Going on a Hike? 5 Things to Consider before Packing the DSLR.

“What do you mean ‘consider’?” As a landscape and nature photographer, this is a difficult concept for me to understand…as a photographer, shouldn’t I always have my camera with me? First, I admit that I don’t carry my camera with me as often as I should. But second, I had a moment of realization one weekend about whether lugging my DSLR was actually necessary. Below are five things I consider every time I plan to go out on a hike.

  1. Determine the reason for the hike.

Before you pack up your gear, consider the reason(s) you’re going on the hike. Is this a local hike? Are you going for exercise, outdoor meditation, or for photography? Obviously, if you’re going strictly to take pictures, then this article is not for you and your mind is made up! But, if you’re embarking on a hike so that you can get fresh air and work off some calories, then breaking out the camera may not be the ideal thing to do on your hike. If you’re going to take time to admire nature during your hike, then bringing along your camera may be a good idea, but consider the weight of the gear and whether you have the appropriate bag.

2. Think of the type of hike

Are you climbing (or crawling) up a mountain? Is it a steady climb? Or is this a mostly-flat hike? Is this woodsy or out in the open? Is there any chance your camera would put you off balance, risking injury to yourself and/or your camera? I am definitely clumsy, so I have to carefully consider the gear I bring, and the type of bag…and whether my husband is willing to take the bag for me (the answer is always yes…because he’s amazing like that!) Last year we traveled to Anchorage, Alaska – which means I took my camera with me EVERYWHERE! One of the first days, we went to Flattop Mountain – I did not do any research, other than to read that it was the “most often climbed peak in Alaska” How hard could that be? Well…it was the most difficult hike I’ve ever encountered as an amateur hiker. 

This photo is the very last I took with my camera on the way up…and my camera stayed put until I made it safely down the mountain, and in the car. (Some might say I was a little traumatized.)

The point is…with the weather as foggy as it was, and the steep incline to the peak, had I done my homework then I would have chosen to leave my camera behind for the strenuous hike. Carrying the gear had proven to be a challenge, and honestly, there were points where losing my camera was the least of my worries.

3. Think of your hiking buddies

If you’re like me, then you may be self-conscious about how much time it may take you to get “THE shot” – you don’t want people watching you, you don’t want to make them wait, and you don’t want to be left behind! When I’m going with just my husband, I know how patient and supportive he can be while I take pictures, so I’m more likely to bring my camera along for the ride. However, if my hiking buddies and I are going for different reasons – say, I’m going to take photos and they’re going to exercise – then it’s probably not a good idea to bring the DSLR along, unless I’m comfortable with catching up to the group.

Me, being considerate of my hiking buddings by not taking my camera gear.

4. Remember: Your smartphone is the mini version of your best (photography) friend

Just because you don’t bring your DSLR, doesn’t mean you can’t take amazing photos! My iPhone is always with me, and when I’m hiking, I actually carry it in a FlipBelt. (not an affiliated link…I just love their product!). Having my phone easily accessible around my waist has been key to me grabbing some great shots while hiking.

And honestly, even on days when I bring my DSLR, I find that I take more photos with my iPhone. In addition, I recently discovered a new app, Halide, that makes me feel more comfortable using manual controls than the native iPhone app, which leads to better photos for me.

5. Gains and losses

Ultimately, it comes down to a Pros/Cons list on whether it’s worth packing the gear or not. I try to live life without regret, but I also know that life throws some “Make It Work” moments my way every now and then. Truth is, I take my camera with me about 75% of the time…and about 75% of hiking time, it’s in the bag.

    

Same mountain, 2 different hikes…and the DSLR stayed in the bag until we reached the top. 

But, I don’t regret taking it with me – what if I had seen some interesting wildlife? I would not be able to reasonably capture that with my iPhone. During the times I don’t take my camera, I focus more on the physical aspect…and I also learn how to be resourceful with what I do have…which is my own skill and perspective.