Backpacking with Camera Gear

As you have probably figured from my other posts, I like to combine camping with photography of wild places as it adds another dimension to the trip, gives you the time to become immersed in, and get to know the landscape you are trying to make images of.  This does of course mean there is quite a lot of kit to carry, and over a period of time, you gradually acquire a selection of equipment and a routine that works for you.

In fact, your equipment choices and the way you use it are constantly evolving, gear is getting lighter and more compact, both the equipment for backpacking and the camera gear.  I’ve got my set-up pretty much sorted in a way that I’m happy with, so I thought I’d run through some of it here.

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Gear for an overnight photography trip in the mountains.

The above selection of equipment is everything I would take to hike, camp and take photos.  The bulky items on the top row are (from left to right) a Hilleberg Akto 1 person tent, a Rab Neutrino 400 down sleeping bag, a Montane light weight down jacket and finally, a Thermarest NeoAir sleeping pad.

Other items which make up the rest of the gear are waterproof shell jacket and trousers, first aid and cooking equipment and camera gear.

I take a Canon EOS M3 and the 18-55 lens, and a Samyang 12mm ultra wide as these are lightweight and compact, but deliver great image quality.  I also take a Benro Travel Angel compact tripod and a selection of Hitech filters, as well as spare batteries and memory cards and a lens cloth.

All of this equipment (plus food which isn’t pictured) fits into a Montane Grand Tour 55 backpack, and the total weight comes in around the 10kg mark.

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Tenba Lens Wraps are a great way to protect equipment.

As far as the photographic gear goes, I treat it much the same as the other camping equipment.  By that, I mean I don’t have a dedicated camera storage solution as I find these provide far more protection than is actually required, they are heavy and bulky and don’t fit into a rucksack that easily resulting in a lot of wasted space.  Instead, I have found a product made by Tenba which are called Lens Wraps.  They are basically lightly padded squares with velcro at each corner, which you can roll lenses and the like up in.  These can then be stowed in the rucksack in an available space, and they provide all the protection that is needed.  I’ll take a roll top dry bag to store these in should it rain.

Staying out overnight in mountains obviously requires a shelter of some kind, and as mentioned earlier, I currently use a Hilleberg Akto 1 person tent.

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Hilleberg Akto pitched above Rhosydd mine workings.

The Akto has been around for a while now, and 5 years ago would be considered ‘ultralight’ at 1.5kg, although these days this is considered quite heavy.  It is however a very sturdy design and has some nice features so the weight isn’t an issue.  Weight savings made by other equipment choices make up for that really.  A lightweight sleeping mat and sleeping bag finish things off in the shelter department, and my other clothing is really what I’d normally take on a day hike.

I take a Rab Neutrino 400 down sleeping bag as my main three season use sleeping bag, but also have the Neutrino 600 for colder weather.  These are fantastic sleeping bags and both are light weight and pack down quite small too.  Being cold on a hillside over night isn’t an option!

My photography excursions are planned around favourable and relatively fair weather, though I still don’t like to be without waterproof clothing, so I’ve chosen as light weight as is practical and use a Rab Spark shell and some slightly more robust over trousers by Sprayway (they need to be able to survive kneeling and sitting on rocks).  Even a favourable weather forecast can change at the last minute to something unexpected in hilly terrain, so it pays to be prepared for anything.

I’ll normally have planned a location in advance, and have researched online for potential locations, and used ‘The Photographer’s Ephemeris’ to check sunset and sunrise times and where the sun actually sets or rises in relation to the topography.  This is especially useful as you can know in advance if the side of a mountain for example will be illuminated by sunlight.

All that’s left to do then is to stuff all the gear into the backpack, and get out there.  I’d aim to arrive at or around the location in good time to allow a scout around for places to pitch the tent, then set about photographic the scenery as the Sun is setting.  There’s normally enough daylight after the sunset and the photography is over, to get the tent set up and get dinner cooking, and I don’t like setting up much before this.  The common practice for wilderness camping in the UK is to arrive late and leave early.  This keeps your presence discrete, and it’s a good rule to adhere too.

There’s often photographic opportunity well into the evening long after the Sun has departed, such as this view across a lake.

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The same thing then continues in the morning, photographing the dawn light.  It’s great that you can wake up and already be there.  You don’t miss a thing and it’s all right there outside the tent.

Once you’ve bagged all the shots, it’s time to pack everything up, and leave the place exactly as you found it, and head back to civilisation, hopefully with some great photographs too!

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