When traveling or backpacking, the last thing you need is more weight on your shoulders. For me, it’s all about keeping my photographic gear to a minimum when traveling or hiking. I do my best to pack with a purpose by first identifying my destination’s environment and then thinking of what kind of photos I want in the end. Although I love experimenting with different types of photographic equipment, my camera bag generally stays within the same 3-4 item range when I wander out. In this list, I’ll cover the gear setup I often take with me to cover my bases when hiking.
Item 1: DSLR or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Obviously, you’re going to need a camera. While modern point and shoots boast incredible specs like 4K video and whopping 20+ megapixel images, I’ve yet to find one that can replace my DSLR. The two camera bodies I use the most are a used Canon 5D Mark II and used Canon 70D. While I’d eventually like to upgrade, these cameras are powerhouses and never fail to deliver great results. The 5D Mark II can certainly take a beating, but I’m a little more careful with the 70D.
Mirrorless cameras are increasing in popularity with options like Sony’s powerhouse A7 series. These types of cameras are pretty similar to DSLRs, minus a pretty significant chunk of weight in the body (the mirror, hence the name "mirrorless"). I’ve been keeping my eye on the current Sony mirrorless offering and I’m nothing short of impressed. My work requires a setup built for both photography and videography, and Sony’s line seems to have a great marriage of both needs.
Item 2: Wide Angle Zoom
A wide angle zoom is an efficient way to keep your camera bag a little lighter, as the field of view can be adjusted with one lens. Since the Canon version is over $1,000 (used), I go for the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. This lens gives me a solid range to photograph anything from open landscapes to wildlife, with plenty of light for darker situations.
Tips for buying:
Most new camera bodies will have some version of a wide angle zoom included in the kit, but do a quality test before stuffing this lens into your next adventure bag. Most “kit lenses” are included with a camera for a reason.
Item 3: Nifty Fifty or Other Lens
Assuming you have extra room in your backpack, you may want to throw in another lens for special applications. I’m a fan of isolating my subjects using a shallow depth of field, so my secondary lens is often a simple 50mm f/1.4 lens. From portraits to landscapes, I get so much mileage out of the “nifty fifty.”
You may find that your photographic tastes swing more towards wildlife, in which case a telephoto lens will be more appropriate. With my budget, I currently use the Tamron version of Canon’s 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens. It’s a great starter lens for those like me who photograph wildlife for fun, but it doesn’t necessarily pass the quality test for larger prints due to softness and chromatic aberration.
No matter what lens I stuff in my bag, it's still totally unnecessary to carry a second lens. In fact, if I was toting around a telephoto lens, I wouldn't bother bringing another lens since the pack would get too weighty. Figure out your needs and go from there.
Item 4: Lightweight Tripod
Unless you’re a documentary-style photographer with a steady hand, you’ll most likely need a tripod. A sturdy, lightweight travel tripod is key to adding more light, clarity, and smooth motion to an image for a dynamic scene.
I’m currently in the trial stages of my new Dolica TX570DS Ultra Compact Tripod, but so far I’m in love with its lightweight frame and ball head. I chose this tripod after experiencing a set of disappointing, shaky images of waterfalls when I didn’t bring a tripod (which I knew I needed, but left at home due to its weight and inconvenience). With my new Dolica, I’m hoping to avoid the ol’ case of tripod neglect.