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What Camera To Take Backpacking?

Enjoying the view along the Elkhorn Crest Trail in Eastern Oregon.

What Camera To Take Backpacking?

Well… here it is in the end of June. There is still some snow on the highest peaks of the mountain but I am more than ready to hit the dusty…er… should I say perhaps muddy/snow covered trail! I dug all my backpacking gear out of storage and I am now faced with my usual conundrum… what camera to take backpacking?

I have read several backpacking blogs and there is a lot of advice out there on how heavy your backpack should be. Most are recommending between 20% & 30% of your total body weight. Well… that’s nice but… I just can’t seem to manage it. I know that if I am focused strictly on achieving a lowest possible pack weight, I will have to leave my camera behind. How can I go into some of the most beautiful country in the world and not take my camera? There has to be a compromise.

First consideration, what type of camera should you take?

Your typical options are, cell phone, Point & Shoot, Mirrorless or DSLR. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type. Let’s dig in!

Your cell phone can often take pretty decent photos; especially if all you want to do is share them on social media. Cell phones are often the most lightweight camera option and one you are likely to have anyway. They are easy to grab from a side pocket of your pack and they don’t require any special time-consuming setup. A disadvantage is running low on battery power as the days roll on, this could make your phone unusable in the event of an emergency, assuming you have cell service, of course. Another disadvantage is the quality and pixel dimensions of cell phone photos just aren’t that great. If you capture an image that you think is worth printing large and hanging above the sofa, you’re pretty much outta luck here.

Your next option is a Point & Shoot. These types of cameras vary widely in features, quality & weight. They are usually capable of capturing a much higher quality image than a cell phone. Many will also capture video. They are just about as quick & easy to use as a cell phone camera and won’t pull down the battery strength of your phone. My P & S can also be attached to a tripod, which is pretty nice if you want to use manual mode for the scenery or wish to grab a group photo while out in the wilderness someplace.

The next option is a mirrorless camera. They are improving in size and quality all the time. They are smaller in size taking up less pack space than a DSLR but some of them still can be on the heavy side, especially if they are paired with standard camera lenses. This is a great option to take nice high quality images that you would be proud to hang above the sofa.

The last option is a DSLR, (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Unfortunately, these are some of the heaviest options out there. But like the others, they have advantages & disadvantages also. Although the bodies are usually heavier, you will have the ability to select which lenses to take and which to leave behind. My advice is to consider the types of photos you wish to capture. If you are primarily going for landscapes, you can often get away with wider smaller lenses. If you plan on capturing wildlife, you lens choices just got a whole lot heavier. A zoom lens is a great in-between choice providing a wider range of photographic options.

It boils down to you have to weigh the pros & cons for yourself. I know my sore muscles will heal in a few days but the regret of not having any photos of my trip… that would last a lifetime! I will always find a way to take my camera. Read on to find out other ways to help ease the weight…

Second consideration, what camera accessories to take & what to leave behind?

There are backpackers out there that zero in on the weight of every item. I call them the ‘Ounce Pinchers’. They shave off a few ounces here and a few ounces there, knowing it can really add up to a significant weight reduction. To justify the weight of bringing my DSLR camera, I do all I can to shave off excess weight elsewhere. I systematically eliminate frivolous items from my pack, (but not chocolate) and scale down to smaller, more lightweight versions of other items. I have invested in as much ultra-light gear as I can afford including a very nice ultra-light Big Agnes Copper Spur tent. Shedding these extra ounces adds up to many pounds that can help offset the extra weight of my camera gear.

Now, let’s talk about what you can do to reduce the weight of your camera system itself. First of all, think about where you are going and what sort of photographs you expect to be making. Choose a lens that will be best suited to capture your planned images. My last backpacking trip coincided with the Perseids Meteor Shower and I knew that I wanted to photograph the beautiful sunrise & sunsets over the high mountain lakes. This helped me select the 2 lenses to take along. I decided to go with the Rokinon 24mm ƒ1.4 for night skies and my trusty Pentax 20mm ƒ2.8 for landscapes. I was willing to take the chance that I would probably not see Bigfoot from across the canyon and decided to leave my bulky 200mm home.

A splurge for my last trip was investing in the lightest weight tripod I could find, a Manfrotto Off Road that comes with an ultra-light ball head. This beauty weighs in at only 1’ 7” for the legs and ball head and supports just over 5 pounds. Compare that to my regular tripod (also a Manfrotto) at 5’ 4”. Obviously the Off Road tripod does not have the super stability of my regular tripod but it works perfectly with the smaller lenses that I chose for the trip. This was the single biggest weight savings in my pack. I shaved off almost 4 pounds.

Of course, there are the little items, like a polarizer, cable release, extra SD card and battery. Those little extras weigh so little but improve your photography experience so much, so I leave them in.

Third Consideration, Conserve Battery Power

Another important thing to consider is your camera’s battery consumption. Reset options on your camera to reduce the drain on the batteries. I turned off image review and focus peaking. I use Live View sparingly, but that is another thing that can be turned off to preserve battery.

Another thing I did is load my camera manual into my iPhone. Yes, I still refer to it especially when it comes to finding those rarely used menus. For that matter, you can do the same with any pdf shooting guides, tutorials or maps that you might have. While I don’t know how much a digital document weighs, I’m sure it is a whole lot less than the paper version.

By the way, I set my phone to Airplane mode and turned off cellular data for just about every app. My phone lasted a full 4 days without recharging. I only made one phone call during my trip and I listened to music for a half hour every night. In addition, I used my phone for plenty of snappies along the way.

By carefully considering what gear I was likely to use, I was able to trim my photo gear down to a mere 6 ½ pounds. Finally, I used my sleeping bag to pad my camera gear inside my backpack, eliminating the weight of a camera case.

Well… There you have it! Now get out there and enjoy the summer!

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share, like or comment, it helps with engagement. I would love to hear your thoughts & questions. You might also like my article: Backpacking – Gearing Up – The Physical & Mental Preparation Begins

You can find more of my photos and posts at oregonexposures.com
I hang out on Facebook at: Lori Rowland Photography

Links to gear & goodies mentioned in this article:

The Manfrotto ultra light tripod just in case you want one too.
Impress the Bears & Bigfoot with this super neat-o tent: Big Agnes Copper Spur Mountain Glo Tent  It glows in the dark which is pretty cool for night photography, BTW! 🙂

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