Thursday, 4 June 2020

The camera bags I use in the hills and on long-distance walks

With both bags in the Colorado Rockies

Following my review of the Billingham Hadley Small Pro camera bag here’s my review of the two bags I use in the hills and on long-distance walks – I took both on my Colorado Rockies walk last year. If I only take one of them it’s the Billingham 72. These reviews first appeared in The Great Outdoors last year.

Billingham 72                     

Billingham has been noted for English-made quality camera bags for many years. Most though are too big and bulky for hillwalking or backpacking. However, the smallest Billingham bag, the 72, is excellent for this. It’s designed for rangefinder and mirrorless cameras with one lens or small cameras with a fixed lens. I can easily fit my Sony a6000 camera with my 13cm long  Sony E 18-135mm lens inside.

The design is simple. The 72 is just a padded bag with a lid and an open-topped pocket on the front for accessories. There’s a removable padded internal divider to separate items if necessary. Inside the lid there’s a padded flap to protect the top of your gear. The lid is shaped to cover the main compartment and the pocket and closes with a leather strap and a brass ball. This is very easy and quick to use.  

The bag is available in either 3-layer canvas or Billingham’s FibreNyte synthetic material. The latter is said to be the most hard-wearing and is the one I have. The fabric is completely waterproof as there’s a layer of butyl rubber between the outer and the padding. The latter is constructed from overlapping layers of foam and is thicker and firmer than on other camera bags I’ve used. There’s an even thicker removable pad in the base too, to protect against dropping the bag. In all there’s padding on six sides.

The 72 comes with a 2.5 cm wide thick polyester webbing strap and has proved comfortable to carry and easy to use. It’s stood up to rain and sleet. There’s no seal between the lid and the bag though so it wouldn’t stand up to a dunking and spindrift could sneak inside. The front pocket is quite deep, but items could fall out when the lid is open if you’re not careful. Overall though the protection provided is excellent.

The 72 is expensive and it’s not that light but the quality is superb, and it should last a very long time.

Internal Size                 14 x 11 x 9cm       
Closure                         leather tab and brass ball
Material                        3-layer waterproof FibreNyte synthetic or 3-layer waterproof canvas/ butyl                                     rubber/closed cell foam
Compartments              1 main with removable divider, front pouch
Attachments                 D-rings for strap, belt loop
Features                       top grain leather & brass fittings
Weight                         465 grams
Cost                             £110

ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 10       


The Mirrorless Mover 10 is one of the smallest in the five-bag Mirrorless Mover series. It’s ideal for a small camera with a wide angle or standard zoom lens. I’ve used one for many years with a Sony NEX 7 camera and 10-18mm lens. With a zip pocket on the front, two open-topped side pockets and a small inner pocket there’s plenty of room for accessories like batteries and memory cards. The bag comes with a padded divider if you want to carry a camera and two small lenses. The divider also has small slots for memory cards and a central pocket for a small smartphone.

The double closure is excellent. When closed the zip gives full protection to the contents but much of the time it can be left undone and just the magnet-closed flap used, giving really fast access to the camera. The flap also protects the zip, which, combined with not needing to close it all the time, prolongs its life. I’ve retired a couple of bags with exposed zips due to them wearing out. Note that if you lift the bag by the grab handle on the top with the zip open the flap will come undone as the magnet isn’t very strong.

The padding isn’t very thick, and the bag is fairly soft. It’s protected my camera on several long walks though. The bag itself isn’t waterproof but there’s a PU coated seam-sealed rain cover with an elasticated rim  in the front pocket. This doesn’t give 100% protection – rain can drive in round the edges – but it is adequate for all but continuous heavy rain.

The Mirrorless Mover 10 comes with a 25mm wide detachable nylon webbing strap that’s perfectly comfortable with the weight the bag’s designed to carry.

Internal Size                         12.5 x 13.5 x 9.5cm
Closure                                 zip, flap with magnet
Material                                PU coated 1680D ballistic polyester/closed cell foam/600D brushed
Compartments                      1 main zipped, 1 front zipped, 1 inner Velcro, 2 open-topped side
Attachments                         D rings for strap, belt loop
Features                              removable divider,  removable rain cover
Weight                                 265 grams
Cost                                    £43

Camera Bag Review: Hadley Small Pro

Over the years I amassed a collection of camera bags that I hardly ever used. None were very comfortable or practical, so I kept trying new ones. Many years ago I got rid of them all in part exchange for a lens. I never used them much because they were all quite big and bulky and didn't fit with hillwalking with a rucksack, let alone multi day walks. Pouches for a single camera are much more practical with spare lenses in the rucksack. Those old camera bags tended to be used for storing camera gear at home.

Recently though I have been using a camera bag again. Lockdown has meant shorter walks from home, sometimes without a rucksack at all. Having a selection of lenses to hand has been useful on these strolls and the Billingham Hadley Small Pro has been ideal for carrying them. I've had the bag over a year - it arrived when I was reviewing camera pouches for The Great Outdoors - but hadn't used it much until the last few months. Now I have I really like it. It's certainly better than any of my old bags.

The Hadley Small Pro is made from two layers of canvas with a layer of waterproof butyl rubber sandwiched between them. Inside is a removable padded insert with adjustable sections. On the front there are two roomy pockets for accessories. On the back there's a document pocket with a waterproof zip. Fittings are leather and brass and the bag is very tough. It weighs 980 grams with shoulder strap.

The insert is heavily padded, giving good protection to cameras and lenses. It's attached with a single stud and easily removed if not needed. The lid doesn't fasten shut though so it can't be safely used on its own. Without the insert the Hadley Small Pro makes a functional messenger bag.

My Sony a6000 camera plus Sony E 18-135, 55-210, 10-18 zoom lenses and 30mm macro lens all fit inside. There are dividers for separating lenses stacked on top of each other. Access is quick and easy. The straps on the pockets slip off brass studs on the lid and it's open. The straps have buckles but these only need adjusting to alter the fit of the lid. I've not needed to do this. Much of the time I only fasten one of the studs, which makes for even faster access. I wouldn't leave both of them undone though as items could fall out if the bag swings much. 

I've found the bag comfortable carried with the strap slung across my body and it doesn't interfere with a small daysack. The lid fits well over the contents and the hours in pouring rain have shown that the bag really is waterproof.

For long days out with bigger packs I'll stick to pouches but for short walks I've been impressed with the Hadley Small Pro.

I'll post my review of the camera pouches I now use on long walks soon.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No. 20

Local woods, May 31

The next collection of pieces I've enjoyed reading online. This time over the last two weeks. The pandemic continues to dominate the world and as last time many of the articles are about Covid 19 or reference it.


1976  Day 12 May 20 North to South Sron A'Choire Ghairbh, Meall na Teanga - Spean Bridge and a night in the railway station

David  "Heavy" Whalley continues his fascinating account of a north-south walk through the Scottish Highland in 1976. The whole series is worth reading.

One  Minute Mountain: Pen-y-ghent

Alex Roddie a favourite hill in the Yorkshire Dales.

Mark Richards, Author of Walking the Lake District Fells

Dan Bailey talks to Mark Richards about the Lake District and his guidebooks.

I cycled across Europe to Istanbul - and learned to live in the moment

Helen Moat takes a slow healing journey across Europe.

Midnight rambler: the joy of walking round Britain after dark

Matt Gaw discovers the joy of night time walks.

Hot rock Clean Sweep Hells Lum Crag

Heavy Whalley remembers a rock climb in the Cairngorms.

Field notes: Back to Basics in Torridon

Alex Roddie goes back to map and compass.

'Why did white men get to have all the fun?': the long road to diverse travel writing

Jini Roddy on travel writing as a young Asian woman.


Red squirrels, May 25. 


Ancient woodlands are more vital than ever

Irreplaceable author Julian Hoffman on the need for ancient forests.

Uisge Beatha: the Water of Life

Polly Pullar on the value of Scotland's birch trees, with lovely photographs by Peter Cairns and Rob Clamp.

The tree that changed the world map

The chichona tree is little-known. Vittoria Traverso shows how it changed the world as the source of quinine.

Nature notes: latest wildlife photography, May 2020

Alex Roddie has his best month ever for nature photography.

The out-of-bounds Cairngorms, May 16


Should I, shouldn't I? 

As restrictions ease in England Lakeland Walker looks at whether walkers should head back to the fells.


One Woman Walks ponders kayaking the river Danube and being alone during lockdown.

Volunteers isolate at Highlands 'lost world' to save thousands of young trees

Six volunteers are spending lockdown at Trees for Life's Dundreggan rewilding estate near Loch Ness.


Extreme night owls: 'I can't tell anyone what time I go to bed'

A look at people who's body clocks don't fit with standard routines. I'm one. 

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Great Outdoors May issue

Here's a belated look at the May issue of The Great Outdoors, which I've only just seen. As the June issue is already out this issue has gone from shop shelves but you can still buy it direct from the publishers

My gear pieces in this issue are a review of the gear I used on my Colorado Rockies walk last year and a report on eight solo tents.

Also in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six pairs of women's walking trousers.

I also contributed to a piece on best wild camps along with eight others including Alex Roddie, James Forrest, Phoebe Smith, and Terry Abraham.

The other big features are Ronald Turnbull on crossing Rannoch Moor, and Ellen Tort camping on a portaledge in the Wye Valley.

Also in this issue there are suggestions for keeping up your spirits during lockdown, with the perspectives of some outdoor enthusiasts including myself; a readers group led by Hanna Lindon discussing Andy Cave's Learning to Breathe; Roger Smith on the importance of the outdoors for all of us; Roger again on the first spring for 40 years without a TGO Challenge; and Jim Perrin praising magnificent Bla Bheinn on Skye.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Memorable Mountains 5: Ben Nevis

Fifth in this occasional series of memorable mountains I've been thinking about while the hills are out of bounds is one I've climbed more than a dozen times, summer and winter. Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland.

I first climbed the Ben, as it's known, over forty years ago by way of the standard walkers route, a long but rewarding slog up a stony path. I didn't then appreciate the true grandeur of the mountain, I was just aware of its bulk and height.

A few years later I began to grasp just how spectacular and glorious Ben Nevis is when I took a winter climbing course. Walking up to the great north face and then climbing through the crags and gullies to the summit plateau was a revelation. The complexity of the giant cliffs sucked me in. Here was world of its own, self-contained, aloof from any other reality.

I climbed two routes with an instructor. My notes are rather sparse - I was probably too tired to write much. Of the first, Garadh Gully, graded II, which means quite easy, I merely noted "2 small ice pitches proved interesting". The second was a little different. "Did what we thought was Jubilee Gully", I wrote. That was another Grade II climb. But the terrain we found ourselves on was much harder than that. "Second pitch a vertical ice wall, bulging at the top - desperate! While on it weather changed and suddenly we were enveloped in a warm wet cloud. Above the ice pitch we moved rapidly together as stones and bits of ice came whistling down". We reached the summit plateau over a large cornice. There was a wide, deep crack some thirty feet from the edge. An exciting day!

Many ascents and years later I had my best day and night on Ben Nevis one May during the TGO Challenge. I went up in the evening after the heat of the day had dimmed and camped on deep snow on the summit. The last of many day walkers passed me descending just above the Halfway Lochan. I was alone with the mountain and would be for the next fifteen hours.

A brilliant sunset lit up Loch Eil and the far western hills. The cliffs of the north face glowed in the last light of the day. I wandered round the summit, lost in the marvellousness of it all.

Dawn came with damp mist and I thought the splendour was gone. But as the sun strengthened the clouds rose and began to dissipate.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Grand Canyon twenty-five years ago. In black and white.

In 1995 I spent two weeks walking in the Grand Canyon, one of the most intense and fulfilling trips I've ever done. I've been to the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies and more and all are impressive but none startled and shook me as much as the Grand Canyon.

In a piece I wrote about the walk that appears in my book Out There I wrote "I still feel in awe of it. The Grand Canyon is the most incredible place I have ever been".

Those feelings returned unexpectedly when I was sorting through old photographs, one of my lockdown activities, and discovered some black and white prints of the trip. I had forgotten I'd even taken them. Here's a selection.

Photography note. My camera for these prints was a Nikon FM2 SLR. Lenses were Nikkor 24mm, Nikkor 75-150mm and Sigma 28-70mm. Film was Ilford FP4 Plus. I photographed the prints with my Sony NEX 7 with Sony E 35mm lens and processed the raw files in Lightroom. If I developed the negatives again I could probably get better results. I may get round to that one day!

I also had a Nikon F801, which I used for colour slides.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Book Review: The Unremembered Places by Patrick Baker

Patrick Baker's new book, The Unremembered Places, follows the same pattern as his previous one, The Cairngorms A Secret History, which I reviewed here. This time he covers places throughout Scotland. The approach works well, mixing personal journeys by foot and canoe with stories of the places visited. Many islands are covered along with mainland places from the fascinating Bone Caves of Inchnadamph to the wild and exciting Jock's Road from Braemar to Glen Clova and the grim graveyard of navvies who built the Blackwater dam above Kinlochleven. The stories are well told, entertaining and informative, and the author's adventures, which don't always go smoothly, bring reality to the situations  in which the historical events took place.

For anyone interested in the Scottish outdoors and the history of its wild places this is a great read. I thoroughly recommend it.