Rule # 1. PACK LIGHT.

Okay, so you will need to pack for three different occasions;

  1. The plane flight into Quito.
  2. The canoe trip to the lodge.
  3. Our excursions out from the lodge.

1. The Plane Flight.
Airlines will not insure or replace damaged luggage/gear for more than a couple hundred dollars.

For that reason, I strongly suggest you transport all your photo gear (except tripods) as carry-on luggage. For that matter, I prefer to take everything I possibly can as carry-on luggage. I'll have my cameras and lenses, video equipment and a laptop packed in a "Pelican" (a brand name) 1510 hard case, and my clothes in a soft sided travel bag.

I also have a large Pelican case for the group to use, with the idea that we can all put things like tripods, unbreakable gear(if there is such a thing) clothes, shoes and other non-essential items in this case. We'll check it and if it gets lost, stolen, broken into, etc...we'll survive.

2. The Canoe Trip.
This brings up another reason for using Pelican cases; they're water proof and they float. This canoe trip is not very long, and it is on a quite part of the river, and the canoe "pilot" does this for a living, so there is almost no chance we will dunk. But with the Pelican cases, it won't be a total loss if we do. They will float, we'll retrieve them and go on. My plan is that after we have traveled to Quito, then overland to the river, we'll stop and repack, putting everyone's camera gear in one of the water tight cases.

3. Excursions from the lodge.
It is hard on the back/neck/spine to spend a day walking around with 20 or more pounds of camera equipment slung off of one shoulder. The weight isn't distributed evenly. Along with being hard on the photographer, it's difficult to walk/hike through a wet, slippery, sometimes muddy,root-clogged jungle this way.

I won't take all of my gear every day, every where we go. I'll cull down to what I expect to use (probably two bodies, a wide angle lens and one telephoto)that day, and distribute those items around the pockets of my photojournalists vest. These vests hang nicely, distribute the weight evenly over both shoulders, are easy to walk, hike, climb, or wade in and besides that; they just look cool. These allow you to get to your gear quickly.

Some photographers like a back-pack style camera bag. Some of these are very cost-effective; Camera Gallery had some on sale for $65(don't know if they still have any left). They can carry more gear than a vest, protect gear better padded than a vest, but are a little more clumsy. They are also slower to get to stuff in a hurry.


This list isn't meant to be what everyone must take, or even what you should take. I'm just sharing with you what I will take in the hope of saving you some grief.

Camera Gear:

  • Two camera bodies. It's nice to have two identical bodies that take the same lenses. You can set one up with your wide angle and one with your longest telephoto and be prepared for about anything. Or, set one up for daylight exposure and white balance/one for shadowy woods exposure and shade white balance. This is also nice because you don't have to have a camera body open to dust and dirt, since this will greatly cut down on lens changes in the field. But even if you don't have two DSLR bodies, taking any sort of second camera is good insurance. Even if it's just an older point and shoot that still works, you will be glad you have it if your main body goes belly up on the trip. Even point and shoot photos are better than no photos.

    For that reason I will take three camera bodies (all Nikon mount; sorry that's all I have), so that if you don't have a backup and end up needing one you aren't dead in the water. I want you to come back with good photography and am more than willing to let you use some of my equipment to get it.

  • Glass. I'm taking my serious wide angle (12-24mm) lens, a fast lens (50mm f.1.4) a macro lens (an old 55mm micro Nikkor) and a fast telephoto zoom (80-200mm f.2.8), and a 300mm f.4. I'm taking some other more general purpose stuff in case somebody needs or want to use it, but the lens above will be what I shoot 95% of my stuff on.

    Just as theoretical discussion...many people are using the 18-200 VR lens as an "everything" lens. But even with the VR, these are only a 5.6 at full extension. A fast lens to accompany this might be wise. The jungle is very dark.

    Tele-extenders are a very cost effective way to add length to a telephoto. Yes, you loose one or two stops of light depending on the extender, but you can't have your cake and eat it too.

  • Batteries and chargers. Yes, you can charge your batteries at night...but make certain you have at least two full sets of batteries for each body. There is nothing more frustrating than being in an incredible photo op with all your great gear...and then seeing the little blinking dead battery signal.

    In Ecuador we won't have to worry about transformers or voltage converters; Ecuador uses the same 120 volt, 60 hz electrical standard and two prong plug configuration we use in the states. The lodge has solar panels and storage units which should provide all the juice we need. We can't run a refridgerator or an AC but the chargers, a laptop or two will be operable.

  • Memory Cards. Don't take just your biggest or fastest; take every card you can get your hands on.

  • Filters. I'm not a big filter person. I'm only bringing a polarizer and a couple of graduated neutral density filters. I don't even like UV filters, though they are probably a good idea.

  • Maintenance stuff;
    • Lens cleaner; I take two microfiber lens cleaning cloths and a tiny, tiny bottle of lens cleaning fluid. The regular two ounce bottle of lens fluid is enough for a life time; I've repacked it in a smaller bottle. I put mine in a personal size bottle of eyedrops, a little bigger than a thimble, but it's enough to last for months, if it drains out in the case I'm not flooded and it's less weight to carry. I wrote on the bottle so nobody will mistake my lens fluid for eye drops.
    • tripod plates and 1/4 x20 bolts (fit the tripod thread on the bottom of the camera).
    • a multi-tool (leatherman combination pliers, screwdriver, knife, etc, etc.)


Computer Gear.
I will bring a laptop. I recommend that you bring a small portable external harddrive. This way, each night we can download your cards, into my computer, then back them up on your portable hard drive. This gives us two copies of your images, which barring something really catistrophic, should insure we get home with your images.

It is not my recommendation for each one of us to bring a laptop, but you can bring yours if you want. Other ways to do this include the data vaults, or enough memory cards so that you don't have to clear them off.

Personal Stuff:
Don't think six week cruise; think backpacking. To some people I'm a little extreme on this, but I prefer to have stuff with me when I travel. I never know when I'll need it, and nobody will take care of it or see that it doesn't get lost like I will. But, of course, that means I have to carry all of it. Therefore, I pack as light as I can.

  • Clothes;
    • Jeans don't work. They are too heavy, too hot, and dry too slow. I prefer what some makers call "wind pants" that are a nylon sort of fabric that is very thin, very light, breathes and dries quickly. They're also cheap; about $20 a pair. The legs un-zip so you can convert them to shorts at anytime. The front pockets are deep, velcro fastened, mesh bottomed (they drain). Also they have a mesh liner like a trunk-style swim suit; so...underwear isn't needed. I realize that's more info about me than you wanted, but... These are available at places like Academy Sports. Name brands are Magellan, Columbia, Pantagonia.
    • Military-style camo pants are great for this sort of stuff, they were designed for this, with the adjustable waist, deep pockets, etc. BUT local authorities seeing you in military garb with a camera and long lens might mistake you for a rebel spy and shoot you, so do not wear camo on this trip.
    • I also take a trunk-style swim suit(no speedo's please), not so much for swiming, but for sitting around a hotel room or camp or in this case the lodge. It's light enough I can sleep in it, it's as thermally comfortable as you can get in the tropics. Both the swim trunks and the above-mentioned wind pants can be washed out in a sink and will drip dry in just a few hours.
    • Shirts; My favorite is surgical scrubs. They are loose, breath, have no buttons or fasteners of any kind, are cheap and have a pocket. T-shirts IMHO, should be light colored, and very, very loose.
    • You may notice that this list doesn't include underwear or socks. Which means I have more room, less weight, less to wash, less to pack, less to lose, less to carry and less to bring back. Again, I'm not telling you to not bring underwear. I'm just telling what works for me in my experience.
    • A hat; If I could find a hat that I thought I didn't look stupid in, I would buy it. But since on most days I look pretty stupid even with out a hat, I guess it doesn't matter does it? If you want to wear a baseball-type bill cap, get one that's light colored and has mess panels in it, so it can breath better. But a baseball cap has to be turned around backwards when you are shooting a camera so the bill doesn't get in the way. While, admittedly this looks cool, do you really want to keep turning your cap around? While not as cool, "Tilley" hats have a brim all the way around, which shades not only your eyes but your ears and neck also, and are soft so you can just mash the brim against your forehead when you shoot. Also popular are the ball caps with sort of like a cape sewn around the back to cover your neck, but, of course you can't wear them backwards(that would be really stupid, huh?).
  • Shoes
    • Some people like to wear cross-trainers that are just comfortable, breath easy, dry quick and have good traction. They should fit well without needing socks.
    • For a trip like this, I bring river sandals, for wading in rivers, mud, knocking around the lodge/camp or what ever. Not flip-flops, but the kind with velcro straps and good arch support. Teva's just won't come off in the mud, muck or current. I go barefoot most of the time around home, but barefoot in the jungle doesn't make good sense. A minor cut on the foot can get quickly become infected.
    • For much of our hiking, Tom (our host at the lodge) will provide us with rubber boots, which will keep your feet dry, won't slip in the mud and offer some protection against pirhanas( ha! ha!, just joking; there are NO PIRHANAS in the Arajuno river).

  • Toiletries;(think camping; not the Ritz-Carlton).
    • Teeth;I cut most of the handle off a toothbrush, and and take the tiniest travel or sample size tube of toothpaste I can find and a sample size container of dental floss.
    • one disposable razor.
    • one motel-size bar of soap which I use for my body, as my shampoo and my shaving cream.
    • a pocket comb.
    • cloth-backed band-aids. Don't bother with bringing a first aid kit; Tom has all of that and more at the lodge, but a couple of the elastic-cloth band-aids seems like a good idea. We really want to guard against infection.
    • Krazy-Glue. I know this sounds extreme, but Krazy Glue is great for cuts. It literally glues the skin together, is flexible, water-proof and germ-proof. It eventually sloughs off on it's own. No biggie.
    • tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. Yes, we will be able to take a shower and wash our hands. But some time you may find yourself wanting to snack or eat and there is no where handy to wash up. The hand stuff works well.

  • Other Stuff;
    • One of our biggies is insects; particularly mosquitos. Mosquitos tend to be out at dusk and dawn; our prime shooting light. At the lodge the rooms/windows are all mosquito-screened, so that's not a problem. But we're not going to Ecuador to stay in the lodge all day. I'm going to take several small pocket-size spray bottles of DEET bug spray. Out in the bush, I'll have one with me all the time. The best stuff (the stuff you want) is DEET. You can get DEET in 30 or 40% concentration and also in 100% concentration, but tests have shown that the 100% stuff is no better than the 30/40% stuff. You can get it in lesser concentrations, like 20 and 15%, and that keep bugs away just as well, but not as long as the heavier stuff. Don't waste time with the smell-good stuff.
    • Shades. A cheap pair of sunglasses, to me, is a necessity. This sort of travel is rough on gear, so I don't recommend bringing a pair of Oakley's no matter how cool they are.


I know some of this sounds crazy, but these recommendations are ones based on my real world experience. Do you have any suggestions or experiences that would benefit the group? Please share.