Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Backpack, Backpack....Yeah!

I was watching Dora the Explorer with my baby niece the other day (none of that Go Diego crap....the old-school Dora and her boyfriend monkey, Boots), and we were just about to embark on our standard 3-part adventure when the backpack song came on. Now, if you aren't familiar with the show, each episode Boots and Dora go off on an adventure to help one of their friends or return some item to some person. It's your stereotypical fetch quest....for kids.
I wish my backpack could talk....
Right before you head off for your adventure, you 'gear up' by singing the backpack song, upon which the backpack starts spewing out boats and cars and an unrealistic amount of crap that you need for your adventure. Now, minus the fact that backpacks can't talk and I don't plan on fitting a Dodge Neon in one anytime soon, Dora teaches us travelers a very important lesson: what's on your back matters. And Swiper the Fox is a bloody thief...

Most of my adventures are very spontaneous, and I often have a 10-15 minute window to pack and leave. That leaves very little room for beef jerky shopping, so to help free up some time I keep a backpack that's always packed and ready to go. By the time you can say 'Swiper, no swiping' I'm out the door, kicking that fox in the face on the way out.

Now, I am a photographer, so this list isn't for everyone. But I've learned that, often, the photographer is the most useful person in a group of travelers. He's like a mobile REI, pulling out exactly what you need at exactly the right time. So take note, just in case the photographer of your group isn't as awesome as I am. And now.....

Ryan's Backpack Breakdown: Everything You Need to Travel in Style

The Backpack
Choosing a backpack is like choosing a soul-mate. You have to be compatible. You have to give and take. You have to learn to co-exist in cramped spaces for hours at a time. Sometimes, you have to hold an umbrella up to keep her out of the rain...because you're chivalrous, dammit, and that's why she married you in the first place. Plus, my backpacks last just as long as some marriages, so it's an investment in your collective future.

Mountainsmith Borealis AT Recycled Camera Bag, BlackMy backpack that I sport is the Mountainsmith Borealis AT Recycled Camera Bag. That bottom pouch can hold 2 DSLR's and a couple lenses, all in an easy-to-access fold out compartment. The top pouch isn't anything special....just a giant pouch to house all your knickknacks and snacks and such. You have a couple quick-access pockets on the front, as well as a tripod strap so you can look like Boba Fett from Star Wars

The two secret pockets make this essential to the traveling photographer. On the side is a laptop pouch, completely separate from everything else. This pouch must be a product of NASA design, because the design of it is mind-boggling. One day, I was bored and tried fitting 2 17" Macbooks (with cases) inside this pouch. Not only did they fit with room to spare, but upon placing it on my back I didn't feel like I was being backstabbed.

The second secret pocket is on the top and houses the extendable rain-poncho, protecting not only all the stuff in your bag but anyone else in a 3 foot radius. Remember how you're suppose to be chivalrous and shield the lady from the rain? Well, it's time to question who's wearing the pants in this relationship: you, or your Borealis. Oh, and it's standard issue for all Mountainsmith bags.

The Passport
This is self explanatory. Mine permanently resides in my backpack, just in case our overnight Vegas trip turns into a spontaneous flight to Canada or Cuba. There is no excuse for anyone not to have a passport. It's $100, lasts for 10 years, and is literally a ticket to go wherever you want. Instead of buying a keg shell, invest in your traveling future.

The iPad
Now hear me out...I am not an Apple snob. And yes, the iPad at times resembles a giant iPod touch. I wasn't a fan until I actually owned one and rejoiced in knowing that I could lose about 5 lbs from my back. Often, on the go, you don't need your laptop for anything other than checking emails, watching movies, and the occasional game of online Scrabble in the airport terminal. The iPad gets this done with style. For a photographer, it's essential. You can take your entire portfolio with you and show it to clients, rather than giving them a website to visit. I've gotten gigs simply because I was able to show them what I could do on the spot. And there's just something all too entertaining playing Flight Control while waiting for your plane to board.

The Camera
Pics or it didn't happen. You need proof that you were partying with Brad Dourif or that you saw the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

For most people, a standard point-and-shoot will get the job done. But now and days, the DSLR's are giving point-and-shoots huge competition in terms of price. And, for some God-awful reason, everyone claims they are a photographer....

In my bag, I carry a Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-inch LCD (Body Only). It's a $1000 little cheaper than the 5DmkII (I have one on the way....I'm giddy with joy right now) and has nearly all the same basic features. I won't plague you with photography lingo (maybe on a later post), but the 7D is fully capable of doing everything you need in terms of picture-taking. Oh, and the dual DIGIC 4 processor means that the thing is super fast. That'll come in handy when you're shooting at 8fps to capture the Weinermobile speeding by you on the interstate.

Most DSLR's this day are also very competent video cameras as well, and the 7D is no different. It's capable of 1080p24 as well as 720p60....all essential in capturing your memories in the glory of HD. The 7D's and 5D's are so good that a ton of filmmakers are turning to them for their productions. Now, they won't be producing RED quality footage anytime soon, but for $2000 you'll have a solid camera unit that can get a ton of stuff done.

Any Canon EOS camera is perfect for travelers. They're all rugged and take phenomenal pictures and video, and you can pick up the younger siblings of the 7D for as little as $400. Just don't buy Nikon...if you like Nikon, we are by law required to hate each other.

The Kindle
Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, Graphite, 6" Display with New E Ink Pearl TechnologyFor me, the Kindle Wireless Reading Device was love at first sight. I was an early adopter of the 1st generation Kindle, back when eReaders were the size of real books and super geeky. In the past 3 years, Amazon has evolved the Kindle to near-perfection with this 3rd generation Kindle. 

When I accidentally rolled my car over last year and broke my first Kindle, I was heartbroken. I had hundreds of books yet to read, and I felt like I lost a member of the family. Each and every night before bed I would read for an hour or so. I did that for 2 years. And, just like that, she was gone...

So, when the 3rd generation Kindle was announced, I knew it was time to love again. Upon opening the package and booting it up for the first time, I noticed that it was downloading something....alot of something. I went to cook myself dinner, and when I came back I found all the books I had lost on my first Kindle. Not only that, but all my page numbers were saved as well as the goofy notes that I made in the margins. It was like my Kindle was resurrected from the dead and proceeded to go to a plastic surgeon. She was alive again, and sexier than ever.

Anyways, if you've never owned a Kindle, find a friend who has one and check them out. The eInk technology isn't perfect, but it's pretty damn close. It looks and feels like paper, which is essential. You're going to be waiting at bus stations and airport terminals alot. Reading from a computer screen will tire you out over time. That just isn't the case with the Kindle. It feels like a book....or a couple thousand books, as you can put that many into the little thing. It's big enough to read but small enough to fit snugly into your backpack, safe and sound. It disappears in your hands as you read, which is what it's designed to do: to keep you focused on the book itself. And, it's only $139. That's cheap.

Oh, and screw the Nook. Don't even compare the two, because there is no comparison. The Kindle is the super hot and ridiculously smart Harvard graduate who does Sports Illustrated swimsuit photoshoots to pay for school, while the Nook is like Bella from 'Twilight': dumb as a rock and as attractive as a root canal. You know how much I hate the Nook? I shot one....right in the face:

The Basics
Here's a list of basics...your 'survival' kit. Time to put those pockets to good use:
  • Flashlight. For spelunking.
  • Chapstick
  • Cell Phone Charger
  • Snacks: nuts, raisins, Spam (if you're feeling adventurous)
  • Mini toiletries. Gotta look good...or at least less homeless.
  • Pocket knife. Not safe for planes.
  • Bottle opener. Not safe for planes either. Even if you bring the beers...
  • iPod or music equivalent
  • Pen and paper. Archaic but classy.
  • Flares. For spelunking. 

And there you have it: everything you need for your backpack to be awesome. You'll be prepared to tackle any obstacle your adventures throw at you, and you'll be able to chronicle them with style. Naturally, cater to your immediate needs. It's probably a bad idea to take your iPad into the slums in Nairobi, so use your head. Love your backpack and everything inside. And feel free to sing the song if you'd like, I won't judge :)


  1. 1. Prunes. They are essential. Don't ask - you won't understand until it is too late.

    2. Cipro. It will kill all the bad things inside you. And yes, many bad things will be there.

  2. Cipro is standard issue, that's for sure. Although I'm sure you won't have a spontaneous trip to the deep jungle or the African savannah....unless your rich. Or crazy. Or both.