View Full Version : Backpacking and Photography?

06-05-2010, 07:44 PM
Hey all - A group of co-workers and myself will soon be giving MT. Whitney a try. We are all 1st timers to MT. Whitney, and I would like to document the trip, for myself and for PR for our company.

I have never done a overnight backing trip before and am finding it hard to figure out how to pack my camera gear along with my camping gear (in a safe manner anyway).

the pack:

Kelty Red Cloud 5600

the camera gear:

Canon AE-1P
Canon A-1
50mm f/1.4
100mm F/4 macro
35-105mm f/3.5 Zoom

I was thinking about both bodies in case I came across something I wanted in B&W, not sure yet. I will also probably take the 199a flash, since it's the smallest one I have.

I'd like to hear how others have packed their bags and incorporated their camera gear, and suggestions on which gear to take, including stuff I haven't listed.


Christopher Walrath
06-05-2010, 07:50 PM
Anytime I hiked, which has been a while, I had a fanny pack kinda thing with a body and lens affixed, another lens, a polarizer and however much film I could jam in the cracks, the idea being ease of access. You could always bring more and stash it in the pack, just keep what you anticipate using the most within arm's uncontorted reach.

Rick A
06-05-2010, 08:29 PM
I used to pack the Uintas in NE Utah, San Juans in SE Colo. and other places. My camera of choice was a Ricoh 500 or my Olympus XA. My friends and I would spend two to three weeks in the wilds at altitudes above 10,000 ft. In winter I would X-C ski for one to two weeks trekking from yurt to hut to tent, depending on where I was going. Some friends used to operate back country yurts for wilderness treks(paying clients). Pack of choice was a first generation Wilderness Experience internal frame expedition pack. Space and weight are prime concerns especially at high altitude, where every ounce feels like a pound. Priority given to food and warmth, whatever was left over was for other necessities like climbing gear. Camera gear rode in strap on accessory pouches on shoulder straps or hip belt. Film was stashed in plastic canisters in the bag along with mini pod. I never packed a SLR on any trips, too heavy. The degenerative arthritis in my back and knees (and neck, hands) precludes me from enjoying that life anymore. Now, I can pack anything I care to shoot---in my Jeep (Grand Cherokee) in comfort.

Christopher Walrath
06-05-2010, 08:47 PM
I hear ya, Rick. Not the osteo but I sure ain't as bendy as I used to be.

No, actually, a nice rangefinder would be perfect. Heck, I didn't even think about my ZI Contina's. They would have been perfect back in the day.

06-05-2010, 08:58 PM
Two cameras are too much for that climb. When I climbed Mt. Whitney I took one lightweight rangefinder camera with one lens and lots of film. Kept it in a small waist pack attached to the hip strap of the backpack.

Keep it very simple and light. You're walking up a very tall mountain. Less is more.

06-05-2010, 09:14 PM
I have packed a 4x5 on 11 days hiked thru the Grand Canyon and bicycled for 5+ months through New Zealand with a 4x5 also. Of course, I was a bit younger at the time, so now I usually just take the wee little Rolleiflex.

But such little camera gear as you listed will be no problem -- as long as you do a little training before the big trip. Don't know where you are located, but try to do some high elevation hiking to get you and your lungs in shape. Altitude sickness will be your biggest stumbling block going up to 14,000 feet.

Equipment -- leave the 50mm and 100mm macro behind (you can do macros anywhere -- does not have to be on Whitney), unless it is a favorite lens, as you have it already covered with the 35-105mm. Or bring one of them along instead of a body cap for the second camera. Tripod? Bring a small bag you can fill with sand or dirt to stabilize the camera for longer shutter speeds...or one of those little table pods -- they weigh ounces.

But most of all, have a bunch of fun!


06-05-2010, 09:35 PM
Remember that you are going to gain 6,100+ feet of elevation hiking from Whitney Portal to the summit of My. Whitney. Depending upon your physical ability, and tolerance to altitude sickness, carrying a lot of weight may be an issue. Another option is to cross the Sierra, starting in the west (such as Giant Forest or Cedar Grove) and exiting over Trail Crest, summiting Mt. Whitney, and exiting at Whitney Portal. This requires a minimum of 7 to 10 days, but is a lot easier on the body than the 6,100+ of elevation gain and loss.

I have seen pictures taken from the summit of Mt. Whitney taken with a 8x10 view camera - and admired the physical ability to tote the beast that far. FYI, I usually carry a Pentax 67 and a Nikon F100 when I go packing in the Sierra, and find that to be a lot of weight.

Also, there is a sporting goods store in Lone Pine that used to sell a patch that states "I ALMOST climbed Mt. Whitney".

Do you have permits set up? If not, you may be disappointed if you do not. See the Inyo National Forest web site for more information.

Please publish a trip report here when you return.


06-05-2010, 10:14 PM

Regarding the lenses and bodies…keep 1 lens on each body and “the other” lens (the one you plan on using less) in the bag.

06-06-2010, 12:57 AM
Get yourself a titanium spork and forget the heavy Colman gas burners - You'll be lugging enough weight with a bear can without worrying about the extras.. If it is a one night trip, consider a no-cook regime, or at the most, taking an MSR Pocket Rocket + Ti Mug.

One last tip - If your tent weighs more than your camera, get a smaller tent or a bigger camera.

06-06-2010, 09:47 AM
Sounds like way too much gear. Especially for 1st time to Mt. Whitney and (your) first time backpacking. I'll second Rick's comment: "where every ounce feels like a pound". Unless your are the designated photographer and the others are carrying all the "community" gear, I'd go with a small RF or at least pare down the gear to one body and the zoom.

06-06-2010, 09:59 AM
When I went to Colorado last year, my Tamrac expedition 7 weighed 29 lbs (according to the airport scale - I didn't check it but was curious). When the time came to hike Longs Peak, it all stayed back in the hotel and all that came along was a Canon S2 (d*****l 10x zoom P&S). And even that felt like too much at times.

My opinion, take just the A-1 and 35-105 and leave the rest behind. If your A-1 has a motor drive on it (as mine does) take it off and leave that behind too. If you get the strong urge to shoot B&W, unwind the color roll carefully, being sure to leave the tab out, shoot your B&W and reload the color, sacrificing a frame or two to prevent overlap. Repeat as necessary.


06-06-2010, 10:06 AM
I've not been up Mt Whitney (!) but I often bacpack in mountains and wild country with camera gear. My advice is, be ruthless. Think what you absolutely need to get by, rather than what would be nice to have.

Think carefully about clothes - ideally use lightweight outdoor stuff that you can wash and dry easily - and take just one change. Same goes for food and cooking gear - can you get by with a small number of utensils? Can you use lots of dry food to rehydrate, or even food you don't need to heat? Think dried fruit, flapjacks. And remember water - it's often a killer in terms of weight. It's dead important too, so that means you need to save weight ewlsewhere as much as possible.

Gear-wise, be selective. I use a Pentax 67II kit with x5 lenses for much of my landscape work. I also use a Fotoman 617II. But if I'm on a backpacking / mountain trip I use my much lighter and compact Fuji GA645zi and a much much lighter tripod than normal. I stabilise this with a long climbing sling which I loop round the tripod and then stand on for extra rigidity. When backpacking, everything is a weight trade-off...!

Your legs and back will thank you for being ruthless, and you will have a much more enjoyable trip if you're not constantly fighting your kit. And I'd advise a bit of training too.

Have fun - post some of your photos from the trip to the APUG gallery.:D

Hope this helps,

PS- You might find the APUG 'Hiking and Trekking' group interesting?

06-06-2010, 10:18 PM
Thanks for all the replys!

It sounds as though most of you have been carrying the camera body on your person instead of in your pack? I wasn't sure if that would become a hassle or not. I do wish I had a smaller set of camera gear to go with, but the Canon's are all I have at the moment.

Vaughn - I live in Rocklin (Sacramento area) and have been trying to head to the Sierra's as often as possible. We have done Yosemite Falls and Nevada Falls, though not very high. I will be trying to get out to Half Dome soon. I went up to try the Sierra Butte's Lookout this weekend and it was still snowed in. I am by far the most out of shape and been kicking my own a$$ to get ready!

Wy2l - We do not have permits yet, and I see that August is now full, which was when we were planning to go. Our company has laid off so many people, we are all back-ups for one another and its been hard to coordinate time off for this and work around everyone's personal schedule.

Gavin - I joined the Hiking and Trekking group, didn't even now there was one. I'm still trying to find my way around this website. When I first started thinking about this, I was going to take a cast iron pan! HA!

06-06-2010, 10:26 PM
If the camera is in the pack or on me depends on my camera. When i was hiking with a slr I had it packed into one of those smallish camera bags and that was in front of me. My 4x5 (which i do backpack with) stays in the pack unless I am using it.

I say just bring the 50mm and your cannon ae-1 w/o any accessories (definitely no tripod). Weight wise its the right idea. I tell my self that if I can't make an image with a 50 n' body then its not worth taking. I'm here for the hiking, friendship, and views. I know if I want a stunning image I need to work it, experiment, and possibly revisit it multiple times. You just don't have time for that when your hiking. Save your self the frustration and oz's, and take the bare minimum.

06-06-2010, 11:05 PM

Reading other posts and thinking of my own advise, taking just one camera body and the zoom lens probably would be better than the advise I gave earlier. Sort of depends on one's purpose for the hike. If one's own pupose is to photograph, than the two camera bodies make sense (especially in case one body fails during the adventure.) Then one would cut everything else down to the bare minumum. But if the experience itself is the main purpose, then one camera body would be sufficient (plus a small P&S digital camera as the back-up?)

On my 11-day treks into the Grand Canyon I did not even take a stove -- thus no hot food/drinks for 11 days! No room for the stove! Photography was one of the main reasons I was in the Canyon. Just wish I could say they were photographically successful! The NZ trip was (but successfully) the same way -- I went to photograph with the 4x5 -- cycling was just they way I decided would be the best way to travel.

A cast iron pan!LOL! Reminds me of all the gear that is left at the bottom of the Grand Canyon when hikers realize that there was no way they were going to carry that Coleman lantern back up to the top! In fact, hiking down into the canyon on the Tanner Trail, I came across a group of Boy Scouts hiking up -- well spread out. One kid had no pack. When I asked him where his pack was, he said he tossed it off a cliff so that he would not have to carry it out!

The last (and only) time I hiked to the top of Half Dome was 1994 -- what a ZOO! More like a Disneyland Adventureland ride than a wilderness experience. Yosemite National Park now requires reservations/permit to hike to the top on Fridays, Sat and Sun -- and Federal holidays. http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm Hopefully this will help a little. Hope you can make it up there! That would be a great training hike -- but forget trying to get a permit at this late date for anytime this summer! You'll have to do it during the week, not weekends.

06-07-2010, 01:23 AM
Hey Vaughn, next time you don't want to carry a stove, make one of these!


06-07-2010, 02:02 AM
Pretty cool! Thanks!


06-07-2010, 02:31 PM
When I first started thinking about this, I was going to take a cast iron pan! HA!

Gulp...! :D:D:D

Rick A
06-07-2010, 08:05 PM
I recommend you start training for the climb. NO ALCOHOL- drink tons of water, its important to keep your body hydrated before and especially during the trek. At high altitude you need the water to help oxygenate your body. Make darn sure you can pack as much hydro as you need, and forgo some frivolity(like an extra camera body) and stay safe. Most important, post photos here for all to share.


06-07-2010, 08:58 PM
akaa: You stated stated "Wy2l - We do not have permits yet". Be advised, the Inyo National Forest rangers WILL check your permits on this trail, and if you don't have them, WILL send you back to the trail head and/or issue a nasty ticket.

Check out the Inyo National Forest web site:

There are 'special' rules for this trail. Find out about them. Bear canisters may be required. I would really hate for you to drive a long way and find out that you can't proceed, or worse, get a ticket. S*** like this can really ruin a vacation.

If you don't have a reservation to hike to Mt. Whitney, fear not, as there are lots of really great trips available. INF maintains a large percentage of all non-Whitney Wilderness Permits on a first-come, first served basis. If you are into suffering, consider the Shepherd Pass or Taboose Pass trails. Mere mortals can find other trails not so difficult - consult the friendly rangers in Lone Pine.