Camera bags are nothing more than backpacks, luggage and messenger bags designed specifically to safely transport your photography gear around in. It’s what’s inside the bag that matters most.
Of course, you’re going to want camera bodies, lenses, speed lights, memory cards, microfiber clothes and more. But there are some items that you wouldn’t traditionally associate with a camera bag that have proven to be extremely useful in my time as a photographer.
Below I’ve compiled a list of some of the most unlikely items I carry around in my backpack that you should consider as well:
Both literally and metaphorically, wipes are meant for cleaning up crap. Time and time again I’ve reached for my travel pack of Wet Ones during a shoot.
One particular time I remember using them is while shooting a high school track and field state event. A very impressive relay team celebrated a win by showering their coach with Gatorade. Of course, while getting a wide shot of the celebration in action, my camera became soaked with the sticky liquid.
A few minutes later I had a hurdles event to cover, so rather than letting the mess set in, I reached in my bag and quickly pulled out a wipe. Ten seconds and I was good to go. Microfiber cloths would’ve only dried the Gatorade faster, not removed it entirely, like the wipes.
This might not apply to everyone, but here in the Midwest (United States), you never know what the weather is going to be. One day you could get sunburned and the next day you could get frostbite—I’ve seen it happen.
When things do take a turn for the cold side, it’s nice to keep your digits and gear toasty warm. I buy in bulk Hot Hands Hand Warmers and make sure I never leave the house without three pair in my bag. One particular instance that sticks out to me is when I shot an outdoor hockey game in Toledo, Ohio. It was barely above freezing and rather than snow, it was raining, in addition to a steady 15mph wind.
Thankfully, I came prepared with more hand warmers than I knew what to do with and both my hands and camera batteries stayed warm during the entire 8-hour day (there were multiple games).
This might be one of the more obvious ones on the list, but I’m always surprised to see how few photographers carry one with them. Whether you’re hiking in the backcountry or merely shooting around the block, you never know when you could get cut on a rusty nail or stung by a bee.
It’s always good to have bandaids, a small package of medicine, antibacterial ointment and butterflies in the event something happens. Even if it’s not you, many times I’ve been able to help someone else with the first aid kit I keep in my camera bag. This $9 Johnson & Johnson one gets the job done and has plenty of room for more supplies if you see fit.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times super glue has saved by butt while shooting. There are multiple forms to buy it in, but my go-to are one-off tubes that are extremely small and easy to pack in your bag.
The instance that most stands out to me is the time I was shooting a wedding and accidentally slammed my Pocket Wizard against a doorframe while turning a corner. The hotshoe mount fell off, leaving me lightless for the reception. Thanks to some quick-drying super glue, I quickly pieced it back together and was good to go in under 90 seconds.
I’m not sure what I would’ve done without it.
In addition to fixing gear, super glue is a great option for unexpected cuts or injuries. Bandaids are great, but sometimes you want something that won’t slide off. Simply sterilize it with the alcohol strips in your first aid kit and super glue the wound shut.
This too might seem more at home in a first aid kit than a photography bag. But the uses for an emergency blanket – also known as a Mylar blanket – go above and beyond keeping someone warm.
In the past I’ve used emergency blankets as a clean surface to lay on while shooting, especially when on sand or wet grass.
Also, if you’re really in a pinch, the silver surface works identical to a reflector. Considering they’re less than $1 a piece when buying in bulk, it’s a small, inexpensive item that has numerous uses.
I can’t possibly give enough praise to earplugs. They’re about as cheap as can be and are useful beyond what words can express.
Need to crank through some edits without any distractions at a coffee shop? Earplugs. Want to protect your ears at a concert you’re shooting? Earplugs. Are standing next to pit lane while shooting the Indianapolis 500? Earplugs.
I’ve come across every one of these use cases and every time, I would’ve paid 10x what I did if it meant having the security and peace I did with them in. Hearos are my go-to brand and can be picked up for $.35 a pair on Amazon.
I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count how many times I’ve been out shooting and gotten cravings for some kind of food. Whether on the sidelines of a football game or shooting in the backcountry, it’s always nice to have a security blanket by bringing along an extra snack or two.
My go-to has always been Clif bars. Personally, I think they taste the best out of any protein bar, plus they cost only $1 a piece and store extremely well anywhere.
Similar to the emergency blanket, carrying around a garbage bag has more uses than you know what to do with. I’ve used them as rain covers for backpacks, emergency ponchos and even as a very rough white balance card. They pack up to almost nothing and it’s safe to say you likely have a handful sitting under your kitchen sink right now.
Water is heavy to lug around. Thus, it doesn’t always make sense to carry a full water bottle with you on every shoot. One alternative is to bring along an empty Nalgene bottle, but they tend to be bulky and don’t exactly fit in most camera bags.
Enter collapsable water bottles. They come in all kinds of colors and pack up small enough to fit almost anywhere inside your camera bag. My go to brand is Vapur, as I’ve had mine for 3 years and it’s still kicking like the day I bought it.
There’s a good chance you carry one on you or have one in your camera bag already, but I’ve seen plenty of other photographers without one. Multitools, especially good ones, are worth every penny.
I’ve used them to take apart gear when it needs fixing and even in conjunction with my first aid kit to help a rather nasty injury acquired by a fellow photographer on a photo adventure. My favorite tool has always been the Leatherman Wave.
At $78, it’s not exactly cheap, but with Leatherman’s lifetime warranty, buy it once and you’re good for life.
All in all, it’s good to think outside the box when preparing your camera bag. You never know what will come up and it’s nice to know you have security that more traditional photography gear wouldn’t cover.
In addition to the individual Amazon links, I’ve created a public wish list that you can check out to add all of the items to your Amazon cart at once (with the exception of garbage bags, since you likely already have some in your kitchen). Head on over and check out the wish list.
What is something you would like to see added to the list?