My Backpacking Camera Kit

©Darwin Wiggett

When I do day hikes or backcountry pack trips I really want to keep things light. The lighter the pack, the more fun the trip and more importantly I have energy to explore and be creative. I used to haul my big camera (a medium format camera with 5 lenses) into the backcountry with me but rather than use the potential of all that gear, I just ended up tired and sore. Not any more! Pictured above is my lean backcountry camera kit. My goal for a 4 to 5 night backpack trip is to keep my pack in the 35 to 40 lb range including camera gear. I could probably get a even smaller camera like a Panasonic GF-1 but for now the Rebel works great and is not that heavy.

Pictured above is a Canon Rebel XSi with a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens (a surpisingly sharp but inexpensive lens). The camera is outfitted with a Really Right Stuff L-bracket, a bubble level and a Cokin P-holder on the lens. My filter kit inclues three Singh-Ray grads (2 and 3-stop hard-step and 3-stop soft step), a Singh-Ray 5-stop solid ND, Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer and Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue Polarizer. I take three fully charged batteries (one battery lasts about two to three days) and a bunch of memory cards (only one is shown here) and a trusty cable release.

All the gear above is packed into a Tamrac Velocity 7 sling bag (shown below), and I use a Gitzo GT2542L tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball head. There are lighter tripods out there (this one is 3.5 lbs with the ball head), but the one thing I will not sacrifice on is a sturdy tripod or being stuck with a short tripod. This tripod goes to eye level which for me is a big positive (I hate bending to look through the camera on a tripod) and it is nice and solid which I need when I make long exposures. And finally I always have my bear spray and cougar knife with me. You just never know which furry friend wants to come and help you take photos.

©Darwin Wiggett

I wear the camera pack on my chest so it is always available to make photos and the tripod goes on the main pack. For the last several years I have been one happy backpacker with this light camera system. If I wanted more range I might add a 18-200mm zoom or something similar, but I like having a f2.8 lens that is sharp all the way across the zoom range.

©Samantha Chrysanthou


25 Responses to “My Backpacking Camera Kit”

  1. Nice darwin!
    I was always interested as to what hikker photographers carry with them in the field, since I am also kind of limited in space (motorcycle rider).
    I got myself a Benro C169 tripod for the purpose of a lightweight and really small tripod to carry with me on the motorcycle (Manfrotto 055XPROB was a pain to carry around) and I am really pleased with it.

  2. Perfect timing! Just last night I had all my gear in a new back country pack, while standing on a bathroom scale, trying to figure out what is in and what is out. However, I suspect some things must be learned the hard way, even when the advice is coming from you. Light camera body? OK, so the 1Ds MIII is out. But I can’t imagine not having full frame, so the 5D MII is in. And there is no way I’m doing all that hiking and not having a TS up there, so at least the 24mm TS-E is in. I will need a couple more lenses for sure. Target weight of 35 to 40 lb eh? Maybe I’ll just pack less food 🙂

  3. > take the little 70-200f4L

    Suggesting I buy yet another lens? Doesn’t Peter send you enough Christmas cards already?

  4. Alistair McNaughton Says:

    Time to come hiking in NZ!. The Singh warming polariser and G&B Polariser – do they velcro on to the filter holder or screw on?

  5. Scott, I’m pretty much with your thinking… a couple of more lenses and skip some food. LOL! 5D Mk II, yeah. 17mm TS-E instead of the 24mm. 70-200 f/4, yeah. Something in between, maybe Oly 35mm shift & a 50mm f1.4? Light(er) weight tripod & head.

    Target is 40 lbs… it’s tough! Trial load right now is 38 lbs with only 1 lens, no sleeping bag (ordered a new one), and no food… but with 2 liters of water which is more than I would realistically carry at one time. 1-man tent that’s very light, can’t save much there. Still got to cut a bit more…

    • Don’t haul water, just haul a little water purifier and get water at stream crossings when you need it. That’ll save a few pounds so you can carry an extra lens. Darwin

      • Ditto. I have a water filter from MSR that weighs about 500 grams. Way lighter than carrying water in the pack.

      • I have an MSR Miox and a Steripen for purifying water. I prefer the Steripen, and really only carry the MIOX as a backup since it’s very light. The Steripen is very convenient, and works nicely. The newest model is supposed to be even easier to use than the one I have.

    • Oh yes and the easiest way to carry less weight is to shed it from the gut. That means no more wine or beer for a few weeks before a hike. Five pounds off the belly means a lot to the knees!



    • Definitely will go the “fill up on location” route. 1 liter of water = 1 kilogram, a basic fact learned in school. Takes on different meaning when that weight is on your back.

      Cutting weight on the gut, how true… 🙂

  6. Royce, I have the 17 TS-E but use the 24 TS-E more, so if I only take one TS, it would be the 24. Other lenses choices are tough. I hate carrying long glass and never using it. But of course, leaving it behind is the best way to ensure wildlife is encountered. 70-200 f4 is an option but that would leave me with two 70-200s (I’m not giving up the 70-200 f2.8 IS – great lens for my other work but way to heavy for hiking). Decisions, decisions. Just got a new tent as well so maybe we should plan an overnight somewhere together and test out these options (if interested, we should probably take the conversation offline).

    • Yeah, interested. Will email.

      Re: the 70-200’s, I’m tempted by the f/2.8 but have the Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 to scratch some of that itch. No way a back-packing lens but I have day-hiked with it… as Darwin can attest from my lagging behind the group. 🙂

      I do use the 70-200mm f/4 (non-IS) a lot for landscapes and closeups. Light, handy, sharp and reasonably fast. A good hiking / packing lens IMO, at least I reckon it will be worth the effort…

  7. I’ve been going through the same process lately… my goal is also to get my total pack weight down to 40 pounds… with the 4×5. (Yes, with 4×5.) Since my 4×5 kit is around 15 pounds right now (I do plan to lighten that a bit also, but it’s still a 4×5… there’s a practical limit to how light you can make a 4×5), which leaves around 25 for shelter, pack, sleeping stuff, clothing, cooking stuff, hygiene stuff, and nutrition.

    I won’t be shooting any wildlife with that setup unfortunately, but I’ll still have a lot more fun with the photography!

  8. Royce,

    Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8? Is that not the lens you had on an extra body when we did Larch Valley last? I seem to remember you dragging your feet. What were you thinking??

    And I’m with Darwin on the water. I have the purifier and just need enough water to make it to the next stream/lake. Can’t say I’m on board with Darwin’s suggestion to cut out the wine though. More likely to find a Riedel Glass and bottle of Cab in my pack (another reason to pack less food) 🙂


  9. Darwin, I remember when you used to shoot with the Mamiya 645 and that wonderful 35mm lens. I would think that you would want a wider lens on your Rebel. I remember shooting with the 17-40L on a Canon 10D it never seemed wide enough. A lens like the Tokina 12-24mm on the Rebel is great for landscapes and it is razor sharp, but it will vignette at 12mm unless you have the largest size grad ND filters. I am sure you have already thought about all of this and you have a good reason for the Tamron.


    • I do want the Tokina 12-24 but that would mean one more lens to haul. With digital making stitches is really easy, so if I need a wider angle than 17mm gives me, I just make two overlapping frames and I easily can make the 17mm much wider. Darwin

  10. My pack, sleeping bag, 2 person tent, sleeping pad, stove with cylinder, pot/bowl, hiking poles and water purifier all comes in at 15 lbs. Just add food/water, clothes and camera gear! How does that compare to others?

  11. […] Sale Canon EOS Reble Xsi (450D) I am selling my Canon Rebel EOS Xsi. I mostly use this camera for backpacking and day hikes. It is in great condition and comes with all the original goodies plus three extra batteries […]

  12. […] Sale Canon EOS Rebel Xsi (450D) I am selling my Canon Rebel EOS Xsi. I mostly use this camera for backpacking and day hikes. It is in great condition and comes with all the original goodies plus three extra batteries […]

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