Backpacking With a Camera:
I have been doing a lot of backpacking this summer for work and for my own photography experience. For these trips I carried my camera for well over 70 miles of backpacking trails. These miles were down huge cliff faces, deep rivers and canyons and plenty of bush whacking. I gained a greater appreciation for the plight of DSLR photographers and why they complain about weight of gear so much.
With all that time on the trails I have gained a few well learned lessons that I would like to share with you today
Do You Need a Camera Backpack?
The quick and dirty answer to this question is no. You do not need a camera backpacking backpack in order to go backpacking with your camera. I don’t use one, and I have taken my camera close to 70 miles worth of trails on multiple days. I will show you a couple cheap tricks to protect your gear.
As for the question: is there a backpacking backpack designed to hold cameras and your camping/hiking gear? The answer is that they are few and far between. F-stop supposedly has one, but I have never used it nor have I seen a review on this site for it. If someone from that company wants to reach out to me collaborate, I will gladly do so. I have close to 30 miles of Zion back country I would like to backpack in the coming months to years. So you will have to make due with a regular backpacking backpack.
This will be the biggest challenge for you gear heads. Sometimes the best areas are far outside the reach of vehicles. In order to get there you will need to camp and backpack in many, many miles. If you think you will be ok with bringing 30 pounds of camera gear plus 50 pounds of hiking/camping gear, you have another thing coming.
I find the best solution is bring either one or two lenses. Since I am discussing landscape photography, bring you widest angle lens and then bring one telephoto, if you would like. I run with a two lens set up when I am day hiking, but for backpacking I run with just one. I have taken my telephoto with me on multi day trips, but I find I almost never pull it out so I have decided to just leave it home when I do backpacking trips.
Where to Pack Your Camera:
First and foremost you are camping. The things that will keep you alive need to go into your backpacking bag first and your camera should go in second. This does not mean you should not bring it, but make sure every other essential to a good trip are met. If you find that you ditched you sleeping pad for the camera, you may find yourself having many miserable nights which might cut the trip short.
So now that you have packed you bag, how should you pack your camera into said bag? My advice is start with a dry bag. Dry bags do a couple things, they keep water out (name suggesting) but they also keep dirt out and provide a space to pack cushion around your camera and still keep it all together. If you have no idea where to go to get a dry bag, simply head over to your closest outdoor sports retailer and they should have one.
Before I put my camera in my dry bag, I grab out some of the extra walling that is inside of my regular day photo backpack and wrap it around my camera. This provides a layer of cushion while utilizing what I have. I am all about re-purposing gear for multiple different uses.
After I stuff my dry bag with my camera I place it on top of all my other gear inside my main pouch. This provides lots of extra padding and security for your camera. It also is hidden but is easy to access.
How to Arrange Your Tripod:
This sounds like it is a simple topic, but there are a few things you should take into consideration. Tripods can be placed in four basic orientations on your back pack. They can go on the sides, the back center, across the top or attached onto the bottom of the bag. I will talk about the pros and cons of each.
Sides: Side placement usually is one of the easiest. It is places vertically and is attached using one of the myriad of side straps that exist on the outside of backpacking backpacks. Usually it is good for quick accessibility. One disadvantage to this is that it often creates lop sided weight. It also has a tendency to compete for water access. I hate how camera companies build for this design when overall it creates a mis-distribution of weight. Just don't.
Bottom: Bottom access is simple as most backpacks come with straps down there to attach gear to the pack. It is nice, but every time you put your backpack down you put your tripod down in the dirt. Also as you do that, tripods get a bit loose and begin to wander from one side of the pack to the other and can risk falling out. I have had that happen.
Top: Top arrangement is a good option as weight is distributed nicely and when you take the tripod off you are already half way to getting your camera out. I find this orientation difficult as I often push through brush head first and have had so many times where the tripod grabs a branch and held onto it and threw me off balance. This can be annoying but when I was running from a thunderstorm as waterfalls were pouring off the cliffs around me in a deep canyon in Escalante back country it went from annoying to potentially dangerous.
Back Center (vertical): I like this one the most as it is quick access and keeps it safe. It in general prevents your tripod from getting dirty and it won’t snag on anything. It does provide an unfortunate issue for physics and your body. The further weight is from your body the heavier things appear to you. Hold a 5 pound weight next to your chest vs fully extended away from you. You can hold a weight next to your chest for an hour but only a minute away from your body.
Same principle here.
I like top or back center the most. If I have to I will do bottom, but never side.
I don’t have a lot of these, but pack your essential photo gear in a top pocket that is easy to access. If you bury it deep within your bag, you will regret it. Always keep it at arm’s length as you never know when you might need an extra battery or something to tighten the plate on the bottom of your camera. One simple solution that might be able to replace do-dads that you might have floating around is simply getting a nice Leatherman multi-tool knife. This multi-tool provides a bunch of useful things for both camping and hiking and occasionally photography. I use mine regularly when I am out and about.
Get out into the wilderness this fall and do some backpacking with your gear or begin planning next summer's trip.
If you know of any good backpacks that are designed to be used for backpacking and photography let me know.