Make Sure Your Carry-On Gear Gets Onboard

Successful air travel requires preparation. One of the most important details is your carry-on luggage. All of your camera gear must go onboard with you. A little preflight research will ensure that you and your lenses stay together.

Start by looking up the carry-one requirements for your airline. Take these numbers seriously because they represent the maximum size allowed onboard. If you have a big assignment, such as my upcoming trip to photokina in Germany, you'll need more gear than for a casual vacation in the Hawaiian islands.

Carry On Rules I checked the US Airways site for carry-on requirements, then compared them to my camera bag dimensions. Don't forget about the weight limit either!

Next, physically measure the bag you want to bring onboard. You can use the online specifications as a starting point, but not as the final word. I'll give you an example.

I'm taking a Lowepro Pro Trekker 300 AW to Germany because it's going to be a long, rugged trip, and I have to be prepared for a variety of assignments. On the product page, the dimensions are listed as 15.4 W x 14.2 D x 18.5 T inches. But, I removed the padded belly band and my physical measurements are 16 W x 9 D x 19 T. The big difference is the depth. Carry-on rules say 9", which I meet according to my measurements. So get our that ruler and confirm the dimensions.

Even with all of this preparation, you'll want to have a backup plan. Mine is to wear an empty photo vest onboard the plane. If nothing goes wrong, I simply fold it up and put it in the overhead compartment. But, if somehow I'm told I have to "check" my camera bag, I can pull out my most valuable gear and put it in my vest before I hand over the Pro Trekker 300. I also outfit my bag with TSA approved combination locks. They might prove just enough deterrent to the casual thief that my contents will still be there when I retrieve the bag off the luggage carousel.

My second carry-on is a slim laptop bag with a trolly sleeve that slides over the handle on my roller suitcase. My computer, hard drives, and cables go in here. I don't worry about this bag since I can slide it under the seat in front of me if necessary.

You can never prevent things going wrong while traveling by air. But with preparation, you can give yourself the best odds possible.


Here's another travel tip. I usually travel with a non-backpack style camera bag. I put my camera bag, and my laptop bag, into one carry-on roller bag. If it fits in the overhead, no problem. But if I must check the carry-on at the gate, out comes my fully-packed camera bag, and laptop. The camera bag goes in the overhead, and the laptop bag slides under the seat. Using one carry-on bag for both the camera and laptop also makes it very easy to get around in the terminal; no heavy bags weighing on my shoulders. However, if I do anticipate the need for a backpack-style camera bag, I usually store it in my checked baggage (stuffed with clothing, etc). That way, I have both types of camera bags when I reach my destination.

Some general tips for other readers who may be looking for a bag.

As much as I still love LowePro Flipside for my backpack, I skipped the LowePro Trekker and ended up going with the Naneu u220 for my large carry-on.

This is a roller bag which can store a laptop inside, convert to a backpack with inner straps, and the inner section can detach as well to reduce size in a pinch. From personal experience this travels well internationally and fits in the overhead bin. Took it on international flights to China and domestic flights both in the US and domestic Chinese flights.

The only thing that would make the bag complete would be a security cable like the ThinkTank Airport International bag, another option for readers!

The most important thing about carry on is: LOSE THE WHEELS.

I've been a 50% traveller for the past 15 years. Until a few years ago, I swore by my rollaboards as the only way to travel. Then, I read Please go read that.

Sure, I look like a sherpa going through the airport, but I have both hands free, I don't have to find a double-wide space to get through a crowd, I can walk up the occasional stair or rough area, and I'm not losing 30% of my space and 30% of my weight restriction to WHEELS.

I'm a fan of I've been using the Aeronaut bag in backpack mode (with the waist strap for long trekking), and the Western Flyer for my laptop.

I won't go back to wheels... well, maybe some day when I'm too frail to lift 35 pounds. Hopefully, that's a long ways off.

Actually I had a real horror story with my camera. I brought my cam as a carry on, TSA guys forced me to take it apart (what exactly was inside except film!!!). I had to have it scanned 5 times, turns out they didn't like my attitude when I said that it's a fragile camera and don't throw it around.

I was forced to take it back to check-in and put it in my check-in luggage, and guess what? the thing came in broken on the other side! real terrible.

Bonnie Smith
COO/Director FXP