- Buyer's Guide
The Mountainsmith x Chris Burkard :: Collab Talk
Adventure photographer Chris Burkard has earned millions of fans through his inspiring images of remote destinations around the world. But seeking out those images is hard on camera gear. Freezing temperatures, harsh landscapes, and the unforgiving elements can be brutal towards gear. So he teamed up with Mountainsmith to create the Mountainsmith x Chris Burkard T.A.N. Camera Series. We asked Chris to share his insights on life as an adventure photographer, travel and camera carry, and creating the T.A.N. (Tough As Nails) series…
We’re so curious about the world of an adventure photographer, would you mind dishing us a little insight about your day to day?
It feels like a rollercoaster most weeks. Sometimes I get to spend days with my family and I’m only in the office for a few hours. Other days I’m working around the clock chasing the northern lights in far northern Iceland. I’ve never really known routine.
How did you get involved with Mountainsmith to develop the T.A.N. Series?
I have been using the Mountainsmith shoulder bag system for a couple years now. With that, I used a variety of different packs made by other brands but felt that none lived up to my expectations or what I wanted out of them. I was looking for something that could integrate with the shoulder bag system. Which ultimately led to us working together and adding the component of camera accessibility with the T.A.N. Series.
“Sometimes I get to spend days with my family and I’m only in the office for a few hours. Other days I’m working around the clock chasing the northern lights in far northern Iceland. I’ve never really known routine.”
Tell us about it? What pro insights did you bring to the development stage?
When you’re on the move as often as I am, in all sorts of conditions, you need to have your camera accessible but not directly exposed to the elements. The worst thing and an overall nightmare for any photographer is when you miss a golden opportunity because your camera is buried in your pack. Creating a system where your camera does not have to be in the pack the entire time and within reach is something I am stoked about that we have developed. The shoulder bag system eliminates the need for a traditional camera backpack and allows you to use the Tanuck 40 for carrying extra weather shells, climbing gear, or whatever else needs to be with you – all while allowing you to store your camera inside as well. Being able to design a multi-use pack that is centered around shooting in gnarly weather with an emphasis on accessibility is extremely valuable to me.
What was the development process like? A lot of back ’n’ forth or was it a 2-week ‘lock down’ type of vibe?
It started way before this project came to fruition, and has been a non-stop battle trying to figure out and find a system that can integrate so many types of trips and so many types of gear.
“When you’re on the move as often as I am, in all sorts of conditions, you need to have your camera accessible but not directly exposed to the elements.”
Which feature are you most proud of?
This may seem like a really miniscule thing but I absolutely love that this bag stands on its own. I cannot tell you how many times I have set a bag upright only to turn around and have gear spill out onto the ground.
“This may seem like a really miniscule thing but I absolutely love that this bag stands on its own.”
Would you say that traditional photo bag makers don’t make bags that are up to scratch for your style of adventure photography? Where do they fail?
I think durability is one of the things I cherish most in a photo bag. The places I have been to and am planning on going demand the most from my equipment and if a bag can’t handle these types of travel I embark on then I need to find something else. It’s a delicate balance between being lightweight and being durable; I’ve torn through a lot of packs from them scraping on rocks, especially if the pack is full with gear which puts a lot of stress on the material.
What are some of the details that you find essential for your style of bags?
Features and materials that make the bag system a more dynamic and functional tool that can handle harsh temperatures and physical conditions. Adding detailed components to the bag like a framed weather sealed base, mesh and weather sealed pockets, and a camera bib that attaches to the shoulder harness for easy camera access are all little additions that make this bag unlike anything else out there.
“I think durability is one of the things I cherish most in a photo bag.”
You are obviously someone who is always traveling, thus always carrying. What are some challenges you face with all this travel?
I think on a really practical level it can be difficult just to get around. I have been dropped off at the curb of an airport with tons of luggage all by myself and the scene is laughable. I’ve made it my priority to work towards a more pared-down system and truly embracing the “less is more” approach, which can be really hard to do.
What would make traveling with all your gear easier?
I am always looking to travel with less equipment and more compact equipment. Developing carrying systems that serve multiple purposes or allow me to store more gear in a smaller package has become essential to dialing in my system of traveling.
“I am always looking to travel with less equipment and more compact equipment.”
Do you have any tips or habits from the road you can share?
I never travel anywhere without a Thera Cane. It’s a self-massaging tool that you can disassemble and slip in any of your luggage. When you sit still for such long periods of time your back is bound to get messed up and it is my guilty pleasure to be able to massage the knots out of my back on the plane before I even land.
“Developing carrying systems that serve multiple purposes or allow me to store more gear in a smaller package has become essential to dialing in my system of traveling.”
What does the environment demand from your gear? What are the important things for protecting your camera gear?
Being in arctic conditions for sometimes a few weeks at a time, my gear and myself included gets pretty worn. The gear on my back and the clothes on my body are all going to be tested and true; like me, ready for the adventure ahead and whatever comes my way. One of the big things for me is that I need to know my gear is secure. I do not want to worry about my lenses on the back of a truck during a bumpy car ride. I need to know everything will still be dialed when I reach into the bag for something when I need it. And that is a great part of the T.A.N. collection, the gear kit cubes provide a padded and easily accessible home for my camera gear.
Any nightmare travel stories?
I once got thrown in jail while on a trip to Russia. It was absolutely the most scared I have ever been in my life. And even though I have told this story over and over and even joke about it now a lot… It still makes me pause and reflect on what that feeling was like. To instantly have all your rights stripped from you and be interrogated for 6 hours. Forced to spend 24 hours in a cell and then deported to Korea. At 23 years old I realized I had bitten off more than I could chew and maybe was not as invincible as I thought I was. Even with something as simple as a clerical error from the Russia Visa agency, there was no way they were letting me in or out.
Until then I don’t think I had an understanding of the freedoms I enjoyed at home. Nor did I really respect what it means to travel in other countries. I remember begging the U.S. Embassy to get me out and although they got me fed, there wasn’t much more they could do.
I learned a ton from that experience, the least of which was to never take travel or the place you call home for granted.
“Until then I don’t think I had an understanding of the freedoms I enjoyed at home. Nor did I really respect what it means to travel in other countries.”
What’s your go-to daily bag that you run with around town at home? Can we see a flatlay?
When I’m running around town I have a few reusable bags that I keep in my car, nothing special.
What’s your go-to travel bag not for camera gear?
I love bags that are versatile, anything that can serve multiple purposes and is easy to use is ideal. I recently got this bag from Eagle Creek that I love. It’s basically a backpack on wheels that acts as a carry-on for any additional gear. Makes it really nice for traveling through airports and similar situations.
What single photography moment has given you the biggest smile?
I took a trip to the Aleutian Islands, a chain of islands off the coast of Alaska, to shoot surfing. We didn’t really know what to expect when we got there except that some of the world’s biggest storms form there and that we had seen waves on Google Earth. After exploring the Islands for a few days we stumbled almost accidentally on a pristine right peeling wave with a snow-covered volcano for a backdrop. When I started shooting images I knew I was getting something special but I still can’t believe I captured the moments I did. Nature was doing all the work, I was just lucky enough to have put myself in the right place for it to happen.
“After exploring the Islands for a few days we stumbled almost accidentally on a pristine right peeling wave with a snow-covered volcano for a backdrop. When I started shooting images I knew I was getting something special but I still can’t believe I captured the moments I did.”
What’s next for you?
I have been really interested in doing more workshops in the upcoming years. I love the teaching side of photography that I am able to do to share the stoke. But of course I will continue to travel to remote places and attempt to share the stories with the rest of the world as best as I can. Hopefully inspiring others to get out and enjoy the wild places on this earth.