May 20th, 2020


In this final installment of the best camera gear for the backpacking photographer I will discuss where you are going to carry all of those components from previous posts!  Camera bags elicit some of the most divisive opinions, so I figured I would try to put that argument to rest with as objective information as I can possibly give from over a decade of experience.  

Backpacking as a photographer provides you with one serious dilemma. Do I buy a camera bag that I can use for backpacking (like an F-Stop bag)? Or do I go with a tried and true backpacking backpack and stick a camera insert inside of it?   I have used backpacks from both trains of thought, and while I am open-minded enough to be proven otherwise, I think backpacking backpacks distribute heavy loads far better for long treks.

The biggest arguments for camera backpacking bags is that they protect your camera very well, while keeping your camera pretty accessible.  Additionally, they can be quite well thought out, with a pocket specifically seemingly designed for each piece of kit, even tripods.  This sort of ergonomic design can be of great value, but there are some major caveats as well.

All it took for me was backpacking for nine days in Patagonia with a camera-specific 85L backpack to realize how crappy backpacking is with a bag that does not fit your body well and pulls 60lbs of gear directly on your shoulders. Since there are a wide variety of backpacking backpacks ultra-focused towards comfort and putting in some serious miles, your body will feel heaps better when you arrive at camp with a bag that fits your body like a glove.  

Although backpacking bags do sacrifice accessibility of your camera gear, there are some features to keep an eye out for that can really close the gap between a backpacking bag and a large camera bag. My personal favorite feature is a big bottom zipper on the outside of the pack. Although this zipper is typically reserved to pack your sleeping bag, it works perfectly for being able to quickly access your padded camera insert. This has the added benefit of placing your camera at the bottom of your pack, where most of its weight will sit directly on your hips. 

If accessibility is still an issue, you can use a PeakDesign Capture Clip to keep your camera secured to the outside of your backpack strap. Personally, I used one for a while but found that it created an unbalanced load to the front of my pack, especially if I had a beefier lens attached.  However, if you have a lighter camera and lens combo, this can be a really great accessory.

My best suggestion is to head to your local outfitter and try on some different packs with a decent amount of weight in them and see which model distributes the weight best for YOUR body.  Be careful adhering to online reviews about specific models, because they may not work as well for your body type. For instance, although Osprey Packs have always been highly recommended, I have a proportionally short torso and a big curve in my lower back, so Gregory Packs typically work best for me.

When it comes to what pack size you will need, a lot of that depends on the weather forecast and the compressibility of your camping gear. A sleeping bag for 0-degree weather will be quite a bit larger than one for 30-degree weather. You will also need to calculate how much space your camera gear occupies. My usual camera insert is a 10L insert, so whatever a normal backpacker may need for a week, I would generally just add 10L to that. My pack for an overnight trip can generally be stuffed in my Gregory Stout 45L pack, without much extra room for additional clothes. If I am heading out on anything longer, I would use a Gregory Baltoro 85L pack with plenty of room for additional food, water, and layers. Both of these distribute the weight pretty well, which typically ranges from 30-35lbs for an overnight trip, and 40-55lbs for longer excursions into the backcountry.  This weight is nothing to overlook, and making sure it is distributed well could very much make or break your time in the backcountry.

If you do opt to go with the comfort and performance of a backpacking pack over the convenience and accessibility of a large camera pack, you will need to protect and organize your camera gear in a padded camera insert.  The size insert you need will depend on how many lenses you plan on packing.  I can fit my mirrorless body, a 17-35mm, 24-70mm, and 70-300mm lens in a 10L camera insert.  There are many brands like PeakDesign, F-Stop, Tenba, Mountain Hardware that make solid options.   

I hope this information will be helpful for you to gear up for your next trip into the backcountry.  As always, I look forward to hearing what you guys think, so feel free to share this post and drop a comment below!

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