11 October 2009

The packing challenge

Photographic equipment is typical carry-on luggage. The callenge is to fit all the gear into a bag or case that meets the maximum size limit for the airline. Here's the list of things that must fit into my bag:

  • FA* 600mm f/4
  • DA* 300mm f/4
  • DA* 60-250mm f/4
  • DA* 16-50mm f/2.8
  • DA 14mm f/2.8
  • one K-7 with vertical grip
  • one K-7 without grip
  • Metz 58 AF-1 flash
  • 14" laptop
  • portable disks for backup
  • A few chargers and power supplys
The physical dimensions of the 600mm is of course the biggest challenge. The largest diameter is 23 cm, and it's nearly 49 cm long, including lens caps.

I was quite optimistic at first, because there actually are a couple of photobag solutions that will hold a 600mm and, according to the marketing, fit into the overhead lockers in airplanes. The ThinkTank Airport Security v2 is one such example. It's built specifically to meet the limits for domestic flights in USA.

USA limits, however, are far more generous than elsewhere in the world. Check the wording on American Airlines' website for example. ThinkTank also acknowledge this, and recommend their "international" model for flights outside US. But it doesn't hold a 600mm.

My heart sank a bit, but based on previous experience with various European airlines I decided that I'll probably get away with the USA version anyway, and shelled out the money. Since then I've even brought it from Oslo to London and back with two different airlines without trouble, so my confidence grew. But my upcoming trip will also involve domestic flights in Argentina, so I felt I had to check the allowance there too. Just in case.

That's what I should have checked first. Aerolineas Argentinas have even stricter rules for the size of carryons. 55 x 35 x 25 cm. The good news is that a 600mm will, in principle, fit within these limits. The bad news is that no photo bag exists that makes the most of these particular volume restrictions.

My best answer is an ordinary soft-walled carryon bag from Carlton. It's slightly over the limit on paper, but in practice a tight fit. And the 600mm fits neatly inside.

And bless Pentax for supplying pouches with their lenses. In airports and planes, those pouches are sufficient as padding between the items. With all the lenses separated by pouches, I'll wrap some clothes around the cameras and the laptop, dress up the 600mm in its rain cover, and that's it. I test-packed today and it looks really good. I could even sneak in my passport and a couple of dollar bills.

And I will just have to hope that nobody wants to check the weight of the thing...


Alastair & Masha said...

did you consider the Kiboko http://www.guragear.com/product.php - it meets the airline restrictions and claims to be able to carry a 600 and 500 at the same time.

Weight is surely an issue - cheap airlines do weigh the hand luggage - and a quick addition of your gear without the bags suggests you will be over 15Kg


Alunfoto said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Alastair, and for the link, too!
That looks like a very good alternative. I have never seen Kiboko bags for sale in Norway. :-(

One thing I forgot to write is that I would also like the carryon to have wheels. That tend to complicate matters further. :-)

As to weight, it's a gamble all the way. Aerolineas Argentinas allows a total of 15 kg baggage in economy class. Of this, 5 kg may be carryon. Even the 600mm alone exceeds the limits for carryon, and you are entirely correct about the total weight of my listed gear.

Fernando said...

I flew with Aerolineas Argentinas several times -last time a year ago- I don't remember them ever checking my carry on -pretty sure I exceeded 5kgs by far-. When entering the aircraft I wouldn't use the wheels though, "hook" the bag on your shoulder and act as if weights nothing ;-)

I would be more concerned about them flying you on time though ;-)

Good luck

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info.

Michael Reichmann has made some articles regarding flying with photo gear :


“As is the case everywhere these days, travel with large quantities of photographic equipment is a hassle. Since 9/11 things have become even tougher, and also more confusing, as the airlines are constantly changing the rules and are very inconsistent in enforcing them.

For example, TAM, the Brazilian airline which most of us used to fly from Miami to Manaus, Brazil clearly states on their web site that carryon bags are limited to 5kg, the lowest of just about any airline, and half that of many. The reality is that the rule is totally unenforced (it least it was on our flights). Of course ones carry-ons still have to be able to fit in the overhead compartment.

For the past few shooting trips that I've made I have been using the ThinkTank Airport International bag. This is a brilliant design for travel, though not very good for shooting once on location. For this reason I pack all of my chargers, batteries, cables and such in a small day pack (currently my preference is the Lowepro Slingshot 100) and then put this in my checked duffle bag along with my clothes. Once on location I remove all of the bits and pieces and load the cameras and lenses that I need for the day in the Slingshot.”