Batwister,

I'm surprised to hear you're just starting out, but why not? It can't be any harder to learn than, say, analog photography.

Above all, be safe. Whenever I've been in danger in the wild, the camera stayed in the pack and the safety of my party took my full attention. If you can find a friend to hike with, you improve the chances of a successful trip.

Galen Rowell was athletic, and it got him some remarkable photographs that I don't think anybody else could duplicate. Instead of just happening to be in the right place - he saw the right place and ran to it.

I don't treat backpacking like an endurance sport. I suppose some people make it that, but not me. Five to ten miles, that's a good day's hiking. Then drop the pack and take pictures. Leave some energy for the afternoon. This is my formula, its weakness is that I have only brief shooting opportunity during hike times and am always shooting afternoons. Many smarter photographers than me set their alarm for 4 in the morning and get up and out - in position with camera before the sun comes up. You can do that.

Lightweight gear is great for making hiking more enjoyable. Heavier gear is good for making camping more pleasant. Careful where you draw the line. Once I was quite upset that a trip turned more into a camping trip and I drew lots as the chef. I spent the best afternoon light tending to a stupid pizza in an Outback Oven. But I do have a 6x9 shot that rivals 4x5 from that day.

By my standards, the heavy side: 50 pounds is about right for a first day out, if the first dinner weighs a few pounds. For my light side: 35 pounds makes for a very pleasant trip. This includes everything including food, water, camera, film and tripod. Before going out for real, just throw on the pack and walk around your neighborhood or take local trails with a full pack. Carry a few gallons of water for fake weight and if you feel like you over-did it you can dump it out.