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Asks: What I’m Using Lately

I get a lot of questions asking what equipment I use and I don’t think I’ve written anything since this post a year ago. A lot has changed in that time, and depending on where I’m going I may choose to bring some extra things or leave other stuff behind. Having just wrapped up my fat bike tour of Lake Huron’s southwestern shore, now’s as good time as any to revisit. There’s more, a lot more actually, actually probably way too much more, after the break.

Cameras and Other Electronics

This is what I get asked about the most and I’m sure is the main reason you’re reading this. This post is long enough, and I wrote a great deal about it before here, but there’s been some updates since then.

I’m a lifestyle and portrait photographer by trade, and I started out with hand-me-down Nikon gear so that’s what I use professionally now. Both brands are making amazing computers-shaped-like-cameras that take really, really good pictures just by pointing them at something and pressing a button, and people who act like one is better than the other and maintain a rivalry between brands are ridiculous and honestly a little too nerdy for me to handle.

But, despite how good my pro-gear is, it’s big, heavy, and catches the attention of a few too many people. Sometimes I get back from a trip with a shoot the very next day, and the risk of having the gear that I make my living with being broken or stolen is too high to keep up. I had been keeping my eye on the fuji x-line for quite some time, then one day an X-Pro 1 showed up on ebay, new in box, for a stupidly good price. You’ll see that finding good deals is a big part of how I’m able to do what I do. I picked up a 50mm-equivalent lens, and it only took one trip for me to be sold on the system. It’s a quiet, unremarkable camera with amazing glass, and reminds me a lot of using a rangefinder. I love that people don’t notice it, comment on it, and generally think it’s a worthless, old, film camera. I’ve even managed to completely submerge it while riding flooded trails in Minneapolis, but despite its lack of weather-proofing only a little water made it into the battery compartment. I shot with it the rest of the day, taken it with me every trip since, and have even used it for client work. To be fair, this $600 camera I bought doesn’t take as good of photos as my $3000 camera, nor is it as fast to operate. I don’t expect it to compete, but it gets close enough that even outside my travels I often consider if I really need the extra features of the Nikon before I pack my bag. Since getting the Fuji I’ve also picked up the 35mm-equivalent lens and a bomb-proof, US-made Dsptch strap too.

For Film, I still bring my amazing Mamiya 7 medium format range finder. That thing is the best, and if I had to choose only one camera to use for the rest of my life it would be that. Looking at a scan of 120 film shot with it is almost a spiritual experience. Not to disrespect 35mm film, though! I try to keep a good amount of Portra 400 in hand at all times, and I inherited a Yashica T4 from jpbevins to shoot with it. He and I are fans of disposable cameras as well, and when his new project No Life Like This Life dropped those rad Adventure Cams I just had to pick one up. Due to limited space that was the only film camera I brought with me on my latest trip. For the most part, my decision as to which camera to use while adventuring is arbitrary. Film still has a broader dynamic range, requires me to work a little slower, and honestly just looks better to me, so if conditions allow or require those features I’ll grab a film camera first every time. Digital is safe, and allows for many, many pictures, so it’s never a bad idea to use for multiple frames of a fleeting moment. Honestly, if I see a photograph about to happen and I don’t have any decision-making time, I’ll just grab whichever camera is the most easily accessible. Hell, in slower-paced moments sometimes I’ll shoot with both formats, and maybe even again on the iphone for my instagram.

I don’t think I can, or want to, write any more on cameras so moving on, I love kickstarter projects, so when I found out that Fluxmob's combination battery/outlet charger started as one I was really excited to absolutely abuse the thing. I've used it to charge my phone and ipad mini in remote spots many times now, though I only bring the ipad now if I'm on the train for longer than a day. A paperback book is the same size as the ipad, and I like bringing one of those way more. On-the-go image processing is fun, but I now scale-down the heavy toning of VSCOcam so much that it makes more sense to wait to edit the photos when I'm back in Chicago where my computer with Lightroom and the less-extreme vsco presets are. It doesn't help that I want to spend as little time as possible looking at a screen while I'm on an adventure.

Bikes

I know I shouldn’t feed the troll, but I suppose I am too hipster for whatever “a practical bike” is. I started out with just the road bike, and took it everywhere purely because it was the only bike I had at the time and it packs down super small (proof). In late fall I picked up a second-hand, USA-made (Temple, if you know old-school colorado frame builders) single speed cyclocross frame, stripped off all the paint for some reason, and moved a lot of the road bike’s parts to that frame. In that time I learned a lot about checking bikes and roll-on services with the trains, which made it super easy to bring any bike with me whether or not it breaks down into a backpack. The Rust Rocket, as I’ve come to call it, is a total shred sled and is my go-to bike. Road rides or mountain biking, local or traveling, it rocks. It doesn’t hurt that for a while it’s been my only functioning bike. Then I found this pugsley on closeout, and decided it was a good idea to be super broke for a while but own a fat bike. I totally made the right choice. Now it handles the majority of my off-road riding, despite its size this bike is way more nimble than you think, and Port Huron was the first opportunity to do something with it that other bikes aren’t capable of. That bike should make adventuring this winter very, very interesting.

None of the bikes are perfect, but each of them I came across at an amazing deal, so until I have some bike that has the features of each three, I’ll keep using these and pushing their limits. One thing that I’m swearing will never change is my saddle choice. The Wisconsin-made Selle Anatomica saddles are just impossibly comfortable and durable. There’s no break-in period like that on Brooks saddles, which has made me convince friends to make the switch, though I will say my lady friends tend to either love or hate how they feel.

Bikepacking bags make so much more sense to me than traditional racks and panniers. They’re lighter, require no maintenance or tools, and are easier to take on and off a bike that may be going into a backpack or large, cardboard box. My Revelate seat bag goes with me everywhere, and is starting to show its age actually. I picked up a cheap Jandd framebag to help carry stuff. Compression bags have become a necessity to keep things organized and using as little of the finite space as possible.

Camp Gear and Clothing

This is the newest world I’m starting to dabble in. When I started this blog with a 15-day rail pass, I planned to bring as little, and spend as little, as possible. This meant a lot of nights of sleeping outside with just a thin fleece blanket I bought on the very first overly-air-conditioned train. In Texas’s autumn that works, in Oregon’s it, uh, does not. An Eno hammock system and Big Agnes’s lightweight, packable sleeping bags have become essential pieces if I know there’s no guarantee (or desire) to sleep inside. They don’t make it with me on every trip, but they’re packability, durability, and low weight make the idea of any random outdoor adventure far less daunting.

To me, plain, high-quality, domestically-made clothing is worth its weight in gold, and since it’s normally priced about the same I’ve opted to own just a couple clothes that will last for years. It means I’m not a very fashionable man. Especially while traveling. I’ll wear it until it stinks, then go for a swim… #ladies. So, plain AA t-shirts and thermals (some of which are now nine years old, by the way) and my two pairs of Outlier shorts are what I’ve been living in since April.

In the past few months Search and State and I have come to really appreciate what each other are doing, and I’m very proud to wear their cycling clothing. A lot of lycra out there makes you look like the fastest dentist at the triathalon, so I really appreciate that SAS just gets it. It’s all-road apparel, made in New York, and has held up great on rides and wrecks; on dirt, gravel, or pavement… of which I’ve experimented with every combination multiple times. There’s tons of reviews from just a quick google search, but seriously their bibs are the most comfortable bibs ever. Consider me just another voice in the choir at this point.

I hope this helped answer a lot of people’s questions, and makes it so I don’t have to make an update about this for another year. We’ll see?

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