Backpacking With A Camerafor photographers

BACKPACKING WITH A CAMERA

Whether you’re about to embark on a multi-day backpacking trip, or just a day hike down your favorite trail, backpacking with a camera is a great way to capture and share your adventure with family and friends.

A camera that fits in your pocket is easy enough to carry, but what if you want to bring your big DSLR camera? What’s the best way to keep it safe while at the same time having it easily accessible to snap a quick shot?

That’s the question I ran into while prepping for my backpacking trip to Patagonia. The solution I share below works perfectly for my particular backpacking setup, but the overall idea can be adapted to whatever setup you’re using.

 

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CAMERA SAFETY

The first objective is to keep the camera safe. Backpacking is rife with opportunities to harm your camera: accidentally bumping it against a rock or tree trunk, moisture from the occasional rain shower, or dirt and dust creeping its way into the camera’s nether regions. A rugged case of good quality should easily protect against those risks.

There are hundreds of camera cases available, all of varying quality and size. I wanted a case that fit my Canon 5D Mark III with a medium-length prime lens attached, somewhere in the 35-50mm range. After trying many different lenses, considering weight, image quality, and price (if damaged…) my adventure lens of choice is the Canon 50mm f/1.4. That’s all I used in Iceland and it worked great.

After reading many reviews and shopping around, I decided that the best case for my needs was the Timbuk2 Sneak Camera Case. The bag easily fits my 5D mounted to the 50 1.4 with its lens hood attached. I’ve also managed to fit my Canon 24 and 35 f/1.4L (without hoods) in the case too.

 

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The Timbuk2 case satisfies all my needs for bump, moisture, and dust protection. I’ve put this case through hell on quite a few trips and couldn’t be more pleased with how well it’s held up.

But what’s the best way to wear the case AND your backpack at the same time? Good question, that brings us to the next section…

CAMERA ACCESSIBILITY

If you’re going to bother bringing along the heft of a DSLR, you best use it as often as you can. It’s difficult to use it, however, if it’s tucked away in your backpack. Some of my favorite traveling shots are those taken on the fly. They’re captured when a moment is fleeting and about to pass by all too quickly. If I had the camera stowed away in the backpack, the moment would have passed long before I could get the pack off and camera out.

The solution isn’t wearing a case around your neck or across your chest. You need to be agile and feel light on your feet while you’re hiking. That’s hard if you have five pounds of metal and glass dangling in front of you. All too often I see fellow hikers make this mistake – regretting their decision to take the DSLR and instead using only their pocketable iPhone.

Here is my solution. It’s not pretty, nor is it slick, but it’s effective, rugged, and keeps my camera ready whenever I need it. You’ll need the Timbuk2 case, 1-2 carabiners, and a small bit of paracord. (I keep several feet of this in my backpack at all times.)

Measure out a piece of line that’s a bit longer than the width of the Timbuk2 case. Then tie two bowlines on each end.

 

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Most modern backpacks have small pockets on the waist strap. My REI Crestrail 70 has one on each side and are sewn in such a way that allows me to run the paracord between the pocket and the strap.

If your backpack doesn’t have pockets sewn like the pockets on the Crestrail, you could accomplish the same thing by making loops around the hip strap using the paracord. Either way, the idea is to move the camera to the hip strap.

 

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This allowed me to connect the paracord using the carabiners to the Timbuk2’s metal loops. If you don’t have the pockets or the space behind the pockets, you can make two loops around the waist strap using paracord to achieve similar results. I put the camera on the left waist belt since I’m right-handed. It’s easier for me to reach over and grab the camera from that side. And believe it or not, it doesn’t slap against my thigh as it seems it would. The weight of the camera and the positioning of the case keep it solidly weighted in place.

 

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Positioning the DSLR at my hip allows me to easily access it while placing the weight of the camera lower on my body. This helps me maintain balance while hiking. Weight being placed on the hip helps distribute the load where my body is already accustomed to carrying weight. The camera is infinitely less noticeable there than if it were strapped to my neck or across my chest.

 

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Hopefully my humble tip will help make your next backpacking trip with your DSLR much more enjoyable. Feel free to share your experiences and send any successful improvements or tips my way.

Happy trails!

  • Great write-up! I'm one of those backpackers that wears their DSLR on their chest. For 50 miles of backcountry in Glacier National Park a few years ago I used a top loader case with the strap over my head sitting on top of my backpack's shoulder straps. The straps then ran under my arms against my body. This kept the weight behind my shoulders with the rest of the pack, although the camera's center of gravity was still obviously in front of me. There were other problems, like the case interfering with my legs when climbing up step grades of trail.

    I'm looking forward to experimenting with your idea! I try to avoid having any swinging items from my pack as that motion is a huge energy absorber, but this looks fairly laterally stable. Thank you for the great write-up with great pictures!

    • Thanks for the kind words! Yeah, it's super stable. Definitely worth a try since the materials are relatively cheap. GNP is so epic. Aside from Iceland, I'd say it's the most epic place I've seen.