I have been hiking for a few years and have been able to craft a respectable hiking kit that I can use on weekend or multi-day treks. But now that I am beginning to carry a DSLR with me on my hiking trips, I find myself starting to look at full-sized camera bags meant for hiking.
My wallet kicks in and tells me I already have a hiking backpack that I do not want to purchase a DSLR adventure bag that may not fully replace my current hiking bag unless I spend a ton of money. So I have created a list of 10 ways to make your hiking pack lighter so you can fit your camera gear!
- Eat dry food and leave the stove system at home. Even the fantastic MSR Pocket Rocket can take up valuable s
pace as its not flexible; especially if you use the red triangle case it came with. On top of carrying that stove/case, you have the fuel and possibly a backup canister. Realize that trail mix is the best thing in the world while hiking (not only my opinion but pure fact) and it can be picked up at any convenient store. Peanut M&Ms are a close second, along with beef jerky, pop tarts, granola/energy bars. A jar of peanut butter and a package of small flour tortillas is an unbeatable combo. The more peanut butter tortilla wraps you eat, the lighter the load gets. The Jetboil system and the Pocket Rocket cannot compete with that. Save the hot meal for days in town or that reward meal after the trip.
- If you are hiking with a partner/friend and need a 2-person tent, split the gear. Have someone carry the food and the other carries the tent. Or each person carries their share of food and split the tent system up. Placing the primary tent body in one pack and the poles/rain fly in the other. The poles/stakes can be strapped onto the outside of your pack, allowing for more packing flexibility within it.
- A good friend ditched his tent all together for summer hiking and went with a Wal-Mart hammock, which he loves. It packs really small and barely takes up any space, but you would n
eed to be comfortable with setting up some sort of rain shelter. Whether it is a simple tarp or hiking poncho, it is necessary to not only keep you dry but also your precious camera gear.
- On multi day treks when you are not going to be able to carry all the water you would need, a water filtration system is necessary. There are many proven water filtering systems with various weight saving abilities but I use the Sawyer system due to its great weight, price and ability to attach the filter to a regular water bottle as a straw.
- Sleeping pads are another great area to cut weight. For a limited
budget you should try the Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite sleeping pad for about $30/$40. Although not as comfortable as an air based sleeping pad, the Z-Lite does provide some protection from rocks/roots, will not pop or deflate over the course of the night and it provides great ground insulation. The Z-lite also folds up accordion style, can go on the outside of the pack and weighs next to nothing.
- On the camera side of things, shooting with prime lenses is my favorite way for cutting camera gear weight. In most cases they are cheaper, lighter and smaller than zoom models.
- Go bare bones for the camera kit, only bringing your camera body, 1 or 2 prime lens and a tripod. Depending on your pack you should be able to stash the bottom of the tripod in the water bottle pouch on the side and use the buckles to further secure it. My Osprey Talon 33L has a water bottle pouch on both sides, so one becomes a dedicated tripod holder. Elastics loops sit on both sides of the bag that I weave through the tripod and cinch down so it will not slide around.
- Ditch unnecessary items such as chairs, pillows, camp shoes, pots/pans and even that shovel that sits on the back of your pack that you never use. I always carry a ¼ zip fleece that not only
keeps me warm at camp but also doubles as a pillow and camera cushion when in my pack. Pickup a pair of Crocs or even sandals to replace your camp shoes and make sure to re-read Item 1 above regarding the pot/pans. As for the shovel, a stick found near camp makes a worthy waste hole-digging device.
- Do not use compression sacks or bags for your extra clothing. This creates a less flexible bulky object in your pack. Instead, stuff them in extra holes or gaps within your pack. This can also help provide further impact protection for your camera and lenses. Just make sure you remember your favorite prime lens is wrapped in your extra shirt before adding it to your improvised pillow at night.
- If you do not own any down-filled items, this is where you can make a solid investment, open up space in your pack and shave off a ton of weight. Down-filled sleeping bags are lighter and pack sm
aller than synthetic sleeping bags, but cost more. I bought my 40-degree down Montbell sleeping bag towards the end of summer a few years ago for a discounted rate and cannot think of hiking life without it. Down jackets are also amazing, but depending on the weather, you may get more use out of your trusty fleece jacket.
Now get out there and get those awesome sunrise shots!!!
PS: This is for beginner/amateur photographers. If you have a ton of expensive pro glass, a pro-level camera and/or are paid to take shots on your treks you should go a different route.