Lightweight Camping Gear for Photographers
Backpacking and camping in the mountains and backcountry around my home province of British Columbia has always been a passion of mine. It gives me a sense of liberty, to head out into the wilderness confidant in your knowledge and with all the equipment you need to survive -and even enjoy yourself- on your back.
I’ve been asked recently through my Instagram and e-mail about what gear I use when I head out into the wild spending extended periods of time in the backcountry enjoying & photographing nature. So like my “Whats In your Camera Bag” post, I figured I’d do something similar for backpacking gear!
Less is More
In this day and age there is an absolutely dizzying list of high tech, lightweight, tools, shelter and clothing to sort though. This can be a huge challenge for those interested in, but not experienced with backpacking. In this post I’m going to list & explain the gear I use in the backcountry and why I chose it.
There’s a growing movement in the backpacking world to keep everything as light as possible in order to be more comfortable on the trails. While lighter isn’t always better, any weight saved on my camping gear allows me to pack more camera equipment without extra burden. 100g here, 300g there and sooner or later I can pack that heavy lens without feeling it and come away with even better photos!
Quality is King
As a boy growing up my father taught me countless valuable lessons. One idea he continuously drilled into my head was something akin to “buy it nice or buy it twice”. See, Dad is a Machinist, a Millwright and a certified jack of all trades who could design and build anything out of nothing. I was taught the value quality tools and equipment and the cost and inconvenience of cheap ones. When you buy quality products and look after them, they’ll last you a lifetime of adventures. While this mindset has left me near broke outside a camera or outdoors store more than once I still appreciate the sentiment. Moral of the story: It pays to buy the best that you can afford (within reason).
Without this you’re not going far! Over the years I’ve owned, used and abused more than a few backpacks. I’ve never had anything like my current pack, an Osprey Packs Atmos AG 65. This pack has the most comfortable and adjustable suspension & strap system i’ve ever used! At 65L capacity I can easily pack for a week in the mountains while still having enough room for camera equipment and a luxury item or two. ProTip: get something colourful, it looks a lot better in photos than a black or grey bag~!
It keeps you dry. It keeps the bugs away. A quality tent is your home away from home and aside from your sleeping bag the most important purchase you’ll make. These days I’m opting for the fast and light approach and sacrificing some comfort in the process. I currently own a Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 One man(or woman) tent. What I sacrifice in interior space and storage I gain in weight savings. At only 2LB’s ready to go this is one of the lightest freestanding tents money can buy while still being durable enough to stand up to the northwest.
The most important purchase you’ll make in the way of camping gear is undoubtedly your sleep system.
Sold according to their temperature ratings, the biggest choice you’ll have to make with sleeping bags is down or synthetic. Goose/Duck Down is warmer, lighter and compresses smaller but looses its insulating capacity easily when it gets wet (fixed by newer water repellant down bags) and is quite expensive. Synthetic on the other hand is cheaper and maintains its insulating ability even in the dampest of conditions.
I have a selection of bags but my most used is a Marmot Plasma 30°F (-1°C) 850+ fill down sleeping bag. Now replaced by the Phase series of bags, this top of the line mild weather bag has seen me though -10°C nights without issue.
To be happy sleeping in the bush you need to be comfortable. My Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core mat is nearly 4″ thick and feels like sleeping on clouds. It packs up small, weighs next to nothing and keeps me happy (& warm off the ground) in the backcountry.
Cooking in the backcountry can be a chore. When i’m making a base camp i’ll bring a more elaborate setup and cook real food. Typically however, when going fast and light I fall back on freeze dried meals and simply need to boil water. For this I use a Jetboil stove, it’s fast, efficient and packs up tiny. You can’t expect to take “wall worthy” photos on an empty stomach!
Peak Designs Capture Clip System – While backpacking I tend to like to have my hands free. Be it for climbing, the use of trekking poles or snacking on the go I hate carrying my camera around all the time. The issue is that if it’s packed away in my backpack I don’t take some of the more opportunistic shots that tend to happen throughout the day. The Capture Clip has solved this issue for me, mounted to my pack strap my camera is now always available but also out of my hands.
Staying comfortable in the backcountry has as much to do with what you’re wearing as what you pack with you! In the Northwest where I spend the majority of my time in North America rain is a small issue (haha). A quality outer shell is a must! There are any number of different “tech” fabrics available these days but I trust the tried and true Gore Tex.
In the outdoors you’ll find me sporting a Arcteryx Beta AR jacket. A high end local company (Vancouver BC baby) Arcteryx offers quality Gore Tex that can take a beating, I should know! I tripped, slid down a glacier and off a cliff in mine before being airlifted off the mountain and it’s no worse for wear! Before you choke after seeing the price tag know that it’s well worth spending the cash on. Being dry and warm is your #1 priority (well… maybe #2 just behind getting the shot!)
What I take into the bush with me totally depends on what I’m planning to photograph. With a plan and an image in mind I’m able to keep my kit as light as possible. A camera and wide angle zoom fits the bill for most of what I do. Occasionally a fast prime for shooting the stars or a longer lens gets tossed in as well. I wrote about what I take around the world here.
This setup keeps me happy and healthy in the backcountry. If you’ve got any questions about any of this gear drop a comment down below and I’ll do my best to answer them! Now grab your tent and other lightweight camping gear and get out there to Explore.Create.Educate!