I usually like to stay as mobile as possible, and on previous backpacking shoots I’ve gone super-light, with running shoes, a daypack with a weeks worth of food and essentials, and a tiny camera bag like the Orion.
But sometimes you have to carry a lot more – you are out for more than a week, or in conditions that dictate more gear.
That’s where Lowepro’s Pro Trekker line of “expedition camera backpacks” comes in. The sizing numbers are based on the approximate largest lens you should be able to carry in each about the size of a Nikon 300mm, 400mm and 600mm fast prime. For me, the important part of these bags is that they are weatherized, have backpacking-style suspension, and lots of room for non-camera gear like sleeping bags, tent & stove, and they also dedicated seam-sealed pouches for a 70 oz water bladder.
In March 2011, Boys Life ran a story on cold-weather backpacking I shot last year in the Smoky Mountains . My assistant Sharif Hassan and I spent four days in the Middle Prong Wilderness area of North Carolina in January to shoot the story. It’s not a long time for backpacking, but gear for deep snow and sub-zero temps really adds up.
I took two camera systems: The Nikon D3s and the Olympus E3, in case it got too wet/rainy/snowy to shoot with the Nikon (it did, all three of those). We each also needed winter sleeping bags, multiple outer layers for all conditions (which you get, notoriously in the Smokies this time of year) and the usual backpacking stuff: stove, fuel, tent, food, pads, etc.
The Pro Trekker 600 AW is the biggest beast in the lineup and at 8 1/2 lbs, it aint light, but it was the obvious choice, so I could carry everything in one bag and leave my hands free to posthole snow, shoot, and cross icy rivers (I did all three). Some details that make it expedition-worthy: big pull tabs you can operate with winter gloves and water-sealing zippers. The Pro Trekker’s top pouch converts into a waist pack, big enough to hold some food, and a small camera/lens.
For a short jaunt, the trip was pretty epic. The scouts encountered it all: disorienting ice storms, my-tent-blew-away-last-night blizzards, day-long routefinding, and lots and lots of stream crossings.
At one point the Scouts crossed a 50-foot-wide river, one-by-one with a safety line, in ice water up to their waists. I couldn’t have picked a better partner for this fun. For Sharif and I it was truly a blast – its the kind of backcountry adventure we both love.
The goal of all this fancy gear is to disappear. When you feel like you are one with your gear, one with the environment, only then can you focus on your job: taking great pictures. I know, that sounds like some marketing bullshit, but it really is true, especially when you are in a backcountry environment where a misstep could result in a serious injury for you or your team (or worse, missing a good photo op).
Usually Sharif and I were one step ahead of everyone, finding alternate routes to get above or beyond the scouts so I could shoot them without interfering with their efforts. These scouts were really pushed to the limit. You could see it in their eyes, and I wanted to show it in my photos.