Backpacks and Slings

Plus, the Blue Ridge Parkway, kids books and more …


It’s been a busy spring!

I just returned from three National Parks at Night workshops in five weeks: Joshua Tree National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cape Cod National Seashore. They are three intensely different places, so it made for a fun and varied photographic adventure. More importantly, I met some great people who joined us for these locations, and I hope to work with them again soon.

Boat houses on Salt Pond, Cape Cod National Seashore

Next up for me is a couple of national park shoots and scouting trips in June, followed by a workshop in the Eastern Sierra in July and two at Olympic National Park in September.

Before we get this week’s question, a few points of possible interest:

  • One of my favorite National Park Service photography locations is the Blue Ridge Parkway—partly for its variety of subjects, partly for its quiet nature, and partly because it’s 469 miles long with no traffic lights. Recently the Daily Beast ran a nice article on how fun it is to travel. See “Driving the Most Seductive Road in the World.”
  • If you’re in the New York Metropolitan area, or wish to travel to it, I highly recommend attending the OPTIC 2017 photo conference, presented by B&H Photo, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic. It runs June 4-7, is free to attend, and features amazing speakers and seminars. I’ll be there too, offering portfolio reviews Sunday and Monday, along with doing a book signing. Register at the OPTIC 2017 website.
  • I’ve recently been editing ebooks with National Parks Traveler. The first two releases are geared toward kids: Young Explorer’s Guide to Yellowstone and Young Explorer’s Guide to Wildfires. They’re both fun and educational resources for little parks travelers!


This Week’s Question

Shooting with my backpack in Acadia National Park. Photo by Steve Ryan.

Q.  My wife and I will be at Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Arches, Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Rocky Mountain national parks in June. I have a Tamrac 5729 backpack and Lowepro Passport Sling III bag. I used the Lowepro when I was in Chile last year and found it very easy to use and accessible. The backpack can be accessed only when I turn it around. For the national parks, would I be better off taking the backpack or the Lowepro?Mike K.

A. Wow, what a trip! You’ve picked some beautiful places to visit.

Your question is certainly an important one, because a bag needs to be working for you, not against you, on any type of shoot.

It sounds like you prefer the sling bag for general use, and I can’t blame you. It’s pretty easy to maneuver and to get cameras and lenses into and out of quickly. If I’m working anywhere near the car, then these days I use a sling bag almost exclusively. (I use the Everyday Sling by Peak Design.) I also use the sling when shooting anywhere I don’t want to put the bag down—such as in sand dunes or around water—precisely because it’s so accessible without taking it off my shoulder.

On the other hand, sling bags aren’t great for hikes, where the priority isn’t easy access but rather comfort. If you’ll be hiking a lot, or working away from the car a lot, then a well-designed camera backpack will keep your mind focused on photography and safety rather than on sore back and shoulder muscles. Moreover, you can strap your tripod to a backpack and stay hands-free while hiking. (I enjoyed a Lowepro for about 15 years, but currently am loving the Manfrotto Bumblebee.)

So the answer is that it depends on what type of trip you’re planning. If you’ll be shooting mostly from overlooks or other places that are easy to reach and retreat from, then go with the sling bag. But if you’ll be hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and traversing the tundra backcountry of Rocky Mountain, the backpack is the better choice.

Or you can be crazy and do what I do: I fly with all my gear in the backpack, and pack the sling inside one of my checked bags. Then I can use whatever is appropriate in different situations on the trip.

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