When I first started travelling I was this 20-year-old kid with an 85 litre backpack that was bigger than me. Hey, I was young, I didn’t know any better.
In those first two weeks of landing in Thailand I must’ve chucked out half my stuff. A thermal fleece in 30 degree heat and 90% humidity? No thank you.
As I continued to travel over the years, I refined my packing technique. I worked out that I only needed to take the bare essentials and everything else was just surplus to requirement. That 85 litre backpack reduced down to a 65 litre backpack, then a 45 litre one, till I ended up with this tiny 30 litre bag. I packed light and I never had to put my luggage in the hold on planes. It was the way I did things.
That’s before I became obsessed with photography. When I first started travelling, I was shooting on a Canon bridge camera. Simple, light, effective. I actually took some really great shots on that camera, but as we all know, to improve you’ve always got to upgrade, you’ve always got to get better kit.
These days I travel with more equipment than ever, and it’s almost become an impossible art to pack light, especially on longer trips.
Often I like to travel up to six weeks at a time through a region, getting as much content as possible, and for that I need pretty much all my kit with me. However, there are some things that I now no longer pack to make my camera bag much lighter.
Instead of using an extended battery pack I just carry three spare batteries around. It’s quite easy to forget just how heavy an extended battery pack is, and I’ve got into a routine where I make sure I charge each battery I’ve got every night to ensure I’ve got enough juice for the next day.
Also, I don’t carry a flash gun anymore. I just don’t feel the need. If I ever need one while I’m away, I make do with what I’ve got – the light on my phone, bouncing it off a reflector. I know that sounds cheap, but you’d be surprised at how effective it is.
I recently upgraded my tripod to the Manfrotto 190 carbon fibre tripod. Going for the carbon fiber over the aluminum shaved a couple of kilos off my overall weight, and when you’re lugging your stuff around every day that’s a huge difference.
Also, I’ve gone through a fair few bags finding the right one. Initially I wanted a bag that was very practical with good compartments and dividers for all my kit, but over the years I’ve realise that comfort is actually the most important thing for travel photography.
Honestly, it really is. My kit weighs around 10kg (see why I said it’s an impossible task to pack light!). Now I’m taking that out every day, often for up to 14 hours a day. I just wouldn’t be able to do that if I didn’t have a comfortable camera bag, and after going through a few back breakers I now use the Manfrotto Professional Backpack 50 which is extremely durable in all conditions but comfortable too.
I wish I could give you some secrets of how to pack light, I really do, but if you’re a photographer then the reality is its incredibly difficult to do, but there definitely are a few things you can do to save some weight, and when you’re on a long trip it can make all the difference.
Once you’ve been on a few trips yourself, once you’ve gone through the back-breaking work of hiking up a volcano at 4am in the morning with three different lenses, a Steadicam and a heavy aluminum tripod, you’ll quickly work out what’s important to you and what isn’t. Unfortunately, the impossible task of packing light is learning through doing – now go out there and do it yourself.
Macca Sherifi is a blogger, photographer and presenter who has worked in the travel industry for the past five years. He has travelled to over 70 countries, volunteered in Bangladesh and worked in both China and Australia.