I read a lot of travel blogsand there is one thing that always fascinates me about you other travellers out there. Equipment. Gadgets. Accessories. Call it whatever you want – I want to know what you’re taking with you when you’re jetting from one spot to another and back again. I’m talking about the things you bring everywhere with you when moving around; things that would make you absolutely devastated if you left it at home.
A list of these things can be helpful for other people out there wanting to travel and are wondering what they ought to carry versus what they want to carry. Of course, the lists also vary depending on what type of traveler he or she is. Personal interests and hobbies will also determine what is on that list. For example, someone who is a primarily a photographer (hobbyist, amateur, or professional) would have different gear from someone who is primarily an adrenaline-seeker or travel writer.
Essentials, such as toiletries and appropriate clothing are fairly obvious things that a person should carry with them, so I don’t think those are worth getting into.
I’ll talk about the things I carry, but first, I’ll preface with a list of packs and bags I’ve used or have been using since moving abroad. I think these are worth some attention since they are responsible for carrying my beloved gear.
Full disclosure: I am not being paid nor have I been paid to feature these products on my blog. I’m simply writing about them because I use them and find them useful to me in varying degrees. However, if the following companies would like to compensate me for recommending their items, please feel free to contact me.
Packs + Bags
North Face Base Camp Duffel Bag (Size S, 50L)
As of about February 2015, this is my current pack I use for smaller trips or overnight trips. I own the 50L version, which does not look too big even when stuffed, and is the perfect size for carry on luggage. I currently use this in tandem with my laptop and camera bag, the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW (featured below). Cameras don’t normally sit too well in duffel bags so I have a separate one to protect my gear.
I cannot fully confirm that this bag is waterproof. However, it’s at least VERY water resistant and I have not had any contents get wet when using it in light-medium rain. I tested this bag out for the first time on a four day trip to Boracay, in the Philippines, and it stayed dry. Sand was not an issue either. This was my primary bag during the summer of 2015 when I went road tripping from Georgia, USA, up to Ontario, Canada.
I’m normally not a fan of duffel bags as I tend to prefer bags strapped to my back like a normal pack. However, I do think it’s easier to pack duffel bags. This bag allows me to do both; easy packing in to a duffel bag and easy carrying with the backpack straps. Bottom line: I am in love with this bag.
Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW
This is my current camera and laptop bag. I own the fiery orange-red model.
I first saw this bag when I went traveling with my good friend, Jessica Chen, to Shanghai. She’s an avid photographer with the massive Canon 7D, equipped with the also massive 24-70mm L. She comfortably carried all of her gear in this bag com along with some of her day-to-day essentials. I fell in love with it immediately.
I’ve always searched for a perfect camera bag but most of what I have owned in the past have always fallen short. The design was always a bit off and the structure of the bag tended to be bulky or irregular. Lowepro’s Photo Hatchback, however, solved all of that for me. To me, it looked like a regular day pack that people use to carry their notebooks and laptops in. It was inconspicuous but also very stylish. Flip to the backside, however, and you have a zip out compartment where you can fit a full frame camera and several lenses in it. On the front pouch, you can comfortably slide a small laptop inside. The company suggests something along the size of an 11″ Macbook Air or the new Macbook (2015 model, 12″). However, I’ve done some digging online and found that people with the 13″ Macbook Air were able to slide it in as well, albeit a bit snug.
At the time of me writing this, I am able to fit the following in:
11″ Macbook Air in the front
Canon 6D with the 24-105mm f/4 L and 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Sony a6000 with the 16-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit and Sony E 30mm f/3.5 macro lens.
GoPro HD Hero3 Black Edition
Gorillapod SLR Focus tripod slid into one side pocket
Nalgene 1L slid into the other side pocket.
If you are like me and always have to travel with your cameras and laptop, then GET THIS BAG. I always have my cameras on me so I carry this bag everywhere with me, whether it be walking around in the neighbourhood or flying from Toronto to Asia.
Jack Wolfskin Accelerate 30
** Amendment 18/08/2015
** This was my current pack I used to take with me on trips that ranged for a few days. It’s a 30L bag that weighs about 500grams (just a little over a pound, aka super light)! It’s a very minimalist design with a shape that is excellent for packing quite a bit without becoming too bulky. The zipper pattern is odd but there’s a method behind that madness. The idea is that you can have the two zippers on the front and access the entire contents of your bag when you open it that way. Alternatively, you can pull both zippers towards the top to access from the top down. There is a small brain compartment at the top to dump small things there and a back sleeve if you want to slot a tablet or books in there.
I love this pack but because it’s meant to be very minimalist and lightweight, I am wary of how much abuse it can take. Otherwise, it has been very good to me and incredibly comfortable. However, I doubt I would’ve taken this bag to a place like India where my old pack was thrown onto and off a bus multiple times, while also being lugged and kicked around aggressively.
Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) Cragosaurus 30LI love MEC. They make good stuff. They make great stuff. And they’re a Canadian company. This is another 30L pack that I was using a lot before I got the Jack Wolfskin pack mentioned above. This pack is quite affordable (given how expensive some MEC packs can be) and stubborn to almost all conditions. It has taken my abuse like a champ. I might be a bit worried about how well the Accelerate 30 pack might hold against rugged conditions, but I can treat the Cragosaurus like garbage and still not worry about my contents exploding from it. If I’m going on an easy going trip, I’ll take the Accelerate pack because it’s much lighter and looks a bit more compact as a carry on for flights. If I was going back to India or anywhere else that would demand a tough pack (and if 30L is enough volume) then my money is certainly on the Cragosaurus.
Now let’s get to my must-have gear….
These are the things I always have to have with me when I’m traveling. If I didn’t have any one of these things, I’d be very sad. You’ll be able to spot the trend after going through my list. I really like to take photos.
Canon 6D full-frame DSLR
I originally bought the crop-sensor Canon 7D when I decided I would self-teach myself DSLR videography and switched over from Nikon to Canon’s camp. I was absolutely in love with the Canon 7D. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, my camera pack and all its contents were stolen in Manila. I recall that fun story in a post, which you can read HERE.
The full-frame Canon 6D became the replacement for my stolen Canon 7D. It was a huge upgrade for me from a crop-sensor camera to a full-frame camera, not to mention it was a very expensive Christmas present from myself to myself. But, I’m incredibly happy with this camera. It’s the perfect travel full-frame DSLR for a hobbyist or amateur, in my humble opinion, because it boasts one of the smallest full-frame DSLR bodies. A professional might use this camera as backup but I imagine they’re probably taking the much larger Canon 5D Mark III or beastly Canon 1DX. Anyway, the stills and videos from this camera are top-notch and I cannot complain. Oh, did I mention that the 6D has built-in wi-fi? Yeah, I can pull pictures immediately from the camera to my iPad or iPhone right after I take them. Pretty nifty.
Canon 24-105L f/4 Lens
Canon’s 24-105L f/4 lens is a gem. The focal range of the 24-105mm makes it a pretty damn good travel lens. Pictures come out tack sharp, constant f/4 aperture throughout (even though f/2.8 is the dream), and it came with the Canon 6D as the kit lens! The only lens I would take over this one would be the Canon 24-70L f/2.8, but that lens is ridiculously more expensive and is as heavy as a brick.
Canon 50mm f/1.4 Lens
Nifty Fifty, eh. Every photographer needs a nifty fifty. Relatively cheap and affordable. Light and fairly compact. Excellent quality pictures with lovely depth of field control. Get the even cheaper f/1.8 model if this one is slightly out of your budget.
Sony Alpha a6000 MILC
For a really long time, I did not trust MILC, or mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. I strongly believed then that the technology offered was inferior to what I possessed. DSLR was still king in terms of quality, and if I needed a portable option, the iPhone would suffice. However, as I spend more and more time abroad, I began to long for something that would weigh a lot less around my neck and on my wrists.
Enter Sony. I started to take note of what Sony was doing. Sony was starting to win over many solid photographers with their cameras and the ecosystem of lenses they had available. The Sony full frame MILCs were producing images of incredible quality at similar price points of their DSLR counterparts but in a much smaller size. They offered various APS-C sensor cameras that had snazzy bells and whistles, and, more importantly, capable of producing brilliant images. It was near impossible to discern the difference between images taken by some MILCs and some DSLRs. I was convinced.
Sony E 16-55mm f/3.5-5.6
The kit lens that came with the Sony Alpha a6000. It’s not the best lens, but it will still take good pictures. It’s a great starter lens and will do well for traveling around. Look into an upgrade when bank account permits.
Sony E 30mm f/3.5 MACRO
My first ever macro lens. I bought this because I had some disposable income and wanted to try out macro photography. The 30mm focal length means you have to get SUPER close to your subjects, especially with a 1:1 ratio for focusing. It’s fun, but if you want to use it as a simple walk-around lens, you will notice that your pictures come out a bit softer, especially towards the outside edges. I also feel like the focusing does more hunting to get locked on point.
GoPro HDHero 3 Black Edition
The good people at GoPro have revolutionized POV cameras. I don’t think they ever thought their product would explode into the market like it has and be used in so many different ways other than filming yourself doing gnarly things on a snowboard or blazing through water barrels on a surfboard. I originally bought the HDHero 2 but that was also stolen along with my Canon 7D.
I love my GoPro and I take it everywhere I go. I use it with a number of attachments that I often carry with me; this includes the chest harness, the head-strap, the GoPole EVO, or a GoPro telescopic/retractable pole. My only comment is that the footage and stills from this camera will be very different from what GoPro advertises/showcases unless you have some basic knowledge of photo and video editing. My opinion is that the footage and stills from this camera are meant to be tweaked. I purposely shoot my footage and stills a bit flat/muted in colour so I have the ability to bring back range and true colours to the final versions of the images.
Gorillapod SLR Focus Tripod with Joby Ballhead X
Setup a standard shot by straightening it out (like the image above) or coil it around various structures to grab a shot from a unique vantage point. It’s easy to pack for traveling, and it offers me the stabilization I need for shooting or filming. Get onto the Gorillapod site to figure out which model suits your needs. I have a full frame camera, so I opted for the Focus model, which can handle more weight. You will need a ballhead with a Gorillapod, so make sure you pick one up, unless you buy them packaged together from Gorillapod.
iPhone 6 PLUS Space Grey 128GB
I’m a big Apple fan. I have a Macbook Pro, an iPad, and an iPhone with data synced between all three devices. That said, I’m not one of those fanboys who line up for the latest and greatest. In fact, both iPhones I’ve ever owned have been pre-owned.
Anyway, I love the iPhone because it’s just super simple to use. But on top of that, it also has a pretty decent camera. It takes decent pictures. Sometimes, you can only reach for the closest or most accessible camera to capture a moment and that’s when the iPhone comes in handy for me. I’ve seen some radical pictures from people who only use their iPhones to take snaps. One of my friends from Toronto, Sue Holland, only uses her iPhone to take pictures for her Instagram account. Check her Instagram out HERE. It’s pretty damn impressive.
iPad 32GB (3rd Generation)
When I was working at CIBC, I blew a good chunk of my first paycheck on this. At the time, it was a very niche product. All I knew then was that I wanted to splurge on something that clearly did not have to fulfil any need I had. I only understood the iPad as consumer hype with no real purpose other than being a glorified, oversized touchscreen iPod. I don’t even think Angry Birds was a thing when this iPad came out. Little did I know that this would come in handy for traveling.
I would consider myself a pretty avid reader. I have an enormous collection of books at home. I’m also seriously addicted to Amazon so for every book that I finished, I would easily buy 3 more. But you can’t take all of these books with you when you’re traveling. It turns out that the iPad works very well as an e-reader. The retina screen is beautiful for reading, and you can store a buttload of books on it.
I also try and stay current with news back home and with what’s going on in the areas around me at the time. As a result, I tend to rely on a lot of news apps from BBC, The Globe and Mail, the CBC, and various other news outlets to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the world.
Oh! And since my DSLR has wi-fi and can serve as a remote access point, I now also use my iPad to pull pictures instantly from my Canon 6D for viewing and doing any minor edits (I often use Snapseed, a very powerful, free photo-editing app). A consumer splurge from a couple of years back turns out to be a great investment for traveling later on. Who knew.
So there’s my current list (as of December 12th, 2015) of gear that I always have to carry with me. I’ll update this list if anything changes but these are the must-haves for me.