Gear

Tips, tricks, and reviews of my go-to gear and equipment
The ever-changing list of my go-to gear – Most of the work I do is performed out of my (hand crafted) creative studio, behind the wheel of a heavily modified Land Rover, or through the viewfinder of a Canon. Many of the tools I use are custom fabricated by yours truly, sometimes because what I need doesn’t exist, or more often because I simply enjoy building things with my own hands. I originally posted this on the about-me page at The Layne Studio after being asked “What __________ do you use?” once too often, but since the studio involves more than just me now it’s time this list moved to the blog proper. This post is just an overview, I might write up an in-depth with the how’s and why’s of each category if anyone would find it helpful. Read along for the details or just click here to skip down to the bullet list of links so your inner-consumer can run wild and free. Camera Gear The Big Guns: I shoot with a variety of Canon gear, but my go-to and favorite is the 80D. It’s durable, light weight, and inexpensive enough to take risks when getting the shot. I use three main lenses: a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art (my personal favorite) for most portraits and some travel/vehicle/landscape work, a Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 macro-capable travel zoom, and a Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 wide angle for grabbing wide vistas or interior shots. The Canon 10-22mm wide is due to be replaced…likely with Sigma’s superior constant-aperture variant. Yes, I’m a Sigma fanboy…because, science. Rolling Light: I’m also very fond of Canon’s S line of cameras: they’re small enough to go unnoticed, reasonably sturdy, and produce RAW files that come surprisingly close to the quality of a DSLR. My old S95 sits in the studio for quick snapshots, and I usually have an S100 handy (there’s a reason the long-retired S100 still costs ~$200 used). When I don’t have a “real” camera, the HTC One M9 is always with me, which creates passable RAW files. Computing Gear Hardware: In the studio my workstation is a personally built Intel-powered, liquid cooled, quad-core PC tower. It’s currently clocked at a conservative 4.4GHz, drives multiple color-calibrated monitors (lead photo), and houses a RAID array large enough to eliminate the need for a separate file server. Communication and general office needs are handled by Google for Work, with weekly on-site and monthly off-site backups of all data. In the field I use a custom modified ASUS X202E with enough… Tools of the Trade
Long live the 70D! – Not long ago, believing I was fighting with a damaged Canon 50mm f1.4 lens (which is notoriously fragile), I started shopping for a replacement. I considered picking up a Canon 35mm f2 IS USM at first, but after the frustration of a botched shoot caused by failed focus on the 50mm, and stellar performance from Sigma’s rock solid 18-300mm lens, I decided to give Sigma’s Art glass a go and ordered a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art. I’d only just finished calibrating the new Sigma to my trusty 70D when I noticed a dark shadow cropping up in the bottom half of the frame… After a few “WTF?” moments, and a few lensless exposures later, the 70D produced this tell-tale image… That was while pointed at an entirely white screen. I may or may not have been fighting with a damaged Canon 50mm earlier, but I definitely have a dead shutter in the 70D now. In all fairness, it’s hard to fault Canon as I do have around 100,000 actuations on the shutter…and they were not easy miles. The final verdict on the 50mm’s fate will have to wait until my camera is repaired or replaced, but either way, I’m keeping the new Sigma. This last photo is the last photo that my 70D successfully took, and really showcases one of the Sigma’s seldom mentioned talents: macro photography. Web-resolutions really don’t do it justice—those are scratches in the switch, not blur. If you’re considering the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 Art, and are curious just how sharp it really is, click here for the full-resolution copy of the above image and start counting the grains of dust… I picked up the Sigma as a reliable replacement to the 50mm for portraiture, thinking I’d be able to do landscapes as well since it zooms out to the 18mm mark—one less lens change is one less chance for dirt to enter the camera in the field. I had no idea the minimum focus distance was so low, or that it would be so incredibly sharp. For reference, I’m almost touching the base of that lamp with the front of the lens, and the switch is only a fourth of an inch wide. I can’t wait to get this lens on a new body and see what it can do.… The 70D is Dead
Life with Living Overland’s clever plug-and-play 12-Volt Overland H2O System – The debate over stand-alone jerrycans versus integrated RV-style water systems has raged on since the first time a family went overland. Cans offer all the rugged reliability you could want and are easy to transfer from vehicle to vehicle, but lugging a full can out of the truck at each campsite is a pain. On-board water is the ultimate in convenience, but rough terrain can cause leaks and flood your interior or worse: leave you with no water. What if you could have your cake and eat it too? Living Overland’s 12-Volt Overland H2O System aims to provide just that. The Overland H2O System is available as a pre-assembled drop-in unit or as a DIY kit. The latter option is a good choice if you like to tinker or have any intention of customizing the setup (Anderson 12-volt connection, different style water tank, etc). I’m glad Beau sent us the DIY kit version, because popping a pre-assembled unit onto a jerrycan and saying “Look, running water!” would not have made for an informative evaluation. Yes, the completed assembly is really that easy to use. First up in building the kit is reading over the directions, then slicing off part of your beloved Scepter’s lid to make way for the faucet. The rest of the process reads like a Daft Punk song: drill it, tap it, splice it, solder it, heat it, thread it, fit it, fill it and in about an hour the assembly is ready for testing. I had doubts, but the grommet/wire combo seals quite well and passed the 5-gallons-upside-down-for-30-seconds test drip free. It’s a good idea to add a little silicone when you thread the faucet into the lid, especially if the hole wasn’t tapped cleanly. The finished product is ready for kitchen duty as quickly as flipping the faucet over and plugging it into a power point. The faucet folds nearly flat for travel, and transfers from can to can as easily as swapping lids. While the exposed faucet hardware does make the system a little more fragile than a regular can, that shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve properly strapped in your 45-pound can of water. The variable-speed Whale pump used in this system has plenty of pressure at over two gallons per minute, and at full-tilt will empty a can in just over two minutes. As a bonus, it also has a low enough draw to run directly off a 30-watt solar panel (at a slightly slower speed). Find the 12-Volt Overland H2O System in DIY kit or… Water System in a Can
A look at Ironclad’s flagship leather work glove – Let’s face it, the six-dollar “railroad engineer” gloves so many of us have been carrying around are quite dated. They’re clumsy, uncomfortable, and lack the durability to survive the abuse our hands routinely face in the field. Their unnecessary bulkiness makes a good grip all but impossible, leading to dropped tools and damaged gear, or worse: injured hands when we throw off the gloves in frustration so we can actually get the job done. It’s time for something better. Enter Ranchworx®, a durable, extremely comfortable, well fitted glove from Ironclad. The glove is loaded up with old-school ingenuity and modern technology alike: Bullwhip™ leather, Kevlar® and Duraclad® reinforcement, Exo-Guard™ impact protection for the fingers, terrycloth sweat wipe, and a clever design for the stitching arrangement—dubbed Rolltop® Fingertips—which maximizes dexterity. All this adds up to a grippy and comfortable glove that’s tough enough to handle winching and trail work, yet provides enough control and tactile feedback for wrenching or driving. Bonus: the gloves are also machine washable and clean up well after a hard day’s work. So how well do the Ranchworx® hold up to prolonged torture? The team at Expedition Portal has been beating on these gloves for the last six months with everything from engine repair to chopping firewood, moving boulders to vehicle recovery. In spite of our continued abuse the leather and fabric are still in great shape, and the gloves continue to fit like a glove should fit. We like them so much they’ve become standard equipment in all of our vehicles. Consider the Ranchworx® gloves an investment in personal safety and convenience. Though a bit more expensive than those old engineer gloves, you can expect them to last for years instead of months. Pick up a pair directly from Ironclad, or for a limited time free with a one-year subscription to Overland Journal—your hands will thank you. Originally licensed to Expedition Portal for publishing on October 29th, 2014.… Ironclad Ranchworx®
9 common mistakes, and how to avoid them – Are you an aspiring photographer dreaming of getting your imagery published, or an author suddenly tasked with shooting your own photos? From a guy who gets stuck fixing all your photos, here’s a list of the most common—and easily avoidable—photographic mistakes made by both novice and experienced author-photographers alike. We’ve all done some (ok all) of these at one time or another, often without even realizing it. Watch for these mistakes every time you shoot and the quality of your photos will improve dramatically. Dust, Dirt, and Stains on Product No one wants to buy a muddy tent, a hair-covered jacket, or dust-covered kitchenware. Contrary to how easy a good photo editor makes it look, sweeping up your dirty floor while keeping the scene realistic takes an incredible amount of time, concentration, and skill—it’s far easier to simply wipe it down before shooting. It’s a dusty planet, so get in the habit of checking before each press of the shutter. A mini-broom, soft cloth or feather duster works well for dust; a damp rag or small mop comes in handy for difficult spots. In a pinch, I’ve even used my Rocket. Exception: deliberate filth to show how dirty something is, such as a blown shock leaking oil or a mud-covered trailer in a “torture-test” article. Inappropriate Scenes or Backgrounds I was working on a camp oven review when, about five shots in, it dawned on me there was a fuzzy-but-unmistakable roll of toilet paper in the background (the perfect garnish for medium-rare filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes). Likewise, if your subject is a camp chair review, your chairs should be in an environment that at least somewhat resembles a camp, not your downtown apartment balcony. You can’t rely on a shallow depth-of-field here either, make sure anything that detracts from the subject is completely out of the frame. Keeping the scene realistic and true-to-purpose helps legitimize a product review. Would you trust the “stability rating” of a camp chair when all of the photos show it placed on a solid, flat balcony? A note on pets: we love animals, but it is best practice to keep the dogs and cats (and other pets) out of the background unless they are relevant to the story. Even then, do so sparingly—Fido should not be the subject of every single photo from your trek across South America. Inappropriate or Incomplete Props True story: during a table review for a certain… Photographic Faux-pas
For the better part of a week I’d been sifting through piles of search results, weeding out cheap knockoffs and overpriced fashion statements trying to find a quality, mid-weight field jacket for less than $400. We were going through a warmer-than-usual winter, and with only a parka on hand I was ill prepared for it. I was hovering over the confirm order button on Filson’s Tin Cloth Field Jacket when our editor walked into my office carrying the 1816 Safari Jacket for review, it was precisely the jacket I had envisioned.… 1816 Safari Jacket Link: Expedition Portal
Few things make mornings in camp quite as pleasurable as waking up to the smell of bacon, steak, and eggs. But all too often long days filled with hundreds of miles on the road make dragging out the cast iron for a proper breakfast an impractical luxury. Here’s what you’ll need to enjoy a hearty breakfast burrito in the morning without washing a single pan. Ingredients (serves two) 2-4 flour or corn tortillas 4 eggs 1/4 pound of crumbled bacon A left-over steak (use filet mignon… worth it) Shredded cheddar cheese Bell peppers, onions, hash browns or other veggies to taste Cholula, Tapatia or your favorite hot sauce A boiling pot of water 2 quart-sized Ziploc freezer bags Start in the evening with a bacon-crumbled steak dinner, and cook up one extra steak. When the steak is finished cut it up into small cubes, toss it in a bag with crumbled bacon, and store it until morning. Of course, you can always pre-cook the meat before the trip, but then you’ll miss out on a bacon-crumbled steak dinner. In the morning fill a large enough pot for two freezer bags with water and set it on the stove to boil (a 2-liter JetBoil pot is just large enough). While you’re waiting for it to boil, crack two eggs into a freezer bag and whip them up until ready to scramble; repeat this step for each breakfast burrito you’ll be making. Next dump in bacon, steak, veggies and sauce to taste. Add in the cheese if you prefer it cooked in, or save it for later to sprinkle on top after cooking. Squeeze the air out of the freezer bags, close them up tight, and drop them into the boiling water for about 10 minutes while you pack up camp. Once the eggs, meat, and veggies are done cooking pull them out of the water, scoop out the contents onto your tortilla, and enjoy!… Bacon Filet Mignon Breakfast Burritos
The Moka Pot – It’s Overland Journal’s fault. I’ve long appreciated the pleasures of the morning coffee ritual, an easy vice to maintain in the city, but one that is typically tolerable at best in camp. Working in an office with a well-stocked espresso bar has sharpened the addiction to such a point the instant solutions often served tent-side simply won’t do. As Scott Brady reflected while showing me how to work the espresso machine “Life’s too short for bad coffee.” Espresso is without a doubt the ultimate form of coffee, imbued with three key features we strive to find in our gear: versatility, durability, and performance. It’s concentrated nature makes for the maximum quantity on a minimum of water, with the right tools it’s nearly impossible to ruin espresso, and from espresso you can make practically any coffee drink (including the good ole hot cup of joe—just add water). Thanks to Luigi de Ponti, espresso can be a hassle- and mess-free pleasure in camp. Most commonly used on the stovetop at home, the Moka pot is equally capable of brewing on the trail with a backpacking stove, larger camp stove, or even over charcoal with care. Unlike the variety of portable espresso makers out there, the Moka doesn’t require special fuels, tools, or filters. In fact, you only need three things to run a Moka: water, fire, and coffee grounds. The Moka pot isn’t picky about the type of grounds you feed it either. A fine grind (slightly more coarse than espresso) works best, but even “percolator ground” beans will yield an excellent (though weaker) result. Espresso purists may point out that a Moka pot is incapable of reaching the precise 9 bar of pressure required for “true” espresso, but the end result is indistinguishable. Use is simple, just fill the base to the fill line with water (about an inch from the top), drop in the basket and fill it with grounds, then twist on the pot and place it over heat. In about five minutes you’ll have a pot of flavorful espresso. Clean up is just as easy—the brewing process tends to draw out most of the moisture, leaving a solid clump of grounds easily tapped out into the trash. Rinse out the few remaining grounds, dry the pot, and pack it away. The Moka is available as small as a 1-shot, but I find the 6-shot variety well worth the… Camp-spresso
Over the past several months I’ve been trapped in the seemingly endless search for that perfect balance between got-it-all, and the liberty got-it-all prevents in an “everyday” bag. You name it, I’ve carried it—from sleek and elegant Tumi to weighted-down MOLLE. Based on past experience, present occupation, and future aspirations I knew what I wanted in function: classic but subtle looks, comfort with convenience, and modularity without bulk. Finding a form that achieves this function proved a frustrating and exhausting challenge. It’s no secret that I love the products coming out of WaterField Design’s studio in San Francisco—their Ultimate SleeveCase continues to keep my iPad in pristine condition. I had never given their larger bags any serious consideration for fear that their simplistic approach to on-the-go storage would blend my kit, set adrift in the huge pockets, into a jumbled pile of chaos. After a month-long trial run with their signature bag, the Cargo (small), I’m pleased to report this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Quite the opposite has happened—my bag is now more organized and easily reconfigurable than ever, and with room left over to expand my everyday kit. Features and Organization At the core of the Cargo’s design is it’s slightly non-rectangular shape, which gifts the bag with a seemingly magical ability to swallow up gear while simultaneously making it easier to load and unload. Access to gear is quick and easy, and most pockets feature a bright orange “Gold Diamond” lined interior to aid in locating the contents. Where appropriate, cord-pull zippers provide a smooth opening, and zippers in more vulnerable locations are spring-loaded to keep them securely shut and out of the way. The outside of the bag features three pockets: a phone pocket at one end, a rear pocket which fits WaterField’s Cableguy (medium) perfectly, and a slip pocket on the flap. The phone pocket is sized ample enough to fit even the largest of modern phones, while still being small enough not to lose smaller phones (yes, it also fits the new iPhone 5). Alternately, it also comfortably carries a modestly-sized flashlight and multitool. The rear pocket has a velcro closure, and features a bottom-zip to allow slipping the bag over the handle of rolling carry-on luggage. The slip pocket on the flap is perfect for carrying a notepad or other slim items. Releasing the slick paragliding buckle from the leather flap reveals… The WaterField Cargo
Lighten your Load, Lighten your Life – Necessity. Convenience. Preparedness… Coffee. Left unmanaged, the pile of stuff we carry every day grows exponentially. The affliction has become so bad it’s caused the phenomena of the manpurse (aka “murse”) to appear on city streets world-wide—as an addition to the briefcase. Over the last few years I’ve been on a mission to reduce both the bulk and appearance of this clutter while still maintaining an acceptable level of function. After optimizing everything from banking habits to keychains only a handful of items remain on the “need to carry” list. The result is a shorter morning/evening routine, little or no complications when plans change, and a lot less crap to carry around (both figuratively and literally). Here’s what doesn’t fill my pockets: Kershaw Ken Onion Leek A gentleman should never be without a knife—arguably the single most important multi-purpose tool ever created. During the daily grind it’s a trusty companion for slicing through the jungles of cardboard delivered by the Brown Truck of Joy. When disaster strikes, it’s the ultimate survival tool capable of providing everything from fire to food (with the right skills). The Leek is elegant enough for a night on the town, durable enough to take on a hike or bike ride, and sleek enough to please any minimalist. It’s also inexpensive enough to carry (and risk losing). More info » Vehicle Key Immediate access to a vehicle is simply a smart resource to keep at hand. I frequently commute by bike, but always have the key to motorized transportation with me. Streamlight Nano You never know when or where darkness may fall—light should be part of everyone’s daily carry. The Nano is bright enough to light the way yet small enough to clip on a single key without adding noticable bulk. More info » Fisher Space Pen 400 TAD Edition I was skeptical at first, but in the end a pen has come in handy quite frequently. The Fisher Bullet practically disappears into a pocket, expands to the size of a normal pen, and will write on just about any surface—wet or dry. More info » American Bison Leather Money Clip Commerce is a fact of life, but not one that requires a fat wallet. Consolodation of my accounts down to one checking and one credit not only simplifies my finances, but allows me to slip into a slim money clip with just enough room for… Simplify
I have to admit, when I was first handed the GearPods® Wilderness emergency kit for evaluation I chuckled. Decades of testing, reviewing, and custom-tailoring such kits have left me with a bias against “off-the-shelf survival”, and the bold packaging complete with photos of extreme adventuring did little to counter this prejudice. As I’m not one to judge a book by its cylindrical plastic cover, I set aside my first impression and dove into the kit with an open mind. Read the review on Expedition Portal »… Review: GearPods® Wilderness Link: Expedition Portal
The iPad has continued to evolve as an essential piece of travel kit, mastering everything from navigation to photo editing, but cases for carrying the mighty ‘Pad are often devoid of style, functionality, durability, and protective ability. Enter the SleeveCase from WaterField Designs—a thick neoprene-cushioned pocket wrapped up in rugged ballistic nylon. The SleeveCase features a soft Ultrasuede® interior which doubles as an automatic screen cleaner, impact-resistant inserts in the walls to protect the screen, and checkpoint-friendly construction. There’s also a slim pocket on the back for papers, a camera connection kit, or a slim charger. Options include natural leather trim and convenient detachable shoulder straps for hands-free carry. The case is durable and well made, with beautiful styling and excellent attention to detail. Check out the SleeveCase line and other fine gear by WaterField Designs at SFbags.com »… WaterField SleeveCase
The Swiss Army Ranger Stove is without a doubt one of the original “ultra light” cooking options. Compact, versatile, and easy to use, it continues to be a quintessential part of the classic kitchen kit. The complete package fits nicely into many of the “one liter” bottle carriers and pockets commonly available. Dry weight is a mere 15.2 ounces in the stove’s stock form, not bad for a pot/cup, 1-liter bottle, and stove. For comparison the weight of an empty Hydroflask 21-ounce bottle is 20.9 ounces. Additionally, if weight and space are of primary concern, one can forgo the bottle altogether and stuff the stove full of provisions and/or fuel. Without any bottle, the stove and cup/pot weigh in at 9.9 ounces. All testing was conducted outdoors, in the shade, on a windless day with an ambient temperature of 40°F. The water used in the test was left outside overnight to simulate realistic camping conditions. During the test, the included pot/cup was filled to the half-liter line. Testing was performed three times with each type of fuel, and the final score is an average of the results. Trioxane / Hexamine Tablets Trioxane was the fastest heating fuel tested, and brought the cold water to boiling in a mere six-and-a-half minutes. This was quite surprising considering this fuel’s dim blue flame and minimal ambient heat. The downside to trioxane is it’s highly toxic nature, the aforementioned low ambient heat and light, and the extremely nasty mess it leaves behind. It is strongly recommended that you wash your hands after handling the fuel, and it would be a good idea to place the tabs on a sheet of foil for easier clean-up. Two bars of fuel were consumed by each test with consistent results: the first bar heated the water hot enough for tea, but failed to reach boiling; and the second bar sent the water into a Jetboil-gone-mad style, dangerously violent boil. The tablet-style fuel is much better suited to this stove than the bars. Wood, Twigs and Grass A combination of twigs and kindling (grass) wrapped up in palm-sized bundles was used for the wood test to ensure a good, consistent burn. This is the recommended method of fueling the stove when using wood as it generates an optimal amount of heat without overheating the stove, burns fairly efficiently, and is easy to clean up. Boiling was achieved in a… Swiss Army Stove