How I Packed for South Africa

Note: This post has been written over the course of a week, and partially during my trip with spotty access to WiFi, so it is not as clear or concise as I’d like.

I thought I was way ahead of the game, and that I’d have lots of time to get a few more prepping posts online, but busy times at work and in life resulted in my trip sneaking up on me.

As I sit in Schiphol airport waiting to connect to Johannesburg, I’m left with nothing but time to reflect and write about how things turned out. There’s been some pretty big shifts in my packing strategy since I last wrote about it, so I’ll try to do a decent summary.

Think Tank Airport Essentials

My Think Tank Airport Essentials arrived a few weeks ago. This bag has supplanted my Incase “DSLR” Pro Pack as my daily backpack for carrying my work essentials and some camera gear to work and home every day. I love it.

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, there was no hope it was going to be enough bag for my entire trip, largely due to the longer telephoto lenses I felt obligated to bring. The amount of stuff I can get in this bag is incredible, and without those zooms,1 I could easily get two weeks of travel out of the Airport Essentials.

Baggage Claim

I sort of felt like I was failing here, but my wife and I resigned ourselves to having to check a bag each this time around.2 The varied South African climate we expect to face combined with family events we have planned means we need a lot more clothes than we’d typically pack.

Given the unique nature of this travel experience, and that we shouldn’t need to worry too much about moving our bags around,3 it makes sense to optimize for more gear, and that means another bag.

Briggs and Riley

As much as I wanted to tell myself that my Osprey Farpoint 55 S/M would be the last bag I ever needed, there is sure to be other travel occasions where carry-on-only will be less than ideal. Patagonia and New Zealand spring to mind. So I started looking into what an optimal piece if luggage would be. I wanted to stick to carry-on size regardless for when I might travel with just a carry-on, and a backpack wouldn’t work. The Wirecutter has a pretty great breakdown of carry-on luggage. They pick the Travelpro Platinum Magna2 22" bag,→ but in my local currency, their “upgrade,” the Briggs and Riley Baseline International,→ is about the same price, making it the sensible purchase.

I might do up a more in-depth review of this bag as it relates to travel/adventure photography one of these days, but having packed and unpacked it a number of times already, I can say the quality is excellent, and the compression system is everything it’s made out to be.

Back to Camera Stuff

With my Think Tank bag freed from having to accommodate clothing, I found myself with much more space available for gear. I decided to give myself permission to really gear up for this trip. That means both the XF 50-140mm F2.8 WR and XF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 WR have come with me, along with the 2× teleconverter to get me as close as Fujily possible to the indigenous fauna. Since I had the space, I decided to chuck the XF 10-24mm f/4 in for good wide measure.

It’s Heavy

My camera gear selection is as follows:





I haven’t carried this much photographic equipment since the first time I travelled with my D300, when I though it was a good idea to bring everything I owned.4 For such a big trip that has so many different photographic opportunities, it made sense to err on the side of too much, rather than too little.

Perhaps I could have gotten away with leaving the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR or XF 10-24mm f/4 at home, but I have used both already, and you’ll note that one lonely lens is missing those two magical initials, “WR.”

My South African family has let me know that, despite the current drought, Cape Town can be quite rainy. This is a place I’m going to want to do some landscape photos. Sure I could get by with my XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, but if I can get myself the flexibility of a zoom lens, I figure I might as well. And that way, if we do find ourselves in heavy rain, I can keep lenses on bodies and not worry about having to change them. Once again, that lack of WR on the XF 10-24mm f/4 is hurting me. Had the 10-24mm been weather sealed, I would have only brought it and not the 16-55mm.

Had I been packing “normally,” three of those lenses and the teleconverter wouldn’t have even seen my bag, but there’s a good chance I won’t be back to South Africa for quite some time, if ever, and since we’re being driven around, I have the luxury of leaving what I don’t need in my hotel room, or on the bus. More often than not, I’m carrying my Billingham Hadley Small.

Additionally, if this was exclusively a “Safari” vacation, at least two lenses could be left out, and maybe even the tripod, depending on the camp.


I decided to keep my green Artisan & Artist strap on my X-Pro2, and affixed the replacement Loop 3 the guys at LumaLabs were kind enough to send after my first one frayed. The Loop is a strap I typically only use during extended periods of shooting like on vacation—for which it is outstanding—so this is a perfect opportunity to double check the strap durability. I’ll update the review post, but so far so good.

Memory Cards

Lexar is sorta scummy when it comes to the transfer speeds they list on their cards. They like to list a really fast read speed, which, when it comes to continuous shooting, is much less important. The write speeds are always much slower until you get up to their 2,000× cards, which are twice as expensive as their 1,000× cards.

Sandisk, on the other hand, has much closer figures for both read and write. The Extreme PRO cards→ that I went with have a listed read speed of 95 MB/s, and a write speed of 90 MB/s. I’ve hit the ceiling on the write speed quite a few times, but not enough for me to worry about spending the money for faster cards, and I've been perfectly content to just switch cameras for a different perspective while the buffer clears on the other. I went for 64GB cards, six in total along with a bunch of older, slower 32GB cards as backup. I seriously doubt I’ll touch those though.


Your attire can often be almost as important as what camera you have. If you’re not comfortable due to the elements, sore feet, or an aching back, you’re much less likely to want to shoot. Quality footwear, and clothing that can keep you comfortable in a broad range of climates are invaluable. My wife and I have a bunch of merino wool clothing, largely from Icebreaker (although I would avoid their T-shirts which a very prone to developing holes),→ which has kept us warm in the frigid winter mornings without getting too hot too fast after the sun comes up.

Another major advantage of merino is it can be worn for days without smelling. This might not sound appealing from a hygiene perspective, but it’s been really nice pulling on a pair of pants or a hoody after sitting around a fire without it reeking of smoke.

In Closing

Well, this post has been in a constant state of revision, from past to present tense, before using any of my equipment to being done nearly all our game drives. I’ll be sure to write more about what I learned from my first safari experience. I hope it won’t be my last.

  1. Under almost all other circumstances, the XF 90mm f/2 WR is the longest, in terms of focal length and physical dimensions, I would typically bring when travelling. ↩︎
  2. A couple years ago, I bought an Osprey Farpoint 55 to use as my only carry-on luggage. This worked great, and I was so happy to not have a wheeled bag to drag behind me over cobblestones in Europe. The key difference there is my X-T1 and XF 10-24mm f/4 was the largest camera combination I had.

    I considered employing the same strategy this time around, but adding in the potential of two large zooms means my camera bag would have consumed almost the entire capacity of the Osprey, making it impossible. ↩︎

  3. We’ve hired a bus to move all 26 of us from place to place. ↩︎
  4. It’s not. Photography kit selection is like design, make it as simple as possible, and no simpler. ↩︎