from knocking around and scratching the camera or lens, but it also maintains a neater and tidier setup, something that can make all the difference when creating a first impression with a client.

Final points

There can be a temptation to carry every little piece of equipment owned, simply because it fits into a backpack or “makes sense” to travel with everything as one. In contrast, careful thought should be put into what equipment is required and what can be left behind. Sometimes, it’s useful to own more than one camera backpack of varying sizes, so that different bags and their compartments can be set up for different journeys of varying length.

And finally, once everything has its place and its packaged firmly within a padded compartment, consider customizing the camera backpack with your own personality. Keychains, stickers and other accessories not only give a unique touch to an otherwise common product, but they help to make it stand out from others, further reducing the risk to which the gear is exposed when traveling, as it’ll be far easier to pick out in a crowded luggage rack.

Conclusion

Packing a camera backpack isn’t an exercise in making everything fit into the bag with no regard to positioning; equipment should be stored securely, individually and with no scope for movement in transit.

Thought should be put into what equipment is essential for the job at hand, well in advance of the packing itself. By keeping these principles in mind, your gear is more likely to make it to its destination in one piece, and you’ll have everything you need.

About the Author

My name is Stuart Taylor, I’m the founder of PROTON PACK, a place where I review camera bags, backpacks and accessories.

If you have a topic that you would like me to explore, let me know and I will do my best to provide the information. I welcome your feedback and suggestions.

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