Landscape Photography and Lightweight Backpacking

Words and photos by Jason Hatfield.

Lightweight backpacking and landscape photography are two pursuits that didn’t use to go well together. When I first started backpacking with my photo gear I was often carrying 40+ lbs in a 75 liter pack with a third of that room and weight dedicated to camera gear. Over the past few years with the advent of mirrorless full-frame cameras, lighter lenses, much better lightweight backpacking gear, and a lot of other improvements, I’ve been able to get my typical kit down to a 58 liter pack and 20-25 lbs (sometimes less!).

It’s still not approaching ultralight but it’s allowed me to get a lot more places and cover a lot more ground on a typical trip. I was recently able to complete a backcountry summit of Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range for the 2017 eclipse while carrying 2 cameras and mountaineering gear; while still keeping my pack weight under 30lbs! Gear is still very much a personal and situational preference, but this is a list most of the equipment I take on a backcountry trek.

Camera: Sony a7RII
I switched from my large Sony a900 to a full-frame mirrorless in 2014 and I haven’t looked back since. It was one of the biggest impacts on pack space and made carrying a camera on a chest-pack or shoulder strap much more comfortable. At 22.6 oz. I’ve shaved off almost 11 oz. compared to my a900, it doesn’t hurt that camera sensor is worlds better too!
Lenses: Sony 16-35 f/4 (18.3 oz.), 24-70 f/4 (15 oz.), 70-200 f/4 (29.6 oz.), and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (20.1 oz.)
I rarely carry all these lenses at once, but I most often carry the 16-35 for landscapes and the 24-70 for capturing the adventure. The fast Rokinon lens comes with me primarily for night photography trips and is especially useful for photographing meteor showers.
Filters: 67mm & 72mm circular polarizers (about 2 oz. each)
I don’t carry many filters anymore, except for circular polarizers to reduce reflections on water and vegetation. I will sometimes carry a set of neutral density filters when I’m working with video, but my Sony camera has an app that will stack images in camera to simulate long exposure shots for waterfalls and clouds.
Power: Sony NP-FW50s (1.5 oz each) and an Anker PowerCore 10000mAh external battery (6.4 oz.)
With only 1100mAh of power, the Sony batteries are the weak link in the system. Fortunately, the a7RII has a USB port for external power so I’ll bring one or more USB battery for extra power or long time-lapse shots. The Anker PowerCore 10000mAh series has the best mAh/oz ratio and can also be used to keep my phone charged.
Tripod: Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod (2 lbs)
Another benefit of mirrorless cameras is you don’t need as big of a tripod for stability, unfortunately, most of the “travel” style tripods are still horribly unstable for long exposures or high winds. This summer I finally found a suitable upgrade from my already light 3.5 lb Feisol carbon fiber tripod to the crazy light Sirui tripod. So far it’s been rock solid and it’s reduced size has been very welcome on my pack.

Pack: Osprey Exos 58 Backpack (2 lbs. 10 oz.)
Packs are a very personal choice and fit plays a big role, and the Exos just works really well for me and my camera gear. My previous Deuter Pack weighed twice as much and had the typical contoured foam back. I generate a lot of heat when hiking so the mesh “trampoline” back of the Exos has been phenomenal for me and has alleviated a lot of pressure points.
Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 (2 lbs)
For most of my solo trips I now use the Fly Creek but find it a little tight for longer two person trips. When it’s just me there’s enough room to spread out with my gear and when pitched well it’s stood up to some intense weather. For all my other trips I’ve had a rock solid REI Quarter Dome 2 for a few years. The reason I choose a tent over most other shelter options on a lot of trips is I’m often camped in locations that are best for photography, not necessarily shelter, and I need somewhere to keep my gear protected above treeline.
Sleep System: Katabatic Gear Flex 22˚F (23.5 oz.) and Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad (15 oz.)
Thanks to Katabatic Gear I was able to make another big weight and size reduction with their Flex 22 quilt. The versatility to use the included black clip straps when sleeping in temps near freezing and unzip it completely for warm nights is much better than trying to sleep on top of my sleeping bag. I usually leave the footbox open except on really cold nights and the added ventilation really helps if you’re a warm sleeper.
Cooking Gear: Soto OD-1R Micro Regulator stove (2.6 oz.) and cheap aluminum pot (4 oz.)
I’ve had my Soto stove for 6 years and it’s been an amazing piece of gear. It’s worked well in all seasons and temps, and when I considered looking for something new this year I couldn’t find anything better enough to compel me.
I won’t list anything specific here but I mostly backpack in trail running shorts and bring a pair of rain pants for wind protection and warmth. With the Katabatic Gear down quilt I don’t need a large puffy for most cold nights as it’s easy to wrap myself in it for extra warmth.