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For an extended overland trip in Africa, particularly one made without the (relative) luxury of a 4×4, there is the inevitable question of what gear to take. While there remain a fair swarm of decisions still to be made about everything from a tent to a first aid kit, I have largely made my mind up about the key gear I intend to take to fulfill two of the most creative activities on the journey. Taking photographs to reflect the story of the journey to Cairo – and weaving together the words to bring out the rest.

Photography

While most of the travel photographers/bloggers who have compiled gear lists for their own journeys are typically fans of either the Nikon or Canon systems for taking really good snaps, I will respectfully be the black sheep

Traveling the not-inconsiderable distance between Cape Town and Cairo means at least two things will hold true. That there will be fantastic photographic opportunities during the journey and that ensuring my gear survives will be an important consideration. At least part of the goal of the trip (besides surviving with my good humour intact and writing about how I managed to do so) will be to take the best photographs I can of the people and places I encounter. Which means that some more serious gear than the usual happy snap camera will be needed.

While most of the travel photographers/bloggers who have compiled gear lists for their own journeys are typically fans of either the Nikon or Canon systems for taking really good snaps, I will respectfully be the black sheep – at least for this journey. My own preference in the last year  has been for Pentax bodies and lenses – the K200D and (if my finances will stretch to it before the trip), its older brother, the K20D as a second spare body. While there is nothing wrong with the Canon/Nikon cameras (and for the seriously serious pro, Pentax has no real competitor), the midrange Pentax bodies offer weather sealing and a heavier, stronger construction that I have come to appreciate over the Canon/Nikon bodies – which feel far too gentle by comparison.

My trusy Pentax K200D during its debut performance in the back of a minibus somewhere in Southern Mozambique. Photograph not taken by the Pentax, but by my mischevious travel mate. Whose camera was later lost. Oh the hazards of travel.

My trusty Pentax K200D during its debut performance in the back of a minibus somewhere in Southern Mozambique. Photograph not taken by the Pentax, but by my mischievous travel mate Jonathan (www.jonathanhaenen.com). Whose camera was later lost. Oh the hazards of travel.

Pentax DSLRs, unlike their competitors, are also completely backward compatible with any Pentax lens ever made – which has made picking up a set of decent prime and zoom lenses simply a case of browsing for secondhand bargains instead of having to look for more recent digital-specific lenses. As the only manufacturer that puts image stabilization in the camera body (instead of the lens), any lens (even the very old ones) becomes a stabilized. An added bonus given that I am unlikely to lug a tripod 10,000km through the continent.

So before I sound like a Pentax advert, my point is thus – for a mid-range, tough and weather sealed camera which will allow you to compile a decent set of stabilized lenses cheaply, Pentax is (to me at least) a no brainer. Unfortunately, they have yet to produce an absolute pro body to rival the likes of Canon’s top end – but if you are like me and still have no idea how to get the most out of the camera you have, then Pentax is an excellent choice for a rough and dusty trip.

And make no mistake, Africa is not short of rough and dusty.

Writing

Competing with photography for my time, thinking and nimble fingers will be the task of writing. As much as possible in the downtime between actually seeing, doing and learning. Good old paper notebooks will be a must, given that electricity may not be present, or if present, may not be available in many of the places I will be passing through. To get around this and facilitate full-journey writing ability this end, decent hardcover notebooks are coming along for note-taking, picture-drawing and general sustaining of thoughts in the electricity-free periods of quiet.

Despite this, bringing a laptop on the journey offers a number of compelling advantages for when the electricity is available and working. Besides allowing you the space and time to compose your thoughts into bite sized blog posts, articles or whichever other form they are most useful in, a laptop can serve as a good first-storage device for photographic data from the trip. This is particularly true if you are on the road for a while and will not have regular access to places where you can  get DVDs written or to store your data online.

Laptops, however, can be large, heavy and possibly too valuable to be constantly scuffing and abusing. My tradeoff in this instance has been a small netbook, the Packard Bell Dot (though the Acer eeePc and others are just as suitable). It’s small, not terribly valuable (compared to anything bigger), has a large hard drive and slots for SD cards. It also has wifi (for sussing out those blessed hostel wifi signals), runs windows and can serve to backup images and other data to an external drive in case backing up to the laptop itself is not enough for you. The size of an A5 diary, it is also easily concealed in a daybag or general luggage, making you slightly less of an obvious target (though carrying the large DSLR camera praised above will likely undo this impression rapidly. You can’t have your cake and eat it, I guess).

The Dot. Small, sturdy and far more easily carried around than its bigger brothers. Lens cap included to gie you a sense of scale.

The Dot. Small, sturdy and far more easily carried around than its bigger brothers. My lens cap is included to give you a sense of scale (i.e. the thing is small)

There is much more to be said about packing for Cape to Cairo, of which much more will indeed be said in due course. But for two of the activities most valued on the journey (besides the obvious “keeping moving” and “keeping safe” requirements), these are my thoughts and final decisions on the equipment I will be packing. Long journeys off the beaten (or even recently tarred) track are often the inspiration for some of the most interesting stories. Which makes having the gear to capture the moment properly so much more rewarding.