HOW TO PACK
Rule # 1. PACK
Okay, so you
will need to pack for three different occasions;
- The plane
flight into Quito.
- The canoe
trip to the lodge.
- Our excursions
out from the lodge.
1. The Plane
will not insure or replace damaged luggage/gear for more than a couple hundred
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
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
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.
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.
ECUADOR: WHAT TO PACK
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- Memory Cards.
Don't take just your biggest or fastest; take every card you can get your
- 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.
- 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.
plates and 1/4 x20 bolts (fit the tripod thread on the bottom of the
- a multi-tool
(leatherman combination pliers, screwdriver, knife, etc, etc.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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?).
people like to wear cross-trainers that are just comfortable, breath
easy, dry quick and have good traction. They should fit well without
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.
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).
camping; not the Ritz-Carlton).
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
- one motel-size
bar of soap which I use for my body, as my shampoo and my shaving cream.
- a pocket
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.
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;
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.
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.