Japan - Gearing Up

Missed our first post on Japan? Read it here!
The Japan list of contents so far can be found here!
A large concern that has come up in our research is the warnings against overpacking. Since the majority of Japan relies on public transportation, Taxis are expensive and trains/subways are crowded, with the train and subway stations being described as “people being shoved in like sardines into a can”. For our trip we change locations 14 times, which consists of train rides longer than 2 hours. Our trip consist of over 2,500 miles of travel just to get to place to place over our 36 day journey and does not include the walking/biking/traveling we will be doing for sightseeing and exploring.

Being avid photographers we will also have our heavy gear that we have to take into consideration. In effort to prep ourselves from getting to place to place in Japan we have been adding backpacks to our evening walks around our neighborhood and making an effort to reduce our clothing usage. While it is easier here at home to constantly be changing up clothes on a daily basis, abroad, every item we leave home is one less item to add to the weight of our point-to-point carry.

Our primary goal is to go to Japan with no more than 3 sets of clothing that will need to last us 36 days. Also considering that in Japan, dryers are scarce, so our clothes would need to be able to air dry quickly on a clothesline.

We spent the next 6 months testing our ability to use as little clothing as possible, and finding fabrics that dry quickly, feels comfortable enough to travel in, but also holds up to the rigid pounding of extensive daily travel. Here's how it went.

From top left to right

  • Tilley Airflow hat
  • Redback Easy Out boots
  • Lowerpro Slingshot
  • Sirui tripod bag
  • ACT Lite 50+10 Deuter backpack
  • black hat, nothign special. Might leave it at home.
  • Arc'Teryx Beta LT Hybrid Rain Jacket
  • Sirui T2205X tripod with Monfrotto 498RC2 Ball head
  • Icebreaker Drifter Hoodie
  • REI Cargo pants
  • Pentax 300mm SMCP-DA* F/4 lens
  • Pentax K3 II mounted with Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM lens
  • Woolpro All Weather socks
  • SmartWool classic socks
  • GoPro Hero+ Black
  • Exofficio Give-N-Go briefs
  • Exofficio Give-N-Go briefs
  • Exofficio Sol-Cool shirt
  • Woolpro Agena shirt
  • bright yellow hankerchief
  • Air laptop
  • 3 liter Camelbak
  • Sony DSC-RX100 v.1

  • not pictured:
  • Phone
  • Charger cords
  • Extra batteries
  • A whole bunch of SDcards
  • Portable hard drives
  • Rainbow sandals
  • Bellroy Travel Wallet
  • All fits into one bag and weighs in at 25 lbs/11.3 kg
    The Bellroy Travel wallet is also pictured.
    From top left to right

    • The North Face Ultra Fastpack Gore-Tex Shoes
    • The North Face Haldee Raschel Parka
    • Osprey Daylite Daypack
    • Deuter ACT Lite 45 + 10 Backpack
    • The North Face Fuseform Dot Matrix Rain Jacket
    • REI Co-Op Tech Capris
    • REI pants
    • Rainbow T-Street Prem Center Braid Ankle Straps
    • Calvin Klein Skinny Jeans
    • Pajamas pants and a tanktop
    • ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief and Hipkini
    • Ibex Outdoor Balance Light Bras
    • Canopy Sun Protection shawl
    • SmartWool Micro 150 Crew
    • Pentax K3 II mounted with Pentax SMC DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 lens
    • SmartWool Midweight Crew Top
    • WoolPro Baselayer The Agena
    • WoolPro Lightweight Baselayer - Skylark
    • SmartWool PhD Run Light Elite Low Cut socks
    • SmartWool PhD Run Light Elite Low Cut socks
    • SmartWool PhD Run Ultra Light Low Cut socks
    • Nintendo 3DS XL, case and games
    • Lenovo LaVie Z 13"
    • 3 liter Camelbak
    • Sony DSC-RX100 v.3
    • GoPro Hero+ Black
    • Black travel pack for personal care
    • Pink travel pack for personal care
    • Valley Eyewear A Dead Coffin Club Sunglasses

    • not pictured:
    • Phone
    • Charger cords
    • Bellroy Elements Travel Wallet
    • All fits into one bag and weighs in at 17 lbs/7.8 kg
      The Bellroy Elements Travel wallet is also pictured.
      The piglet and the boar all geared up for Japan!

      Why all new gear? The majority of our gear is over ten years old, and while most of it was still good to use on normal hiking/outings, the advances in technology alone have come such a long way. Our old backpacks were REI brand, very good, and long lasting, but they lacked any padding and weren't the most comfortable bags. We went to REI and loaded up all the bags they had with weights that REI provided and walked them around the store. It was suprising how quickly we both settled on the ACT Lite Deuter for our backpack. It's adjustable, really nice padding, and is made to allow airflow, so that you don't end up with a sweaty back. When we added weight to it, it's barely noticable. It was possibly the most comfortable backpack once adjusted properly. The size was harder to decide on. We took a comparable "carry on backpack" and tried to match the length and width. All airlines have different carry on requirements though, so what works for one plane might not work for another, but our goal was to try and carry on all of our gear.

      The Lowerpro slingshot is one of the oldest items we are taking on the trip. I plan on using that for my daily carry. It is designed specifically for carrying around camera gear, but also has enough room to stash a few day-to-day essentials. It is nice as it can be used as a backpack, but swing across to the front quickly without needing to "take it off" or set it down. This will allow me to carry my extra cameras and lens comfortably. This was the largest item I would be fitting into my big bag, and since it had foam too protect camera gear, it couldn't collapse. I figure that if I stuff the camera gear into it, then pack it, it would save some space and be easy to bring.

      The Osprey Daylite Daypack was selected by Piglet. She enjoyed the way it felt for a smaller bag, and it was collapsable to allow for easy storage into the big bag.

      We are both bringing a 3 liter Camelbak, so we will have easy access to water while getting around.

      Clothing was was very hard to settle on. After a ton of research we felt that products made of merino wool would be the best option, as it dries quickly and doesn't absorb body odor. At the time of our shopping there were only a handful of companies that were with looking into for merino wool, Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Woolpro. We picked up products from all three to try out in Japan. We will report back with how they work out. We also went with Exofficio for undergarments and shirts as they were wildly proclaimed to be some of the best undergarment manufactures. We spent about 3 month using them before our trip and we can definitely vouch that they build some extremely high quality products.

      We knew we would bringing our Pentax K3 II (was hoping the full frame would be out by now, but alas) for nice clean high quality outdoor shots, a GoPro each for wide angle and quick sneaking snapshots in hard to reach places, and our Sony RX-100 for dining out at night when you don't want to be bringing out a hefty dslr to the dining table. The hardest thing to decide on was what lens to bring for the Pentax. The Pentax lenses we own are all water and dust protected, as well as the camera. The Sigma lenses we own are a bit higher quality but heavier and not protected from the elements. Here's a comparison picture to show the size difference:
      The Sigma (on the right) weighs in at 5.3 lbs/2.4 kg and the Pentax (left) weighs in at 3 lbs/1.3 kg.

      The weight doesn't sound like much but remember this is the lens alone. That doesn't include the camera body. What's the difference besides weight? The Sigma is 300 mm f2.8 and the Pentax is 300 mm f/4. What's the difference between 2.8 and 4? The Sigma will take a brighter picture faster. In example, lets imagine you are walking through the mountains of Yakushima and it is overcast. You are in a well shaded area, so with the sun being blocked out by the clouds it is darker than usual. There, off in the distance you spot a monkey, using a banana like a phone! You swing your camera up, knowing that you need to be quick to take the shot before the monkey sees you and goes back to eating the banana, you steady your hand, you hit the shutter, and.... well, if you have the Sigma the shot is done about now, and if you have the pentax the shot is done about now. What does that mean? How long can you hold the camera steady for? Every second the shutter remains open is a chance for the camera to shake. Even the slightest bit of movement with a 300mm lens can be the difference between a picture large enough to see a flea on the monkeys ears or only being able to see the Monkey and maybe make out the details on the banana.

      Let's compare the pros.
      • The Pentax has the all weather and dust sealing which would help in the rain.
      • The Sigma has faster aperture (faster pictures in lower light)
      • The Pentax is lighter to walk around with and easy to point and shoot.
      • The Sigma is my new shiny toy.
      • The Pentax is my old reliable and dependable friend.

      Considering all this, I made the decision based on a photographers number 1 rule of gear - The camera (lens) you are most likely to use is the one you have on you. I would, more than likely be leaving the Sigma in my backpack until I needed it. I will more than likely walk around with the 300mm attached to the camera at all times at my side ready for action. This is the difference between catching the monkey on the banana phone and taking a picture of an empty tree stump.

      I really hope I get a picture of a monkey on a banana phone now. :p

      Moving on...

      Shoes were an easy decision for Piglet, as she is a very big fan of North Face shoes. She's been very happy with the fit and feel. I am a bit more picky about my shoes. I abhore laces. I don't like owning a different kind of shoe for every occasion. I don't like colors on my feet. I recently changed mine after a long time from Blundstone to Redback. Blundstone was a sleek comfortable fitting shoe that I could use for hiking, work, business meetings, fancy dinners, and just walking around. Then they outsourced their shoes to somewhere and the quality went downhill fast. I could no longer walk more than a few miles before I could feel every pebble I stepped on. There's nothing fun about long walks when you feet hurt. After a bunch of searches online I found Redback boot company, which are supposed to be of a higher quality than Blundstone before they even started outsourcing their boots. I don't have much to say about them yet, but I have high hopes. Will report back once the trip is done. We are also both bringing our Rainbow sandels for the lounging around and onsen stuff. If you haven't bought a pair of Rainbows yet, do yourself a favor and get some. Once you break them in you will never take them off. Until the boss makes you at least.

      The super thin Macbook Air and super light Lenovo LaVie Z are coming along as our picture processing and blogging machines. The Nintendo 3ds for fun on the plane, I hope to pick up a Japanese version once in Japan of the 3ds.

      Last but not least, the one item you always find yourself doing a pat-down for, wallets. Normally, my phone case doubles as a wallet, but I wanted to leave that at home, and Piglet uses her extra large clutch wallet in which she carries all her make up discount cards since high school let out, many, many years ago. We both went with Bellroy Travel wallets as they had nice reviews, and we like the fact that we could carry our passports in them along with a tiny pen and foreign currency.

      We hope to have more information on all of our gear once we get back. How it holds up, what we we forgot to bring and what we wish we didn't bring. In the meantime, if you have any comments or suggestions hit us up on reddit!

      We made it back and the adventure continues!