Many of us spend a lot of time traveling and visiting beautiful places around the world. It is essential that we pack light, but at the same time, ensure that we have all the accessories needed for every possible scenario. Obviously, a camera, some lenses, and a tripod should always come along on any photo trip, but there are other accessories that I carry in my bag for every trip that I go on.
This is a list of gear that I think should always be in your bag no matter what type of trip. I also documented the exact gear items that I have and what I carry with me. A common question on workshops is what type of [insert gear item or accessory] do you recommend?
Now you can see exactly what is in my bag. Chosen camera setups and gear varies from photographer to photographer, but this is my list.
Opsrey Aether 70
Most importantly, the pack comes first. Because after all, we need somewhere to stash all our gear, right? I have tried numerous backpacks and these are my favorites.
My go-to everyday pack is the F-stop Tilopa. I previously had the F-stop Ajna, but I recently got the Tilopa and I like it so much more. It is pretty much the same dimensions as the Ajna, but it has a little more storage (space and compartments). Not to mention the pack looks awesome. I pair F-stop’s Pro ICU – Small with my Tilopa.
For overnight backpacking, I use an Osprey Aether 70L. Osprey packs seem to fit me better than other brands and I love the Aether 70L. It has been everywhere with me, from Alaska to Nepal. I still put my camera in a F-stop ICU when I backpack, but I really consolidate when it comes to accessories and lenses for a longer backpack.
I recently sold all my DSLR equipment and purchased a mirrorless Nikon Z7. The weight savings is huge and the Z7 has been excellent so far. It does have shortcomings, but all of the issues I have with it are minor and can be addressed with firmware. By going mirrorless, I experienced an approximate 50% reduction in the size and weight of my kit.,
Nikon 14-30 f/4 S
Nikon 24-70 f/4 S
Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 AF-P
Because I am primarily a landscape photographer, I spend most of my time shooting at the widest spectrum. The 14-30 f/ S has been an awesome addition. It is super wide, lightweight, tack sharp, and takes filters. I also notice that is it sharper than my previous 14-24mm f/2.8.
Same goes for the 24-70 f/4 S. The initial S lenses for Nikon’s mirrorless line are fantastic in my experience. I am not concerned with either lens not being f/2.8. If you shoot landscapes, there is no reason you need a super fast lens unless you do a lot of night photography. I don’t do much, but with modern higher-end bodies you can bump up the ISO to compensate. When more lens are released, I will buy a 14mm f/2.8 prime exclusively for astrophotography. All I know, is I love the weight savings that the new f/4 S lenses offer.
I also shoot at 70-300 quite often. The S line has a few 70-200mm lenses coming soon, but there is nothing to cover that range now. So, I adapt my 70-300mm using the FTZ Adapter.
Really Right Stuff TFC-14
Really Right Stuff BH-30
I exclusively use Really Right Stuff tripods. When I was just starting out in photography, I went through so many tripods and I eventually had issues with all of them. I spent the money and got my first Really Right Stuff tripod rig with the TVC-24L and BH-55. It is expensive, but you get what you pay for 100% and it will last forever. I sold that rig to accommodate a new lightweight setup. I love the TFC-14 and BH-30 combo, it is the perfect lightweight travel tripod. Really Right Stuff gear is built so well and makes operation in the field so efficient, I definitely recommend splurging.
Top Accessories To Have In Your Pack
With the big items out of the way, these are items that I always carry in my pack for the most part. Some items are not obvious, but there is a good reason they are on the list. Let us know what you carry in your pack below too, this is not an exhaustive list, just what items I believe are the most important.
- Rocket Blower
This thing is a do-it-all and although you might not use it on every trip, the one you don’t bring it on will be the on where you need it. The Rocket Blower can be used to clean your sensor (ever get a piece of hair or some dust on your sensor that shows up in your images, this will blow those things right off). I also use a Rocket Blower when I am shooting near water. It can blow off water from your lens in a very efficient manner – no smudging. I even use it to clear off dust and dirt from my other gear too.
- ZEISS Lens Wipes
I always carry a pack of ZEISS Lens Wipes. These wipes contain isopropyl alcohol and are safe to use on all types of lenses. I use these to clean filters, lenses, and my cameras LCD. They can easily remove dirty and smudging. When shooting seascapes, they also work great to clean up any saltwater on your lens.
I do not carry many filters, but there are a few that I consider essential – a circular polarizer and a neutral density filter. I do not put a UV filter on any of my lenses. I understand the protection aspect, but I would rather not put another element in front of my lens that could affect the transmission of light. A circular polarizer is the most important filter you can have. I would say it is a requirement for your wide angle lens if you shoot landscapes. It is the one filter whose effect cannot be replicated or created during post-processing. A polarizer reduces glare, saturates colors, and is essential for any water/forest scene. A neutral density filter is very important too but in only certain situations. I use a 4-stop or 6-stop Neutral Density filter when shooting seascapes or when clouds are moving fast and I want to streak them with a longer exposure. A neutral density filter is equivalent to putting sunglasses on your lenses. On the coast, I often shoot into the sun so a neutral density filter helps reduce the amount of light available to my camera. Hence, I can still shoot at slower shutter speeds to get that nice soft water texture. I use and recommend Breakthrough Filters – https://breakthrough.photography. They are the best filters on the market in my opinion.
- Remote Control/Intervalometer
A remote control for your camera is a great accessory to have. I shoot in self-timer mode most of the time with the timer set to 2 seconds. When I am shooting a scene where I am trying to capture action or a specific moment (waterfalls, seascapes, quickly changing light) I use a remote control.
An intervalometer is a more feature-rich remote. It can be great for shooting timelapse or astrophotography. I have both a basic remote and an intervalometer. I usually only carry the intervalometer.
- Memory Cards & Case
Always carry enough memory cards. I think a hard-shell case is necessary too. It helps with organization and protects the cards too. I use everything from SD cards, CF cards, and XQD cards. I recommend buying cards from a company called ProGrade Digital – https://progradedigital.com. The company was formed by former executives at SanDisk and Lexar. They make the fastest cards on the market. I stand behind these cards and ‘MATT5’ will get you 5% off if you order with them.
Batteries, batteries, batteries. Can you ever have enough? I bring 6 batteries with me on most trips. Maybe a few more if I am going to be in the backcountry for an extended period or in a remote area with no charging. I have a mix of official Nikon batteries and 3rd party batteries. Rule of thumb though is too only use authentic batteries for your camera.
An L-bracket is the most underrated camera accessory in the history of camera accessories. Without a doubt, you should own an L-Bracket. It will make your life so much easier and it is amazing how many photographers are unaware they exist. The idea is simple, it enables you to quickly switch your camera between horizontal and vertical orientations. This is also simple if you don’t have one, buy one. I use Really Right Stuff L-brackets. You can find cheaper versions from Sunwayfoto and Kirk online for your camera model.
- Hex Key
I carry a hex key/Allen wrench/l-wrench that fits the screws on my tripod and ball head. It takes up no space and can fix a variety of tripod, L-bracket, and plate issues. I have had my ball head loosen on me in the field before and thankfully I had a hex key to secure it back on.
- Memory Card Reader
I always carry a card reader. I like to back up my photos and get them on my laptop as soon as I can when I am away on trips. A card reader lets me load my files on any computer and download/upload speeds are generally faster than using a dedicated SD port on your laptop. I use CF and XQD media storage too so I need a card reader.
- External Storage
External storage is useful for backing up your photos and just maintaining your files in one (or multiple places). I carry an external 1TB portable hard drive with me. I back up all my images to the device and also store other RAW files. An external hard drive helps at home too since I switch off processing images between my laptop and desktop. A company called GNARBOX also makes storage devices that can back up your images via your SD card or storage media with no laptop. Super helpful for backcountry trips.
If you shoot landscapes, you are out early and back late. You might even be up in the middle of the night too. I have a Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp and I bring it with me everywhere. I use it for early or late hikes to or back from sunrise/sunset spots and astrophotography. You never know when you will be out in the dark. This is more of a safety item than photography item obviously, but as I said, we find ourselves out in the dark a lot while shooting landscapes.
- External Power Device
I have a few external power devices with USB slots. My go to is an Anker PowerCore II 20000. I use this to charge my electronics when I am away from power sources. I am able to charge my camera via USB and I use it to charge my phone too. I often use my phone for PhotoApps or as a dedicated GPS so it is important to me that my phone stays charged when I am in the field…as well as my camera! You can find some high capacity power banks that take up hardly any space.
- Photography Apps
Not something you technically ‘carry’ in your pack, but an essential to have. I recommend PhotoPills or The Photographer’s Ephemeris. Both apps contain a wealth of data and information. You can track the Milky Way, see exactly where the sun will rise or set (same for the moon), calculate your hyperfocal distance, your long exposure, and more. I use PhotoPills, but both apps are great.
- Rain Cover
Getting the shot and getting the best conditions can leave you out in bad weather, a lot. I always carry a rain cover with me for my pack and sometimes even carry a garbage bag for my camera. Weather sealing is pretty darn good on professional bodies these days so I don’t worry too much about my gear getting wet when I’m shooting. But, if you have a long way to hike in bad weather or you are out waiting for a break, a rain cover is extremely valuable. You don’t want your pack soaking through and ruining some of the aforementioned electronics you potentially have in your pack.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)