How long has it been since I published Beating Gear Acquisition Syndrome? I lasted precisely one week!
Serious packing for overnight photography trips is a new experience for me, in the UK, when I wasn’t working in the studio I preferred to get up early and jump in the car, locations rarely being more than a mile away from the road. Here in Spain, in the Sierra Nevada, the best locations can be many miles from roads, across tricky terrain.
This post details what I have managed to boil down to the minimal weight and maximal function I’m happy to carry on my back across the mountains.
Table of Contents
Weight and Packability
Since the car is out of the equation, everything needs to be carried on my back so weight and packability are really important.
Specifically for trips with overnights, I use the F-Stop Tilopa with the Slope Medium Internal Camera Unit (ICU) to hold my kit. The bag combines lightness and durability quite brilliantly. The camera kit can all be accessed through the back of the bag, leaving the top and the other compartments free for camping gear, food and clothes.
Packed on top of the ICU I added an inflatable sleeping pad and sleeping bag from Thermarest. I use a groundsheet from MSR to protect the sleeping pad from the rocks
I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite® NXT Sleeping pad. It packs down to the size of a coffee cup and thanks to a sophisticated valve, is easy to blow up, either by breath or by pump. The first one I got, supplied by an Amazon partner, deflated within an hour. I located a puncture and sent it back. I bought a replacement from Barrabes, a Spanish site that I use for most of my hiking gear. The knack I’ve learned with the sleeping pad is to blow it up to around 70% so that you sink slightly into it. Blown up fully, you tend to roll off it.
I also have a Therm-a-Rest Saros sleeping bag that is suitable for three season use. In the summer I use it as a quilt. In cooler temperatures it’s rated down to -6 C.
The sleeping arrangements are completed with a Therm-a-Rest Air Head Lite blow up pillow. Packs down to virtually nothing and is way more comfortable than a bag of clothes.
Ah! I nearly forgot. How to protect the Sleeping pad from the rocks? I use an MSR Universal groundsheet to cover the ground beneath the sleeping pad. I looked at quite a few solutions, this one is the best toughness and lightness combo.
Mosquitoes aren’t such a problem high in the Sierra Nevada, but I have an MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House 1 Trekking Pole Shelter just in case. This is like a tent, basically a mosquito net with a floor to keep out bugs. You prop it up on a walking pole and use the guy ropes to keep its tent like shape.
I have had a pair of Salomon Quest Element Gore-Tex boots since December 2022. They are perfect, not too heavy or hot, extremely robust and very comfortable (after an extended period of breaking in).
Lightweight merino wool/nylon hiking socks. Reinforced at heel. Well worth the investment.
A layer of moisture wicking t shirts from Rab, keeps me dry and cool. I can add another layer if I get cold.
Shorts and Long trousers from Rab and Craghoppers.
In colder conditions I’d add a top layer fleece or microlight jacket.
I leaned that at 3000m, it can get pretty cold at night, even in midsummer, so in future I’d pack a pair of long trousers and a warmer top for any overnight trip.
Food & Drink
Food in the shape of protein bars and fruit and nut mix was packed in the external pockets, 3 litres of water.
[Update] I’ve just bought a Camelbak CRUX® Reservoir 1.5L capacity to make it possible to drink without removing the backpack. This is basically a bladder with a tube that threads through a specially designed channel in the F-Stop bags, to emerge at the shoulder. Valves at the point of attachment to the bladder and mouthpiece make it drip proof.
The trick with longer hikes I’m told is to calculate calories. If you get this wrong, you’ll lose weight and have no energy. I’m pretty sure that happened on the Mulhacen trip.
Cooking on my own is not my favourite activity at the best of times, so I’d go for meals you can add hot water to such as noodles. Consider Porridge for breakfast. To heat the water, an MSR Windburner 1.0 L Personal Cooking System with a Coffee Press attachment. One thing I’m not happy to compromise on, coffee or tea in the morning!
The unwritten rule in hiking is to leave the area as good or better as you find it. This means take your rubbish with you, or bury compostable waste. Hence the loo roll and garden trowel.
I use my Canon 5Ds for all my landscape photography. At 50Mp its sensor rivals the newer mirrorless cameras and the colour and detail is superb. It’s built like a tank and I can’t see myself going mirrorless until this camera gives up the ghost.
I take three lenses,
- Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
- Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II
And a tripod, my Feisol CT-3442 Carbon Fibre with an Acratech Panoramic head.
After a very strenuous trip involving a night under the stars on Mulhacen, I decided to leave the 24-70mm lens at home in future. Three lenses are heavy, too heavy for me at least when the climb and descent are as long as this one was (3400m).
I had a vision that I’d be able to take all this kit plus astrophotography head and panoramic head. That was just not feasible, the weight is too much to carry more than a few kilometres downhill. So I’m going to make trips dedicated to one or two types of photography in future so that I can carry less gear.
Weight is everything on a long hike or climb. While you won’t feel the weight too badly on the way up, your thighs will certainly feel it on the way down!
By leaving out the power pack, one lens and a multitool, I’ve trimmed around four kilos from the load, next time I’ll measure the food I need, on this trip I was carrying around 1kg, of which I ate around 200g.
Water is the heaviest item and the one that you need the most. If I knew there was a spring on the hike, a water purifying kit such as the extremely portable Platypus QuickDraw Microfilter System would save a few kg.
I’m sure there are more lessons to learn on this subject, so I’ll modify the article as they come!
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