The incredible shrinking computer bag–Part Two

Welcome back to a closer look at the incredible shrinking computer bag, in this case, the estimable Think Tank Airport Airstream.  Below I’m showing you most of the stuff I’ve got inside of it (minus my spare glasses, paperback book, copies of my passport/visas and other small necessities that fit in the clear plastic pouches on the inside of the top flap).

_dsc0351You can see the Acer Aspire, a CVS Pharmacy polyvinyl cosmetics bag filled with two extra harddrives, connector cords, card reader, cell phone charger, GPS, USB modem and all the peripheral chachkas we need to digitally survive. Plus there’s room for a spare body and two spare lenses.

What may stick out a bit is that photo vest. Now that’s not just any photo vest, it’s the late lamented Bob Krist travel photo vest that was carried in LL Bean Traveler catalog for a few years. Yes, my 15 minutes of retail fame included this vest and a very cool, and to this day, unique camera bag design (subject of another entry on another day).

Now the vest design is pretty close to the Domke design…lots of huge pockets.  But it is street wearable (alas, lots of the vests out there today are monstrosities that you can only wear at sporting events because on the street, they look like C4-packed suicide vests. This one, at least, looks like normal clothing). And this is key: it’s made of ultra lightweight, breathable, fast-drying and packable Supplex nylon. That’s why you can jam it into no space at all.  And should you get accosted at the gate about a second carryon, everything in this bag can fit into that vest, and you can wear your second carryon onto the plane….

Now this doesn’t happen too often, and certainly not in the US, but the further afield you go, the stricter they can be about carryon rules.  Of course the smaller netbook is a godsend for saving weight (if you can put up with the smaller keyboard, lousy screen, and dare I say it, Windows). I don’t even have Photoshop Elements installed on this thing. I just want to caption, rename and backup the images on the road (using Photo Mechanic, which adapts to the 800 x 600 display pretty well.)

Another key to this mini system is the backup harddrives….they’re not the usual 2.5″ USB or Firewire jobs. No, the Acer will deal with the USB drives just fine, but it, like the Epson P6000/P7000, doesn’t have enough juice to bus drive them and so you’ve got to carry the auxiliary AC adapters.  What the Acer will bus drive are the even smaller 1.8″ portable drives, like the one on the right below.


It’s half the size of the usual drive, and the Acer provides enough juice to bus drive it. The largest capacity I’ve been able to find is the 120 GB size from Apricorn .  I’ve taken these on a couple of trips and they are holding up, although they feel plasticky and cheap (that’s okay, so does the Acer!).  But now we are talking a really lightweight setup.

Here’s a little closer look at the lightweight vest. Hopefully, another manufacturer will again realize that while cotton duck–heavy, moisture retaining, and slow drying–might have been the field fabric of choice back in the Boer War at the end of the 19th century, it is really not what you want to make your photo vests out of in the early 21st century (c’mon Domke, get with the program!).   Maybe someone could reissue something similar to this vest, which even in the XXL size weighs mere ounces!


This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. My ASUS hasn’t had a problem bus driving my Western Digital Passports. Good thing do, because those things don’t have AC adapters that I know of.

    1. Nick: Thanks for that info…I’ll have to check it out as those little drives may not be the most reliable things on earth, according to some other readers.

  2. I’m glad you mentioned the photo vest, Bob. I think I got mine through L.L. Bean about a week before they discontinued it. It’s all you say: tons of little and big inside and outside pockets; brilliantly thought out; tough as hell and is about as heavy as tissue paper. Wore it on my flights to Sydney last fall where I was delivering a keynote and taking some R&R time with my cameras. I was able to pack everything I needed to survive the gazillion hours in the air and look reasonably cool. It enabled me to spend a day traipsing around Taronga Zoo with all the gear I needed around my neck and in the vest.

    Given the demand that’s being created for it on the blog and its scarcity, I bet it’s worth a ton now, too.

    Love the blog.

    Spoke in Malvern Tuesday. Suspected I wasn’t too far away from you if you were in town.


  3. Hi Bob –

    I’ve got one of those famous photo vests too. I don’t use it as much these days, since it seems I need a backpack to carry my digital stuff, but it’s a great vest. A real classic!

    Love your blog, glad I discovered it!

  4. Thanks is always useful to know your equipment.

  5. “Now the vest design is pretty close to the Domke design”


    I have been using your LL Bean signature vest for many years because it is lighter and far more compact than the Domke vest (which I also own, with a Banana Republic vest). The vest you created with LL Bean has a quick dry material and a durable material that can be backed into such a minimalist space that it is almost impossible to not find space to pack it!

    Don’t down play the important roll your vest can play in a travellers looking to maximize their packing potential while minimizing the space and weight they take up while selecting their gear.

    Happy Flying!

    -Steven Frischling

  6. Bob –

    I too have one of your fabulous vests which I bought from Bean’s along with that incredible bag design of yours. They were designs w-a-y ahead of their time! Unfortunately, I used the “add 30 lbs” filter so I haven’t been able to fit into my Krist vest for quite some time. I do have a Domke vest but I wish it were made from that wonderful fabric yours was. I sold my original Krist bag (stupid me!)after a flurry of closet cleaning several years ago but very recently realized the error of my ways and bought another one on the used market. If you ever decide to market your vest and bag designs again, you could sell a bunch of them!

  7. hi Bob, we spoke a million years ago [I’m in S.France] when both making the digital transition………..anyway I’d really like to get hold of one of these vests,LL bean stopped selling them just as i discovered them. I hate using a bag [of any kind , especially backpacks] cuurently using Billingham vests , which are not bulky like Domke but unfortuntately made from Ventile [breathable waterproof but HOT]
    Claerly your vest is the lightweight answer, why not do a HONL [lighting gear] and get it back into production?
    Failing that,anyone out there got an XL for sale -I’ll take it!
    BTW- Sense of Place and Location Lighting are two of my all time favourite technique books-and the Tuscany book one of my all time fave books period.
    Very Best
    West Cork-Ireland

    1. Hi Clive: Alas there are no spare vests around. But if anything comes up in the way of a new supplier, I’ll post it on the blog. Good to hear from you and glad things are going well. cheers,Bob

  8. Who’d have ever thought the L.L. Bean Krist items would become collectable! I bought the camera bag in 2001 and used it so much that I wore out the main strap D-rings within 4 years (replaced them with “magic link” chain links). I also picked up the vest when L.L. Bean was closing them out in 2005.

    In case anyone reading this knows what the L.L. Bean Krist bag was like, a friend of mine recently purchased a LowePro Classified bag that is of a similar design concept.

    1. Eric: Goes to show that you good design becomes a classic…and get’s ripped off!

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