My Big Small Bag

My trusty Billingham and what's inside it.
Click for larger image

(Updated with more details.)

There’s a subtle difference between a bag and a great, fine bag.

A bag is just a mean to carry your things, the latter is an extension of your soul, one that you trust and would carry all the time, it would walk the great life as you walk the storm across the desert sun, keeps you company from trains to plains, busses to taxis and it becomes better as you age with it.

I never had a bag that I truly love until I purchased this one.

Prompted by the excellent blogs Packlite and My Bag is Bad Ass, I thought I’d do some justice and share this little beauty.

The Big List

  1. Billingham f/Stop 1.4
  2. Canons EOS 7D with the EF 50mm ƒ/1.4 USM + Standard hood & lens cap.
  3. Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L USB
  4. MUJI velcro pouch housing an Apple iPhone 3GS (not pictured) & Apple In-ear headphone
  5. Starbucks 355ml Lucy Tumbler
  6. Non-branded aluminum shade with custom prescribed lens & carrying box
  7. 2x Sandisk 4gb, 8gb CF cards
  8. Mentholatum Deep Moist Lip Balm
  9. Cocoon Ultralight U-Shaped Air-Core inflatable pillow
  10. Nokia E51 smartphone (backup, for emergency use or local number only)
  11. USB — Mini USB cable
  12. Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit (encased with the Sandisk CF card case)
  13. Homemade all-natural bug & mosquito repellant on transparent PC bottle
  14. Lenspen LP-1
  15. Snowman permanent all-surface marker (black)
  16. Moleskine Mini Ruled Notebook
  17. Key + Delsey Padlock
  18. Modified MUJI cardcase with rubberband
  19. MUJI Nylon Passport Case
  20. Apple iPad 64gb with a modified Apple iPad case

More on the Bag

The bag weighs about 5kg with the entire twenty items mentioned above packed inside (travel mode); it weighs a little less in urban mode — that is when I’m walking around in the city minus the non-essential, traveling related stuffs.

The main compartment can be customized with the stock padded velcro separators; I partitioned it in three parts in such a way that I recycle the setup as a full-loaded camera gear bag, urban day-pack, or a traveling side-pack. I can put my main camera setup when I remove the non-camera essentials; the EF 80-200 ƒ/2.8L (the original black) goes where the Lucy Stumbler goes, a SpeedLite 550EX to where my shade box goes, chargers, wireless triggers, cables on top of the middle compartment (where the 50mm goes), CF cards, more cables & whatnots are all in the front pocket.

There’s a zippered hidden compartment at the back of the bag, I usually put a second t-shirt, or papers — e.g. client brief, shoot list, map/papers there. A third t-shirt can also fit on top of the pack, directly under the flap cover.

I’m also not sure if the bag was designed with the iPad in mind, but the iPad fits nicely to the slim compartment between the back and the main compartment of the bag. (I once carry two iPads there with no problem whatsoever.)

The Fine Print

  • The products listed above may not be the best, but they were carefully chosen to make my life a little easier, and they tend to work.
  • When something isn’t available (not produced or simply don’t exist), I try to look help to taylor-made them, when parts of the products are available I see if I can mend them together to make it my own. The MUJI Card Case (#18) and the Apple iPad Case (#20) are good examples; they are hacked together from two different products to make a final shape that I like; the original card case from MUJI doesn’t carry the rubber band, and the original Apple iPad Case has frames and tend to make an annoying flap-sound, so I removed the frame and stick them to another third-party case bottom to make it thinner & elegantly frameless.
  • The Cocoon pillow is the best one I’ve tried so far. MUJI makes a very good natural foam multi-purpose pillow, but is not inflatable, and other inflatable travel pillow isn’t padded, the Cocoon, on the other hand, sort of takes the best of both and makes an inflatable soft synthetic-fill pillow with an adjustable, easy-to-blow twist valve and is no more bigger than a small coffee mug when packed to its case.
  • The In-ear Apple earphone is one of the best hi-fi quality portable headphone in its class. It also doubles as an excellent earplug. Gentle handling is needed to make sure the rubber pads don’t go off when unplugging from your ears.
  • I rarely have problems in airport security checkpoint for carrying hot coffee or tea with the Starbucks Lucy Tumbler, probably due to its lens-like shape and the fact that it is being carried inside a camera bag next to a real lens. It can keep your hot beverages hot for hours, and despite its from Starbucks, it is actually really good.
  • I like the wide & slim design of the Mentholatum Lip Balm, it doesn’t bulge when you put it in your jeans or the front pocket of this bag while the ‘Deep Moist’ claim really lives up to its promise. Look for the non-menthol version.
  • MUJI is my go-to brand for personal amenities & organizing-related stuffs, priced reasonably with good materials and workmanship, but I personally admire them for their minimalist, no-brand product policy. Their name in original japanese literally means: No Brand Quality Products.
  • The front pocket can use a little improvement, I put a hard plastic inside as a separator/organizer, the pen slides nicely and stands upright for easy access instead of sleeping at the bottom that tends to be difficult to be taken out without looking.

As functional as this Billingham is, the design goes deeper than skin and great looks alone; at 0.79kg, the synthetic canvas-like material — FibreNyte — does an excellent job repelling water and not introducing holes in my jeans or khaki pants.

I’ve gone cycling, trekking, Airport hopping, even kayaking with this bag strapped on my shoulder, the level of protection, usability and accessibility of this bag is unprecedented; a backpack is still necessary for a multi-day trekking or traveling (I’m expecting my Goruck GR1 soon), though a good backpack is more comfortable for an all-day walk or trekking, it will never be as accessible as any excellent sidepack like this Billingham.

Alas, I’m happy with this purchase, and will be so for a long, long time. If you are looking for a day pack and price is not a big concern (believe me, it won’t!), look no further, as you won’t see that many minimalist bag this good looking that actually works very, very well.