Some New Gear Comments (and a wicked cool look at the Tough Mudder)

Last weekend I took a little diversion from my usual nature and conservation-themed work to work on a video of an event called the Tough Mudder in Mount Snow, Vermont.My friends Ty Wivell, Andrea Greeley, and I thought it would be great subject matter for a short video piece, and it definitely was, with 6000+ people descending on Mount Snow to complete the grueling ten mile course complete with over twenty muddy, challenging, and painful obstacles. Our completed video is still a work in progress, but I put together the above 90 second clip to give you a sense of what it was like (Ty actually participated in the event and I can’t wait to see his GoPro footage.) By the way, those yellow wires you see hanging down on the course in the video are live with 10,000 volts of electricity shocking the participants!

Since I’d be hiking steep terrain all day while surrounded by and in the mud, I thought it was also a great opportunity to try out some new gear – a Feisol 3372 Rapid Tripod with leveling base, a LoweProFlipside Sport camera bag, and a Cotton Carrier Strapshot camera carrier that attaches to a pack strap. Full disclosure – Ty works for LowePro.

LowePro Flipside Sport 15L

Since I had to move quickly on steep trails all day, I wanted to go light with my gear and chose to bring only what would fit in the 15 liter version of the LowePro Flipside Sport, which turned out to be my Canon 5D with the 70-200 F2.8, 24-70 F2.8, and 16-35 F2.8 lenses, a polarizer, a Hoodman Loupe, a Rode Stereo Mic, and a couple of snacks. I also clipped a two-liter water bottle to the outside of the pack, but if I had come prepared I could have stored a two liter Camelback hydration system in the built-in hydration system compartment. I also could have strapped a small tripod to the outside of the pack, but instead decided to carry the larger Feisol (which I’ll talk about below.) I’ve been using LowePro bags since long before I knew Ty – they’ve traditionally been great at packing a lot of gear, but always seemed a little heavy for adventure photographers. Thankfully, they’ve worked hard the last couple of years to design sleeker packs, made of lighter materials that are well suited to carrying gear during more adventure-oriented shoots.

The Flipside Sport has a long, narrow design which makes it great for maneuvering through tight spaces, and its lightweight nylon material combined with well-placed padding made it comfortable to carry. The main compartment has the usual customizable padded compartments for your camera gear, and it also has the cool feature of being self-contained in its own nylon pouch which can be completely removed in case you want to stow your camera gear in the car and use the pack to carry something else. The zippers withstood my usual problem of overstuffing the pack (which I seem to do no matter how big the pack is.) One feature that I really liked is the fact that the main compartment opens in the back so if you take off the shoulder straps, but leave your hip belt attached, you can turn the bag around to the front, open it up and access your gear without taking your pack completely off. For a fast-paced event like the Tough Mudder, this was a big advantage. Great pack.

Cotton Carrier Strapshot attached to the shoulder strap of a backpack.

I’ve been using a Cotton Carrier Vest for about a year and half now to comfortably carry my camera and have it at the ready. The Strapshot is a new product the folks at Cotton Carrier have invented to easily carry a camera without having to wear the vest. It’s basically just a Cotton Carrier mount attached to a small strip of nylon that attaches to your backpack’s shoulder strap with velcro, metal rings, and clips. It’s a minimalist design that works well. Its simplicity made me skeptical that it would stay attached, but those fears quickly dissipated – this thing doesn’t move once it’s attached and it very comfortably carried my 5D with the 24-70 F2.8, while attached to the Flipside Sport. The advantage of using the Strapshot is that your camera is always at the ready, yet is securely attached to your body. It can’t accidentally come out of the mount, but is easily removed to shoot when you’re ready. I found it to be great when using my shorter lenses. It also securely carried my camera with my 70-200mm F2.8, but I felt that lens was a little too big for my comfort while attached with the Strapshot. The fullĀ  Cotton Carrier Vest is the way to go for carrying a bigger lens like that over long distances.

Fiesol 3372 Rapid carbon fiber tripod.

I’ve been wanting to try out a Feisol tripod for a while now. They’re popular with my students, seemed to be well-built, and are less expensive than similar tripods from Gitzo and Really Right Stuff. The 3372 is one of their bigger tripods, so it wasn’t necessarily ideal for carrying long distances, but I love using big tripods for their increased stability and vibration-dampening ability. I opted for the version without a center column (watch my video, “Shoot Sharp” to learn why I don’t like center columns,) and used it with a Feisol Leveling base to make it easy to level the tripod on uneven terrain while shooting video. This tripod is nice and tall. I’m 6 feet tall, and had to stand on my tip toes to see through the viewfinder when the tripod was fully extended. The 3372 also comes with legs in three sections (they also have a four section version), which I find preferable for being able to extend the tripod quickly. It has Gitzo-like leg locks which worked well and overall the 3372 felt as sturdy as any tripod I’ve used. I had never used a leveling base before, so I can’t compare the Feisol version to others, but it was simple enough to use and seemed sturdy as well (by the way, I really liked not having to level the tripod by adjusting the legs – this base saved me a ton of time and aggravation.) I had this tripod in all kinds of mud, banged it into rocks, and it held up well. I did almost lose a rubber tripod leg foot once in the mud and the legs got a little sticky with all of that dirt and water getting into them, but a quick toweling off solved that problem. Only time will tell if this will last as long as my Gitzos, but so far I like it enough to be able to recommend it.

If you’ve had any experience with any of this gear, please post your comments below.


3 Responses to “Some New Gear Comments (and a wicked cool look at the Tough Mudder)”

  1. Jane Ogilvie says:

    The cotton carry strapshot looks like it would be really nice to have. I also like the back pack.

  2. Joe says:

    That was a GREAT video Jerry :o)) J

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