A Photographer shooting a sunset.

How I Pack For Photography Backpacking

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One of the most freeing things you can do as an outdoor travel and adventure photographer is backpacking. With just whatever you can carry on your back and what you can use on the trail (leave no trace!), backpacking is as close as we get these days to be one with nature. From short overnight hikes at your local trails to 5 month journeys through the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail, there is a way to backpack for everyone. For us photographers, however, we have to consider another aspect – getting our gear in and out of these remote places. Here’s a quick guide on how I pack for photography backpacking when it’s just me, nature, and my camera.


Backpackers on a trail.

What I'm Wearing

The first thing to consider when you’re going backpacking is what clothes you’re going to bring. From our cushy lives living in a house with unlimited access to a shower, it can feel daunting to not bring the comforts you are used to. One thing you have to accept when you start backpacking: You’re going to smell bad. That’s just a fact, and the sooner you accept it the better your experience will be. So when I tell you we aren’t bringing an outfit per day, don’t faint. Because we aren’t. Here’s what I bring for 6 days on a backpacking trail.

Prana Zion

2 pairs of Prana Stretch Zion pants. I don’t wear shorts.

Hiking Hoodie

2 hiking hoodies. Light weight and sun proof.

Trail Runners

Bulky boots too big, get lightweight trail runners.

Merino Socks

3. I swear by Darn Tough, most important is Merino.

Saxx Undies

3 Boxer briefs to prevent chafing, these are comfy.

Down Jacket

They’re expensive, but you don’t want to be cold.

Rain Shell

A cheap poncho would work as well, this lasts.

Sun Hat

If you don’t like the hoodie option. Sunburns are bad.

14 individual items! 13 if you don’t include the hat (I usually don’t). For some people, this seems like nothing. For experienced backpackers, this is WAY too much. Three whole pairs of underwear? I prefer to feel like I’m at least sort of clean every couple days, and they are light enough to not make a difference to me. Let’s go through everything individually!

Hiking Pants

There are a lot of pants out there to choose from. Zipper, Cargo, rip away, etc. The most important thing is that they’re comfortable and cool. I don’t wear shorts while out on the trail because I sweat all the sunscreen off and then have to deal with a horrible sunburn for the rest of the trip. To make it easier, I just wear cooling long pants. That’s also the same reason I use a long sleeve hoodie, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Long pants also avoid cuts and scrapes when you trip and fall, or if you have to bushwhack. So many problems solved!

Hiking Hoodie

I have the Patagonia Capilene Hoodie from REI, and I love it, but from what I’ve seen any hoodie will do as long as you like it. It’s very lightweight, as well as long for my long torso. The hoodie part protects the back of my neck, and the long sleeve protects my arms up to my wrist (I’ve seen some hoodies that even have finger holes to protect your hands). This way, I only need sunscreen on my hands and my face/neck. Saves sunscreen, saves me from pain, it’s all around perfect.

Trail Runners

My preferred shoewear when I’m backpacking are trail runners. Specifically my Altra Lone Peak Trail Runners. I’m on my third pair of these shoes now (they last a while, I swear, I just wear them really really often), and I couldn’t recommend them enough. They are “Zero Drop” shoes, which has to do with where your toes sit in relation to your heel. It’s different than most shoes you buy, and chances are you haven’t ever used a zero drop shoe. If not, I recommend trying these on before you buy them, because some people hate zero drop with a passion. 

Merino Wool Socks

So I swear by Darn Tough Socks. They aren’t paying me to say this, they are just my favorite sock in the world and literally the only brand of sock I own. They have a steep price per pair – $15-25. I understand that’s expensive, but with their lifetime warranty (when they rip you send them in and they send you a new pair), I’ll never buy socks again if I don’t want to, considering I have ~20 pairs. If these are too expensive, what you are looking for is Merino Wool. They don’t hold odor nearly as bad as other socks, they’re wool so they’ll keep you warm at night, Merino is just the absolute best. Don’t skimp on socks. Backpacking with blisters might be among the worst thing you can experience.

Saxx Underwear

Okay, so you’re probably seeing the theme of ~expensive~ now. Unfortunately in backpacking, you can pick two options between good quality, cheap, and lightweight. I beg of you to choose good quality and lightweight. You don’t want anything ripping or breaking or chafing, and you don’t want it to be heavy. Unfortunately, that means stuff isn’t cheap. If you have a preferred underwear that protects your inner thigh and is comfortable and sweat-wicking, use them. If you need recommendations, Saxx is my favorite.

Cotopaxi Fuego Down Jacket

Down Jackets are optional only if you aren’t going anywhere cold. Chances are you ARE going somewhere cold – it is pretty much always cold at 3 in the morning, regardless of where you are in the world. If you only need to stay warm while sleeping, just get your favorite lightweight hoodie and skip this guy. If there’s any chance of it being under 15 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit) while you aren’t curled up in your sleeping bag, you’re going to want a down jacket, and my Cotopaxi Fuego is my favorite.

Rain Jacket Shell

You can get actual rain jackets that are expensive and bulky, but I prefer a shell. They run big and slip on over whatever you’re wearing to keep you dry. Super lightweight and not terribly expensive. The only thing worse than hiking in the rain is being wet while you’re doing it.

Sun Hat

If you go the hoodie route like I do, I don’t bring a brimmed sun hat. Instead I’ll pick a small, easily packable baseball cap. If you don’t go the hoodie route, though, you need a hat. Don’t take the risk of cancer lightly, melanoma is no joke. Plus, hiking with a second degree sunburn is actual hell on Earth. You’ll notice just how much your shirt collar touches your neck – but only after it’s too late. Take your health seriously!

There are a lot of options out there for a variety of clothes! The main things you want to look for are lightweight, good quality, and comfortable. There’s a reason we don’t backpack all the time anymore like our nomad ancestors, you have to work extra hard to keep yourself comfortable and not in constant pain. Backpacking is incredibly rewarding if you take the steps to keep yourself safe and comfortable!

A Photographer watching a sunset

My Backpacking Gear

The next step is what you’re camping with! Photography backpacking is two fold: photography, and backpacking! So let’s talk about what gear I’m using for a standard 6 day backpacking trip.

Travel Backpack

Go to your outdoor store and get fitted. It matters.

Backpacking Tent

This one is expensive, you mostly want lightweight.

Sleeping Bag

I have an Elite 0, just make sure you like it (and fit).

Sleeping Pad

Comfortable and small, this is what I swear by.

Sleeping Pillow

Don’t use a hoodie. Your neck will thank you.

Camp Stove

The Pocket Rocket 2 is my go to and hasn’t failed yet.

Camp Cookset

This one is a tad big, you just need one that works.

Water Filter

Water is very important, don’t skimp on it.

Alright, so there is a lot more to supplies than these 8 things, but these are the 8 most important. Let’s talk about them individually, and then I’ll give you a list of what we missed.

Travel Backpack

There are a lot of backpacks, and unfortunately it does matter which one you pick. I use the Osprey Farpoint 70L, but each one is a little bit distinct and fits everyone just a little bit different. The best option to get one that fits is to go to your local outdoor store like REI and have an expert help you get fitted into a specific pack. You want the weight on your hips and the whole thing touching your back, otherwise you’re going to be miserable while you’re hiking. 

Backpacking Tent

I personally use the REI Half Dome 2. It’s way too big and heavy for backpacking, and by the time you’re reading this I’ll probably have upgraded. It goes on the outside of my pack with it’s compression sack and poles because of how large it is, but a lot of my backpacking friends have tents that fit inside their packs. Shop in person and have them show you how to assemble it!

Sleeping Bag

I use the Marmot Trestles Elite Eco 0. It’s lightweight but very big, so it goes on the outside of my pack with the tent. You can find smaller backpacking-specific bags that fit inside your pack if you’d prefer. If you’re tall, like me, try them out. My Marmot is pretty much at the very limit of what fits me, and when it’s really cold I have to get into a sort of fetal position so that I can be fully under the cloth. 

Sleeping Pad

The Nemo Tensor is my favorite piece that I own. It’s expensive but oh so worth it. Something I often tell people is that I sleep better while camping than I do in my own bed. It’s true, and I attribute a lot of that to this pad. It’s inflatable and inflates really quickly, and it is very very warm.

Sleeping Pillow

I used a hoodie as a pillow for a long time. I finally bit the bullet and got a sleeping pillow, specifically the Nemo Fillo Elite, which is padded (so it’s a little big), but also inflatable so it packs down decently small. Pack it last and shove it in their, you won’t regret bringing it. Save a neck, save a life.

Camping Stove

There are few luxuries while you’re backpacking, but one is a hot meal at the end of the day. Cold oatmeal for breakfast, Summer sausage for lunch, treat yourself to something good for dinner. We’ll talk about food later in this article, but a camp stove like the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 and the isopro cans are lightweight enough that you should absolutely bring it.

Camping Pot/Cookset

All you need is a metal pot that can heat up water. Later in this section I’ll recommend my favorite spoon though. Why a spoon? I don’t know, why so many questions?!

Sawyer Water Filtration System

I use the Sawyer Systems Water Filter, and I really love it. It’s easy to use and hasn’t failed me yet. If you aren’t backpacking near water sources, you’ll have to pack your own, which is hell. A lot easier to filter what you need as you go.

Alright, so that’s the 8 major things, but there are a lot of other things I bring with me. Here’s what I use:

  • Osprey Talon 6 Waist Pack – I like having a waist pack for easy access to water, camera gear, snacks, etc.
  • Lightweight HydroFlask – I spend the extra money because it really is that much lighter. Keeps water cold!
  • Iodine Tablets – If my Sawyer were to ever fail, I still need water. These are the backup for peace of mind.
  • Aeropress Go – Coffee is definitely a luxury while on the trail, but I like to indulge myself.
  • Long Handle Spoon – Listen, I get that being this excited about a spoon is weird. Just try it, you’ll understand.
  • Camp Towel – In case you get wet, take a bath, need to clean something, etc. It weighs nothing. 


Really quickly, let’s talk about food. I say quickly because I am really simple when it comes to food: freeze-dried meals. My preferred brand is Peak Refuel, but Alpine Aire, Backpacker’s Pantry, and Mountain House are all fine. As we’ve discussed, weight is the number one enemy while backpacking. With freeze-dried meals, you aren’t carrying any extra water weight. Remember to bring snacks like trail mix or granola bars, you don’t want to have to pull out your stove whenever you get hungry.

Two people repelling off a cliff


We aren’t quite to camera gear yet, but here is some tech that I always bring with me.

Satellite Device

What would you pay for peace of mind? It’s worth it.

Portable Charger

Gotta keep stuff charged. Don’t bring it on a plane.


I love AirPods. Sometimes you need to tune out.


Something to connect to the earbuds and satellite.

Zoleo Satellite Communicator

This is a GPS tracker, a messenger, and an SOS device all in one. It gives me peace of mind knowing help is quick a button press away if I need it, and it gives my loved ones peace of mind being able to see exactly where I am in the backcountry whenever they want. It’s $20-30/month, but you can cancel it whenever you don’t need it.

Anker Portable Charger

20000mAh is plenty for whatever you’re doing. It’s plenty enough to make airline security nervous, too. It’s fairly lightweight and it’ll last as long as I need it. I prefer Anker as my trusted brand.

AirPods Pro

I’m an Apple user, so AirPods Pro are my favorite earbuds to use. Any will work. Sometimes you just need to put some earbuds in and tune out the world with some music or audiobooks. Don’t let people give you a hard time for it, do what gives you the best experience while you’re out there.

iPhone 14 Pro

This is most likely outdated like a lot of this article (I’ll try to remember to update it!), but at the moment I’m using an iPhone 14 Pro as my device of choice to connect to my AirPods Pro, my Zoleo, and watch movies or shows at night while I’m trying to sleep.

A Photographer shooting a sunset.

Photography Backpacking Camera Gear

The moment you’ve all been waiting for! This section will vary a lot depending on what you’re specifically going photography backpacking for. You’re going to have different lenses and bodies depending on landscape or wildlife, just to give one example. For this, I’ll give an extremely general idea of what I’d take, keeping in mind weight is the enemy.

Camera Body

Mirrorless over DSLR just for weight reasons.

General Lens

I use a 24-70 2.8 as the lens that stays on the camera.

TelePhoto Lens

I love wildlife photography, so I need the reach.

Backpack Insert

The enemy here is size. Big enough and small enough.

SD Cards

I use SanDisk Extreme Pro, and I use a lot of them.

Camera Batteries

One battery per day plus an extra, just in case.

Capture Clip

Always have your camera right at hand with this guy.


This one is compatible with the Capture Clip.

Sturdy TriPod

I use MeFOTO and Three Legged Thing, both great.

ND Filter Set

Very expensive, but a must have for long exposures.

Directional Mic

If you do anything with video you need good audio.

Cleaning Kit

Your camera will get dusty and dirty and so will photos.

Camera Body

So currently I’m using a Canon 5D Mark IV, and it is heavy and bulky. I would recommend a mirrorless, like the R5, for the weight saving. Every little bit helps here. If you’re planning on doing wildlife photography more than landscape, you could even use an APS-C camera like the R7 or any FujiFilm camera for that extra reach.

General Lens

My 24-70 is my most used, favorite lens I own. It’s incredible versatile and can do just about anything. Landscape, some wildlife, astrophotography, portraits, etc. If you only bring one, it should be this guy.

TelePhoto Lens

So when it comes to TelePhoto, the options are either a 70-200 or something even bigger. For me, I want something bigger. If you have an APS-C body, you can definitely do a 70-200, as the crop factor turns it into a 320mm equivalent. If you don’t plan on doing wildlife photography, leave this one at home.

Backpack Insert

The biggest problem with an insert is size. Often they’ll be way too big and won’t leave any room for the other stuff you have to carry with you. In this goes everything except the Camera Body, 24-70, and TriPod.

SD Cards

I don’t dump footage or photos while I’m backpacking, so I need a lot of SD Cards. The last thing you want is to start having to ration your storage and miss out on great photos. Get a waterproof carrying case like this one to store them in.

Camera Batteries

I use about a battery per day, sometimes a tad more. That’s a battery every 12 hours, so if you’re doing night shoots, double that number. I go with the name-brand, always. The other ones don’t last nearly as long, and you’ll end up spending more.

Capture Clip

This little thing goes onto your backpack strap and lets you connect your camera body to it. You’ll never miss a shot trying to hurriedly get your camera out ever again, plus it saves room in your pack.

L Bracket

I swear by L-brackets, and the one linked above by three legged thing is my favorite. It’s basically attached to my camera always now, just a part of the body.

Sturdy Tripod

Don’t skimp on a Tripod. Get a carbon fiber for the weight savings, and spend a little bit to avoid the shakiness that a bad tripod will induce.

ND Filter Set

This might be the most surprising thing if you are just getting into photography. A 100mm ND Filter set will change your photography forever. I love my ND Filter set and would never, ever go on a shoot without them. For savings, you can get a circular ND filter that attaches to your lens, it may or may not be good.

Directional Microphone

If you’re doing video, audio is 50% of your short film. Spend as much time and money on your audio as you do on your video, and you’ll be successful. 

Camera Cleaning Kit

The backcountry is not a studio, and your camera will get gross. You don’t need the whole kit, but bring the blower, and a few wipes. Keep your gear clean and it will make your life way easier.


There is so much to photography backpacking. This is a small list of the things I most commonly bring with me when I’m out on the trail. Unfortunately, all of this is expensive, and there is no way around that. If you are willing to spend the money, your back and sanity will thank you afterward. If you don’t, you’ll go on exactly 1 trip before you come back and realize I was right. How do I know this? I did the same thing. I’ve slowly upgraded my kit to be something I can rely on, and it took way more money than if I would have just spent the money originally. Live and learn, eh? If you have photography backpacking experiences, let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.


As always, thanks for reading.


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