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Combining Two Bags To Create A Single Carry On For Flying Photographers

Web: www.fishfotoworldwide.com — E-Mail: fish@flyingwithfish.com

11/06/2008 – Combining Two Bags To Create A Single Carry On For Flying Photographers

Photographers on the road often try and sort out how to pack what they need while remaining within the carry-on baggage restrictions. With most airlines limiting your carry-on to a “personal item” and a “carry-on” bag, and many airlines further restricting your carry-on to a single “carry-on” bag the task of packing can be challenging.

Over the past few years I have created different bag configurations for different assignments. In the past two years my goal has been to travel as light and compact as possible. Recently I have begun traveling with a self-made combination of the North Face Surge backpack and the Think Tank Skin kit (with Think Tank ‘Belly Dance’ belt). The combination of these two bags (and the think Tank Skin really isn’t a bag, it’s a pouch & belt system) can create a low profile bag that is well under the legal carry on sizes for airline travel.

Combining these two bags is an ideal combination that can be set up in about 60 seconds and torn apart in about 30 seconds. To combine the two you simply need two small (non-climbing grade) carabiners and an ultra small ‘carabiner key-chain.’

To put the two bags together I stand the North Face Surge backpack up and lay the shoulder straps of the Think Tank ‘Belly Dancer’ belt system over the back of the Surge. I place the shoulder straps of the ‘Belly Dancer’ over those of the Surge and link the webbing of the shoulder straps together with carabiners.

After the straps are attached I place the pouches that are affixed to the belt portion of the ‘Belly Dancer’ at the bottom of the body of the North Face Surge backpack. Using the small loop at the top of Think Tank Skin pouches I the most centered position I keep the Think Tank Skin kit centered and in place using a small key-chain sized carabiner. The small key-chain sized carabiner connects the Skin pouch to the top of the outer most lashing-loops on the North Face Surge backpack.

To keep the Skin kit in place I simple click the belt closed under the Surge’s bottom lash tabs and cinch them tight.

I have traveled through airport security checkpoints over the past two months in seven countries and one ‘Special Administrative Region‘, as well as five individual US airports (some of these airports were transited multiple times) and I have not been questioned once about these two bags being transported as one single bag. The cosmetic design of the two bags is similar, the colours are a dead match to each other and the low profile lends it’s self to never getting a second glance.

The one kicker for this combo is weight. Some airport weigh carry on bags, however in my experience they only weigh larger bags, such as full-size backpacks or roll-aboard suit cases. I have never had a simple ‘book bag’ sized backpack weighed.

So for those of you looking for ways to travel more effectively check out this combo for a creative way to pack your ‘must haves’ in a single legal carry on bag configuration.

When traveling I generally have one body out on my shoulder with either a short ‘prime’ lens, such as a 14f2.8 or 24f1.4, or a short zoom such as a 16-35f2.8. In the pouches generally I carry 5 lenses, a macro extension ring, flash and my second body, table top tripod, as well batteries, ETTL cord, etc. When I show up to shoot I pull the dividers from the Skin pouches, set it up for work and off I go. Generally reconfiguring my Skin pouches to go from transport to shooting takes me about a minute.

For safety and security while in airports, this combo fits inside the PacSafe 85 anti-theft backpack & bag protector.

Below are the descriptions of the six photos of my North Face Surge and Think Tank Skin combo that follow at the end of this post.

Photo 1: View of the Surge and Think Tank Skin combo from behind
Photo 2: View of the Surge and Think Tank Skin combo from the side
Photo 3: View of the Think Tank ‘Belly Dancer’ straps overlapping the Surge
Photo 4: View of the carabiners attached to both the strap sets
Photo 5: View of the detail of the carabiner connecting the two sets of straps
Photo 6: View of the small key-chain carabiner holding the Skin in place on the Surge

Happy Flying!

–Click Images To Enlarge Them–
a woman with a backpack
a man wearing a backpack
a person with a backpack
a close-up of a backpack
a close up of a blue carabiner
a close-up of a black backpack


  1. Hey, you used to write wonderful, but the last few posts have been kinda boring?
    I miss your tremendous writings. Past several posts
    are just a little out of track! come on!

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