You’ve spent a small fortune on your DSLR, you need to look after it in the wilds. Compact cameras are easily looked after with a clam case, drybag and a convenient pocket but their larger brethren can cause a bit of a headache in the hills. Not only that, you need to get organised when you’ve got batteries, spare memory cards, umpteen lenses, filters and other paraphernalia to deal with.
Here’s how we keep our kit safe from knocks, bumps and the elements in the wilds of Snowdonia.
1 Camera backpacks
These are often the first choice for many photographers after a more portable option for carrying their gear. They may well be suited to urban walkabouts but not so much use on the hill. There are some outdoorsy packs available by the likes of LowePro such as the Photo Sport series, but offer only a limited storage in addition to your gear.
2 Camera pouch / case
These can be useful, with all the pockets for stuff, but can easily get in the way when walking, especially when you’re packing a DSLR. There are also holsters to keep your camera to-hand, but these aren’t designed for the rough and tumble of outdoor life, and offer absolutely no protection to your camera. They might be useful if you spend a long time during the day waiting for a shot, perhaps, and need to have the camera to hand, but I’m not convinced that these are practical for serious outdoors use.
You can however use neoprene camera cases to keep the camera close while moving, but offering some degree of protection. The camera is still in the way most of the time, but a DSLR with a huge lens usually will be. If you can minimise the bulk of the case, then that can only help. However, I would say that these would protect the camera from accidental scrapes from rocks, but wouldn’t provide that much shock protection if you dropped it onto the rock, but still significantly more than without.
3 Lens Pouches
These are available as zip-up versions such as these by LowePro, or cheaper neoprene lens pouches. The neoprene pouches are much cheaper, and while they might not provide as much protection, do the job of protecting the lenses deep inside our pack. They do have some movement in them, but if there’s too much you can easily pad it out with a dry bag, lens cloth or even a small item of clean clothing.
The largest pouch is large enough to fit the Gorillapod zoom tripod for protection.
4 Pack Inserts – If you can’t get a camera bag to suit, make your own. Thes inserts allow you to organise and further protect the kit from rolling about in the pack by adding a camera compartment to your pack. It’s not as elegant a solution as a regular camera pack, but if you get the size just right, you’ll be able to pack it towards the top of the pack so it’s easy to hand.
These have compartments for different kit and will more than likely take any DSLR combination and lens, plus any extras. The 30cm insert takes a Canon EOS 600d, Tokina 11-16mm UWA lens, Opteka Fisheye, Canon 70-300mm zoom, 40mm pancake lens, couple of Tiffen filters in hard cases, remote release, Gorillapod Zoom, spare batteries and still room to squeeze some more kit in there. For the record, that’s just about all the camera kit on the Mud and Routes kit shelf! It’s also worth noting that is including the neoprene cases for both cameras and the lenses, so if you don’t want to follow our belt and braces approach then you might fit a bit more in! We found them in a large size (30cm across) that was way too big for a daypack, but might find use for winter night shoots in a large backpack.
However, the smaller insert, was good for the camera with one bulky lens and one smaller one, filter and sundries. It thankfully fits into a day pack without taking up too much space, and we found that if it was too small for our uses, we could carry the camera separately, making it more than large enough for most trips.
We also want to squeeze the tripod head safely in here along with the lenses, which is the only bit of the tripod that I keep protected as the little bubble levels could easily smash against a rock. The tripod itself should be fine on the outside of the pack or even inside if you’ve got room. A lightweight bag to protect from scrapes would be ideal, but there aren’t any available that aren’t over-engineered for the task and/or extraordinarily expensive.
5 Drybags – With everything organised and protected, we need to protect it all from the rain. You can’t have too much rain protection, especially if it’s a real downpour. We’d pack each lens in a dry bag, then use a waterproof pack liner and even a pack cover if you have the tripod on the outside.
6 Bags of Silica Gel – We throw one of these into the drybags where we can in order to reduce condensation. You can buy them cheaply enough.
Ultimately, it’ll be what works for you and what you actually carry with you on the hill. You may find that a travel zoom lens does all you need in the wilds, so you’ll only need a decent camera case with a side pocket for spare battery and possibly extra memory (though you need to take a serious number of shots to fill a modern SD card!) Just add a Gorillapod and perhaps an ND filter for those long exposure streams, and you’ll be able to get most of the shots you need without overly weighing yourself down. We’ll expose the camera bag essentials in the next few weeks.