Update: The Panel Pak is an excellent and very similar solution. They come in a variety of sizes and are thinner and lighter than my home-made deal.
Lately, I've been trying to get a leaner look to my plein air gear. This isn't out of vanity so much as it is out of a desire to hike into the field a little further. With that in mind, I've replaced my old Victorian cast-iron tripod with a much lighter Sienna tripod that I can strap to my backpack. I've also replaced my “all-in-one” pochade box in favor of a more distributed approach to the paint box. Although the Sienna tripod can certainly hold the weight of the packed-to-the-gills “all-on-one,” the box is somewhat cumbersome to lift up onto the tripod. So, rather than lug paint tubes, wet canvases and other knick-knacks in the pochade box, I've gone with the lighter Open Box M, which serves only as palette and panel holder. Paint tubes I have moved to a separate plastic container. For wet canvases, I have crafted a 9x12 two-panel holder that fits into the backpack with the Open Box M, paint tube box and my brush tube. All told, my panel-holder, paint tube box and Open Box M are still lighter than the “all-in-one” box. Now, I'm ready to hit the trail!
I wanted to share with you my two-panel holder. It was a simple idea, and I have to credit my friend M.L. Coleman who showed me one he had made. Basically, I bought two very cheap 9x12 frames on eBay – the moulding is flat on front – and used two wood screws to join them face-to-face. Next, I stopped by Home Depot to get eight turnbuttons. (Actually, my Home Depot had only “window screen clips,” but they work as well.) I put four turnbuttons on each side. Now, because the frames I bought have such a deep rabbet, I had to add spacers so the panels wouldn't rattle so much. There was no danger of the panels falling out, but I just didn't want to hike with my backpack rattling. Fear of attracting rattlesnakes, I guess. So, I'm trying two different types of spacers – stacks of felt buttons on one side, and a set of small wood blocks on the other. I'll let you know which works best.
Now, for those of you going to the 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention & Expo in a couple of weeks, here's a tip. If they give you the same logo-stamped shoulder bag I got last year, you can use it to store this 9x12 two-panel holder – and it will also hold the Open Box M 10x12 panel storage unit! Perfect size.