Photographing Hang Son Doong Vietnam Expedition with Lowepro Tactic 450 AW
I recently went on an expedition in Vietnam of the worlds largest cave - Hang Son Doong Cave. It was a tedious 6 months of planning before the trip. It was like nothing I have ever seen before. We spent 5 days inside the massive cave that spans 200m high and 150m wide. It is so difficult to get a true idea of how large this cave is until you see it with your own eyes. The photos do not do it justice. There is so many amazing shots of this cave inside and at 3 dolines (openings in the ceiling where it caved in) where a photographer can get overloaded with the incredible beauty. It is one of the only cave systems in the world that has this much vegetation and such unique lush greenery.
Equipment and Gear Behind the Scenes
Equipment meant the difference between a fatigued sore body or a well rested strong body the next day. With this expedition I had could choose any brand I wanted that I thought would do the job. I knew if I made the wrong choice I would regret it in so many ways. Even though we had our porter team which mostly carried camp essentials and food etc. We carried our own photography gear such as camera, lenses, tripod, filters, lens cloths, spare batteries, chargers etc. As any photographer will know the weight of your backpack quickly adds up and every ounce matters when trekking 10km per day on rugged terrain. My backpack had anywhere from 7-11 kg in it at any given time.
Lowepro Tactic 450 AW
One of the key pieces of equipment was my backpack. I have used many brands that are super durable and can handle the terrain, dirt, dust, bat poop, water, and moisture from the air. However none of them I have ever found to be as form fitting and comfortable as the Lowepro Tactic 450 AW Backpack. I felt this company just "got it". I chose the Tactic 450 for a number of reasons such as:
- It is super high performance for pro photographers that can use this backpack for urban or rugged terrain
- I am 6"1" and have an athletic physique. The support for lumbar and shoulder blades allowed me to feel like I was carrying less weight than I actually was. In fact, anytime our team stopped I didn't feel the need to remove the backpack each time which allowed me to be more efficient while trekking to race against sunset.
- The top storage was my favorite access point. It not only is super durable zippers that I used a ton, it also has just enough ergonomic storage for small quick essentials like memory cards, batteries, energy chews, protein bars, lens wipes, dude wipes and electrolyte packs.
- Size is just right not to large not too small. If my pack was too large I would then want to bring too many items and thus making it heavier. The size:
- Internal Dimensions: 31.8 x 19.8 x 44 cm (12.52 x 7.80 x 17.32 in) External Dimensions: 34.8 x 27 x 48.8 cm (13.70 x 10.63 x 19.21 in) and Weight: 2.6 kg (5.72 lbs)
- A lot of backpacks have an uncomfortable waist belt but the support system of this backpack was the right size for me. IT offered extra support and quick grab pockets for essentials I needed fast in the dark.
- Even though I sweat and was wet 3 of the 5 days, I managed to not have that feeling of a "hot back". The padding of the backpack added a gap to help me stay comfortable all day long.
- It fit my 13" MacBook Air with protection
- There were so many other little things like inner clips, pockets, outer straps galore to clip things like towels, shirts to dry, helmet, light, small pouches for my gloves and a side pocked that fit the large 32oz and 40oz Hydro Flask water bottles.
- Probably the number one feature of this bag is how organized it keeps me. Especailly when in the dark caves, canyons or even dusk in the mountains I can easily find items. The interior dividers keep lenses and camera bodies super secure and protected. The exterior pockets safeguard my additional gear with an all weather proof cover that protected my pack many times during flash rain storms
- Tripod straps are super durable keeping my tripod easily accessible but also safely packed tight so there is no tripod wobbling while you trek
I wouldn't hesitate to take this backpack anywhere. It has become my go to backpack for urban or rugged shoots. It has zero sloppy feel like some other brands. It is so form fitting that you barely notice even carrying a lot of weight. For pro or amateur photographers I would heavily recommend investing in this pack. For the price it is super competitive and worth every penny.
Son Doong Expedition Preparation
First off you need to be healthy and I mean very healthy. If you can't climb up 30 flights of stairs and not lose your breath then this expedition isnt for you. I went with a team of 8 photographers along with 30 porters to help us with gear and 2 British cave experts for education and safety of ourselves and environment conservation.
Some Basic Requirements for Hang Son Doong Expedition
Top physical condition, regular running, trekking, caving or rock climbing is a must, strong legs and good balance because you will be trekking over boulders daily
Previous multi-day treks and overnight camping
60 km jungle and mountain trekking an bouldering along with rock climbing
Elevation change up to 400m (between road and valleys)
Surface river crossing: 40 times (knee deep, 10-50m wide river)
7 km of caving including rope/harness climbs, rocky terrain and scrambling, 90m rope descend into the cave (including 90m ascend of the Great Wall of Vietnam)
Underground river-strong current crossing with ropes and harness
Day 1 campsite inside Hang En Cave:
Above you will see a night shot of our tents lit up and one of our team standing by the water to show scale of this grandiose cave. This also was our final rive crossing for the night and bath. The black hole top right was how we entered this cave and behind me as I shot this was how we exit onward to another 10km trek through the jungle, across rivers and up another mountain to the entrance of Hang Son Doong Cave.
After trekking up the mountain we eat a brief snack and get in our harnesses for a day of rock/rope climbing. The entrance to Hang Son Doong cave is down a dip in the mountain and a massive boulder entrance which is pitch black. Only illumined by our headlamps. We descended by rope over 90 m into the massive cave system.
Inside Hang Son Doong Cave Vietnam
To give you an idea of what its like inside a massive dark cave only lit by our lights we brought.
Ill be writing more on equipment,including camera gear, lenses and video gear I used and essentials for trekking in my next blogs.. Stay tuned!