I said is a few times before. Army surplus stores are a great place for photographer to hang out at and find some nice finds. I think that there is a strong connection between the needs of a soldier and the needs of a photographer.
One particular point where needs converge, is carrying equipment. It is only reasonable that both will need systems that will help them carry dedicated equipment. The soldier needs to carry riffle parts, bullets, field accessories; The photographer needs to carry lenses, small strobes, memory cards and so on.
Soldiers use something called LBE (Load Bearing Equipment – I just love army slang) to carry most of the equipment that is not a weapon. That’s extra clips, flashlight, small radio, and loads of other stuff that I can not even begin to tell you. Actually I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you.
An LBE is basically a belt with pouches and suspenders. The belt provides ample space to place pouches for easy access, and the suspenders help to load share the weight between shoulders, hips and back. Reader David Slocum came up with the idea of using an LBE for carrying your camera gear.
The weight is heavy on both parties – photog and soldier alike. A camera/lens combo along with a strobe and a few spare lenses can easily make it to 5 or 6 kilos. A lot of time this is small change in comparison to what a soldier has to carry on mission, so it is only natural that a carry system that can carry a standard mission load can take care of a single photography assignment.
The question is will it also be convenient to carry photography equipment in terms of exchanging lenses, storing and unstoring a flash unit and so on.
I think it provides that LBE provides the best of all worlds. First it is a good price match for the more professional systems. Price is same or lower, depending on the brand. If you have one from your army time, swell! If not, this may be a good time to give grandpa a call.
David also gives some details on how he is using the LBE. There are two big pouches – one holds a Canon 70-200 with a hood (and this lens is kinda big) and the other one holds a strobe. Now, both of those are in the front and available for easy access.
The rear holds some extras, two prime lenses, and battery pouch, some misc like lens pen, memory card and more.
In addition, David carries two bodies in an R-Strap like strap, each in an opposite cross and an extra body attached to the front clips of the suspenders. This gives David a total of three always accessible cameras.
As far as pricing goes, getting a new LBE, like this one from Blackhawk costs almost the same as getting a dedicated set from Lowepro. So I am no sure if buying a new one is the best option. Hunting and army stores may have cheaper ones (but how much cheaper can you go from 35 Dollars). The other thing to remember is that those LBEs come in green, camo, desert and other exotic colors, so they are usually great nature photography. Weddings? Not unless you find a black one.
The last gear not that I have in this context is that carrying loads of gear is not a sure guarantee to make you happy. David Hobby (AKA Strobist) carries very minimal gear set in a shoulder strap. And David is good to shoot about 90 percent of his assignments with this set.
Another option is to go as minimalist as you can. Brian from Epic edits has a nice peace on the liberation he experienced when taking less gear on a shoot.