Traveling with photography gear has always been challenging but it is even more difficult when flying internationally. Why? Most international air carriers have much stricter carry on policies than the US airlines do as I found out recently heading to my workshop in Iceland. Icelandair weighed my carry on rolling case, and they have a 22-pound (10 kilo) weight limit. My fully loaded Tenba Roadie Air Case Roller 21 bag weighed in at about 26 pounds. So I had a problem to solve. Fortunately, my wife was traveling with me and I was able to take out a camera body and lens that she could carry onto the plane and make it under the weight restriction.
When I returned home I started doing some research so I would never have to face that dilemma again especially when traveling solo and this is what I found.
The first thing you have to do is make sure you take the gear you will only need the most. Like most people, I tend to over pack my camera bag when traveling in the US. I have never had an issue here in the states, but in my research I found international airlines do in fact enforce their weight limits; some I found were as low as 16 pounds! Make sure you check with the specific carrier as the rules vary but for most major international carriers it seems that 22 pounds was the general norm so I will use those figures for this article.
A quick drop on the scale of my bag and I found that it alone weighed almost 10 pounds even with most of the dividers removed. That doesn’t leave much space left for gear, so I started to think of which lenses
I “couldn’t leave home without” for my Iceland tour in late June. My workhorse Sigma 24-105mm f/4 Art and my new favorite landscape lens, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 Art, immediately got placed in the bag. The 24-105mm comes in at about 2 pounds and the 12-24 comes in at about 2.5 pounds, for a total of approximately 4.5 pounds. These two lenses give me the versatility of focal length for most landscape vistas I would encounter and as you can see in the images of Mt. Kirkjufell above, taken just a few hours apart. I needed every bit of the width of the 12mm while the 24-105mm would cover most other situations I could imagine. This would included the countless waterfalls we would encounter, as well as the whale tale from a custom zodiac tour as seen in the images below.
That leaves me with about 7 and a half pounds to take me up to the weight limit. I have 2 pro camera bodies that come in at over 6.5 pounds, and this is where the difficulty starts. It is summer in Iceland and I also want to bring a long lens for close-up work and some bird images. So what to do? Well, remember the airlines allow you to take one carry on item and a briefcase. I use a briefcase that is big enough to hold one of my camera bodies as well as laptop and external hard drive for backing images up so that frees up about 3.25 pounds and leaves me with about 4.75 pounds left.
If I was doing a lot of wildlife photography I would normally bring the Sigma 150-600mm contemporary for its handholdability and at 4.3 pounds makes it just barely under the weight limit. But since I don’t do that much wildlife photography in Iceland, I opted for the new Sigma 100-400mm contemporary , which at about 2.5 pounds puts me safely under the weight limit and allowed me to capture everything from the Icelandic horses to the Arctic terns and even the icebergs on the beach at Jökulsárlón.
I use the leftover weight for cards, and personal items. If it were my winter workshop for auroras or night shoots, I would swap out the 100-400mm for the new Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art and the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 Art which weigh in at approximately 2.5 pounds and 1.5 pounds respectively as at that time of year there is really not much bird activity.
If you are traveling on an airline where the weight restrictions are less, you may be able to carry a somewhat heavier backpack …..if your back isn’t as bad as mine. That would allow you more flexibility in the kit of lenses you would be able to take with you. But remember to check each carrier’s regulations and use the one with the strictest.
From breathtaking waterfalls to rusting ship hulls in a boatyard, Iceland truly is a photographer’s paradise. I hope I have shown you that you can capture the beauty of the country and how to overcome airline restrictions. But in case you find yourself in a situation where the weight limits are even less, I will offer you one final suggestion for international travel. Show up at the airport with a photo or fishing vest. That way, in a worst-case scenario, you could put a camera body and lens into the vest pockets and wear it onto the plane. Your carry on bag should now be well under the weight restrictions. It is better to be prepared than to have to put your lens or camera into your checked luggage. Happy travels!
Roman Kurywczak is a full time nature photographer and proud Sigma Pro team member who conducts lectures and workshops across the globe. His boutique tour company, Roamin’ with Roman Photo Tours, caters to very small groups (only 4) to provide the ultimate learning experience for participants. His down to earth and easy to follow teaching style make him a highly sought after lecturer. The author of several instructional eBooks on nature photography, Roman strives to share his passion for photography as others have shared with him. He is married for over 26 years with two sons and lives in New Jersey. You can learn more about Roman’s workshops, lectures, eBooks, galleries, and more at: www.roaminwithroman.com.