Climbing, hiking, kayaking and traveling with your photo gear…
Let's face it, you just bought a brand new camera and the idea of stuffing and taking it on the trek doesn't seem too appealing. Questions and doubts race through your mind and at the end you leave your new camera at home and take the disposable. You are afraid that your gear will get destroyed, wet, scratched, damaged, eaten or stolen so you left it home. Now after the trip you begin wishing again that you took it with you but it's too late. So what could you have done?
Your fears about destroying or damaging equipment in the field are rational. There are always dangers from nature and animals but in my opinion the biggest threat to your cameras comes from two legged predators not four legged ones or accidents. People look for easy money. There is no real way you can protect your self from point blank robbery. Your only way of defense besides insurance is notifying the police and supplying them with serial numbers of your gear and hope it will turn up somewhere. But as a precaution don't flash you equipment and be cautious of your surroundings. Also do not advertise your gear with famous manufacturer bags and straps.
Obviously the best way to protect your gear will be to use the Pelican cases. They are waterproof, strong, floating, lined with foam to protect your gear from shock but very uncomfortable to carry. But if you are shipping your gear to location this is probably the best way to do it. Pelican cases are great for storage but not really for everyday hiking/climbing activities unless they are being transported by a porter and you won't need them immediately. Lately Pelican started to think about guys who don't have much gear and began production of smaller cases that would fit one SLR or digital camera. I use their smaller cases to accommodate my panoramic outfit when kayaking. Case is strapped to the rear of my boat or when kayak is overloaded I pull it behind me on small safety leash. It's very easy to reach it on the water and open it up. In case of emergency it can also be used as a floatation device. On shore I would take the camera out of the Pelican case and transfer the gear into my bag or backpack. If I'm required to trek further case is small enough to fit into 60 liter backpack or to be attached on the outside. Yet it is little uncomfortable to work with your gear like that.
During transport from site to site or to location my gear is packed into wraps. You can get those in different sizes and colors. Wrapped equipment is than placed into zip lock type bag. Plastic bags are optional but they come in handy if you have a porter or mule carrying your gear and it starts raining. You may not have enough time to reach your gear and protect it. During Kilimanjaro climb I got caught by tropical storm. Part of my gear was far away from me but I knew that my equipment was safe since it was wrapped around in plastic bags. Everything that was in my pack was somewhat wet except for the gear. Couple of bags of silica gel will keep the moisture away from zip lock.
I usually divide my equipment into main and secondary gear. My main gear will be my favorite cameras (XPAN/Contax G) that will be my primary shooting tool (and usually most valuable). My secondary gear will be something I won't use ASAP or things like converters, flashes, specialty lenses, second body, etc. Main gear is always on me unless I check it into hotel safe. If I don't and I go out I always have it. That way if something happens to my secondary gear I always have a camera to shoot with. In many cases when you travel with one SLR or rangefinder this is not a big issue and it will not take a lot of space. I always recommend having a back up camera. I may have my gear in the pack but I will have a small camera in my hand or belt, ready for snapping away, people shots, group shots, etc, etc… As an example: I was in a small hotel and wanted to just hang around so I checked my gear into receptionist's safe and than I took a walk around the place. There were some old construction barricades which I broke thru and suddenly I had a beautiful opening with city scapes. I took out my camera and started shooting. I knew that if I had to come back and get my gear the right light would be gone. Same goes for actual trekking. I like to be responsible for my gear and have it handy but sometimes I like to document things in the hurry and burn some film on miscellaneous things. You will know when you approach a photo worthy area so you may take out your long telephoto or nice wide angle lens. But if you are just putting on miles during approach it makes no sense for you to lag your big gear on your neck to maybe score a shot (unless you are on assignment).
Trying to cover everything: when hiking with one camera or if your lens has a nice wide to telephoto range you may invest some money into hip/belt pouch. That would accommodate SLR size camera and make it handy. So why would you store a main camera in the pack and keep smaller one handy? Well it's your choice. Everyone is different. I would recommend trying those two different methods and see which one fits you better.
Of course there are also photo backpacks which are excellent when it comes to protecting your gear from elements but leave not much room for other supplies necessary to survival. But if you planning to just trek around the city and have multiple gear handy, backpack and pro camera bags usually are the best solution. Bags also may not be the best for trekking since they are carried on the side which kind of destroys the leverage and alters your balance which is very dangerous in the mountains.
If you planning to trek with your camera hanging off your neck it will get scratched. It may be your jacket zipper or belt buckle. You may kneel or turn around and your move will cause camera to fall or hit something. There is not much you can do to prevent it but you can do something to protect the camera so it doesn't look like it survived WWII (unless you want camera to tell the story as well as the pictures). Probably the easiest way to protect you camera body from scratches is to tape it up. Couple of pieces of gaffers tape will take care of that. Change the tape periodically to prevent gum/glue deposit on your cameras. Just remember where you battery compartment is so you don't have to look for it when change is necessary. Also gaffers tape nicely covers all the manufacturer markings therefore you are just another Joe with his grandpa's camera instead of hot shot gear freak photographer. This simple task will eliminate 95% scratches and maybe if you decide to trade or sell your camera it will help to preserve some of its value. Lenses should be protected with UV filters especially in the dusty environments. If you dislike filters hoods will work similar way. I was shooting big Amazon Parrots in Belize and one of them decided to check out my telephoto lens. I was getting head shots so I didn't mind until she grabbed my filter ring and cut right thru 2 mm of brass with her beak. If I didn't had the filter it would be my $500 lens. After the trip or during the break clean the camera or have it professionally checked.
When climbing in cold weather always keep spare set of batteries available. Cold drains Lithium cells quickly and they can only be regenerated or restored by warmth so change batteries frequently. Also film becomes more brittle so owners of manual cameras should be careful with advancing so they won't snap the film.
My equipment is always with me. If I break camp I keep it in sight, when I rest it's next to me. I don't leave it anywhere. I'm trying to use hotel safes as much as I can; if one is not available the gear stays on me. Follow those simple precautions and you will get your gear safe home.