Going On A Photo Road Trip

Be ready for anything by packing for a journey with the essentials
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Getting off the beaten path can inspire your photography with new subjects, unexplored environments and pictorial challenges. The farther you travel, the more secluded the locations, the more scenic the vistas and the more unspoiled nature can be. The difficulty with extended expeditions is that you’re often far removed from your home base, and that can be limiting.

Prepare in advance, however, and these challenges can be easily overcome. From navigating a safe course to carrying all of your gear to making sure you have steady support for sharp shots, bringing along these indispensable tools of the trade will keep your load light while filling your photo adventure with remarkable experiences and wonderful imagery.

On an extended road trip, your vehicle will carry your gear between parking areas. From the parking area to the shooting location, however, you’ll have to carry the equipment yourself. When a minimal amount of gear is needed, Tamrac’s compact Expedition 3 photo backpack (9x6.25x13 inches, two pounds) will hold a D-SLR with up to a seven-inch lens and three to four additional lenses, plus accessories. The pack is fully padded and has a giant rain flap to protect the main compartment in case you get caught in bad weather. Other features include a QuickClip tripod attachment system, Tamrac’s signature Memory & Battery Pack Management System and a padded backpack harness for enhanced comfort. Estimated Street Price: $60.

Pelican 0500

Lowepro’s Primus Minimus AW backpack can hold a D-SLR with a medium-zoom lens, one to two additional lenses, a tripod, a variety of accessories and personal gear, yet it measures just 14.4x11.5x23.5 inches. Its dual-compartment design features a protective camera section with adjustable dividers and an upper area with organizational pockets. An outside “hatch” provides space for a jacket or hydration system, while an eight-point harness system distributes weight evenly. The All Weather Cover also provides protection from the elements. Estimated Street Price: $179.

Lowepro Primus Minimus AW

Tamrac Expedition 3

You don’t want your expensive gear rolling around loosely in your vehicle, so you’ll want a good transport case, too. The Pelican 0500 is water-, crush- and dustproof, and the interior dimensions are a generous 34.95x18.45x22.85 inches. The lid is completely removable for easy access. Double wide-grip, fold-down handles make lifting easy. Estimated Street Price: $549 (with foam).

Gitzo GH2781QR Center Ballhead

Thanks to new manufacturing processes and materials, tripods are lighter than ever before, so there’s no excuse to leave yours at home. Perfect exposures require perfect sharpness, and you just can’t get sharpness without a good tripod. Gitzo’s great-looking GT2840C basalt tripod is a compact, four-section model that can support a D-SLR with up to a 300mm lens (up to 22 pounds), but only weighs three pounds itself. Its radical aerospace-technology, basalt-fiber tubes provide strength, high thermal and dimensional stability, and good vibration absorption. The G-Lock legs also allow for ground-level shooting at a mere 8.3 inches. Estimated Street Price: TBA.

An ideal mate for the GT2840C basalt-fiber tripod is the Gitzo GH2781QR center ballhead. The head features Gitzo’s Bubble Ball technology. A leveling bubble is included for framing shots evenly, and the double quick-release safety system keeps your camera secure while also being easily accessible. Estimated Street Price: TBA.

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Really Right Stuff BH-40
Kirk Enterprises BH-3

Really Right Stuff’s BH-40 is a midsized ballhead that makes it a great choice for travel and backpacking. It’s designed for popular medium-sized lenses, such as the 70-200mm ƒ/2.8 and 300mm ƒ/4. It can handle up to 18 pounds while weighing just 13 ounces. The BH-40 is available with quick-release clamps, a plain platform or a panning clamp. Clamps also are open-channel, allowing you to position the mounting plate for best balance when changing lenses. Estimated Street Price: $375 (BH-40 LR).

The Kirk Enterprises BH-3 panning ballhead is a rugged, compact precision unit that weighs just 19 ounces, yet it can handle up to 15 pounds. A single knob releases and locks the ball, while additional knobs adjust friction and control the 360-degree panning base. The BH-3 features a new quick-release platform with built-in spirit level that accepts Arca-style plates, and durable aluminum, brass and stainless-steel construction assures ruggedness. Estimated Street Price: $265.

Induro Adventure Series

The most appropriately named tripod for travel, Induro’s Adventure Series of tripod kits comes with everything you’ll need for support, including tripod legs, head and carrying case. The tripods are made from a magnesium and aluminum alloy. The system features simple setup and fast maneuvering with Quick Lock Legs, an interchangeable snap-in quick-release plate and a ballhead with a single lever lock for securing camera position and head rotation simultaneously. List Price: Starts at $136.

Thanks to new manufacturing processes and materials, tripods are lighter than ever before, so there's no excuse to leave yours at home. Perfect exposures require perfect sharpness, and you just can't get sharpness without a good tripod.

Manfrotto’s CX series of tripods is easy to transport out in the field, thanks to 100-percent carbon-fiber tubing, magnesium and aluminum die castings, and construction that minimizes the weight of the tripod while maintaining a maximum level of sturdiness. The ergonomic leg-angle selectors of the CX range are more precise and also more comfortable to handle. Estimated Street Price: $349 (055CX3).

Manfrotto CX Series


The Slik SPRINT MINI II GM and SPRINT PRO II GM compact tripods provide a collapsible height of only 14 inches and 19 inches, respectively, making them handy and easily portable. The tripods are light, too, at 1.75 pounds and 2 pounds, and the legs are padded for a comfortable grip while carrying. The tripods extend to a height of 43.3 inches and 64 inches, respectively. They’re ideal for most general use, and a built-in short center column also makes them a good solution for macro work with a minimum height of only 6.4 inches from the ground. (The main center column can be reversed for low-to-the-ground shooting, too.) Estimated Street Price: $75 (SPRINT MINI); $90 (SPRINT PRO).

Sunpak’s PRO 724M carbon-fiber monopod features four carbon-fiber leg sections with twist locks and extends from 19 inches to 63 inches. The carbon fiber is light, absorbs vibrations and provides the strength to support up to 11 pounds—a pro D-SLR with long lens—yet the unit weighs just a tenth of that. A neoprene grip offers comfortable handling in any climate, and a retractable spiked rubber foot provides a good grip on any surface. Estimated Street Price: $74.

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The most important part of going out on the road is finding your way back. Garmin offers a multitude of GPS systems for tracking yourself and your progress. The Dakota 10 and Dakota 20 handheld touch-screen navigation systems are a great portable GPS solution for the field, with HotFix satellite prediction and a built-in worldwide base map (more maps are downloadable). The 2.6-inch color interface is readable in sunlight and waterproof in the rain. The Dakota 20 steps up the offerings with a barometric altimeter for pinpointing altitude and changing weather conditions, a three-axis electronic compass and a microSD card slot for expanding storage capacity. List Price: $299 (Dakota 10); $349 (Dakota 20).

Garmin nüvi 1490T

Magellan RoadMate 1475T

TomTom GO 740 LIVE

For frequent travelers, the Garmin nüvi 1490T includes a big, five-inch touch-screen display for highlighting map details and directions on the road and in the wild. As an added bonus for photographers, the 1490T is capable of displaying images on the JPEG picture viewer and offers navigation directly to geotagged photos from the Garmin Connect Photos site. While driving, the 1490T offers multiple-point routing and lane assist, with a junction view for managing highway interchanges and up-to-date traffic alerts for most cities, as well as ecoRoute, a feature that calculates fuel-efficient routes and keeps track of fuel usage. List Price: $499.

Brunton Solaris 52

Magellan’s Maestro 4700 GPS features an ultraslim, 4.7-inch, color touch screen that shows your position, including map route, destination, estimated arrival time, points of interest, street names and more. You can navigate hands-free using voice commands, make or receive calls using a Bluetooth-compatible cell phone and even connect direct to AAA (if a member) in an emergency. The Find Your Car feature lets you mark where you left your car and will guide you back to it. List Price: $299.

Magellan’s top RoadMate unit, the 1475T, also features a large, 4.7-inch color touch screen, along with subscription-free Traffic Link live traffic updates, built-in AAA TourBook, OneTouch favorite menu for instant access to your personalized bookmarks and more. You can select routes for shortest distance, fastest time, most use of freeways or least use of freeways. List Price: $299.

Brunton Solo 7.5

The TomTom GO 740 LIVE is TomTom’s top car unit, providing a real-time connection to traffic info, fuel prices, local search via Google and more. You can add, update and personalize your maps instantly, as well as share them. IQ Routes technology calculates routes based on real average speeds rather than speed limits. Advanced Lane Guidance clarifies navigating tricky junctions, and Fast Route Re-Calculation instantly recalculates if you miss a turn. List Price: $399.

The last thing you need when shooting far from home is to run out of power. Whether it’s batteries or adapters, keeping your equipment juiced up at alltimes is essential. The Brunton Solaris 52 is solar-powered, portable and features 12V output for charging cameras, laptops and other devices. It’s made up of multisection folding panels, which means it’s easy to store and use while on the road. You also can link multiple units for more output. Also made by Brunton is the rechargeable Solo 7.5, which works for laptops, cell phones and camera chargers. What’s key, though, is that it only weighs four pounds. Estimated Street Price: $1,298 (Solaris 52); $372 (Solo 7.5).

Brunton, (800) 443-4871

Garmin, (800) 800-1020

Gitzo (Bogen), (201) 818-9500

Induro, (914) 347-3300

Kirk Enterprises, (800) 626-5074

Lowepro, (800) 800-LOWE

Magellan, (800) 707-9971

Manfrotto (Bogen), (201) 818-9500

Pelican, (800) 473-5422

Really Right Stuff, (888) 777-5557

Slik (THK Photo),
(800) 421-1141


Sunpak (ToCAD America)
(973) 627-9600

Tamrac, (800) 662-0717

TomTom, (866) 486-6866


    What I have found is that carrying all the best photo equipment is just a start. Knowing how toi use it is number one and number two is having it ready at all times. Searching through camera bags and storage devices when a rare opportunity presents it’s self can lose you the image of a life time. In most circumstances you need to have that camera and mounted with a lens right next to you with a couple of lens on the side or better yet two camera bodies with two different focal length lens mounted on each to cover a larger range of focal lengths. Don’t forget the bean bag either encase there is no time to setup your tripod or doing so would scare off your subject.

    Just my 2̤ from quite a few years in the field. Good luck to all with your photography.

    Bob Walker

    Bob’s right, the key is having the right equipment to hand when it’s needed.You might find, for a quick shoot, instead of setting up the tripod and finding your subject long gone, that using a monopod is useful as it can act as a quick support and as a great walking stick on uneven ground.

    I agree with Bob and Steve. However you must also remember your other gear such as the proper clothing and footwear. It may be obvious to some but I’ve seen too many people without the proper gear have their trips ruined by inadequate footwear or outerwear. Sore feet and wet clothes can ruin a trip quickly.

    I wish if i live in some of those beautiful terrific places then i will fill the websites with photos and articles, but my bad luck is to live in a place lacking of beautiful nature and also bad weather and only by traveling once for up to 3 weeks per year is the only opportunity of that, this website [OP], is a great place to see all those outdoor landscapes and nature photos around the world, so easy for people there to get winning photos, so lucky they are.

    I’ve heard that the TSA can grab your laptop when you re-enter the U.S. and keep it for months. Does anyone know of a portable storage device that I can dump my cards to each evening without using a laptop?

    Thank you.

    I have found the Epson P-6000 or the P-7000 multi-media storage unit is great for downloading your files. There’s no need to travel with a laptop so cutting down on weight. The viewer has a 4″ wide screen to view your images, and to share if you want to. When you get home, just download to your computer, and leave a backup copy on your Epson. Betty Shelton

    I use the Cotton Carrier as it keeps my cameras with lenses attached on me and ready to shoot at a moments notice. I move around hands free and no annoying neck straps. Just a turn and pull and my cameras are ready to fire. A great deal and well worth the $140!

    This is an answer to Rick question on portable storage. Sony makes what called the dvdirect recorder No PC needed. It can be used to transfer video & digital photos to dvd it also takes memory cards and I believe the also takes jump drives. You purchase it through either sony or sky mall if you want a new I found skymall the cheapest. You can them used on E Bay. I’ve tried bidding I never seam to win. So you may just want to want to go the buy it now if you go for a used one.

    I looked around for a good monopod cum walking stick and finally just bought a threaded screw and screwed it into my walking stick. I have a capped nut that is on the threaded end to protect my hand when walking. Works well but I should really have an extra nut in case I loose the one I have.

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