Travelling with camera gear…

| July 10, 2013

Hands up those of you that have been on holidays with camera gear? A few, good… Now, those of you that have travelled incident free?

Airport TakeOff Rolling Camera Bag Virgin Australia Embraer 190

That’s an Airport TakeOff in an Embraer 190 (Virgin Australia) just FYI… 

If you’re a working photographer, travelling with a decent amount of kit – for example, one of our Airport International rollers or something similar.. Even one of the shoulder bags can hold enough to hold much more weight than you’re meant to carry onboard.

If you are travelling for work, there’s not a lot you can do really – you’re going to have to either throw (ouch, not literally) caution to the wind and let them gate check your precious… OR there are a couple of ideas we can work through to minimize the risks of you being separated from your babies.

Split ’em up

Doug wrote about it a LONG while ago on his blog and really, nothing has changed. Some countries have tighter weight restrictions – indeed just last night Andrew Knots and I had a brief conversation about some carriers that have recently revised …well, not “limits” but sizes that will absolutely get on board and vice versa.. Even with these new sizes though, you could certainly fit upwards of 20kg / 40lb of gear in there… So, you could split your gear, for example if you’re a sports / wildlife photographer that carriers a 300 / 400 / 500 / 600mm lens, maybe you could stick the long lens in something like the Glass Limo and keep the rest in an Urban Disguise 60 v2.0 as Doug mentions, the briefcase style Urban Disguise isn’t just a disguise for your gear from people on the street that may want to steal your camera gear, it also serves well to keep it from alerting keen ground staff to a potentially (very) heavy camera bag. 


Wear your gear on your person

You get to the gate, the mean man with the official looking shirt glances at your bag as if to say “there is no way in hell you’re taking THAT onboard MY plane” …whip out your heaviest lens and body, slip it over your shoulder as a “personal item” indeed, if you’re travelling with others you could kindly utilise their collective shoulders as well.. Using something like our belt system, despite feeling like Batman whilst trying to board, could quite easily work to get you to your squishy isle seat right beside the toilets – then you could re-pack back into your roller? — These are all things I’ve tried, they’ve all worked for me which is to say, they may not work for you…

Be polite, be helpful, get to the gate early, walk like you’re carrying a feather and HERE’S A TIP FOR FREE….. DON’T walk up to that “will your bag squash in here” thing right beside the ground staff and fight with your 17kg bag to get it into the metallic jaws of the evil cage…. They ARE going to see you, They ARE going to make a note on their boarding screen “most definitely weigh the bag of the nutter sitting near the coffee shop”  (You’d be surprised how many people do this and then complain that they got gate checked… no offence meant folks, but duh!) – If you MUST do this, do it before you check in, somewhere beyond the watchful eye of the ground crew.

What they say

I was around at a mate’s place a little while back, he’s a trainer for an airline here in Australia and his wife was ground crew for Virgin, so we got talking about camera gear and flying (he shoots too) and the main point of the conversation came around to be “Right, but what if that 22.4kg bag comes spinning out of the overhead locker in some wild turbulence and hits someone on the head!?” …and I guess she was right – that wouldn’t be very cool, actually, I think it has the potential to do some real damage. (Dropped 20kg on your head recently?) …it is true, there is a safety factor. If you can’t lift your bag into the overhead locker, you’ve potentially bitten off more than you can chew. Think about splitting gear up or simplifying your shooting list and taking less.

Camera bags can be big!

We make some high end professional camera bags, they’re sturdy and as a result can be heavier than your regular $27 roll on luggage – you need to choose the right one for YOUR needs (and we’re here to answer any questions you have!) don’t “underbuy” but don’t rush out and buy the biggest thing you can find, either… You don’t need an Airport Security for one body and one lens.

Do I need a thinkTankPhoto Logistics Manager

You’re right, they can be and they can be full of gear… do they ALWAYS have to be full? I know for a fact that if I have to fly to shoot something, I’m taking a lot of my gear and I don’t want to get there and realise I’ve left x, y or z at home… But then I guess we could take less gear with prior preparation and planning… I was chatting with Zack Arias about this very topic a couple of weeks ago, I asked if he had any “memorable travelling with cameras moments” …funnily enough, he did..

“Traveling from Brisbane Australia to the US with my wife, one of our sons (who was about two months old at the time) and my studio manager. We were running a bit late, got checked in, and hoofed it to security. Got to security and I was pulled out of line due to the size of my Airport International. It was weighed and I had that sucker packed well beyond the weight limit. That was the first, and only, time I have been stopped at security due to the size of a bag. I was told I’d have to return to the ticketing counter to check my bag. There’s was no way that was happening. I opened the bag and put gear in everyone’s bags and on their person and got it within one kilo of the allowed limit. Went through security, got to the gate, repacked my bag, and flew home. Since then I’ve traveled internationally with the Airport International and less gear.” — Zack Arias

But sometimes you have to just do it

This is Sven Nieder in Greenland, looks quite cold huh! If you’re going here / somewhere remote to work on a project, you’re going to have to take everything (and leave nothing behind, as is the mantra at MindShift) …you can’t very well pop to the shops for a new ND filter really, can you… You must take it all and, if the job is paying and important (as they all should be, right) you’re going to be prepared for eventualities like checking your gear.



Have you had a horror story related to travelling with camera gear? We’d love to hear about it – it only helps us to make better gear for carrying your cameras while you travel. We won’t laugh at you… promise!





Category: Inside thinkTankPhoto, Think Tank Photo

About the Author ()

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Simon manages social media for You can find out more about Simon here -
  • Guest

    Here’s a question for everyone (hope it fits into the thread somehow)

    Has anyone ever had problems with custom agents questioning your gear? Eg. Is this yours? Where did you buy it? Etc. Do you have lists or carry “official” documents for your gear? Do you need to carry some kind of proof that it is yours and where you bought it?

    I’m travelling in December with most of my gear and want to be sure that it is not going to be seized by any customs agents who think I’m trying to import or bring stuff with me for other reasons.

    Hope this makes sense…thx!

    • Hey Don, I’ve carried my gear all over the world including in and out of the US a load of times, Australia (where I live) Peru, Cuba, England, France, Canada etc etc and have never had that questioned. I do keep copies of my gear insurance in Dropbox so I can get to it from anywhere – which I guess would help if required, but no, not had that issue. Touch wood, you have a great trip, take some awesome photos and are not harassed by customs or ground crew! —Simon

  • Mary Cornelius

    I use my glass taxi for my personal item with a camera body and small lens in it as well as a small purse and my Airport Acc 2 for the bulk of my carry on equipment. ( I stuff extra batteries and charger in my checked bag) I have only been questioned once about carry on bag weight flying out of France last fall. The woman at the ticket counter weighed it and in a surprised voice said “its overweight!” I said yes, I am a professional photographer and this is my equipment. She said Oh. Okay and put a tag on my bag and handed it back. Whew!

  • That’s why I switched to mirrorless Fujis. A body + couple of primes + zoom or two weights about the same as a stabilized full frame 70-200/2.8… It also means that I can pack a whole kit, spare body as well as chargers, remotes and laptop to a single bag (which happened to be Airport International), and there’s gonna be plenty of space left for the change of clothes and toiletries. No need for a checked in luggage for 2-3 days of work… Which also means – yay! – green corridor! (Many countries forbid the use of green corridor if you have a checked in luggage)

  • emp11

    Fedex. Back when i was shooting film i had a big problem With TSA. So on the return flight i shipped 30 rolls of 120 Fedex . I have shipped gear for many years with no problems. This is also a plus when i take puddle jumpers with very restricted bag limits. No offense but i use Pelican hard cases for this. ( love my retrospective)

    • gtvone

      Hey, none taken! You’ve got to use what works for you – absolutely. 30 rolls of 120, that’s quite a box full! Thanks for your comment. ~Sime

  • Stuart Howarth

    I always take my gear on board with me and it has sometimes been heavier than my checked luggage. What I have started doing is packing all non essentials into my checked luggage. Cables, plugs, chargers and my tripods (These can be heavy) etc and only taking the expensive stuff on board. If I am not checking luggage in then I will only take my Gorilla Pod with me, the big tripod stays at home.This does however depend on where I am going to and the kind of shots that I want to take.

    I have however started culling what I travel with. Its a really hard choice to decide what stays and what goes. I have started to realise what I use and don’t use when I travel and this certainly helps. For example if needs must then i could leave my 70-200 lens behind and take my 11-16mm and 17 – 70 plus 1,4 converter. This would probably do what I need but Its a hard choice to make to leave such kit behind. One thing I have started to leave behind is my battery grip. This I find takes up space and adds weight, its an easy thing to “live” without and cope with IMHO.

    Plan ahead is always the best srategy and think what equipment do you “actually” need or think you will use. If you may use something once or twice and its not really essential then it could stay back.

    • gtvone

      It is true – I do it myself, all the time… I’ve only regretted a lens choice once… (Holiday to Cuba I’d have liked to have my 70-200 along on, I left it at home.. c’est la vie!) Thanks for taking the time to comment.


  • Stephanie Calcavecchio

    actually what I do when I travel with my cameras is I pack them in the camera bag and then with my laptop pack them in a roll on bag…I usually travel with 2 bodies and a 70-200mm lens…and I also pack a change of clothes in there for protection and a couple of books to read while flying

    • gtvone

      Hey Steph, so you put your cameras IN a camera bag with your laptop bag IN a roller? – So you can take them out at the gate if need be? Thanks for your comment. –S

      • Stephanie Calcavecchio

        yeah that’s about the size of it that way they are well protected and right near by and I also put a couple of days worth of clothes in the roller that way if my luggage is delayed I don’t have to worry about not being able to change my clothes…