Johnny Hayward Aerial Selfie

Ready for take off, packing your camera equipment for travel on a plane

aerial selfie
Here is some of my equipment that I take on my trips to photograph wildlife and polar bears. The bag in the picture isn’t the one mentioned in this blog.

One of the most common questions I get asked when people find out that I am a photographer is how do you pack your equipment for travel on a plane. 

Ask a hundred photographers and you may get a hundred different answers but after travelling for photo assignments for the past 28 years with up to 130 days a year on the road I feel pretty confident that I have come up with the most simple packing technique even for flights with the tightest of baggage allowances. 

A lot of my assignments involve long glass like a 600mm or a 400 f2.8 so right away this lens starts eating up space.  So what I do is look at the assignment and what the minimum requirement of camera gear that I could get by with if thats all that I had.  This normally consists of two camera bodies, my 600mm F4, 1.4X, my 12-24mm and my 100-400mm or 70-200mm depending on the job.   I will also carry my laptop, hard drive, and two battery chargers. 

Churchill Polar Bears Nov ZH copy
My good friend Gerald Azure keeping watch for polar bears as I photograph in Churchill, Manitoba. Photo by Paul Wright.

First I use my Wandrd backpack 

This bag is key in that it fits a lot of gear but looks small due to it not being filled and jammed with useless foam.  In here I can put two cameras with lenses.  I will have one body with a widie on it and one with my 100-400mm on it.  This still leaves me space for a drone, laptop, important travel papers and has a handy dandy water bottle pouch that can be closed for a sleeker look if not in use.  The roll top of the bag allows easy access to where I keep my wires and chargers but can also extend if you want to throw you puffy or fleece into it while in the airport.  This bag is the best of the 30 or more bags I have tried out.  Comfortable fit, easy access, looks small, has great handles.  

The Wandrd backpack on the left and the Nanuk 935 on the right

Secondly I can not live without my Nanuk 935 roller case.  This is light weight, compact, has great wheels and soft handles.  It’s just long enough to fit a Sony 600mm, my 1.4X, 2X and usually my batteries.  I don’t like having a lot of weight on my back at the airport and standing in lines so I will fill this case with whatever I don’t want on my back in the Wandrd backpack.  

sony gear a
My go to kit of equipment for my northern trips.

If you are a Nikon shooter and have the new 800mm lens this roller from Nanuk takes your lens, 100-400 and a body or two.  I just travelled to Chile on assignment testing the new Nikon gear and loved how small that 800mm is.  

The greatest thing about travelling like this with these two bags is that they don’t look overly big and are deceiving for what weight and gear you actually have inside.  If for any reason your airline of choice insists on checking your Nanuk case you can take the batteries out of it and ask for a gate check for this bag.  This way you A: know your bag has made it to the fight and B: it doesn’t get bashed around as much since its being put on the plane by hand.  

Typical equipment used on 90% of all of my travel assignments.

I hope this can help out to anyone going through the photographer camera gear packing blues and don’t know where to look to find the right bags or cases, this system is tried and true and I swear by it.  

On a side packing and travelling note, always think about your mobility at your destination.  If you have to hike a long way to catch a bus or train remember that it’s almost impossible to roll three or more rollie bags.  If your assignment requires lots of clothing or food items to come along use duffle bags and you can always place them on top of your roller bags and use them like mini carts.  You only ever have to travel somewhere once with three bags on wheels to know its a pain especially where there are no carts.  

Happy travels and great shooting,

till next time,


Equipment for a month at an Olympics
J Hayward

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