Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Backpacking’ Category
As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).
View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)
I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)
All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.
As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.
The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!
Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)
More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)
When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.
My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)
What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.
The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)
Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.
Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)
Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)
I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)
In this online world of the selfie crazed photo posts there is still the more classic selfie of putting up a tripod with camera for setting up the perfect scene. I like to say I have a selfie stick and jokingly point to my tripod. Taking a more old school approach I feel it can tell a better story to the viewer of what the place is like and how it might have felt. I do realize selfie as the word is coined for photos of today means holding the camera yet I am not covering big in your face shots here, it’s more nature self-portraits with purpose.
You might think it’s as easy as setting up the camera for the nature scene in front of you, setting the timer, jumping in front of the camera and waiting for the shutter to trip. Well sometimes it is, yet often it’s not. For those that have done them you know what I am talking about. Many takes to get one image that works well can get frustrating. The angle was off with your body, the way you were stepping on the trail doesn’t look natural, you are too large… or too small compared to the rest of the subjects, and the list goes on.
Why do I take these shots? Simply put because I want a human in the scene for one of a variety of reasons and in these cases I am typically the only one around or the only one willing to take the time to get the image I am after. I am not taking them for an Instagram account filled with selfies although don’t let me stop you if that is your cup of tea.
Here is me and my “selfie stick” just playing around during a hazy forest fire smoke sunset on the Oregon Coast. It usually gets some interesting looks when I use it. A family member off in the distance said “Is that Adrian taking photos with a selfie stick!” There you go… a tripod and selfie stick in one.
Now to more worthwhile information. Here is a list of things to think about I have learned over the years when trying to setup and pose myself into a scene with some example photos.
- You will want the basics. By basics I mean setup of camera, tripod and timer remote is essential. Without these you may find it very tough to impossible to get what you are conceptualizing.
- Does it look natural or too set up, the composition just like without people in the photo is critical to get right. Ask yourself how the scene balances with you in the shot and where you plan to stand, sit or do some awesome jumps!
- Besides composition of the scene the placement and body stance is very important. It should look pretty natural. If it looks overly posed or contrived you won’t be as happy with the photo in the end. You won’t know what this feels like until you practice and look at the results.
- Are you using newer equipment that allows you to see the scene in real time such as apps on phones with WiFi or Bluetooth. This way you can stand a ways from your camera to click the button when it looks right on your phone instead of setting a timer, running and stand still just in the nick of time for ‘click’.
- Show a much more of the scene and a lot less of yourself. You will see in the many examples below I am only a fraction of the scene. Sometimes you can see it’s me and other times I am small enough you can’t tell.
- Look away from camera vs always looking at camera. A viewer will tend to look more into what the image is about and what you are looking at if you are not staring at the camera.
- Bright colors might be better or worse depending on what you are after yet it’s good to think about this before you head out. Are you looking to stand out or blend into the scene.
- Buckles, straps, zippers should be checked before taking the shot. I can’t count how may times I looked at the image after the fact to find I had undone sagging buckles or straps that drew attention to what I was wearing or carrying not in the way I had hoped.
Golden Rays – While teaching a workshop a number of years back I was showing participants how putting themselves in the photo might be another composition to think of. I kept a strong composition with leading lines from the bottom corners with the road, placed myself in the power point and let it snap when it was to a natural looking position in my walk.
Mount Rainier – This is a case where color helps. It is an amazing scene yet if I had a pack that blended in the scene it would not be as dramatic. Notice the way I am positioned at an angle towards the mountain with a step up on the edge of the trail.
Alvord Desert – Notice where my right foot is placed. It’s right where the larger crack starts giving it a stronger look. The cloud also appears to stretch from the top of my head. These combined with my stance I feel provide a stronger image than simply standing anywhere on this playa.
Mount Adams – It was a fine morning along this lake and I wanted to capture what I was feeling eating breakfast and drinking coffee. Again I positioned my self in a power point and looking towards the mountain making sure none of the trees are spearing my head. This is a case where I used the app on my phone to look at the composition and then clicked the 2 second timer on my phone, very handy!
Broken Top – The intent here was to keep myself small and have a big open sky as I was staring off into it just day dreaming . I don’t like I how left the branch of the tree poking in the back of my head yet it’s less of an issue with how small I am in this image.
Walchella Falls – Notice I placed myself in one corner and the falls in the opposite corner to help create balance from those two sides. Notice the un-clipped buckles on the left side of my pack. I forgot in this case and did not notice until later.
Abiqua Falls – This was a tough one. I wanted to get myself in the stream of the falls get the side stream in the foreground. It took a number of takes to line myself up right. How did I avoid standing in the same spot each time in a sea of rocks that look at the same and about 40feet from the camera? I purposely marked each spot with a wet rock before I went back to my camera so I knew if it didn’t look quiet right to move slightly next time.
All of these images and others I have taken of myself, other objects and people can be found in my adventure gallery. If you have further thoughts to add around this topic please share them here for others to see.
One of the presents for my birthday this year my wife and girls got me was a great hardback book by Ed Cooper “Soul of the Heights – 50 years Going to the Mountains”. If you have a love for being in the great outdoors especially in the Pacific Northwest and don’t know who Ed Cooper is, it’s worth your time to check out his work and stories. This is only one of several books he has. I am sure the others are a feast to read and view as well.
Ed does a superb job taking the reader through a journey of what it was like being one of the early climbers in Pacific Northwest, pioneering many routes. What drew me to his work before I even got the book is a photo of his I happen to see online taken decades ago. Growing up in Oregon on large property with forest and creek I have almost always preferred to spend my time outside. Although I did not get to experience a wider variety of outdoor areas until I was older I enjoy the time travel of Ed’s photos taking me back to when I was a kid (or before in many cases) on what some areas looked like since places can and do change whether by human impact or natural occurrence. Getting back to the photo I first saw it was Mount Saint Helens… before the eruption. I was a very young kid when the mountain blew yet I still remember standing on a ridge near the Columbia River Gorge watching it erupt. His before and after series of the mountain is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature and the power of what photos convey.
After seeing the Mount St Helens photo I started looking through more of his work which has been equally enjoyable. Beyond the photos in the book are stories that start to paint a picture of how much easier we have it today in many cases. By this I mean the advancement of gear and technology to lighten our backs. I decided it was becoming too much to lug my “large” DSLR and accessories for long hikes and backpacking. With the recent quality improvements coming in smaller packages I bought a mirror-less camera setup to lighten my load. Yet here is Ed many years earlier exploring places high up, covering long distances and carrying his 4×5 or 5×7 camera and equipment that is most certainly more weight and bulk than my backpacking setup at the scale crushing weight of 8 lbs. or for that matter less than even my DSLR setup. What I am getting at is giving credit to early photographers like Ed that went the extra mile with all the right equipment to get great photos in the earlier days of photography.
Back to the book. It’s stated in the forward how Ed Cooper is a cross between Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. I would definitely agree and was thinking along these lines before I even read that part simply from going through his work online. I would say most people reading this post have either Ansel or Galen on their list of inspiring photographers, and if Ed isn’t already I would highly suggest adding him. The stories in the book cover peaks not only in the Pacific Northwest, others across North America include Yosemite Valley and Bugaboos in Canada to name just a couple of them.
Reading stories in this book and within his social media pages is a stark reminder of what increase in population has done to restrict our freedoms in many locations we love to visit. Many of his photos captured decades ago when we had less people enjoying outdoor adventures allowed greater flexibility with less rules and regulations where and when you can go. Today many outdoor places from parks to wilderness we visit are not a free-for-all. I certainly understand why we need to have most of these limitations in place yet makes one think how enjoyable it must have been for adventurers like Ed.
If you want to buy one of his books I would suggest buying it directly from him like my wife did. Doing this you can get a personally signed copy should you want one. Here are links to his social media where you can view more of his work and follow him for future posts.
Mini Interview – Although the primary purpose of this post is mentioning my thoughts around Ed’s book and work he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me as well.
Adrian: I read that you have moved over to digital. Can you tell me when that was and what you feel the advantages or disadvantages it has compared to film?
Ed: I made the complete shift to digital (after experimenting with it for two years) in May of 2007. There are plus and minus features.
On the plus side It relieved me of the burden of carrying heavy packs and time consuming set-ups with a view camera, and it allowed me to shoot many more different images in a set period of time than was otherwise possible. It was also a lot less expensive. At $2.50 of more for each 4×5 film exposure, and my shooting at least 4 to 5 sheets of film at each subject, to make sure one of them was the perfect exposure, costs added up quickly (My record was about 130 sheets of 4×5 film in one day in the Tetons some years ago). Also, in order for art directors and others to view the images, we had to send them out by mail or courier, a time consuming process.
On the minus side, the digital image lacks the control features of a view camera. With swings and tilts you can correct for foreshortening without having to use features of advanced digital imaging and editing programs such as Photoshop. Further, using a view camera, the user has better control of depth of field, enabling one to bring both flowers close at hand and mountains in the distance in focus in the same image. And lastly, only the most expensive digital equipment available can match the resolution in a 4×5 film image. When I scan a 4×5 image at 2400 dpi I get an image size of about 280 MB. This is enough to make a print of 30×40 inches and still have it at about 300 dpi. A sharp image indeed!
Adrian: You have been photographing professionally for many decades, seeing it change and grow. Do you have any thoughts on what the future holds for photography?
Ed: Now, with digital cameras and smart phones, everybody is a photographer. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for someone to become a pro. The use of cams in vehicles, sports helmets, and even in drones has expanded the range of what is possible. I personally don’t like drones as it really invades one sense of privacy. Can you image being on a difficult climb in the backcountry and having one of these things coming with a few feet of you to check you out? They are also quite noisy. We had one buzz our house earlier this year, and if I had a shotgun handy I would have blown it out of the sky. Selfies have become the rage now. My wife and I were on a photo trip for almost 3 weeks this June, and a growing percentage of the photos we saw being taken were selfies, many with selfie sticks as long as 3 feet. One thing is for sure. More images are being taken, both in still and video fashion, and where it will end I do not know.
Adrian: I am sure it’s virtually impossible to pick one trip or photo as a favorite. That said what is one of your favorite photos and or adventures and why?
Ed: There are quite a few images I would pick as my best, but for purposes of this blog I will pick the cover photo of the book “Fifty Years Going to the Mountains”, the east face of Bugaboo Spire in the Bugaboos in Canada, taken August 16, 1964.. Much of my early work was in B&W, and I developed the ability to “see” in B&W. I could look at a scene and immediately vision it in B&W. This was taken from a nearby peak in the Bugaboos. Having climbed this peak several years earlier, I knew the best time of day to be there to get the result I had pictured in my mind at that time. I arrived at the summit of this nearby peak, carrying a 5×7 view camera, at the proper time, in early afternoon. I used infrared film with a red filter. The side lighting on the face from the opposite direction provided the “shine” or glowing effect. I, together with Art Gran, made the first ascent of this face in August on 1960.
There are a few photographers I have met that don’t have any immediate family, by this I mean no significant other and no children. The majority of us have at least one or both. If you are young maybe none of the above still applies yet give it time and it will likely change. I have heard the comment many times that you can’t mix family and photography very well into the same trip and if you want good photos you need to have a photography only trip. I used to think that was mostly true before changing my tune over the years.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I understand it’s a completely different dynamic when you are out on your own or with a few friends photographing versus as a family trying to make time for photos. That said it can work with the right perspective. I am married with young children. I experience family trips in beautiful places working on balancing it all out. Landscape photography is certainly harder than other professions or hobbies that might be all at home or local, rather than requiring travel. Now I look back with quite a few photos in my portfolio from trips taken with my wife, just the kids or the whole family even if they are not carrying a camera or with their radar always on for photos like me.
There is one photo that for some reason sticks out in my mind which relates to this topic. It is from well-known Marc Muench, and I saw it a number of year’s back when he posted on Facebook. You can see more in the link, yet in short it’s about having a small window to get the shot before a child needs your attention or are playing in the middle of shot quite possibly changing the scene. The photo is beautiful storm sky scene and had he not made any comments about his children playing while photographing I would have seen only the serene scene in my head. Without additional context you simply don’t know what is happening outside the view of the lens.
Fortunately I have an amazing wife who is supportive of my photography, and kids that love being outdoors which certainly makes it easier to walk the balance beam of family and photography. That aside there are things to think about that can help balance out unreasonable expectations from reality to make everyone happy in the end.
1. Communicate what your intentions of a trip are ahead of time. If you have one thought and your family has another, these will collide during the trip and you don’t want that.
2. Don’t force a family trip into being 100% about the photos you want to capture. Be okay not getting every shot and moment. Your camera is not the only focus.
3. Support your significant other for their passion or hobby. Your intense burning desire to sprint out the door for photos may not be met with the same level of enthusiasm by your partner if it’s only one sided.
4. Don’t sulk about missing a great sunrise or sunset. Trust me this is not easy yet I am a little more at peace with this now than I used to be when I started photography.
5. Plan your photo trips and family trips (when possible) so it’s not always a surprise. We use a shared online calendar so my wife and I are always in the know of each other’s plans. For example if there is a low tide I want to hit on the coast I add it to our shared calendar so it’s visible to her what I am planning to do.
6. Realize you cannot take endless time scouting and photographing when on a family trip. Ask yourself if this scene is one you want to take or move on. It’s the difference between a scene that you clearly see a great composition vs one you know has good potential yet might take a while working it to get what you want.
7. Take photos of your family; then they won’t feel like it’s all about you. Sometimes they add to the scene for your landscape photos not to mention memories.
8. If you have a young child that still takes naps leverage this. Get up early on the trip for sunrise photography and then catch up on sleep later on during the kids nap time (assuming someone is there while he/she sleeps in). It’s a win-win with photo time and losing little family time.
9. Don’t think every trip needs to be a big multi-week production of thousands of miles on the road or multiple layovers. In many cases a 3 to 4 day trip just for photography allows you to focus without worrying about the balance for a long trip. The reverse can be said too.
10. Include your kids in your photography (hoping they have an interest). Let them take a photo with your camera and show it to them on the LCD. Show them what the buttons and settings do. Even if nothing ever happens to that file it’s the connection to what you’re doing that matters.
11. If you like to spend time with your photography outdoors for hiking, camping and the like don’t wait until your kids are older to expose them to that life. Start young and you will see there is a good chance they will grow to enjoy it making it easier and more fun for everyone later on.
12. If it’s a short single day trip and you have different camera systems bringing your smaller light weight system might be a better approach (ex: your mirror-less system). At least if you bring your larger camera system leave some of your arsenal of lenses and accessories behind so it doesn’t give the appearance you are taking over the day.
It’s been an internal tug-o-war for me since the relationship between photography and I became serious about a decade ago that only over the last couple years have I dealt with much better. Although I love taking photos of primarily nature it’s the photos I have of my family from these trips that I will remember as much or more decades from now. In a matter of days I am off to the Redwoods for 5 nights with my family. The plan is a blended trip of family and photography. Wish me luck on striking the right balance!
If you have stories to share on what works for you (or doesn’t) please feel free to share with a comment on this post.
This year I made an early New Year resolution back in November to make sure that I maintained a healthy lifestyle through the winter period. A lot of people like myself commit to goals like this but fall short of achieving this. So how was I going to follow through with this promise to myself. Well I have come up short most winters so I how could make this one different. I needed to take my health serious. So this article is about getting a game plan for fitness during winter.
First, I had to be honest with myself about why I wanted to be healthy. That was simple, I wanted to be able to do lots of hiking when spring and summer came around. If I waited till spring to get into shape then it would be too late. So I really thought hard and long about my reasons for it; I then I had to come up with a game plan to get into action and stay consistent. When it comes to fitness plans and goals almost all fail. So how was I going to find a fitness plan that I could stick with. Like many I seem to fall into a winter slump and hibernate into a lazy lifestyle. In the Pacific Northwest it rains a lot and thus it takes some motivation and determination to stick with fitness goals when it is so much easier to stay warm indoors and be lazy.
My first plan of action was to find a gym that I liked and was close enough in proximity. In the past I have chosen gyms based on lower costs but travel times of more than half a hour. I found out that this never works as you rationalize that travel time is too long and you end up doing something else. So I had to find a gym close enough to take away that excuse of travel time regardless of how much it cost. Once I started going to the gym, I had to find the motivation in me to keep going on a daily basis. I had to find exercises that not only interested me but also challenged me. The main reason most people don’t stick with a gym is the lack of a clear goal and doing the same exercises day in and out. So I set forth a plan that would get me through the winter and allow me to continually push myself.
To achieve this you have to have a starting point that you can look back at to see a progression in your health. As hard as it may be you need to do a couple of things, which are very hard to do. You need a baseline weight of course but you also need to take pictures of yourself and get yourself some measurements of your starting point. I hated to do this and was avoiding it but once it was done I could move forward by charting how much progress I was making each week. I found some good fitness goals that would take me through the winter and spring and get me in prime shape for hiking in summer.
I choose a fitness plan that would be focused on strengthening my cardio to go longer distances when hiking. So exercise goals included a lot of treadmill, and interval training. After a few months of this, I really stepped up the intensity and duration as well. I now center my strength training by doing a lot of leg exercises that include squats, and core abdominal exercises.
The next step in my goal was to be able to hike not only longer distances but carry more weight; to achieve this I have started adding a 30-50 pound backpack while doing all steady state cardio. This really has gotten my body used to carrying heavier weights for longer distances.
The immediate benefit of this goal has been the ability to do steeper hikes as well. To prepare for this I make sure to include the stair climber in my workout a couple of times a month. At first it really is painful and not much fun but the body really gets used to it fairly quick. Whether on the treadmill or any other cardio machine I make sure to include both long periods of steady-state cardio as well as interval training which primes the body for long distances when hiking. Interval training includes exercises where you do short bursts or sprints followed up by short period of rest. Keep interval training short for periods of 10-15 minutes followed by steady state cardio like a easy walk of 30 minutes. Remember to try adding the backpack when walking or doing the treadmill. Goals in terms of the heart rate should be around 90% when doing interval burst training and then around 65-70% when doing steady state cardio training.
Remember to keep it simple and choose you can see progress as well as challenge myself on a daily basis. Try to do something everyday so that it becomes a habit and not something you have to think about. Reward myself when you reach certain goals and thus allows you to maintain interest in keeping a goal through the winter. The most important element is consistency so that when Spring comes you are ready to hit the trails. Remember if you like what you are doing you are much more likely to stick with it. See you on the trails !!!
When I am getting ready to head out for a hike or take my camera gear I normally don’t travel very light, except of course when I am backpacking. One of F-stop Gear’s smaller packs forces me to travel lighter than I normally would and this pack is the Kenti, the smallest in their Mountain series and the one that has the built-in ICU. I really like what it has to offer, some of what differs from other packs I have used whether F-stop or other brands.
Basic Specs – 25 liters, 3.4 lbs (1.54 kgs), 17” tall, 11” wide and 8.5” deep. Exterior is DWR-treated, 330D Double Ripstop Nylon with 1500mm Polyurethane coating. Can carry your DSLR, a few lenses, accessories and some others small items like a snack and light jacket.
Feel – When I first put it on I felt like I was ready to hit the trail for a run, not a hike. Because of it’s size the Kenti sits high which I was not used to but really like as it feels more out of the way around my lower back. When I have this loaded with little room to spare I am pleasantly surprised how well the bag holds with little to no sagging feel.
Build – Every generation of F-stop bags honestly gets better and better, this one is no exception. My first one from them I still have from years ago and I love it because it’s bright red and in great shape but you can see the difference in materials and overall build compared to their newer packs. I see no reason this won’t last through heavy use from the mountain trails to the urban back alley.
Hydration – Something I have asked for and I see is integrated in this pack is a place to put a hydration bladder that is outside of the pack with drain at bottom should it leak. A bladder inside the pack and thousands of dollars in gear is not a good combo. I had no issues putting a couple liters of water in my Camelbak bladder and getting it to fit in the hydration slot.
There are few things to note about hydration for this pack. 1) Although I got the bladder to fit fine I could not make use of the H2O hose outlet as seen in the photos. It’s simply too tight of a squeeze for the front of my hose. That said I had no issues letting it sit between the zippers, they stayed firmly in place. 2) Although my backpacking pack I use is similar in that the hydration bladder sits behind my back it has more of an arch to keep it from my pack. That said even though this area is directly touching your back when wearing the pack it felt fine without feeling the shape of the bladder with water. 3) Unless you want to keep your water bottle in your pack with gear this pack lacks an outside water bottle option.
External Straps – You can carry the tripod on the side which I did a few times yet I would suggest getting the Gatekeeper Straps as this allows for carrying it on the back center area. This would also allow you to carry other items here such as snowboard or crampons if desired. I have a feeling I will be using this pack for that purpose this winter.
Main Body Access – Admittedly I am not used to side access compartments for my camera backpacks. That said once you get used to using it nice to swing it onto one should or the other to get access to your gear without putting your bag down. Top access is roll-down for expandability as needed which is pretty cool (reminds me of my Ortlieb panniers that I use for biking). For side access I notice I don’t always remember which side I have my camera and which has my extra lenses. A trick to remember is referencing your hip belt and knowing which gear is in the side with the hip belt pocket and what gear is in the side without. If you have a mirror-less camera system or something similar in size you could put most of your gear on one side and leave the other for clothes or other items.
Pockets – There is plenty! I still remember a trip many years ago to Europe traveling on the bus talking to some climbers from England. They commented on my pack (and American’s in general) how we have so many pockets and compartments in most of our packs. I can’t deny that is me 100% whether it’s a photo bag or not. You will find plenty of places to put small and medium sized items like filters, batteries and cards.
Weather Resistance – One thing I need is something that is built to hold up to the elements and has a rain cover that you can get as an add on. It’s wet in the Northwest so I need this. Although I use the rain cover when it’s raining I have gone without it for short distances in light rain and the DWR-treated exterior repels water quite well. Don’t forget if you use the rain cover and end up tucking it in the bottom compartment to remove it later so it can fully dry out. I have come close a couple times to leaving a damp cover in there which wouldn’t smell nice weeks later!
Overall I really like this pack and for now will be my go to when I want to travel light with less gear. What is your pack of choice for travel light with your photo gear?
Disclosure Note: I am on the F-stop Gear pro team.
I grew up backpacking in the California Sierra and Oregon Cascades with my family and have continued to explore the back country and high mountain wilderness ever since. In my twenties and thirties I spent most of my time in the wilderness climbing, carrying ridiculously heavy packs and taking the most direct path to whatever summit was close by. These days I prefer to take more leisurely trips into the wilderness to photograph mountains instead of climbing them. My most rewarding outdoor experiences come from spending a few days with the camera, far away from more crowded roadside landscapes. When I first began going into the wilderness to photograph I simply traded out my climbing gear for camera gear, convinced that a heavy pack was the hallmark of a burly woodsman. Now that I have both hiking boots planted firmly in middle age I find that carrying too much weight has become painful, demoralizing and potentially injury inducing.
In the past few years I have made it a priority to lighten my backpack so I can get up in the hills with a minimum of suffering and maximum of comfort and mobility. It is a work in progress, but I now have a set-up that seems to be working well for me. I figured some people would be interested to know what my back country kit is composed of and that was the motivation for this article. Fellow PhotoCascadian, David Cobb, also an avid back country photographer, previously wrote an article detailing his lightweight backpacking set up. Most of my gear choices are based on suggestions from friends and some basic Internet research and comparison. I don’t have any personal or financial stake in the companies or gear on my list. I genuinely like and endorse all the gear I’m using. However, there are many other options out there which would work equally well or even better.
My main goal is to keep my total fixed pack weight (not including clothes, food and water, which varies day by day and season by season) under 15-18 pounds.
Pack – I use an Osprey pack that is closest to the current Xenith 75 Model: 5.4 lbs. This is the one place where I am willing to go a little heavier for better comfort and load distribution. I find that a good pack can make a heavy load feel lighter than it would with a less able but lighter pack.
Tent – Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 : 2.5 lbs. Super roomy single person for the weight and very weather proof for a three season tent. I love the big side entry door and high ceiling.
Sleeping bag -Three season – Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45: 1.2 lbs. Good for me down to about 35 degrees F. Cold weather – Marmot Helium: 2.4 lbs. Good for temps down into the low teens or even colder if I wear layers. Both of these down bags are super comfy and light.
Pad – Big Agnes Q-Core SL: 1.1 lbs. I’m getting older and stiffer so the 3.5 inches of air cushion really helps me get a good night’s rest. It also keeps me warm down into the low teens.
Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket: 0.2 lbs. Super light, super small, super fast, super reliable.
Kitchen Kit – MSR Quick Solo Pot: .5 lbs. It’s a pot.
Water treatment – Katadyn Hiker: 0.75 lbs. Basic and reliable, although not the lightest out there.
This puts my basic kit at 11.65 or 12.85 lbs depending on which sleeping bag I take. I have another couple of pounds of odds and ends like first aid kit, head lamp, 10 essentials kit, fuel, mug, etc. That brings me up to about 15 pounds total. This leaves about 20 pounds for extra clothing layers, food and camera gear to stay under my 35 pound limit. For camera gear I choose from the following options.
Camera – Canon EOS 5D mark III or Sony NEX-7
Lenses – 24-105mm or similar. 16-35mm and/or 70-200mm if essential.
Tripod – MeFoto Road Trip or Gitzo Mountaineer.
Camera clip – Peak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip. I hike with my camera outside my pack so I’m ready to shoot at any time without needing to take off the pack and unload it. I find the Peak Design clip an excellent way to carry the camera outside the pack in easy reach.
Depending on how light I want to go will determine which camera, tripod and lenses I take. For the most lightweight rig I’ll take the Sony NEX-7, single 16-55mm lens (roughly 24-82mm equivalent) and the MeFoto Road Trip tripod.