A big part of my job as an expedition photographer is the travel. The secret is to turn that part of the job into a positive, productive, and rewarding experience. I’ve always been the kind of guy who becomes immersed in different arts and activities. Too many things bring me joy to focus on just one—and I’ve probably divided up my passions into more slices of the pie than is sustainable. But, when I travel, I pack them all, as compactly as possible. Let me explain.
Mandolin: A dear friend of mine, Bob Schmidt, plays mandolin for Flogging Molly, and he also happens to live near my home in Colorado. His signature mandolin came to me at a time when he and my wife were pushing me to become better at it. (I’m a guitar player.) His mandolin is built “road worthy,” which means it can take beating (it is built with nice woods, yes, but is also lacquered up to withstand an expedition). I spend up to a hundred days a year at some form of base camp or living aboard a boat. Having a mandolin challenges me to learn a new craft while entertaining my friends. More than that, it takes my mind somewhere else after a day of editing or shooting.
Bob Schmidt Fender Mandolin, assorted styles and prices
Watch: I’ll be honest with you: I’ve carved out a career by living in my truck, bouncing around different climbing areas, countless hours of diving, and living in wetsuits. Now, as a father and a man leaning into my 40s, I’m becoming a watch guy. I’m fascinated by good craftsmanship and design. I can literally be wearing a ripped up tee-shirt and jeans and still feel good in this watch. At some point in their lives, guys should own a timepiece that has some meaning to them. This watch speaks to me with its vintage dive-era inspiration and backstory. It has no battery (Swiss automatic movement), and it’s waterproof up to 200 meters. I’ll always be the guy in flip-flops and shaggy hair, but a my job often takes me from the field straight into important meetings and social engagements. I always feel a little better with it on. I’ve come to appreciate this small part of my travel kit.
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf 53, $1,395
Fly Rod: It’s amazing how much adventure this little part of my kit is. It goes everywhere with me because it is a way for me to escape the hustle and bustle of almost any location and find some solitude and peace. I’m drawn to the sound and landscape of a river, and fly fishing and this is my vehicle for that. A 4-weight rod is small for most fishing, but I enjoy the challenge of that. This year I packed it on a whim (it weighs just a pound or two in the case) to travel the most remote and far reaches of Greenland for a 40-day climbing expedition. As luck would have it we base camped next to a river during a spring run of Arctic char. Not only did we help sustain our nutrition on something a little more than oatmeal, but it fostered some of most memorable days of that trip.
Orvis Helious Fly Rod, $795
Climbing shoes: This tiny addition to the bag is worth its weight in gold. Not only can I find a climbing gym within 20 miles of almost any major city, but I’ll sniff out a boulder or climbing crag almost anywhere in the mountains. A pair of climbing shoes sends me to that place of peace and exercise that my body desperately needs after a day or two of travel. It’s important to get outside and move your body. I’ve never regretted bringing my shoes, but I’ve definitely kicked myself for not! I like these laces because they are an all around shoe that fits my foot. I’m a moderate climber these days, but I can rely on this model of shoe to fit into any discipline of the sport.
Five Ten Anasazi Lace Ups, $165
Camera: Even though I’ve been a professional photographer for more than a decade, I sometimes feel like I’ve missed out on so much just by not always having a camera on me. For years I would pack my camera in its Pelican case and pull it out when the job started. When I look back, I miss those moments that stuck with me that I didn’t shoot. The late nights, the hardships of travel, the “in-between” moments when I’m technically “off-the-clock.” So about three years ago, I started keeping my camera at arm’s length at all times. The Sony A9 is my camera of choice because it has all the best features in one camera. It’s light. It’s fast (20 fps). It has incredible video capabilities. It holds up to my grueling locations. Working for National Geographic, I’ve learned to hone my skills and had enough mentorship rub off of me that I choose to mount a 35mm, 1.4 lens, if I can only have one. It creates a timeless feel in any situation and demands I rely on a honed eye in storytelling. If I’m shooting well, it shows, if I’m rushing, the photos are sub par. I appreciate that focal lens as it keeps me honest. Sony makes the best 35mm prime.
Sony A9, $4,500
There is more to this bag that the fact that I designed it. I started working with Mountainsmith in 2012 to design a line of camera bags for the adventure photographer and learned a lot over the first round of bags. This is the newest model Spectrum, slated for release in 2018. It’s built with the traveler in mind and has a rugged but urban feel to it. My top five travel items can fit into if needed, and I appreciate its lean look. It fits exactly what you need, and won’t let you cram what you don’t need in it. It look pretty good with my Zodiac watch, too.