backpacking w/ a DSLR - tips?

Discussion in 'Photography & Video' started by jamsomito, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    The wife and several of our best friends are hiking Machu Picchu this summer and I'm starting to get my gear in order. Does anyone have any tips for backpacking with a DSLR?

    I found this article which was interesting. I'm most interested in the monopod hiking pole and the shoulder strap attachment to hold the camera when I'm not using it.

    A little more background: I just tried a one-night backpacking trip a couple weekends ago and I found that it kind of sucked with a full DSLR. I couldn't pocket it easily (or at all) or keep taking my pack off to take it out and put it back, and hanging it on my neck really made for a sore neck at the end of the day. So, I ended up just carrying it in my hand the whole time. It was ok, but I couldn't use my hand for anything else. We were hiking in snow so it was fine, but I'd be worried in more rugged terrain if I were to trip or need my hands to catch myself.

    What are your tips for backpacking with a DSLR?
     
  2. bloodypulp

    bloodypulp Gawd

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    i like to use a tripod that converts to monopod, and an adjustable padded sling. most people tend to use a sling incorrectly, don't hang it from your neck. hang it across one shoulder and under opposite arm, like a rifle. the weight of camera and large lens is no problem for excursions. learn how to use sling tension to reduce camera shake if not using support. the adjustable sling also allows you to cinch up tight, so the camera doesn't swing and dangle. a circular polarizer, face wipes, cosmetic blotting paper and collapsible light reflectors are also nice to have. practice using a raincover too. as always, make sure you have lens cleaner, backup cameras, storage and batteries in your group. have fun!


    http://www.dolica.com/tripods/tx570...-tripod-with-ball-head-and-integrated-monopod
    http://www.vikingtactics.com/product-p/vtac-mk2-hb.htm
     
  3. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    Thanks for your thoughts. I usually do wear it around a shoulder and under the opposite arm, but I never thought to try that while carrying a big pack on my back. Think it would still work? Guess I'll have to give it a try. If that works maybe that's all I'll need.
     
  4. northrop

    northrop grumman

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    Here's a tip: don't.

    But if you're dead set on hiking with a DSLR gear, here's something I've learned the hard way.

    Get proper gear. And I don't mean lenses and filters, but rather the items you will be using every second of you trip. Comfortable shoes/boots, proper socks, light layers of clothing, and a hiking backpack. Forget getting a camera pack. Get a proper hiking backpack instead. Those have actually been designed with hiking in mind from the start, and I find them to be a lot more comfortable on longer hikes. Go to your local Dick's, REI or whatever you have near by, and try the hiking backpacks that will suit your needs and be comfortable. Camera packs aren't all that comfortable IMO, I find them too stiff to be used on a day long hikes.

    My current go to pack for a day hike is still an old Gregory Z30 and all the lenses get their own pouch from ThinkTank. Just toss the pouches with lenses into the pack, and be done with it. It may not be a solution that will work for you, if speed and accessibility is your primary goal here, but it works for me :p

    Furthermore, in regards to using a monopod as a walking stick. I like the idea, to some extent. If you want to do some long exposure shots, a monopod isn't going to help you with that, and carrying a tripod in addition to the monopod seems redundant. A less comfortable solution, but a lot more practical in terms of photography is carrying a light tripod (carbon fiber from the likes of RRS or Gitzo) and extending just one leg to make it a monopod-like. This is something I have done in the past, it is almost comfortable to do, but at the end of the day, CF tripod is light enough to hang from your backpack anyway so if you get tired of holding it, you can always attach it to the bottom of your pack.

    I'm not sure how much gear or what type of gear you plan on bringing with you, but be cautious of the weight factor. It adds up... quickly. Hiking with an extra 10lbs of glass on your back is seldom enjoyable, and it always feels like 50 lbs by the end of day :p
     
  5. Aki

    Aki Limp Gawd

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    Have had some experience in photography in less than ideal environments... I do heartily recommend ziploc bags and gaffe tape (lots of them). Besides using gaffe tape to seal up the camera and lenses against dust or water (not entirely water proof), gaffe tape is rather effective in downplaying the "value" of your equipment to potential thieves.

    Managed to find something similar, just to give you an idea - http://petapixel.com/2014/06/19/diy-protect-dslr-color-festival-run-just-15-bucks/

    My opinion is that you will do well with a decent zoom lense (not f2.8 to save weight and bulk) for a single DSLR body... or two DSLR bodies (one with telephoto zoom, the other with standard zoom) - all with the ziploc and gaffe tape makeover. :)
     
  6. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    Thanks, Northrop. I should have mentioned I'm an experienced backpacker. I get out on a long excursuon a couple times a year and I've got some good gear there. I should also mention that the Inca trail is fairly protected and you can't hike it without an outfitter that ports most of your stuff for you. We only need to carry sleeping bag/pad, clothes, and personal items. I may be able to get away with a bigger day pack, but I'm still figuring that out.

    Ive just never taken my DSLR with me before except for the one time recently I tried it. It was kind of awkward to say the least.

    If you're interested, I plan to bring:
    Canon 70D
    17-55 f/2.8 (heavy, but will be my main lens)
    10-18 f/4.5-5.6 (small & light)
    50 f/1.8 (small & light)
    Spare batteries
    I do have a gitzo tripod but it has a stupid heavy ball mount on it. Still contemplating bringing this or not. I certainly wouldn't want to bang it up using it as a hiking stick though.

    Problems with backpacking:
    1. How to keep the camera accessible without taking off my pack to get it and put it back.
    2. Easy lens swaps (I might just forget about this... Probably need to keep them in the roof if my pack and take it off to swap)
    3. Keep my hands free for hiking.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2015
  7. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    Hey, I missed your post. Thanks, good stuff here. Except I would never think to bring my camera to a color run! haha.

    How do you operate the lens with that many layers over it?
     
  8. madFive

    madFive metal[H]ead

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    This topic interests me as well. I do a little hiking also, not real back-packing just 4-8 mile hikes on park trails several times a year. Up until this point I normally just use the standard Nikon strap, and I either just bring my whole LowePro sling bag, or I just bring one extra lens that I normally throw in one of my cargo pockets.

    But that setup can get really uncomfortable after so many miles, with the strap chafing my neck and a lens banging into the side of my knee for hours on end. So I've been considering getting a new more comfortable strap and maybe a belt-mountable lens carrier.

    I normally hike with a wide prime on the camera (used to be the 24/2.8, now the 20/1.8), and a macro or something else extra. So a larger lens pouch would be good.

    Good info - thanks! That 75 Pop-Down looks perfect for what I'm thinking. Need to make sure it will fit at least my 70-300VR. Another lens I've been considering lately is a Tamron 150-600mm for birding and wildlife shots. I'd like to be able to carry it hiking, so I'll have to double-check, but I think it'll just barely fit in that pouch.

    Edit, oh, no the Tammy 150-600 won't fit. I was thinking it was 13" long, but I checked and while it's only 10" long, its 5" diameter means it's too fat to fit in the 75-pop-down (and I'm not sure if that 5" includes the hood or not). Hmm... any recommendations for similar belt pouches that will fit an 11+ inch lens with a 5+" diameter? No rush - pretty much my whole photo budget for this year is being blown on a D750, so I won't be doing anything but renting of new lenses for many months.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2015
  9. northrop

    northrop grumman

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    That's lightweight. You shouldn't have any problems.

    ad 1 and 2. Perhaps investing in the modular belt with pouches is the way to go then? I'm not sure how big of a backpack you'll be bringing so this may or may not be an option for you. In either case, this only solves the problem with the lenses. And the camera? You can always clip it to your backpack strap. Nope, I've never used any of their product so I can't speak for the quality of it, but it is a solution worth mentioning.
    ad 3. with the above solution, you're hands will be free :p


    75 pop-down will be enough for the tammy. On the B&H, the dimensions for that lens are 4.16"x10.15". I'm thinking the 5" posted on the Amazon site refers to the lens+tripod collar. And I do own the 75-pop-down pouch. That thing is pretty big, you'll be fine. Besides, if it doesn't work, I'm sure you'll be able to return it.

    Edit. on a side note, if you ever plan to buy anything from ThinkTank, always.... ALWAYS look up available coupon codes. They seem to be running various deals constantly. When I was picking up my lens pouches, I only paid for half of them (at the time, they were running "buy one get one" deal). Totally worth it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2015
  10. Aki

    Aki Limp Gawd

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    For the focal zoom section of the lense, I use a larger ziploc bag to allow some free play. My experience is that the more varied the zoom ranges (for a general purpose zoom lense), you will need a larger bag give allowance for adjusting focal lengths - you need to experiment with that.

    A caveat though, the ziploc bag for the free play will be less "grippy" for focal length adjustments, you might want to see whether you are comfortable just the ziploc bag or you might want to add some "grip blocks" on the lense barrel using thin foam and gaffe tape.
     
  11. madFive

    madFive metal[H]ead

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    I got the 75 and the 25 - just broke down and ordered from Amazon, so I probably didn't get the best deal, oops.

    Yeah, these are perfect! The 70-300VR fits in the 75 un-expanded with the hood extended, and it still rattles around a little in there. So yeah, I'm not sure yet how big that Tammy is, but I imagine it'll have no issues.

    And the 25 is perfect for my primes. Looking forward to some much more comfortable hiking this year! Thanks again for the recs.
     
  12. Neutrino

    Neutrino Gawd

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    have you considered switching to a mirrorless setup?

    The weight/space saving can be quite considerable especially if you choose micro 4/3
     
  13. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    You know, it has crossed my mind. But I just bought my 70D a month ago so I'm not really considering it.
     
  14. Neutrino

    Neutrino Gawd

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    One more piece of advice, do get a backup system and keep it in a separate bag.

    Nothing would be worse than having gear issues sometime in the middle of nowhere. If you want to stay with Canon you could get a second hand (or even new) EOS M + adapter for nothing - they sell for dirt cheap.

    Other excellent light backups: Sony Rx100, Panasonic GM1
     
  15. UnknownSouljer

    UnknownSouljer [H]ardness Supreme

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    I think I have much less to contribute in this thread as this isn't something I necessarily do a lot. Although I did do a 15km trek through SaPa, Vietnam with a bag and clothes staying overnight in a location.

    Anyway, that said, Colby Brown is basically who I think of for crazy treks in the middle of nowhere, since that essentially is his specialty. His old gear setup looked like this. He has since moved to 100% Sony mirrorless (he uses multiple bodies) with Canon glass. The reason I'm posting this is to note specific pieces of gear. Mostly to show that there are hiking bags designed to carry camera gear. Most of them are crazy expensive and are of course highly specialized for a tiny niche market. If you want to see some more hiking/camera hybrid bags, check out this video. They show from day hiking bags to full sized ones, just to give you a taste.

    However, you'll note he doesn't have a setup that really facilitates hiking AND shooting at the same time. He hikes to what he's trying to get to, then shoots. If you plan to hike and shoot simultaneously there is just always going to be compromises. Some might disagree with me here (I've read every comment in this thread, so I dunno, some of you might agree with me) but basically I don't think there is a best way to hike and shoot simultaneously, other than simply toughing it out.

    That's essentially what I did on my Trek in SaPa. At that time, I only had a Canon camera strap. If I was shooting it was on my neck, and if I was hiking for a sec, I would throw it over my shoulder (as in, put one of my arms through). That seemed to be a 'good enough' compromise. I was hiking in a valley with lots of steep areas. And basically, I just dealt with it. It seems to me that anyone getting a travel shot and having to carry gear just has to deal with the weight and any other problems. I only had one lens at the time, so that simplified things (24-70mm). With the right bag it would be easily swappable to maybe one other lens.

    As far as hiking with a monopod, it sounds good in theory, but if you want to be able to swap lenses easily and keep moving, I suspect the monopod won't be something you're happy with either. I'm guessing it will just keep getting in your way. Because you can't really hike with the monopod while the camera is attached. It's too top heavy, and unbalanced with the lens. Basically the monopod will keep spinning in your hands and with a long lens it has the potential to spin and hit you in the face. And it's obvious that having to attach it and detach it sucks. I guess if you always have your camera on your strap, and you have a quick release RRS bracket and plate on your 'pod and camera respectively it would be doable. Then you could use the monopod as a hiking stick in that case. Even then though, you're having to 'deal with it'. Hence making toughing it out, just in a different way, still a factor.

    Then it comes to straps... this may be a case in which a cotton carrier is actually a good option, as strapping the camera to your chest will help to balance out the weight on your back. I used an RRS strap for a few years and I can tell you even without hiking that carrying a camera on one side of your body gets tiring quick. Personally it pulls my lower back to one side over time. And by over time, I mean like 20-30 minutes and then it starts to hurt or otherwise become uncomfortable. Cotton Carrier meets your requirements of keeping your hands free and keeping your camera accessible. Looks ugly as heck, but for hiking, birding, etc, it's actually a practical, logical choice. I do admit though that I wouldn't want to be caught dead in one for probably anything else other than hiking.

    If you have the luxury of only having to carry your camera equipment on a day trip (and not have to carry your clothes, and other travel supplies etc), then you could get a quick swap bag. I used one for a time and it was basically perfect for what I needed. I was using a Kata 3n1-30. There are several manufacturers of these. They have a quick access side pocket to be able to pull out your camera with lens attached, and have lenses quickly accessible. You don't have to take off the bag completely in order to do so (although you do have to learn how to do this). Or you could use a few of the options in that video I linked near the top of this post, but I have no experience with any of them.
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2015
  16. Weenis

    Weenis I said WEENIS, not...

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    Honestly I would get a good hiking pack, and I would get a stud that will go into the bottom of your camera (black rapid makes them) http://www.amazon.com/BlackRapid-RFH-3SB-Black-Rapid-FastenR-3/dp/B003LA595M You could get one of their straps, I have one and like it a lot. It puts your gear in good and less awkward position. But over hiking if you plan on rough terrain.. I'd want it in front of me.

    You could easily attach your camera w/ a screw gate carabiner to your ruck in a variety of fashions doing this.

    Also, just plan your shit. Odds are you're going to want to keep your wide lenses in your bag. You wouldn't need to shoot something wide really fast such that you'd miss it from not being on the body. Not compared to something like a mid/long zoom. I personally keep my 24-70 on my body; I don't own a 70-200 though, but I'm debating picking one up soon.. That or the 16-35/14-24. I'm not sure yet.

    Proper footwear and socks will be far more important to your comfort honestly. Keep your weight high on your back and don't take excessive amounts of shit.

    I would not take a monopod, you probably wouldn't use it as much as you'd think. You could always have your wife carry some of your gear; if you need it in an easily accessible pouch.

    If you don't feel comfortable at all with tripping having your DSLR out... I'd really consider building something yourself. Look for a bag with web gear (molle) where you could attach an extra lens to the side of the bag, and your camera on the other side via pouches.. Pad the shit out of them. Odds of you falling to your side are a not huge since you won't be carrying a ton of weight.

    http://www.amazon.com/Forward-Observer-Padded-Camera-Hazard/dp/B007Z49T6K Attach something like that to your/wifes pack. Pad it up if it needs it and then you should be good to go for easily accessible but a lot more protected.

    You're sacrificing speed for protection. Find whatever balance works for you.
     
  17. ExplodingTaco

    ExplodingTaco [H]ard|Gawd

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  18. nekrosoft13

    nekrosoft13 [H]ard|Gawd

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    exactly, get yourself a mirrorless camera and leave the DSLR at home.
     
  19. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    Went with the Peak Design Capture system, the PRO version that's compatible with arca and manfrotto mounts, and the base plate screws into a tripod as it's own mounting system too when I'm not using it on a backpack strap.

    If anyone's interested in a review, I'll post something up when I've had the chance to use it a bit.
     
  20. Anh N.

    Anh N. Gawd

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    Would love to hear your thought on this. Some people rave about it, but I also hear some negative review about customer service also.
     
  21. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    First impressions are mixed feelings, though it seems very well made and thought out / designed. The plate that attaches to the camera jiggles in the socket, which really bums me up because I was hoping to keep this as a quick release on my tripod when I'm not out hiking. But there is a screw on the unit (supposed to be a safety for when you're walking with it on your hip) that tightens it down a bit. Its secure enough for lighter lenses, but I wouldnt use it as a tripod quick release with heavier lenses.

    The clip system works great for when you're on the go. Its super easy to attach and detach for quick pics and back for storage, and it really does clip on any strap. Thicker straps like hiking backpack straps are a little tough to get it onto, but it does go on without much of a fight. They sell longer clamp screws for super thick straps if you need them.

    My only real gripe might be a big one, but I want to try it out actually hiking before I complain about it. A DSLR is big and bulky, and it weighs down a strap a lot. The off-center weight will twist any strap its clamped onto. Messenger bag straps will twist making it hard to clip/ detach from the main clamp unit. Shoulder straps weigh the strap down and put a lot of weight on your shoulder (if you have a bum shoulder like me, I couldn't hike all day with it here), and it bounces a lot too, unless you strap your lens to your chest with your chest strap on the backpack. Putting it on your belt means the clamp unit is positioned vertically - when you put the camera on it, it tips downward from the weight and the clamp unit digs in to your thigh a bit. Not bad, but enough that I'm thinking after 10-15 miles on the trail it would maybe leave a bruise. They do sell a pad to put underneath it for this very reason, but it adds cost to an already pricey piece of tech.

    So yeah, pretty happy with it, it works very well, very secure, extremely easy to use, built-in safety features, works as advertised. But a DSLR is bulky wherever you put it (especially hanging off your body somewhere), and the jury is still out on hiking comfort with it. I'll report back when I've spent some more time out and about with it.
     
  22. Anh N.

    Anh N. Gawd

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    Thanks for the quick review. Looking to hear more when you spend more time with it.
     
  23. michalrz

    michalrz 2[H]4U

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    "17-55 f/2.8 (heavy, but will be my main lens)"
    I'd just take that one most of the time. It's bright and looks versatile.

    Look, I might be wrong but you're using a DSLR in the first place for the image quality.

    If you burden yourself with stuff, you will constantly feel the need to change up.
    I do it the other way around.

    One big walk - one lens, a spare battery. Focus on finding the shot, on finding interesting spots, on looking around with what you have.

    Sometimes I'd put on a portrait 50mm 1.8 and photograph forests during sundown.

    Sometimes I'd put on a tele-zoom lens and use it indoors.

    Good photos just happen, and if you keep worrying about your stuff and suffering the weight - you'll get frustrated and tired.

    Monopods are good for protection as much as for shooting. Personally, instead of a monopod, I:
    - always lean onto something
    - always hold the camera by three points - eyepiece, grip and supporting the lens a bit,
    - always use a 2-second timer to avoid the shaking that goes with pressing the trigger

    Besides you guys have nasa grade gear with ISOS in the 100000 range and 2.8 lenses and image stabilization. So a monopod would really be beneficial for really really low light situations or if you want to push for super sharpness with a small aperture.

    Tldr: take nothing but your eyes

    Also, I just carry my camera in my hands. You never know when you'll need it.
     
  24. botw

    botw Gawd

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    Is it a hiking trip or photography trip? That's what I always ask myself before a hiking or camping trip. If hiking, I might pack a mirrorless or point and shoot and am happy with whatever I get. If photography, I pack my best gear and only get it out when I am at a spot that I rally want to shoot. Everyone is happier that way.
     
  25. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    Thanks for the tips.

    I spent a bit more time with the Capture system. My concerns about pressure points are pretty much alleviated. I did a few miles on the trail a couple different times, and it works great on a hip belt, or on a shoulder strap. You do need to pivot it around until it's comfortable before you tighten it down on said strap, but once you find something comfortable, it's hard to tell it's there other than the weight on whatever it is it's clamped to, which wasn't a big deal.

    My big hike is coming up in 2 weeks - I'll let you know after that trip for sure, but after using it a bit more I'm really happy with it. Even with my 70-200 lens on it.
     
  26. jamsomito

    jamsomito 2[H]4U

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    I just realized I never got back to this thread. I've done several all-day events, as well as my 4-day mountain backpacking trip.

    My conclusion is that this device is awesome. It's well worth the $70 or however much it's going for nowadays. I didn't have any discomfort wearing it on my shoulder strap on the multi-day hike, and it works great on a belt as well. My only complaint is that sometimes the locking mechanism creeps closed which makes it hard to put the camera back until you realize what's happening and loosen it again. Mine also had a tendency to loosen it's grip on the strap you have it mounted on, but it wasn't a big deal. It would just creep down my shoulder on my chest when it was on the shoulder strap, maybe about a couple inches over a whole day. Just retightening fixed it.

    I would highly recommend a hand strap for your camera instead of a neck strap though. Something like this. All I have is the neck strap, which I don't really have the guts to just get rid of, and it's a bit of a pain when the camera is mounted. When I have it mounted on a shoulder strap, you can just put the neck strap around your neck, which is fine, but you look a bit like a dork when doing so. When it's on a hip belt though, there's nothing to do with it other than fold it up and stuff it in your pocket, or it's swinging around and getting caught on things and generally in the way. Besides, the whole point of the Peak Design Capture mount is for quick access... having a neck strap slows you down somewhat. Just being able to stuff your hand in the loop around the grip, sliding it out and going sounds like a great combo.

    So, I highly recommend it. It works like a charm, and is very worth the price.