What Photo Gear to Take Backpacking

Picking the right photo equipment for a backpacking trip can make the difference between success and failure. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Picking the right photo equipment for a backpacking trip can make the difference between success and failure. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

You’re planning a big multi-day backpacking trip to the Sangre de Christo range of the Rocky Mountains  in northern New Mexico, and your main mission is to shoot great photographs. You and your hiking partner will be self-contained for 6 days so there’s lots of food, clothing and other gear that must be carried. The big question is: how much camera gear can you afford to carry? At what weight?

What follows are my recommendations for this scenario. I’ve backpacked and photographed all over the United States, from the Appalachians to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and out to the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. Picking the right camera kit to carry is critical to this type of trip, since you can’t afford to carry heavy, bulky camera gear that won’t get used.

Here’s what I would bring, and why:

 

This homemade camera shoulder harness keeps your camera always close by when you see a great shot. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Camera Shoulder Harness. This is something you can make yourself out of a couple of small keychain rings, clips and some rope. It allows you to keep a camera and lens available right at your shoulder while hiking. This takes care of the biggest issue facing the backpacking photographer: do I stop, get out the camera, and shoot that photo? Now you have no excuse! Although it’s no longer detailed in the final fourth edition of the book,  credit for this idea goes to Colin Fletcher, author of the definitive backpacking guide, The Complete Walker .

One SLR digital camera body. No winder, no motor drive. You want a high quality camera that shoots big files but unless you’re specifically after wildlife, you don’t want to carry the bulk or weight of a big motor-driven camera body.

Three lenses:

Wide  angle. The choice is yours, but something fairly wide. You’ll need this for those great landscapes that you’re going to shoot. It’s also the lens for descriptive photos around camp. A fixed lens will usually be lighter and smaller than a comparable zoom but a zoom that doesn’t weigh much is ok here too.

 

Here's the whole kit: l. to r.: 70-200 zoom, camera body with wide angle, macro, small tripod. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Macro lens. I see lots of beautiful closeups on trips like these, so I always bring a good macro lens to record them.

Telephoto lens. I’d take something around a 200 to 300mm lens. This is one place you might go ahead and take that 70-200 zoom since there won’t be much difference in size and weight.

Other incidentals: I’d have plenty of cards and two fully-charged, fairly new lilthium-ion batteries for the camera. I’d leave the strobe at home. My final item would be a small table-top tripod. You can get a small one with a ball head and you’ll be surprised at how often it comes in handy. Want to shoot long time exposures right after it starts to get dark? You need one of these.

In the backpack, you want to protect this gear but have it accessible. I would keep the extra lenses in a big fanny pack near the top of the main compartment. For the camera itself, I’d carry it on the shoulder harness attached to my pack,  near my left shoulder and available without taking off the pack:

Finally, extra-large, 2-gallon ziplock bags for all the gear. If it rains for two days straight, everything will be really damp, something you want to avoid with your  gear.

Related posts

New York Times obituary for Colin Fletcher

Colin Fletcher wiki

selfport1aHi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Equipment, Video

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

7 Comments on "What Photo Gear to Take Backpacking"

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  1. I am always overpacking for my hikes. This is a great way to narrow it down to the bare necessities without leaving anything out. How do you keep your camera from getting debrie and scratching on surfaces when hiking?

  2. Good question, Frank. I try to always be mindful of the camera if I have it attached to the outside of my pack. Since my pack is basically functioning as my camera bag, I have to be careful.

  3. Chuck D says:

    Why do I never see anyone recommend a top loader bag with a chest harness for hiking. I do a lot of hiking using a Lowepro bag that fits my D7000 and two lenses (medium telephoto and wide angle), plus filters, batteries etc. I wear it on my chest, keeping my hands free, and providing good protection for the gear. The camera is right there in front of me and can be pulled out in an instant. I even clip my gorilla pod on the side.

  4. Hey, if it works for you, that’s great. This post assumes that you’re fully loaded down for a week or so of backpacking. Would you use that setup with a full backpack on your back? If so, that’s great. I’ve never tried your rig, that’s all.

  5. Chuck D says:

    i use it mostly on day hikes (8-10 hours) although I have used it with a backpack. It does work for me, as I worry about an exposed camera/lens hitting rocks etc, or slipping and banging up the equipment.

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