Alternative to camera backpacks for hiking

lowepro_mini_trekker_awAt the time of this posting, B&H Photo has 306 backpacks and daypacks dedicated to holding camera equipment. For many years I had and used a Lowepro MiniTrekker AW (pictured here) which is no longer made. Fully loaded with my gear the pack weighed upwards of 20 pounds or more and it was hell to carry around. Also, most packs like these have little provision for carrying the kinds of things one needs on a serious hike: extra clothing, food, water, first aid and more. In other words, they’re made to carry a lot of camera equipment over short distances. Some are better than others and following the B&H link above will no doubt turn up a lot of packs but few will be useful to hikers doing serious hikes in the wilderness.

canon_g11My solution to this was to simply not carry my big gear, instead carrying a small Canon G11 in a small (Lowepro) pouch on the shoulder strap of my more comfortable hiking pack. I continue to do this and it’s working well for me.





Pack, camera bag, tripod

Recently, however, I thought it would be fun to bring my bigger gear up to a beaver pond I’ve been hiking to and photographing. It would be great to get a picture of the beaver with a 5D and 300mm lens.

One idea I had was to simply place my Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200shoulder bag inside my hiking pack. This would leave room for extra clothing and food and rain gear and afford the camera gear protection. However, this is where a great feature of the particular shoulder bag I have is extremely useful. Note, any bag or foam insert can be used for this idea.

The idea
The idea is simple: take the foam insert out of the shoulder bag and place it in the bottom of a hiking pack, allowing safe carrying of camera gear and in addition, carrying all the necessary hiking gear.

1. Take a Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 shoulder bag and fill it comfortably with the gear you’ll need on the hike.

Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 loaded Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 unloaded

2. Remove padded foam insert from bag. It’s held in by velcro which is easily ripped apart.

Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 empty Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 foam insert Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 foam insert

3. Take any comfortable hiking pack and empty it. Note, the pack needs to be big enough to hold the padded insert. This is an REI Trail 25, about the smallest, cheapest hiking pack that could be used for this.

REI Trail 25 pack

4. Place foam insert in bottom of pack.

REI Trail 25 pack with foam insert REI Trail 25 pack with foam insert

5. Load insert with camera gear. In this case I’m able to get a Canon 300mm f/4 lens in where I could not get it in the shoulder bag, this setup gives me more headroom for long lenses.

REI Trail 25 pack with foam insert and gear

6. Add more hiking gear on top and close bag. Add small tripod to side, fitting a leg into the water bottle holder.

REI Trail 25 pack with foam insert and gear REI Trail 25 pack with foam insert and gear

An additional plus to this idea is that this type of pack doesn’t advertise that you’re carrying a camera (if you leave the tripod off the outside).

An alternative to this idea is to use lens cases and a camera wrap and place the camera gear in the bag along with all the other hiking gear. That may be best in the long run and I’ll experiment with it as well. I do, however, like the idea of using a regular hiking pack rather than a dedicated camera pack for occasional carrying of larger gear on hikes.

If you have experience hiking with a DSLR I’d love to hear about it.

Lowepro Stealth Reporter 200 at B&H
REI Trail 25 pack at REI