Mongolia Monday- New Gear for Next Trip

As promised last week, here’s look at two items I recently purchased for my next trip to Mongolia. In both cases, they are “upgrades” that I hope will perform and function better than what I’ve used in the past.

First up, my new camera/day pack. I’ve used a good sturdy general purpose daypack from REI for quite a few years and it did what I wanted until I got a MacBook Pro which is larger than my old IBM x31. I solved that problem with a messenger bag from Timbuk2 that I reviewed here last year.

The cameras fit in the old pack, but had to be put into it vertically side-by-side with some kind of cloth wrapped around one to keep them from banging together. Not very satisfactory. And it got worse when I was able to upgrade to a Nikon Nikkor 80-400mm lens last year which is much longer and bigger in diameter than my old zoom telephoto. The jury-rigged set-up even made my guides nervous.

I started out looking for a pack which had the depth and padded dividers that would let me safely carry the two cameras as I had before. On the road, the pack is on the floor at my feet so I can grab either body in a hurry or zip it up and go without a bunch of fussing around.

I searched the internet and found a couple of possibilities, but realized that the only way to know for sure was to take both cameras to my local camera shop (Swanlund’s) and see what actually worked. And, as it turned out, the one I’d thought would, didn’t. But the young guy who was helping me, all of five days on the job, pulled a KATA pack off the wall and handed it to me. I’d seen the brand when I was looking on the web, but knew nothing about them. Turns out they’re an Israeli company which specializes in “Protective Carrying Technology”, which means gear bags and bullet-proof coats that can literally go into a combat zone. Might be, uh, overkill for my purposes, but I did want something that will protect my cameras.

So I sat on the floor with both Nikons and their lenses and a Digital Rucksack DR-465. What the young sales guy pointed out was a top compartment which would hold one camera and a bottom compartment with zippers that slid back far enough that I could get the body with the 28-300 lens in and out easily. And he was right.

There’s a loop on the back for a tripod and a zippered net pocket on one side for a water bottle. There are three zippered storage pockets in the front and the top compartment has a pocket along the back that will hold pens, notebook, cellphone, etc. The bottom compartment has a re-configurable or totally removable padded divider. Included is a rain/dust cover that comes in its own bag.

The inside is a lovely goldenrod and it has a purpose. It’s a color that will make it as easy as possible to find whatever is in the pack when it’s dark. Really dark.

The company points out in its literature that it doesn’t look like a camera bag, which is true, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The straps feel like they are well-designed ergonomically and will be comfortable with a full load hiking in the field. So, all in all, I think I’ve got a winner here. I’ll know for sure by the end of the first round of travel in the countryside.

KATA Digital Rucksack D-R 465, without cameras
KATA Digital Rucksack DR-465- with cameras

I’ve also gotten a new jacket. I needed something less bulky than the reliable old Travel Smith jacket I’ve used since 1999. I wanted wind and at least a little rain resistance. The weather in Mongolia is very changeable and one needs to have good outerwear.

The best deal in my price range (pretty low) was an REI Windbreak Thermal Jacket for $89.95 (and I had a 20% off coupon),which they describe as their warmest wind-blocking fleece. They claim it will do the job in up to 50mph winds, which ought to be sufficient. It also has a water repellent for light rain. I have a poncho already for real rain, a certainty if Mongolia has a normal summer. The exterior pockets zip up and there are also large pockets on the inside, which I think will be handy.  The styling is such that I can wear it around UB and not look like I just crawled in from the Gobi.

I’ve been wearing it every day when we go out to walk the dog and, so far, I like it a lot. But, once again, field use will tell the tale.

REI Windbreak Thermal Jacket
REI Windbreak Thermal Jacket

Just got an email from Amazon that my order from them has shipped. More camera batteries, a new option for back-up and a little indulgence that I’ll reveal next week, if it works.

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