Serious outdoor photography tends to be a gear-intensive pursuit, not just with camera equipment, but also with the tools it takes to safely and comfortably scout the great outdoors. The shelter, footwear, clothing, gadgets and other outdoor accessories you choose can be just as important as your photo equipment in helping you get the right images—a fact to which anyone who has ever shivered themselves awake in a lousy sleeping bag or endured a leaky, drafty tent will attest. If you haven't shopped for outdoor equipment lately, you're in for a surprise. It's lighter and more functional than ever, even if there's the occasional associated sticker shock. When it comes to chasing the best outdoor photo situations, you'll be glad you're properly outfitted with items like these.
There aren't many external-frame packs hitting the trails these days. Internal frames lead the way for several reasons. They're lighter and more comfortable, with plenty of customized adjustment features to dial in precise fittings. And by their very nature, internals don't ride on your back so much, as they become part of your physique. That means they're better at keeping loads centered, which allows you to be more nimble on your feet.
The 4,577-cubic-inch Mountainsmith Boundary wilderness backpack has enough volume for a solo week on the trail. It uses twin concave aluminum stays to manage the load and a molded back panel for all-day comfort. The pack posts a respectable four-pound, 60-ounce weight, thanks to its light, but tough Velocity nylon body fabric and limited use of heavier ballistic-grade nylon at key wear points. List Price: $139.
Expect a superb fit with the Gregory Baltoro wilderness backpack. It comes in four sizes (4,000 to 4,600 cubic inches) based on a hiker's critical hip/back measurements, and additional adjustments from the Auto-Cant harness system let you fine-tune the pack for a best-ever fit. Weighing between five pounds, nine ounces and six pounds, seven ounces, the packs are designed with the company's Response suspension that uses compression-stiffening panels to stabilize loads. List Price: $147.
A mummy-cut sleeping bag, especially in the cool high country, is the ticket for a good night's sleep. The contoured fit is more heat efficient than a rectangular bag, plus the narrower dimension reduces packing volume and trims weight. Down vs. synthetic fill? It's a matter of preference and making the best choice for the conditions. Ounce-per-ounce, goose-down fill beats synthetics on warmth, light weight and compressibility, but loses its insulating value when wet. Synthetic fill is bulkier, but can be a lifesaver because it maintains its heat-trapping loft when damp. Choose accordingly.
The one-pound, twelve-ounce (regular) Kelty Light Year 45-degree down bag uses 650-rated down fill and a differential cut to place more insulation at cold spots. A zippered foot vent allows temperature regulation, and its durable polyester ripstop shell will handle years of backcountry travel. List Price: $130.
At two pounds, seven ounces (regular), the Sierra Designs Maska 30-degree synthetic bag is filled with Polarguard Delta insulation that maintains warmth, even when damp. Its 70-denier nylon shell is made to withstand extended use, and the bag offers creature comforts like a handy chest pocket and pillow stuff-pocket. List Price: $119.
Backcountry three-season tents don't present much of a weight penalty anymore. Most technical models have shed weight without sacrificing creature comforts or durability. Lighter, stronger poles, along with greater use of mesh and lightweight nylon fabrics, are part of the formula.
And design tricks like vertically inclined tent walls to increase usable interior space improve a tent's livability without adding material weight.
With a compact wind-shedding design based on a two-pole architecture, REI's Quarter Dome 3 tent is only five pounds, eight ounces, but provides enough floor space—39 square feet—for three cozy people. The taut, freestanding tent's DAC Featherlite NSL poles offer one of the best strength-to-weight ratios available, and two doors, each with a nine-square-foot vestibule, give ample enter/exit room without having to crawl over tent mates. List Price: $279.
The Eureka! Wabakimi is a roomy self-supporting backpacking tent with more than 37 square feet of floor space and a seven-foot, six-inch interior length, making it large enough for two people more than six feet tall. Twin doors/vestibules and vents provide ventilation options to nearly eliminate condensation buildup, and 12 square feet of vestibule space supplies protected room for outside gear. List Price: $219.
Most hikers don't need a multitool with 30-plus functions—just the right tools for the excursion. For overnight use in the backcountry, start with a locking knife blade and maybe a serrated blade for sawing. Gear with screws and nuts that could conceivably loosen make the case for carrying a tool with pliers.
In short, try to match the lightest possible multitool to your backcountry activities.
The main feature of the Buck Knives 730 X-Tract multitool is its one-handed open and locking function—a big plus for climbing or for other tactical hands-on activities requiring concentration. The three-inch, partially serrated locking blade is surgically sharp, and the pliers are easy to deploy with their spring-loaded mechanism. Flathead/Phillips screwdrivers and bottle/can openers round out the collection of commonly needed tools. List Price: $50.
Swiss Army's Expedition Set comes with an altimeter and a compass, making this multitool well suited for wilderness trekking. A full complement of Swiss tools is included, such as blades, screwdrivers, scissors, a saw, a can/bottle opener and other useful devices. List Price: $160.
Everybody knows the "cotton kills"credo, stating that damp cotton refuses to dry in cool weather and can accelerate hypothermia. A footnote could be that heavy, nonbreathable nylon jackets can make you just as soaked and chilled to the core with your own perspiration. The newer generation of waterproof/breathable shell jackets are better at ventinghumid body heat to keep you drier, thanks to improved fabrics and strategic placement of zippered vents. These jackets aren't only better performers, but also have lost a considerable amount of bulk and weight, too.
The Marmot Cloudlight Jacket uses the company's MemBrain fabric for waterproof breathability, lightness, agile range of motion during movement and overall versatility. Underarm zippers extend down the side cut for more efficient venting during exercise, and a cinch hood and waist hem cord keep weather at bay. List Price: $275.
Constructed from elite Gore-Tex¬Æ Paclite fabric, the Mountain Hardwear Swift Jacket is the company's most breathable and durable superlight shell, weighing just 13 ounces and packing down to the size of a grapefruit. Welded (vs. stitched) seams, welded dual front pockets and welded underarm venting zippers give the jacket sophisticated detailing that's extremely waterproof. List Price: $260.
Unless you're navigating rock and ice with 50-pound-plus loads, midweight leather/fabric boots are up for most trail duty. You'll get a comfortable out-of-the-box fit with these lightweight hikers compared to clunky all-leather boots that need break-in mileage, and by the day's end, you'll have moved less weight and will be more refreshed. Fabric panels in key spots throughout uppers lighten boots and enable you to more easily flex during walking, and they vent humid air to reduce blister-causing moisture.
The freshly upgraded Lowa Renegade GTX Mid is geared to day hikes and lightweight backpacking. With uppers of water-resistant leather and using Gore-Tex¬Æ lining, the midcut boots are tough, breathable and able to handle wet, mucky trail conditions with solid footing provided by a beefy Vibram outsole. List Price: $180.
The Hi-Tec V-Lite Radar eVent makes use of a one-piece eVent soft-shell fabric upper with seamless construction to produce a super-lightweight boot that's comfortable and extremely waterproof/breathable. An exoskeletal foot-locking system provides support, while the rugged rubber outsole and protective triple-density midsole offer excellent traction and support. List Price: $115.
Handheld GPS units don't substitute for a reliable compass and map. But their convenience and accuracy are undeniable, and they just keep getting better, with expanded memory, improved mapping features and extended battery life. WAAS-enabled units have become the standard, offering accuracy to within meters. Most are waterproof or water-resistant and have internal memories or memory cards that accommodate detailed maps of selected areas. With features like backtracking, waypoints and an electronic compass and altimeter, GPS units add an extra level of route-finding security.
A MicroSD card slot gives the WAAS-enabled Garmin eTrex Venture Cx GPS the versatility of adding optional maps on the go. A 256-color, sunlight-readable display makes it easy to distinguish map details, and a longer battery life provides roughly 32 hours of use. List Price: $246.
Expandable memory with optional info and topo cards, plus 40 map zoom ranges from 0.2 to 4,000 miles, make the WAAS-enabled Brunton Atlas GPS an excellent tool for traveling the backcountry or the globe. At a touch, hikers can access 10 reversible routes, up to 100 savable/retraceable routes and store 1,000 waypoints. List Price: $199.
The art of what to pack is a balancing act between essential gear and photography equipment. With limited packing volume, it comes down to scaling back on some items and making the right choices on lightweight critical gear so you have everything you need. What you bring needs to be rugged, light and, whenever possible, essential to the photo task at hand.
UPstrap's SLR-QR quick-release camera strap uses abrasion-resistant Kevlar to post a 300-pound tensile strength, allowing safe hauling for the heaviest cameras. The quick-release system has a double-locking adjustment that makes the connection amazingly secure, and the new stainless sliders provide a reliable connection that won't slip or fail. List Price: $50.
With an 80 GB hard drive and four-color filter LCD screen, the Epson P-5000 Multimedia Storage Viewer is a portable solution to download, store and view a wide number of image, video and audio files. The unit, weighing one pound with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, accepts CF and SD memory cards, along with many others via an optional adapter. List Price: $699.
Rugged construction and real RAW file decoding distinguish the JOBO GIGA Vu PRO media storage/player. Store more than 40,000 photos, along with other digital media, on the hard drive (three capacities), then view images on the bright 3.75-inch color LCD screen. Using a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, it supports CF cards and Microdrives, and through an adapter, accepts many other memory cards. List Price: $495 (40 GB); $695 (80 GB); $895 (120 GB).
The carbon-fiber Gitzo Mountaineer Weekend Tripod (G1028) is ultra-portable, with a closed length of about 16 inches and a weight of 1.7 pounds. It comfortably supports camera loads up to 6.5 pounds and extends to 43.3 inches. List Price: $545.
The Manfrotto 190 Mag Fiber three-section tripod weighs 3.8 pounds and can handle camera loads up to 8.8 pounds with a design using carbon-fiber tripod legs and an aluminum/nylon polymer center column. Closed, the tripod is just 22 inches, and fully extended, provides a working height of 45 inches. List Price: $392.
Gitzo (Bogen Imaging)
Gregory Mountain Products
Manfrotto (Bogen Imaging)