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My hiking setup for photography

Being out in nature is good for people, something the different lockdowns of the past 18 months emphasized. Sometimes you need to miss something before it's value becomes (more) apparent. Joni Mitchell already knew that in 1970. Not to say I never valued being outdoors, what I mean is that my appreciation of it has only increased. Especially since a lot of us are staring at a screen for most of the day even more, either for work or pleasure. Being under an open sky and surrounded by nature, whether that means thick forests or empty plains and anything in between, I always feel reinvigorated after being outdoors. A trip to Sardinia proved that this was still very much the case.

Rewards are usually found at the end of a hike, like this cave on a Sardinian beach. Only accessible by boat or.... hike [Sony A7RIII, Sony 24mm F1.4]

As a bonus to the many benefits of spending time outdoors, this gives people who like to take pictures plenty of beautiful scenes to work with. I don't consider myself a landscape photographer at all, but I do enjoy capturing our planet as I wonder on it. Real landscape photography requires scouting, planning and patience while you wait for the right conditions. I might undertake something like that once or twice a year, but most of the time I simply capture things as they are at the time when I happen to be there. I know certain landscapes would look 10x better if I had gotten up in the middle of the night to be there as the sun rises. I am ok with that. I am just as happy with shooting something under harsh light at midday. I will try to capture it to the best of my ability and the conditions at that time. It still gives me a lot of joy, even if the images don’t stand up against the flurry of amazing landscapes I get served on a daily basis through the Instagram and YouTube algorithms. I learned a long time a go to simply appreciate those for what they are and not compare myself. It makes much more sense to compare myself to the me from five years ago. But that is a whole different topic to be explored in a different post.

Taken on the same hike along the beautiful Sardinian coast [Sony A7RIII, Sony 50mm F1.2]

On that note, since we are touching on time and aging, it has been, and remains to be, quite a journey to find a setup that allows me to take the tools I want and be kind to my aching back. I have been having more and more back problems and carrying a whole bunch of gear on hikes for hours over rough terrain has become a bit of a challenge. Quality and versatility per gram of gear is one of the reasons I have slowly but very firmly drifted ever deeper into the Sony ecosystem. More on that in a different post. Weight is a clear factor in putting together a hiking setup for photography. But it's also about back support. A backpack is the better choice here for me compared to a sling bag but it has it's drawbacks. Which brings me to another element, having easy access to your gear. Being outdoors with other people is one of the joys of hiking, but I don't want to be the guy that holds up a group because I need to fish out a different lens or another piece of gear to get a shot. So having quick access to the different parts of my kit is important to me.

That defines the three criteria for my hiking setup: back support, weight, and fast access. Incidentally, the setup I now believe to work best for me is also made up of three things. The first is the LowePro Photosport BP 200 AW backpack. Second, I use the Peak Design Capture Clip on both straps of the backpack. Finally, I use a small fanny pack. Any brand will do. These three things allow me to hike and take photos while minimizing the strain on my back and allowing me quick access to my gear.

Inside the Gorropu Gorge on Sardinia. 850 meters down and back up again.... [Sony A7RII, Sony 24mm F1.4]

Let's talk about the backpack first. Probably the most obvious part of my hiking kit, this backpack ticks all the boxes when it comes to hiking. Solid support in the back, and waist and sternum straps to keep the pack from wobbling. It is also very light, weighing only 1,2 kilos. By itself, it protects against a bit of rain and when it really starts to come down, there is a separate rain cover tucked in a pocket on the bottom of the pack. I can state that nothing got wet during some of my adventures in the rain.

It has a separate photo compartment on the side that works reasonably well. I wished it was a bit bigger as the space inside is quite limited. I can just about fit two Sony A7R cameras in there with both a prime lens attached to them. On this trip, I used the Sony 24mm GM and the Sony 50mm GM and that fits with a bit of maneuvering. There is a divider in the photo compartment that is very floppy and there is only Velcro on half of the chamber so this needs fixing in a newer version. It works to keep the cameras from banging into each other but it’s not great. The other issue I have with the photo compartment is that it only opens on one side. I like to throw my pack over my right shoulder to the front, this pack only works the other way because there is only access on the left side. It takes some getting used to and it is perfectly acceptable, but if I could ask for something to be changed, it would be these two things.

The rest of the pack works as expected. There is room for non-camera stuff in the space above the photo compartment and there is room for a laptop or tablet in the back. On one side there is a room to store a bottle. It also has a large open compartment across the back with no zipper. I did not know what to do with that at first but it is actually really handy to store a jacket or even a small tripod.

However, even with the side photo compartment, I don’t find the access to my gear so easy with the backpack. Especially if I want to use the one that is tucked in the back. So I usually keep my cameras in the compartment while hiking until the scenery becomes interesting and I want to start to take photos. This is where the Peak Design capture clips come in. They are a combo of a tripod plate and a device that you can screw onto any strap. I have two of these, one on each of my backpack straps in the front. The are incredibly secure and I never feel unsafe with two cameras and lenses hanging on these capture clips. Taking them out and securing them back into the clips gives you clear tactile and auditive feedback so you know things are secure.

I think I have an older version but they work perfectly fine

With the clips, I am still using the back-supporting features of the backpack, even though the weight is now more on the front. I have access to my cameras in less then a second and I can put them back without having to take off my backpack. The combo I mentioned earlier does not feel too heavy. I even used the clips with a Sony 100-400mm (on loan) on one body and a 16-35mm GM on the other. I would not recommend this, the weight on the front was clearly too much. The clips were fine, but the collective weight of all that glass just pulled my backpack down which was not very comfortable. But with most lenses, the clips work just great.

Yours truly with two Sony bodies en two primes on the Peak clips attached to the Lowepro Backpack [iPhone 12 mini]

And if I want to shoot with more than two lenses, my third piece of kit enters the scene. I use a simple and small fanny pack to store a third lens, and perhaps some filters. This does not add to the load on my back as the fanny pack rests on my waist. On this Sardinian road trip, I brought the Zeiss Batis 135mm F2.8 as my third lens. I have hiked 20km+ over rough terrain with lots of altitude changes with this setup and it felt perfectly fine.

I was happy I took a 135mm lens as well to capture this wild horse on one of our Sardinian walks [Sony A7RIII, Zeiss Batis 135mm F2.8]

I expect to carry this kit around for many more walks and hikes. There is so much to see and enjoy out there, and not having back ache while exploring is a big plus. Especially with a setup that allows me to not make any compromises to the kit I want to bring. The final image in this post comes from Sardinia as well, overlooking a valley from the plateau where the wild horses roam. Happy I brought a camera.

Central Sardinia at its finest [Sony A7RII, Sony 24mm F1.4]


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