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How to Pack Like Wildlife Photographer Paul Nicklen

An expedition-ready packing list from the National Geographic photographer.

Paul Nicklen

Polar bears, narwhals and the elusive spirit bear: Paul Nicklen has been face to face with them all. The National Geographic photographer and co-founder of SeaLegacy, a non-profit that uses attention-grabbing images to spread the message about ocean health, shoots grinning leopard seals and walrus migrations from just a few metres away. We caught up with him at home in Nanoose Bay, B.C., before his next expedition to the Azores, an archipelago west of Portugal.

What’s your packing style?
It’s pretty loose. When I’m on assignment for National Geographic, I’ll take up to 25 equipment cases shoved in 15 suitcases, with my clothes stuffed in between.

What was it like to grow up on Baffin Island?
When I was four, my parents wanted to move to Nunavut from Saskatchewan for a couple years of adventure – we stayed for nine. We didn’t have television, radio or a phone, so we were always playing in the snow and on the ice. The place quickly works its way into your heart, and I fight to get back to that same sensation of being isolated and immersed in nature.

You have over 4 million instagram followers. Is it an effective way to reach people about the environment?
At first, I thought it was a bit of a joke, but then last year I invited my followers to meet me at my gallery in New York, and 3,000 people showed up. Together with National Geographic and SeaLegacy, we can reach 120 million people a day.

Favourite photo you’ve ever taken?
The one closest to my heart is of a polar bear diving underwater, with its reflection above it. I took it in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, about 10 years ago. It hits the cross-section of art, science and conservation that I always aim for in my work.

What's in the bag of Paul Nicklen

I always wear it because I never want to find myself in a situation where I get to go diving but don’t have it. It’s a computer on my wrist, and it even tells me if I can’t fly afterwards, depending on the dive.

James Raffan, one of Canada’s greatest explorers, made this friendship bracelet for me. It’s a daily reminder of the inspiring people I meet on my expeditions.

I use an app called Deep Sleep to drown out manmade noise with sounds from nature, like rolling thunderstorms and gurgling brooks. It clears my mind so I can think.

Cashews are my favourite nut because they’re rich and oily and give you that boost you need to keep going.

I avoid plastic as much as possible because it’s choking species like albatross, whales and dolphins in our oceans.

I’m always editing or getting social media content ready, so I bring this everywhere. I put a strip of Velcro on it so I can stick it to the back of my computer and walk around without the hard drive disconnecting.

People tend to bring up pictures on their phones, but I like to pull out physical copies of National Geographic and Canadian Geographic, which lead to conversations about conservation and art.

Books like Get Sponsored: A Funding Guide for Explorers, Adventurers, and Would-be Travelers by Jeff Blumenfeld are reminders of how to engage with people and corporations for funding and support.