Workshop Tip #1 – Packing for Stealth

Back in late December I wrote a rather lengthy post about Photographic Safety and one of my main points was to pack for stealth. Since then, I’ve received several emails asking for more details about how I pack my camera gear to remain “anonymous” and “stealthy” in the field. Here are the main points illustrated with the two images below.

Your Gear Looks Inviting to Everyone (Including Thieves)
We photographers love our “stuff”. We obsess about our photographic gear and will buy just about anything to help us in our quest to become better photographers. Both amateurs and professionals fall prey to this obsession and it’s what drives the entire industry. It’s also what makes photographers such a “lure” for potential thieves.

Drive through any state park in Texas on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you’ll see dozens of folks walking around with a DSLR and a telephoto lens. I’ve seen a few intrepid adventurers carrying around a full-size Gitzo tripod and Wimberley gimbal head with an 800mm super-telephoto lens attached to a very high-end DSLR worth over $20,000. The back of their SUV is crammed full of other tempting gear like spare lenses, filters, tripods, etc. and to a thief, this is like holding up a neon sign which spells out “ROB ME”. Even an open camera bag sitting in the passenger seat can be an invitation to a knowledgeable thief and believe me, most thieves can spot a Think Tank roller or Lowepro Trekker in a heartbeat.

Packing for Stealth
A little foreknowledge goes along way and packing for stealth can be as easy as using something other than an easily recognizable camera bag as your camera bag. Today I use a Filson Sportsman’s Bag (shown open above) to hold all my photo/travel gear including two DSLR bodies, four or five lenses, filters, batteries, etc. and as you can see it functions just like my old Domke bags did.

Filson Sportsman's Bag (Open)

The key difference is that this bag doesn’t look like a camera bag, it looks like a typical overnight bag any camper might carry full of clothes and stuff. When closed up and sitting on the passenger seat of my SUV, it doesn’t attract anymore attention than a duffle bag would and after a few years of normal wear & tear it will attract even less attention. Few thieves these days are looking to steal someone’s socks and underwear.

Filson Sportsman's Bag (Closed)

So the next time you’re in the market for a new camera bag, take a moment to look at the bag from the perspective of a thief. There are dozens of great luggage makers including Filson, Eddie Bauer, Lands End, and LL Bean that make “sportsman’s bags” or “rollers” that can function perfectly as your main camera bag without attracting the unwanted attention that a name-brand camera bag will. When you’re out in the field transporting thousands of dollars in photo gear, the best advice I can give you is to pack for stealth!

7 thoughts on “Workshop Tip #1 – Packing for Stealth

  1. The sad fact of the matter is that most people are sheep. We are so far removed from a day to day threat to our existence that most folks ignore all of the warning signs that mother nature has instilled in our systems from day one. We think that nothing bad will ever happen and that everyone is a good person who can be reasoned with, just like us. We carry thousands of dollars worth of camera gear, stumble around looking for fantastic images to take at iconic, isolated areas and never once stop to look around our environment for hazards – whether that be storm clouds on the horizon, the rattlesnake sunning on the rocks or a human predator, intent on causing you harm.
    Stop, look around, and take sense of your surroundings. You’ll be better off in the long run. 😉

  2. Jeff, do you actually take the Filson bag when hiking a long way?
    Is it really comfortable to carry or would you prefer a backpack?

    regards FJ

    • Heavens no FJ,

      I use my Filson bag to transport my gear to and from a remote location. I have a custom designed backpack system that I use to carry my camera, lenses, filters and tripod when hiking. However, I never open my pack after a hike and transfer my photo gear to my Filson bag after a hike. I always do this inside my tent or motel room so avoid attracting attention.


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  4. A little black gaffer tape over the Lowepro/Thinktank logo or whatever bag you have also helps. You can only tell that the tape is there if you view it from 6″ away.

    • Hey Joe,

      I tape my cameras for scuff protection but most thieves know the look of expensive camera bags like my Think Tank roller (which I do use for commercial shoots when my car is on a company’s premises) and I never take it on a photo safari into central Texas.


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