The Best Camera Carry System for the Backcountry Photographer
One of the most difficult parts of photography in the backcountry is figuring out the safest and most efficient way to carry your camera and equipment. Before going on any outing I decide what gear I am going to bring with me to produce the best content possible while also keeping my gear safe, lightweight and as accessible as possible. Although there are occasions where I wrap my camera in a shirt and toss it in my daybag, I have ruined a few shirts this way and it’s not really worth risking the thousands invested in my camera bodies and lenses. Some important factors I consider when deciding what equipment I am going to bring are the activities I will be doing (hiking, snowboarding, climbing, etc.), weather, terrain, duration and the people I will be with. Generally the activity will have the biggest effect on what I bring with me. Here’s a few systems I have adopted to carry my camera.
The most important piece of equipment to bring is obviously your camera and my #1 piece of gear I use for carrying my camera is my Peak Design Capture Clip. This Clip is so awesome and so versatile in so many ways. I almost always carry a backpack in the backcountry and the clip can attach to almost any backpack strap. Because it is a locking quick-draw clip I have almost instant access to my camera to snap a shot but it is also is safe and secure. Having your camera ready at a moment’s notice is extremely important because subjects, landscapes and lighting will change at the flip of a switch and you have to be ready to capture it. Camera straps are great in some situations because there’s no release button but comes with a few disadvantages:
- Traveling abroad there are many thieves who will slash your strap and steal your camera. Having it attached to your backpack adds a lot of security.
- While hiking or scrambling the camera will swing around and get in the way during an emergency or swing into rocks while scrambling up hills.
- Can’t keep your camera out while biking, skiing or snowboarding.
Aside from its main use as a backpack clip, I also use my Capture to attach my camera to my climbing harness if I’m taking photos on the wall. I even use a second clip to attach lenses to my climbing harness because accessing a backpack is a tricky endeavor while suspended on a rope. Extra lenses on your belt or backpack are also great for events, weddings or photoshoots where speed is key.
Tripod selection is a topic for another blog post but because I use a Manfrotto BeFree Carbon tripod the standard quick release plate from the Capture won’t attach. Luckily, Peak Designs made the Dual Plate Clip so I can attach my camera to both my tripod and Capture without changing mounts. If you use a Manfrotto tripod you should buy the Capture(Clip Only) and then buy the Dual Plate Clip.
The biggest weakness of using the Capture Clip is exposure to the elements.
If I am backcountry touring in the snow or hiking in the rain, I want to protect my camera. Even though I have started buying weather sealed camera bodies and l
enses, I still worry about water and dust ingress. So when the clouds are dark I generally reach for my Think Tank Digital Holster with the chest harness attachment. This setup is great because the camera bag is compact and can be stowed easily in a backpack, but with the chest harness I can have a camera ready for quick action if needed. Here are some of the best advantages of the Digital Holster:
- Keeping the camera in the holster bag protects against light rain or snow and keeps the lens clean and dry.
- The holster comes in different sizes and also can be unzipped and extended making it possible to have different body/lens combinations.
- The included rain cover is easy to throw on and cover your precious gear
- when the weather turns nasty.
- 6-attachment point harness provides lots of security when snowboarding or skiing
- Extendable holster means I can hold a camera body with a 70-200mm F/2.8 lens on my chest. This would be too bulky to mount on a backpack strap, but I often shoot with this setup when snowboarding.
- Chest mounting while snowboarding or skiing protects your camera more if you fall and land on your back.
- If the weather is frigid, sometimes I throw hand warmers in the holster to keep my batteries from dying.
Even with the bag and rain cover combination sometimes you need more protection from the elements. When I was motorcycling through Vietnam we often found ourselves in rainstorms that felt more like showers, so waterproof gear was essential. Investing in a nice waterproof backpack like the Sea to Summit 26l Drybag backpack is what I did and it has been an essential piece of gear for my adventures. I use it for canyoneering, my trips abroad and hiking in severe weather. Another option is one of the many NRS backpacks or stuff sacks you could use for camera gear. No matter what gear you use or your experience as a photographer, how you carry your camera will have a significant impact on the quantity and quality of your photos so I encourage you to adopt systems that are as efficient as possible.
Disclosure: This blog contains affiliate links to the products/services I recommend and I may receive compensation when you purchase products from these links.
- Peak Designs Capture Clip – clip + quick release plate
- Manfrotto BeFree Live Carbon Fluid Head Tripod
- Think Tank Digital Holster 20 – Fits body + 24-70 or body +70-200 when extended
- Think Tank Digital Holster Harness
- Sea to Summit Rapid 26l Drybag backpack
- NRS Bags