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Thursday, June 1, 2006

Digital Security

How do you protect your gear when traveling?

Though I know the Pacsafe cage, or pack safe (hence the name), works quite well, comes in several sizes and has given many people peace of mind, this design wasn't completely satisfactory to me. It never packed well for me, it looked odd (to the point of attracting attention) and it was unwieldy to use.

The Pacsafe reps at the OR Show showed me prototypes of a duffel bag and a day pack with the mesh built in and with a lockable cable that could go around something solid. I was hooked. I thought this was really something photographers could use, but the bags wouldn't be available until spring.

As I write this, it's spring! And I've received samples of the bags to try out. They're great—everything I was expecting.

The DuffelSafe 100 is ideal for use in the car (and I expect it will work well for traveling—it easily fits in airplane overhead compartments). The Pacsafe reps tell me that they will have a version with dividers so you can pack gear directly into it, but for now, I find it works just fine if you put your camera bag or pack into it.

The dimensions are 20x12x11 inches, so it isn't going to fit a really big camera backpack, but I know there are a lot of baby boomers like me who are less and less interested in taking large camera backpacks into the field. I tend to take a selection of gear that I know I'm going to use rather than everything I think I might use. My bags fit in the DuffelSafe, and with space to spare, I can include my laptop. If I absolutely had to travel with a lot of gear, I might consider two of these bags, or the original Pacsafe.

The DaySafe is a good-sized day pack (it has a 1,500-cubic-inch volume), but it's less useful for the outdoor photographer. That said, I know of several pros who like to put their gear into small bags, then into a day pack because they feel this keeps everything more compact and easier to transport.

Both bags work the same way: a slash-proof, high-tensile-strength, stainless-steel mesh is laminated into the outer bag fabric, weather-resistant nylon. At the top of the bag is a heavy-duty, high-tensile-strength, stainless-steel cable looped through the mesh. You pull it tight, which tightens the mesh and closes up the bag securely. The cable can then be looped around something solid, then locked back at the bag. Now the bag can't be opened or moved without some serious cable-cutting equipment.

Although every car is different, I've found there's usually somewhere you can loop this cable around and make the bag secure, such as under a car seat. Yes, that can be a little bit of a pain to do, as it requires you to work the cable through some tight spaces in most cars, but it works. And once you've done it one time, the next time gets easier. I'm sure photographers will find many other places to loop the cable in their cars.

In hotels, the cable can be looped around many solid objects, from plumbing fixtures to heavy furniture. I think most hotel employees, including maids, are honest, but a big problem comes from roving thieves who watch for guests with expensive stuff. They wait for the maid to open your room for cleaning, then go inside acting like they're the guests in that room. They apologize that they're interrupting, but that they will only be a minute while they pick up something they forgot. But with a cable securing your gear, they're not going to grab and run with it.

In airports, I'm often either really tired or working on some project on my laptop. With these mesh bags, I can lock my gear down to the chair and not have to worry that I'm not fully focused on my bags (which is exactly what a thief wants you to do).

These bags aren't the answer for everyone (you may find an inexpensive diaper bag works for you), but I have to tell you that the DuffelSafe really helps me relax. I don't feel nearly so nervous about stopping for breakfast after that dawn shoot or for lunch during scouting. And I don't have to only go to Wendy's just because it offers a clear view of my car. If you want to learn more about Pacsafe's products, visit www.pac-safe.com.

OP editor Rob Sheppard's latest book, Outdoor Photographer's Landscape and Nature Photography with Photoshop CS2, available in bookstores, is geared specifically for outdoor photographers. His new 3-Minute Landscapes with Photoshop how-to video can be found at  www.robsheppardphoto.com.



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