Lightweight Backpacking Photography

Nature photographers often carry a heavy pack containing a big full-frame camera, multiple large zoom lenses, and a sturdy tripod. The weight of the photography equipment alone can reach 30 pounds, on top of which hiking gear is added. In addition, nature photography of the traditional fashion requires substantial time per shot: to set up the tripod, attach the correct lens, frame the composition, screw on filters, and wait for the perfect light. This approach isn’t possible on the PCT, because hiking 20 miles a day over mountain passes, for five months, requires a light pack and continuous motion.

Fortunately it is possible to create excellent photographs quickly, with light, small gear. Here are some tips for lightweight backpacking photography equipment:

Rae Lakes Loop

We recently hiked the Rae Lakes Loop in King’s Canyon National Park. This area is known for its stunning scenery, and it didn’t disappoint. What we saw looked a lot like Yosemite, but without the roads and people. Massive granite cliffs, lovely chilly glacial lakes, alpine meadows with wildflowers, sweet waterfalls, the whole deal. There’s nothing better than being immersed in these things for a few days.

Especially exciting for us, the 48-mile loop included a section of the PCT. It felt great to be walking on a piece of the trail we’ll be encountering in 2012 when we walk the full PCT — although when we walk this section as thru hikers in June, snow will blanket most if not all of the trail. Then, instead of walking down the trail, we’ll glissade (slide on our butts) to the bottom!

From Glen Pass

On this five-day trip we continued the process of fine-tuning our PCT gear. We learned that Hypafix tape works better than duct tape to cover hot spots on feet, because it stays in place. Half Mile’s printed maps and GPS waypoints were accurate and informative. And we debuted our 1 oz pocket kite! It was great fun to fly, and we intend to grace many mountain passes with its lovely colors in the future!

Tents, Sleeping Bags, and Packs, Oh My!

The “big three” in backpacking refers to your heaviest pieces of gear — tent, sleep system, and backpack. The best gear varies for each person’s needs because there are tradeoffs between weight, comfort, and price. Below we explain how we selected our big three items.

Tent

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 (without rain fly)

We love our Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2. It suits our weight/comfort/price mix perfectly. After removing extra stuff sacks, and replacing the stakes with 6 Vargo Titanium Ultralight hooks, this 2-person tent weighs only 2.3 pounds! This is very light, and as you can imagine, when trekking such a long way we opt for less weight on our backs whenever possible. It’s cozier than most tents, but two sleeping pads fit perfectly next to one another inside and we’d rather have the lighter weight than extra space. This is a free standing tent, which is more convenient than a tent in which you must use your trekking poles as supports.