Backpacking With Photo Gear
Tips On What To Carry Into The Great Outdoors

Photos © 2004, Timothy Edberg, All Rights Reserved

"Geez, Tim, your photo gear alone is heavier than my entire backpack!" This was a fellow backpacker I met in Glacier National Park. She was exaggerating...I hope. But it is certainly true that adding a lot of photography equipment to a loaded camping backpack adds significant weight.

So why do I take on the burden of a richly camera-laden pack when I go backpacking? Because I want my full photographic outfit available so that I can bring home my best possible images of the remote places I visit. A multi-day backpacking trip can take a photographer to locations far beyond the reach of a day's hike. Even if a backcountry camping journey doesn't travel any farther from the trail head than a day hike could, it still lets one shoot during the special dawn and sunset light at the campsite location, whereas a day hiker would need to be on the trail for hours in the dark to get to the same spot at the same time. I could lighten my load by taking just a camera and a minimal set of accessories, but that would severely limit my photographic options.

The contents of Edberg's chest pack are those items that he uses for shots he spots on the trail. Keep essentials in your chest pack, with other accessories stowed in the backpack.

I'll share with you my method of packing a full photo rig for maximum comfort and productivity. If you go backpacking to shoot in the backcountry, you can always modify my approach to suit your own tastes. If you are new to backpacking, you should start with a lighter camera load until you gain experience.

Why carry a sometimes cumbersome tripod? To catch great scenes such as this, the aurora borealis in late July in Glacier National Park in Montana.

At the heart of my system for backpacking with a generous set of photo equipment--for that matter, of all of my shooting--is the use of a photo vest to carry my camera gear. Consider the alternatives. Lugging all that gear in a camera bag slung over a shoulder, for example, will prove an uncomfortable, spine-twisting load on a long hike. Carrying one's photo outfit in a dedicated photo backpack is a possibility when day hiking, but a photo backpack is hard to take along when backpacking. I prefer wearing a vest to using a photo backpack anyway. With a vest all my paraphernalia is at my fingertips; I know where everything is and can reach it at a moment's notice. Using a photo pack forces a person to stop and shuck it off to access equipment every time a photo op presents itself. A good vest has enough pockets to carry most everything needed for wilderness shooting. (Some fishing or hunting vests might work as well as a photo vest; the more pockets the better.) Always put the same items in the same pockets so you learn where each accessory resides. Vests are well ventilated, so one can hike in relative comfort.

It's impossible to wear the vest over the backpack while on the trail, of course. What I do is slip the vest loaded with gear into the top of my backpack's main compartment. The vest is floppy so it fits easily. It's the last thing into the pack so it's the first thing out when I need to get at it. (Having that camera mass high in the pack is good for proper balance, too.)