I am working on my packing list tonight for my upcoming back to back Namibia and Botswana safaris, and I have a few reflections on the matter.
First off, I have a difficult time believing that most travelers can work with the standard 33 pound weight limit that most bush planes limit us to. I never use 33 pounds as a limit for my own safaris, as we always charter our own aircraft to raise that number to a minimum of 66 pounds or even higher. 33 pounds is difficult if you take 3 changes of clothes, a pair of binoculars, personal items and a small amount of camera gear like an SLR and a lens or two. Suddenly 33 pounds isn't much at all.
66 pounds isn't much better when you consider that a typical safari photographer likely has a long lens (400mm, 500mm or 600mm), 2 cameras, a few more lenses, a flash, a monopod or tripod and a laptop computer. That is pretty much 30 to 40 pounds right there, excluding the second bag that holds the laptop. You get up to 66 pounds very quickly.
I am going through my packing list over and over again, and I have a hard time getting under 66 pounds without making serious compromises. I can accomplish it if I move down from my Gitzo 3540 tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead down to a Gitzo 1258 with a BH-40 ballhead. That alone saves at least 5 pounds. Last time I was in Namibia in 2006 I wish I had a more substantial tripod, as placing a small-ish tripod in the sand in moderate winds yielded some fuzzy images.
When I am in Tanzania the weight restrictions can be controlled a little more, as we often use two Cessna Caravans to shuttle us around. Distribute 12 to 15 people between those two aircraft and suddenly you have *plenty* of weight allowance. In Namibia next week we will have a Cessna Caravan for the 12 of us and a Cessna C206 for some of our luggage. This really does help, but it still only yields around 66 pounds per person. Total.
Next July in Botswana we are going to have an absurd amount of weight allowance at 180 pounds per person. I do not recommend using all of that allowance, but the numbers are what they are and it is much better than 66lbs.
I despise carrying tons of gear around, but I always end up doing it. I moved to an Apple Macbook Air this past spring in an attempt to shed some weight. I also bought enough CF cards so that I don't have to download if I don't want to. I usually do, but only when I have the time. The backup serves only as that: a backup to my CF cards. The CF cards never get overwritten during a trip.
I read an article on Luminous Landscape a while back that illustrates how one person packs for their safari. OMG? Are you freaking kidding me? He brings along more unnecessary gear with him to a point that I was laughing out loud. Desktop hard drives? Three of them? They require additional power, and cannot be powered over USB.
Sometimes I honestly think about going out with just a pair of small-ish SLR bodies, like 40D bodies, and a 100-400mm and a 24-105mm. Will I be successful? It depends on what your definition of successful is. I am willing to be that after readjusting my expectations and potential shot list, I could come with images that I would be happy with. After all, my vision is changing these days and I am eagerly seeking out more animal-in-the-landscape type shots, which don't require much focal length to pull off. I could even pack my bags under 33 pounds.
So what I am I actually going to take to Namibia and Botswana? Remember that this is a combination landscape and wildlife trip for me. Here goes:
- Canon 1DsMkIII x 2
- 16-35mm f/2.8 II L
- 24-105mm f/4 L IS
- 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS
- 500mm f/4 L IS
- 1.4x and 2x teleconverters
- Gura Gear camera bag