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How to backpack with a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

I get asked this question all the time. “How do you backpack with all your camera gear.” While it can seem complicated, backpacking with a DSLR or mirrorless camera is not too challenging or complex. However, it will add weight to your pack and force you to decide what lenses to bring along.

It can be hard because I love all my lenses, but I have to choose, or else my pack pushes over 50 pounds. Thankfully, the newer phones, with their super-wide angle lens, help lighten the load as it usually means I can leave my 16-35 at home. (Unless I’m shooting Astro, then I’m SOL, haha.)

The cameras for backpackers will ideally be smaller and more compact, helping ease your load on the trip.

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How to Backpack with a DSLR or Mirrorless Camera

How to decide what to bring backpacking

This is the crux of it all. How to choose what gear to bring when backpacking with a DSLR. It all comes down to what you will be shooting on your trip, how strenuous it is, and your physical fitness level.

Bring as many lenses and equipment as possible if your trip is relatively easy and short. Your body isn’t going to fatigue too quickly on an overnighter or a flat backpacking trip. Once the difficulty level increases, you’ll want to be pickier with your lenses.

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Is the hike challenging?

For example, when I hiked 30 miles to Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park, I decided only to bring my 24-70 lens and my GoPro Hero 9. The reason behind it was I wouldn’t be shooting any layers, so there was no need for my 70-200, and my GoPro is just as wide as my 16-35 but much lighter. Additionally, the 24-70 is so versatile that I knew I wouldn’t miss any shots. And thankfully, I was right.

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However, if this were an easier hike, I probably would have brought the 16-35, but with 8,000 feet of elevation change, I knew I wanted a lighter pack.

In the end, when backpacking with a DSLR, I try to stick with only bringing two lenses if I know the hike will be strenuous and multi-day. But if it’s just an overnighter, even if it is hard, I will usually bring another one (or two) to ensure I get all the shots I want.

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Backpacking with a DSLR – What are you photographing?

On the other side, if your trip is wildlife photography or you want some excellent mountain compressions, you’ll want to carry a telephoto lens. This means a heavier pack. Knowing your subject beforehand makes your decision a lot easier.

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Protecting your lenses

This is another question I get a lot, and it’s not a perfect science. But I think I have a decent solution to keeping my cameras for backpackers safe.

First, I always carry my body and primary lens (usually the 24-70) on myself using the PeakDesign Clip. This is a must-have for anybody backpacking with a mirrorless camera or DSLR. This allows me to have it accessible and take photos on the go without stopping to go into my bag. Additionally, the PolarPro Lens Defender is phenomenal and the best I’ve found.

Then, for any lenses in my bag, I wrap them in my clothes and place them near the top of my backpack. This means they will stay safe, and they are easy to reach when swapping out lenses. Knock on wood, but I’ve never had any issues at all.

I used to carry my 70-200 on the side of my bag in the water bottle holder. I realized I had banged it too many times and was at risk of severe damage. So my advice is not to carry them outside your bag.

Backpacking with a mirrorless camera – My Gear Breakdown

Cameras for Backpackers: What I’m shooting with while backpacking or traveling with a DSLR or Mirrorless camera:

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside