Pack the right gear for an overseas wildlife adventure

Want to know how to pack the right gear for an overseas wildlife adventure? Tom Mason shares his expert advice...

I’ve been lucky enough to travel overseas on a variety of trips and assignments to photograph some amazing wildlife. The chance to see and focus my lens on new subjects is extremely exciting, but packing to make the most of a trip can sometimes pose a number of challenges. With airline restrictions and all kinds of red tape, knowing how to travel with your camera gear is hugely important if you want to arrive on location, kitted up to make the most of your adventures. Below are a few of my tips…

Start by packing the essentials

When on any trip, be it a few days away or an epic month-long expedition, planning your shoot is essential. What are your intended subjects? How far away are they likely to be? How easy will it be to access or purchase spare equipment if something breaks? Working out a basic plan will help you nail down what you need to take and what’s an optional extra. If you’re travelling outside of Europe be sure to look at your destination’s policies on camera kit and whether you’re going to need any special permits or permissions. Often this only applies for people importing cameras, but be sure to check.

Choose suitable luggage

If you’re going to be flying it’s important to have a hand luggage-friendly pack. Most manufacturers will state if they’re suitable for airline carry on, but be sure to check with your own airline to make sure they fit the bill. Personally, I’ve used my Lowepro Pro Trekker for a number of years, finding it to be a great size for getting all the necessary kit I need on-board with me to accomplish any given shoot. ThinkTank, Lower and F-stop all make great bags developed specifically for airline carry on. 

My basic travel setup includes two pro cameras (currently a Nikon D810 and D500), 20mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 300mm lenses, spare batteries, a flashgun and my filters. Of course, I also have my laptop and hard drives, but often these are accepted in a second carry-on bag under the seat. Inside I’ll also make sure I have a charger (with travel adaptor), cleaning kit and boat load of spare memory cards to keep me shooting.

I’d recommend always having your basic kit as your carry-on luggage, as that way you can be sure that it won’t be thrown around by baggage handlers or lost en route. Sometimes, however, when you need more than the basics you’ll have to check some gear in…

Take extra care with electrical goods

When checking gear in, it needs to be protected, and often a soft-sided camera bag won’t be enough. For electrical and optical goods that are easily damaged, often the best method is to package them in a hard case. Pelican cases are the industry standard, used by pro shooters and film crews around the world. They’re tough, reliable and virtually indestructible. With pick-and-pluck foam inserts and dividers, you can arrange your kit safely and securely for transport.

Remember that with new airline regulations you can’t pack lithium batteries loose in the hold, so be sure to remove any spare batteries and place them in your carry-on luggage. If you’re going to lock your cases, use TSA approved locks to aid the airline porters and security teams. 

Innovate to save on space

Often my checked-on luggage is for clothes and tripod only, so in this case I’ll likely pack my three-legged friend into my duffel, wrapped in clothing to shield it from any bumps and scrapes. My ball head fits inside a shoe for added protection, helping to keep them in perfect condition even after a long journey in the hold.

A few extras I always throw in is a power strip to give me additional UK sockets from one travel adaptor, as well as roll of gaffer tape for emergency repairs.

Finally, be sure that your camera insurance is up to date and covers the destination and length of your entire trip. When returning be sure to split up your images and make back-ups - I’ll always travel with at least three copies of my data to make sure it makes it home.

Tom Mason is one of the UK’s most exciting young wildlife photographers and conservationists. He leads workshops and seminars and writes a monthly blog for the RSPB. See more of his work here