How to pack for a backpacking trip as a photographer
Okay so first, lets start with a neat list of all my gear I bring on a typical camping trip. I've organized it into three sections, with links. The first section of the list is camping gear, then clothing, and the third is photography gear.
-Assorted Foods in a stuff sack
-Water Filtration and Water bottle
-2 non-cotton shirts
-2 pairs of non-cotton underwear
-AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G
-Assorted batteries, chargers, memory cards, and cables
-Protective case for backpack storage
To kick off this party, we'll start with the actual camping equipment.
An example from an upcoming weekend trip I'm doing at North Fork Mountain in West Virginia, but it stands true for however long you're going to be gone (plus or minus some food and other small things)
The first thing on the list is my Osprey Atmost 65L. I'm sure some of you are wondering why I use such a large bag, so let me explain. I have much lighter and smaller bags that I use when I'm not bringing camera gear, but because i'm carrying upwards of 15lbs of that gear, I want to have something that not only has the capacity for all it, but also is strong enough to handle all the weight. Yes, the Osprey Atmos 65L weighs upwards of 4 lbs, but when you're carrying expensive gear, I think it's more important to have that added protection. Fair warning though, it is heavy and if you have heavy camping gear, you're going to be hurting. Luckily my tent/sleeping bag/pad set up is fairly light.
Side note, I remove the lid of my bag and just use the little flap that it also has. if you have more gear/accessories to carry, keeping the lid may be a necessity.
The next item on my list is my NorthFace StormBreak 2 tent. Here's what I'll say about it. It's an alright tent. I could save a lot of weight by carrying a single person tent, but because I'm rocking all my camera gear, I want to be able to keep it sheltered as best as possible. In that aspect, the 2 person is basically a necessity. It's simple to set up and also looks pretty cool if that matters to you. It's also super cheap. The downsides are that it's heavy compared to other backpacking tents on the market, and has TERRIBLE ventilation. if it's slightly humid out and you can't open a vestibule due to rain or something else, prepare to sweat. If it's not raining, you can open up both vestibule's and get a great through breeze. This is definitely something to think about, especially if you're worried about condensation building up on your gear. Although I've never had that issue myself. I should also note, hauling around tent poles can be a pain. I think in the future, I'll invest in a tent that allows me to set it up using trekking poles.
Being the great writer I am, I've segued into the next item on the list, trekking poles.
My girlfriend loves to make fun of me for bringing these when I go backpacking. I kind of get where she's coming from. Sometimes we'll go out on day hikes and see people using them and wonder why they need them. Backpacking (and especially with the added camera weight) is a completely different animal though. When you're carrying all that weight and hiking 10-15 miles a day, they become a necessity. So don't listen to my girlfriend. If you think you need these, then get them. Your back will thank you.
I use Montem trekking poles, which i've linked above. These guys are great and they're super cheap compared to the outrageously priced ones on REI's website. who needs carbon fiber 300$ walking sticks? This is what fuels my girlfriends jokes.
Next up is the sleeping pad, which is arguably more important than the sleeping bag itself. A couple things about these. I use the NeoAir XLite. It's very expensive. you can get yourself an accordion folding pad for like, 30$. I wouldn't blame you if you did. But once you go to an air pad, you'll look back and question how dumb you were.
Sleeping outdoors will never be as comfortable as your bed. If you go on your first backpacking trip without that expectation, then you'll be fine. This pad is for all those people that expect it to be like their bed. This is as close as you're going to get without carrying 80lbs of mattress. Not to mention it's insanely light and packs down to the size of a soda can. I can't tell you how much I love this pad. It also will keep you warm and far away from the cold ground. You need this. Don't let your buddy who sleeps on the cold ground try to talk you out of it. He's just jealous of your hyper masculine, rich taste in comfortable sleeping pad arrangements. The one down side is this pad is kind of noisy, but you can't hear it anyways because your friend is still talking about how great it is to be sleeping on the ground like nature intended.
Anyways, next is the sleeping bag. I personally use an Igneo 16 degrees sleeping bag. Since we go camping 3 out of the 4 seasons, I need to stay warm. This sleeping bag does the job just fine. If it gets too hot, you can just unzip it. if it gets to cold, you zip it up higher. Zipper technology is really out of this world. I don't have much else to say about the sleeping bag itself.
The one thing I will say is, get yourself a compression sack with some type of soft, reversible lining. I'm not sure of the brand I have, but it fits my sleeping bag, and then when I unpack it, I just stuff it with my extra clothes and it makes a great pillow. That's a pro tip if I've ever heard one.
Food is pretty important. Most of us die if we don't eat it. It's a crazy world out there, and there's a ton of options. If you're the type that likes warm food, then you're going to want a stove and cookable meals. I am not one of those people. I keep it real simple and bring tortilla shells and peanut butter packets. Along with some craisins, maybe some nuts, and some protein bars. Simple is good.
Food is going to be totally up to you, and I can't really tell you what or how much food to bring. it's one of those things you've got to figure out for yourself. When I first took my cousin camping he brought enough food to feed us and the 30 bears he was attracting by bringing microwavable bacon. Yes, that actually happened. So what you bring is completely at your own discretion, just don't be the microwavable bacon guy.
I should also note that inside my food bag, I also keep my stuff for hanging incase there's not bear lockers or places to hang already.
These next two items aren't necessities by any means, but they really help.
I bring a power bank charger. I use a Kodiak because it's water proof and shock proof. You can get really cheap power banks on amazon and if you shop around. These are great for charging phones and camera stuff. You don't NEED it, but once you have it and you forget it, you feel lost.
Along with that, I also bring a headlamp. Since I'm there with my camera, I typically like to shoot stars. A head lamp can come in handy not only for walking and not stubbing your toe, but also for light painting. I use a Petzl Tikka and I haven't had to change the batteries in it since I got it almost 4 years ago.
Last but of course not least is your water bottle and filtration system. I always bring a water filter and use big disposable water bottles to filter and drink water. I keep the drinkable water on the other side of my bag, opposite of my tripod. This balances the weight really well. Don't ever leave for a trip without this!
And that does it for the Camping gear section. Lets move on to the clothes part.
As some of you may have already guessed, you'll need to wear clothing while camping. As much as we would all like to be out there naked, there are rules and also mosquitoes that we have to pay attention to.
For clothing, Just make sure you wear stuff that can get wet, and dry fast. Even if you aren't crossing rivers and such, you're going to sweat, and you don't want to be caught at night in sweaty clothes when the temperature drops to 20 degrees. Obviously what you bring and how much depends on your weather and how long you'll be gone.
I always recommend to first timers to wear anything that isn't cotton. Same goes with boots. make sure they're either waterproof or fast drying. I use cheap boots that I honestly couldn't even tell you the name of because they're so old. just make sure they're broken in and comfortable. You'll also want to make sure you have at least 2 pair of underwear and socks. I personally like to sleep in clean underwear and it's always nice to have a backup pair if things get messy. Having dry socks will literally save your life. You'll be so happy when you have a dry pair to wear around camp.
My final recommendation is to at least have a rain jacket. You can get cheap "Frogg Toggs" at Walmart for 20$. My Cousin wore them and loved them.
I'm not going to go too in depth on the clothing since it doesn't really matter as long as you're dry and warm.
Now onto the best part, the camera gear.
This is my favorite part of all of this and I'm probably not going to really go into too much detail in terms of gear. You know the old saying, it's not the camera that makes the photographer. That's very true. I will explain why I bring what I do though and give some tips on packing and such.
The Wandrd 31 Prvke Camera Cube makes for a great stand alone camera protection system. This is typically what I pack along with my backpacking trips and it works great.
I shoot Nikon, but it basically applies across the board. Since I'm primarily going to be shooting landscapes, I bring 3 lenses. my 16-35mm, 70-200mm, and the middle man, the 50mm. For me, this works. It gives me a good range of focal ranges and I haven't ever really regretted not having 65mm. The only think I wish I had was a dedicated astrophotography lens. If I had a wide and fast prime, that would replace my 50mm in a heartbeat.
So anyways, they have a camera cube which fits all the gear listed above and I just pack that into my pack (after this section I explain how I actually pack my bag). If you don't already have a system like this, Tenba makes a great camera insert system that will fit similarly. I highly recommend this insert as well.
Along with that i also bring my filter kit, which is a Lee Filter system. I have a case that I keep all the filters in and I just keep the foundation mount attached to the case. You don't need these. I really enjoy composing and seeing the shot as I'm taking it. If you're into bracketing, that works as well. This just works for me.
Last but not least, I bring my trusty Manfrotto BeFree tripod. This thing is great. It packs down really small and is decently light. I have an XPRO ball head attached to the legs, along with an L-Bracket Arca-Swiss style attachment system from Really Right Stuff. If you aren't a camera guy or girl, this is complete gibberish to you, but just trust me that it's awesome.
Along with this stuff, I always have a shutter release cable. I also bring a blower, some little micro fiber towels, extra SD cards and 3 batteries in total. Since Landscape stuff isn't super battery intensive, this should be more than enough for you.
Anyways, that's about it for the camera gear. Now lets discuss how I pack all of this into my backpack.
Now the fun part, packing all that gear into your backpack!
First I start by packing my sleeping bag way deep down in the dark caverns of the Atmos 65L. You want to pack your sleeping pad on the bottom because it's not important when you're hiking. I try to pack how I set up camp and break it down. So when I first arrive at camp, the first thing I need isn't my sleeping bag so that goes on the bottom and vice versa when I'm packing up camp. First thing to go is going to be the sleeping bag. I pack it up in my bag while I'm still in the safety of my tent.
Next up is my tiny sleeping pad, which I set right on top of this facing outwards towards the front of the bag so I can fit more stuff closer to my back. Remember the closer the gear is to your back, the better the load will feel.
This next one is something I personally do, and I honestly don't know how others handle this. When I pack my tent's poles, I stick them on either side of my sleeping pad, pushed all the way down on the inside of the bag. I do this even when I use my smaller bags as it adds some stability and rigidness to the pack and keeps the weight close to your back. Remember to keep the weight distributed evenly, so put an even amount of poles on both sides.
Next to go into the bag is your food bag. Since I'm only going on a weekend trip, this bag isn't too big so it fits great in between my poles and doesn't take up too much room.
On top of the food bag I set my compression sack with my tent inside. As I stated earlier, you want to keep this higher up in the bag since this will be one of the first things you'll need when arriving at camp. Also because of the nature of how I pack, my tent ends up being centered in the bag and close to my back, making the load really well balanced.
After my tent is jammed in there, I put the clothes in that I don't need quick access to and then my camera gear right on top of that. I always like to keep my camera gear right at the top, just incase I want to snap a quick photo. It also makes it convenient if you want to add a jacket overtop of it to protect it from the elements.
Now I tighten up the pack and the compression straps and make sure the load feels okay. If it does, I move on and put my accessories and smaller quick access items such as my headlamp, charger and rain jacket in the front zipper compartment/mesh stretchy compartment.
After everything is packed away, I make sure my tripod will attach to the side and load that up. This is easy to attach securely because of all the compression straps located on the bag.
Honorable mentions while packing and things you might want ton consider
-Poop shovel and toilet paper (depends on where you're camping obviously)
-Zip lock bags for trash, unless you're a savage who just leaves the trash in your food bag.
-Garbage bag to line your bag with. If there's a chance of rain, you'll want to do this if you don't bring a rain fly for your bag. (especially since you have all that camera gear in there!)
-More snacks. I typically bring some snack bars and stuff to keep on my side pockets on my bag. Sometimes you need that extra motivation.
-A shower cap to cover your camera while you're shooting. This may seem silly at first, but it could be the difference between a camera with water damage and a dry camera with luscious, dry hair.
-Tick repellant. I always spray all my gear before I go anywhere with tick repellant. If you've ever had a tick on you, you know how annoying it can be. Don't be the tick guy. Spray your gear.
That's it guys. I hope you enjoyed this and it helps you plan and pack for your first backpacking trip! Remember to have fun out there and tag me in your backpacking photos on instagram so I can check them out! While you're there, also give me a follow @evan_nowak_
Thanks for reading!