Walking with a Camera, Part 5

Camera Packs


This article is part of a series of articles about "Walking With a Camera". Links to the first four articles are below.

Walking With a Camera, Part 1: Professional photographers never hike

Walking With a Camera, Part 2, When and where to walk with a camera for best results.

Walking with a Camera, Part 3, The best cameras for hiking with a camera

Walking with a Camera, Part 4, The best lenses for hiking with a camera

Future articles in this series will be about other equipment for walking with a camera like walking shoes and boots as well as the best photographic techniques for walking with a camera.



Sunset in Glacier National Park, Logan Pass, MontanaMost serious photographers spend tons of money on fancy, special packs designed for carrying photo gear. This really doesn't work very well in practice. These packs work great for sorting out bunches of photo gear, several cameras and all the lenses you could ever want into nice neat little pockets. Unfortunately they don't work well as packs. They are horribly heavy and horribly uncomfortable and they often have no space for non-photographic stuff like water, parkas, fleece jackets, or lunch.

I have three of these specialized photography packs and I haven't used any of them for ten years. Modern hiking and backpacking packs like the ones you can buy at REI or at any other real outdoor store have evolved into ultralight, ultra-comfortable packs that are really the only thing to use.

I have two different packs that I carry when I am walking with a camera. One is an ultralight pack that weighs under 10 pounds loaded, including a large water bottle. I use this pack for short, casual hikes where I don't expect much in the way of really great scenery. My other pack is much heavier; this one weighs 20 pounds loaded, including water. I use this pack when I expect to find really outstanding scenery or when I plan to be a long way from the car, deep in the back country where I may encounter bad weather or who knows what.

Lupine in the Upper Arkansas Valley in ColoradoMy light pack is the Talon, made by Osprey Packs. REI carries these packs. The pack itself weighs almost nothing but it has a light internal frame and a decent waist strap. The camera I carry in this pack is my Canon Rebel mounted with my Tamaron 18x270 lens. This is a long way from my best camera and lens but it takes more than OK pictures up to at least 24x36 in size. I also carry an ultralight parka, a very light fleece, a wool hat and a large water bottle in this pack. The water bottle alone weights three and a half pounds. On shorter hikes in cool weather I often carry the bottle half full. I also carry extra camera batteries, extra digital storage, my cell phone, a propane lighter for lighting a fire, basic first aid and a head lamp.

Water, by the way, is important stuff for hiking. If you don't keep well hydrated, you will soon get tired and the hike won't be much fun or very productive. Make sure you are carrying enough water and drink often. Many hikers and backpackers carry a hydration pouch in their packs instead of a water bottle so they can sip water constantly as they hike without having to stop. I have used hydration pouches quite a bit and they are nice but I still prefer a water bottle. It is a lot easier to refill, you don't have a hose that always leaks or gets tangled up and it is really easy to shift my water bottle back and forth from one pack to the other.

Water bottles do have a bit of a down side though. They take up more room in the pack, and they can sometimes bang into lenses you are carrying in the same pack. Also, you have to stop to drink and that can lead to dehydration. It works OK for me though.

Eagle River near Minturn, ColoradoAnother solution for water is to get a very small water bottle, keep it in a side pocket and fill it frequently from trail side streams and lakes. I prefer purifying the water using liquid iodine. This is quick and fast and simple. It is also the best way to make sure you have got all the bad bugs. I like the liquid iodine better than the pills since it works almost immediately without the twenty minute wait needed for the iodine pills. Filtration pumps work pretty well also but they are much more hassle, add weight and they plug up.

The iodine solution works well for the Rockies where it is never far between streams but can be a little problematic in the Southwest where water is not quite so easily found. This problem can usually be solved by buying a bigger water bottle. Even in the Southwest there is usually water to be found someplace, even if it is longer between water holes. This is where the larger water bottle comes in handy.

I remember one five day backpack in Canyonlands when the only water to be found was the greenest, slimiest, scummiest, most putrid stuff I have ever seen. We found it in some shallow pools way back under a deep ledge. We treated it, drank it and it tasted awful but no one got sick. The iodine killed everything.

My heavy camera pack is a somewhat larger pack made by REI called the Look Out 40. This is also a very light pack but it has a very substantial internal frame and a very nice padded hip-strap. This is my pack for serious, long hikes where I plan on finding pictures that I will want to shoot in the highest quality possible. I carry my large, heavy Canon 1Ds Mark II in this pack with three lenses: a 17x35 wide angle, a 35x200 long lens and my 28x70 midrange lens mounted on the camera. You can read more about the cameras and lenses I use while walking with a camera in the preceding articles in this series. Green River Lakes and Squaretop in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming

I also carry a little better selection of clothes in this larger pack. I include a high end parka that I know will get me through any storm I may encounter, a very good Patagonia Fleece, gloves, a very warm hat and a Patagonia Base Layer shirt. I'm pretty confident that I can weather just about anything with this gear including an unexpected night out if worst comes to worst. Again, I also carry extra batteries, extra digital storage, my cell phone, a propane lighter for lighting a fire, basic first aid and a head lamp.

Neither of these packs has any fancy pockets or divisions for carrying camera gear. Basically I just stuff my parka and fleece into the pack, slide a lens down on either side of the clothing and put my camera on top of everything. If I am carrying just one extra lens, the water bottle goes on the opposite side. If I'm carrying two extra lenses, I wrap one lens in my hat and carry it on top of the clothes next to my camera. Usually I walk with my camera around my shoulder, not in the pack, so the lens and camera are not banging into each other anyway. You may find that with a camera and two extra lenses in the pack, it works better to use a hydration pouch than a water bottle. Another alternative is a slender water bottle in a side pocket.

You don't need to carry a heavy coat. Layering is the key for outdoor warmth. Full layering for cold weather is basically poly pro long underwear (don't be cheap here, nice soft, warm, well fitting underwear from REI is really nice on a cold day), a poly pro base layer, a good fleece jacket, and a good breathable rain/wind parka that fits well over your hips and upper legs.

Since I always hike in shorts unless it is winter. I also carry a very light pair of nylon wind pants in both of my packs. This is an extra two ounces that can be very comfortable at high altitudes. I just pull them on over my shorts if needed.

If it is winter and I'm being extra cautious I might throw my down vest in also. You could probably survive in Antarctica with all this stuff. In the summer a fleece and parka is probably all you will ever need.

This larger pack full of cameras and gear weighs about 20 pounds and it is probably overkill, which is why I have the ultralight pack for short easy trips. But if you are going high into the mountains, if you want to get the best possible pictures and if there is a chance of bad weather, then there is a chance you might need all of this stuff. Also, I often hike alone and I often go to some pretty remote locations and I since I need to be prepared to spend the night out in a worst case scenario, enough clothes can be pretty important.

Speaking of hiking alone. If you do this, be very sure that someone knows where you are going and when you plan to be back. This person should also have the phone numbers of the appropriate rescue agency in your area. Wildflowers near Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park, Montana

I don't use walking sticks, even though I find them really helpful. They are great for keeping your balance on scree and on steep, rocky trails and they can give you enough push to increase your walking speed considerably. However, I'm usually walking with a camera around my shoulder and taking pictures pretty frequently. It is really hard to deal with both walking sticks and the camera; sticks are just too much extra stuff to hassle with. And then I tend to lay them down to take a picture right there along side my sunglasses and forget them both. Only after walking five more miles down the trail do I remember I once had sunglasses and walking sticks. Walking sticks are nice, but just to0 much of a problem. They definitely violate the "Keep it Simple" rule.

If you are planning on buying a pack, keep a couple of things in mind. Be sure the pack is light; it should not weigh much more than one or maybe two pounds empty and it should have a good internal frame and a waist strap. A good waist strap is essential. Actually it should fit around your hips, not your waist, however this may not work if the pack is a small one; you may have to let it ride a little higher. When your shoulders begin to hurt, you can tighten up the hip strap, loosen the shoulder straps and transfer the load from your shoulders to your hips. When your hips get tired, loosen the waist strap and transfer the load back to your shoulders. This works really well.

Buy your pack at a good outdoor store like REI, not at Walmart or Target. Those packs look good but they are heavy, the zippers break and after five miles they don't feel so good any more.

As you probably know by now, I like REI for outdoor gear. They have good quality gear, they have very knowledgable sales people, and you can return anything you buy there for any reason, whenever. I just returned a pair of too small walking shoes after having them for six months, no problem. Also REI, since it is a coop, at the end of ever year gives you a percentage back on everything you have spent at REI. And REI has some pretty great sales quite regularly. I bought my newest, latest technology Patagonia Fleece which regularly sells for $230.00 for $85.00 on sale last summer.

I have a third pack that I use for backpacking and picture taking. This pack is made by Osprey, like my ultra-lite day pack. The model is the Aether70. For a backpacking pack this is a very light pack, only three pounds. It is almost five pounds lighter than my previous North Face backpack, and believe me this is a huge difference. But backpacking with a camera is the subject for another article, one that I suspect I'll get to before I finish this series on walking with a camera.

Actually, if truth be told, I own about twelve different packs that I have collected over the last forty years. The ones discussed in this article are just the latest and most favorite. I don't think even my wife knows about all of those other packs; hopefully not or I'm in big trouble.

Fred Hanselmann
December 15, 2010

Daisies and Grasses on Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana

Daisies and Grasses on Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana


Wild Goose Island Sunset, Glacier National Park, Montana

Wild Goose Island Sunset, Glacier National Park, Montana


Little Redfish Lake and Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho

Little Redfish Lake and Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho


None of the pictures in this article are on our website yet; they are all new pictures.
However, they can the ordered by calling me at 207-604-2661