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Don’t Leave Home Without These Camera Bag Essentials

I use these items all the time and they’re always tucked away in my bag.

Your photo adventure awaits and you’ve carefully chosen your camera bodies, decided on a set of lenses and packed your bag.

Not so fast!

While a successful shoot doesn’t necessarily depend on a huge compliment of gear and accessories, there are things other than cameras and lenses you’ll want to take on every photo journey.

I went through my bags and luggage and came up with a dozen things I use on almost every trip. A few are so universal they can sometimes make the difference in getting the shot–or not. I tend to travel pretty light but I never leave home without these in my bag:


My little stainless spoon was acquired years in some far-away place. It was a gift from a waiter and has the name of the hotel embossed on the handle. More functional than sentimental, though, it’s the perfect size for eating yogurt or oatmeal on the run and a more civilized substitute than those ubiquitous plastic utensils that break when you need them most. I’ve even pressed mine into service as a tiny reflector for fill-flash photography.


Entire books exist on why duct tape holds the universe together. Its utility is endless and I carry both the classic version and true “gaffer” tape, which is made of cloth and leaves less residue upon removal. I find a little goes a long way. A three-foot length of 2-inch duct tape folded to make a little square goes in my wallet. A small roll of 1-inch gaffer tape, available at most photo suppliers, lives in my camera bag. Hint: Wrap additional lengths of gaffer tape around your tripod legs and the bottom of your water bottle. These are handy places to store an extra quantity of tape.


Personal hygiene, ’nuff said. I keep one of the travel versions sold at any pharmacy in my pocket along with a tiny tube of toothpaste. Hint: Use bottled water! I NEVER trust a local water supply.


A small bunch of eight-inch ties are useful to bind, grip, hang, or lock all sorts of things. I’ve almost given up on luggage locks after many TSA invasions of my checked bags. Airport security are supposed to use their compliment of universal travel lock keys, but many just abuse your stuff with pliers and break the lock shackles. Sad but true, so I use zip ties to deter casual incursions.


Smartphones are great, but nothing is faster at jotting down a quick note, phone number, or directions than good old paper and pen. My preference is the Field Notes brand of notebooks and a Parker Jotter ballpoint. Nothing fancy, but these are classics that get the job done in style. The Parker is an Art Deco classic and my favorite since grade school.


Somewhere, some time, you’ll be glad you have one of these. Crazy plugs, bad wiring, wrong cord? These gremlins can shut you down fast or at least necessitate a trip to the hardware store. Just keep one handy and keep on working.


I don’t walk three feet out the door without one of these. My go-to SAK is the Climber. It’s basic and has an awesome pair of scissors. In some parts of the world, SAKs are like currency. And yes, I’ve passed a few as bribes. Please transport in your checked baggage!


My ancient cotton bandana gets softer with each washing and is the best lens-cleaning cloth I’ve found. I team it with a tiny camel-hair brush and a tiny squeeze bottle of lens cleaner and it gets the job done. Hint: Forget aerosol “canned air.” Sooner or later, you leave a glop of frozen residue on your lens surface!


Mine is carefully chosen to fit my eyeglasses and also the tiny Phillips-head screws on the lens mounts of my camera bodies. The least expensive and most packable are those tiny kits for glasses repairs often sold at hardware store checkout counters.


Fits my tripod plates. Stash one in your bag and leave it there. When you need it, you REALLY need it.


These two items comprise my “daily carry” first aid kit. Anything more serious than a minor cut or scrape is handled with a larger kit I pack for longer trips to more remote destinations. One small bandage goes in my wallet next to my duct tape and the small tube of antibiotic ointment stays in my camera bag. Every cut or scrape get attention STAT. Don’t court an infection by neglecting even the smallest wound. In remote areas, I’ll carry a tiny vial of iodine. Iodine works for cuts but is also a good emergency disinfectant for drinking water. Use 5-10 drops per quart and wait half an hour before drinking.


Aside from the obvious sanitary uses, wet wipes are great for spot stain removal. They’re also amazingly refreshing for use in hot climates or on long flights. Hint: If space permits, I’ll take a box of baby wipes on long travels. These stay in my vehicle during multi-day adventures.

So before your next trip or outing, assemble this little kit and add to it for special needs. Stuff it in a corner of your camera bag to stay prepared.

Keep your essentials in a small zippered pouch and it’s easy to move when you change camera bags.