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Carrying Gear in the field: a Daypack for Cameras/Lenses + Water/Food/Clothes

2010-01-12 updated 2014-03-30 - Send Feedback
Related: clothing and footwear, gear, tripods and support, video
My well-used older model of The North Face Recon
(by far my most used pack)

A photography backpack with its thick padding, dividers for lenses, etc is a necessity for protecting fragile photographic equipment during travel: airplanes, bumpy dirt roads, raft trips with mud and grit, etc.

For thick padded protection of camera gear, a pack like the LowePro DryZone 200 is a great choice because it protects against bumps/knocks and dust/dirt and can be made waterproof. But such “official” camera packs are bulky and heavy overkill for most shooting situations.

And where do the down jacket and/or rain shell and gloves and hat and food and dual one liter water bottles stow? Many camera backpacks have little practical usage for hiking, and start out at least at five pounds when empty. Few are designed well for most hikes.

And so as of 2014, my camera packs are rarely used for more than protection against rough roads in the back of my car, not for anywhere beyond.

In the field

Out in the field, my #1 choice of daypack for years now has been the North Face Recon (about $98 @AMAZON). My original Recon pack weighed only 1.5 pounds; current models are just over 2 pounds, but also a bit more padded and sturdier.

Whether it is hiking up Mt Dana or a bike ride in White Mountains or a hike through NYC, the North Face Recon houses my camera gear, one or two 1L water bottles (Evian bottles work great), a jacket and hat/gloves, flashlight car keys and sundries, etc. Without extra bulk or extra weight.

The North Face Recon can easily accommodate a moderately large photographic kit. It has:

  • The mesh stash pocket on each side can accommodate a small tripod with ballhead or a water bottle (e.g. 1L Evian bottle). For long hikes, those two side pockets offer 2L of water carry—critical in some situations.
  • A large outside stash pocket on the top can accommodate a jacket, gloves, food, or stash another lens or camera, etc.
  • A large and a medium zippered compartment for stowage;
  • A small sealed zippered compartment (car keys, small flashlight, etc);
  • A waist belt and various compression straps useful enough for cycling videos on fast descents (to stabilize the camera).

The North Face Recon works really well for mountain biking also, which is how I get into some areas with camera gear. Every pound count at 11,000' - 14,252' as in this area; a bulky and heavy photo backpack adds 3-5 pounds of useless weight that also gets fits poorly and ventilates poorly for riding.

Continues below.

October 16 2013 17:42 , about 12,300' elevation in the White Mountains
Oct 16 2013 Ricoh GR
Protect lenses from impacts and scratches
Neoprene lens pouches (Zing)


Since lenses, cameras, etc just go “loose” into the pack, they need some protection. Neoprene lens pouches @AMAZON do the job nicely, keeping volume wastage to a minimum.

It’s possible to “cheat” this way and skip a pouch for a lens or two by packing it between others in pouches. These style pouches lets them all clump together for no wasted space, as happens with internal dividers in a camera pack or more rigid pouches. The result is the ability to carry quite an extensive kit in the Recon.

At one time, I used the Recon to carry an entire 4X5 kit: a Linhof Technikardan 4X5 view camera, six lenses, 4X5 sheet film and holders, filters, Gitzo G1325 tripod, water bottle etc.

For digital, the Recon can easily accommodate two large DSLR bodies, several lenses, a tripod with head, filters, etc. Plus the real essential for some situations: water and food and jacket.

Carry-on bag

The Recon is also an excellent second carry-on bag for airline travel; I carry a main photo backpack onboard an aircraft (the LowePro DryZone 200), with the Recon taking an extra camera body and lenses that don’t fit into the main pack, personal sundries, etc.

At $79, it’s a must-have item for photographers who don’t want to carry a pack that weighs 6 pounds when empty. And it’s more comfortable too! I simply never leave on a photo shoot without it. And unlike a photo backpack, it’s versatility doesn’t end with photography.

Protecting lenses in the pack

Since lenses, cameras, etc just go “loose” into the pack, you need to protect them. I use lens pouches for the job, like those from Zing Designs.

Travel and protection: LowePro DryZone 200
(heavy and awkward in the field for hiking and biking)

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