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The key to light hiking as a photographer is paring your gear down to the most essential tools that will help you get a great shot in the most conditions. A 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, which is large and weighs over three pounds, can be a viable piece of gear if you plan on shooting telephoto images at the ƒ/2.8 aperture all day. On the other hand, a 28-200mm ƒ/3.6-5.6 do-it-all zoom is a much better choice if you don’t really know what the subject, and therefore the focal length of the day, will be. Set your priorities and be efficient. James Kay recently hiked the John Muir Trail with a point-and-shoot camera instead of his DSLR in an effort to both lighten up and free his creativity. That’s pretty extreme, and you may not be up for leaving your favorite DSLR on the bench for your summer outings. Here are some ideas for key equipment to have with you when you’re reducing your kit to the essentials.
Schneider Landscape Filter Kit
Filters. There’s almost no other piece of gear that gives you as many options in such a lightweight package as a decent set of filters. And the notion that you can simply add the filter effect in Photoshop is often incorrect. Getting it right in the field is always the best way to shoot.
One of our favorite kits is the Schneider Landscape Filter Kit because it contains a particularly useful collection of filters, and the 4×4 filters can be mounted to any lens by using the appropriate diameter holder. This kit includes Maui Brown to enhance gold and brown, and to add punch to summer foliage, Classic Sunset, which is a gradient filter that enhances the warm tints in a sunrise or sunset sky, and Storm, which adds a slight gray-green tint to boost a stormy effect.
A polarizer is also an absolute necessity. Every filter manufacturer makes several models of polarizer. To save money, consider buying a polarizer that fits your largest-diameter lens and add step rings to use it on other lenses. Warming polarizers, like the Singh-Ray LB Warming polarizers, add even stronger effects.
Petzl Tikka Plus2, Lenspen
Cleaning Kit. A simple Lenspen is a perfect light-hiking tool. You’ll be limiting your lens changes, so the big blowers you’d use to clean a sensor can be left at home, but the combination of brush and cleaning swab is perfect for cleaning the lens surfaces on the trail. Dirty optics create annoying dust spots that are difficult to retouch, reduce contrast, create color shifts and generally degrade the image. A Lenspen weighs as much as a small Sharpie®, and it cures all of those ills.
Headlamp. A headlamp should always be with you in the field. We specify headlamp—not just a flashlight—because in addition to lighting the way on the trail before sunrise or after sunset, photographers have the added challenges of getting the camera set up in those conditions. Keep your hands free to manipulate menus and dials, clean your optics (see above!) and other tasks. The Petzl Tikka Plus2 is comfortable on your head, it has variable brightness settings, and it can help in an emergency with a strobe effect.
Brunton Get-Back GPS
GPS. You simply can’t rely on your cell phone in an emergency on the trail. If you can’t connect to a cell tower, you have no means of communication, and your phone is going to be running down its batteries fast as it continues to search for the signal. A dedicated GPS, like the Brunton Get-Back, is tiny and has the essential navigation capabilities. A larger unit, like the Garmin Oregon 650t, has a larger touch screen that’s easy to use, but it’s somewhat heavier. A SPOT Connect Messenger unit can be a lifesaver. It allows you to send text messages in an emergency or just to let someone know where you are.