Zuiko 50mm f/1.4
I’ve decided to add this section to my blogbecause, even though lately I haven’t been often, I love to backpack. There is just something liberating and wonderful about strapping everything you need to live for anywhere from a day to a week or two on to your back and walking around in nature, especially if it is withone or more friends. Since I am an avid amateur photographer this topic is going to have a strong bent toward photography and backpacking, which if you are reading my blog probably is right up your alley as well.
I’ve been camping since I was a rather young child, though I have only been really backpacking since I graduated from high school. I’ve done plenty of day hikes before then and plenty of car camping, but it was graduating from high school that really introduced me to multidaybackpacking. On graduation myself and 5 of my friendsloaded up a van and a bunch of packs and hiked the Appalachian Trail through Shenandoah state park. It took us 4 days with a final 5th day or rest before getting picked back up. It should have been 5 days of hiking, but out of date maps (nearly 20 years out of date) forced us to do about 24 miles of hiking on the 4th day (as the crow flies, around 30 trail miles give or take).
Recently I went backpacking along the C&O canal for a couple of days with my friend Field, who also went on that Shanandoah trip with me back about 7 years before.
With my ‘background’ out of the way the thing I think is most important to discuss is the gear to bring. There are generally 4 things to keep in mind for gear, what you need, what you want, what your body can handle and light weight costs money.
What I pack
This is what I packed for this recent trip, ignore the foam pad, I ended up removing that right before the trip (mistake). The trip was only a single night and around 18 miles total of hiking.
(1) L.L. Bean White mountain pack (4,500-5,700 cu. in.) – 6lb 6oz
(1) Kelty 2 man tent (similar to the Teton. Not sure the model, but it is discontinued now) – 4lb 10oz packed
(1) LL Bean sleeping bag (32 degree bag) – 5lbs
(1) Toiletry bag (Sunblock, travel sized toothpaste, contact solution, contact case, hand sanitizer, glasses, toothbrush and deodorant)
(1) Aluminum mess kit
(1) MSR pocket rocket stove and 1 4oz Isopro fuel canister
(2) boxes of matches
(1) mini-first aid kit and bottle of iodine water purification tablets
(1) Mini Maglite
(1) Basic Swiss army knife and (1) leatherman tool
(2) 1 liter waterbottles
(1) set of clothes (1 change of underwear, hiking socks, T-shirt and heavy sweatshirt…low overnight was 36F), bandanna, sunglasses and cloth bush hat
(1) Light pocket windbreaker (folds into its own pocket for convenient storage)
Food packed (for myself) was (5) powerbars, 1/2lb dried apricots and 4oz beef jerky. Field and myself brought and shared between our packs, 4 packs instant oatmeal, 1/2 can spaghetti sauce, 1 box angle hair pasta, loaf of bread, Peanut butter jar and jar of jam for meals.
(1) Targus tripod
(1) Lowepro Nova 2 AW camera bag, Sigma 24mm f/2.8, Tamron 28mm f/2.5, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Zuiko 85mm f/2, 49mm polarizer, cable release, 49mm lens hood and 3 rolls of film (Fuji Superia and Reala)
Total weight without water was about 33lbs.
Tamron 28mm f/2.5
The lessons I learned from the hiking trip were,
Better hiking boots. I was using my old ones that I bought for that Shenandoah trip about 7 year before. They weren’t especially comfortable then and 7 years of use for day hikes and the such haven’t improved them. I need a nice light weight comfortable pair of hiking boots next time.
Lighter sleeping bag. At around 5lbs my sleeping bag is ridiculous (50oz of fill!). Rarely do I go camping when I need a bag quite as warm as the one I am using and its is a rather lose fit despite being a mummy bag. A nice light weight 2 1/2lb 38 degree bag would be more then enough and would shave more then 2lbs off the weight of my pack.
Less/different lenses. I used the 28mm lens the most, but frankly I could have gotten away with the 24mm lens in most cases and I can always crop slightly. Also the times I used the 85mm lens I often wanted just a bit more reach. Next time around I think I am going to go for the Sigma 24/2.8, Zuiko 50/1.4 and get a Zuiko100/2.8. Also I might throw in a 7mm extension tube for the Sigma 24mm f/2.8, it goes to 1:4 right now, but it would be nice to get a bit closer for some of the flower pictures. One option may be to go with the Sigma 50/2.8 macro in place of the Zuiko 50/1.4, but those extra 2 stops are nice for pictures around the campfire at night.
Different camera bag. Field actually suggested a way to hang my camera bag that kept it in easy reach. Basically just used a strap to hang it off the left side of my bag and it hung low enough that I could swing it around to get in to. The weight was low enough that it didn’t really throw off the balance of my pack as a whole. All that being said, even with 4 lens and a camera the bag was cavernous. Next time I need to get a smaller bag. I’ve been looking at the Lowepro Nova Mini AW, either that or the Nova 1 looks like it would be my best bet for the camera and 3 small prime lenses.
Sigma 24mm f/2.8
Thoughts on gear and prep
MSR Pocket Rocket-I had bought an MSR pocket rocket for the trip and it turned out to be a wonderful purchase. It uses Isopro fuel (Isobutane) which is pretty commonly available at most camping stores. The stove is tiny and weighs only 3 ounces. It is more stable then it appears and its resistance to wind is actually pretty good. We were getting 20mph gusts at night and it never blew the flame out. The stove is not self starting, so you need to have matches or a flint and steel. It can boil water pretty quickly and isn’t overly loud (though it is not quite at full flame). Some people recommend the MSR reactor or the Jetboil as they are both very efficient (about 50% more efficient). The downside is that both systems have a much higher entry weight. The break even point for one of those systems is when you need to boil around 45 liters of water. At that point you’d need 6, 4oz fuel cannisters for the pocket rocket and only 4 for the reactor…total weight for both would then be 51oz (4oz fuel canisters have a total weight of 8oz). Of course with 8oz fuel canisters the break even would be a little sooner (8oz fuel canisters are more like 14oz total). Either way you shave it, 51l of water is a lot of water to boil. Between dinner and breakfast I’d say I used maybe half or slightly more of the fuel in one 4oz canister of fuel with the pocket rocket and I boiled a huge pot of very cold water (right from the ground), probably around 2.5l of water or so, which was a bit more then needed for the 1 box of pasta. At any rate, the pocket rocket got the job done, is tiny (so it takes up little of your pack), comes in its own little case and is very inexpensive (~$40). I’d suggest one for any trip under about a week in length, especially if small group backpacking. 1 4oz fuel canister would probably get the job done for every 2 nights on the trail for 2 people. If your going to go for more then a week without resupply or with a large group of people something like the reactor or a white gas stove might be a better solution. If your going with several people break the fuel out among the group, maybe each person takes a 40z fuel canister or something similar.
Tents– The smaller and lighter you can manage the better. Be sure your good friends though as accommodations are likely to be tight. An option if going with several friends is to break the tent among several people, maybe someone takes the polls and stakes and someone takes the fabric.
Light sleeping bag – Go with the lightest thing you can afford or be comfortable in. If you only go summer backpacking get the lightest weight sleeping bag you can or even consider not using a sleeping bag and bringing a light fleece blanket. Along with the sleeping bag, use a foam bed roll. This will insulate you from the ground to keep you warmer and provides just a hint of cushioning. The inflatable ones can be a pain and tend to weigh more then a foam pad. Also cut the foam pad to the size of the sleeping bag, they tend to be much larger and that is just extra bulk and weight (even if only an ounce).
Tamron 28mm f/2.5
Camera gear – This can be a touchy subject. Many people want to bring as much as they can (or more then they can). When you are backpacking, 99% of the time you have to face the fact that photography is not the point of the trip. Your space and weight allowance for camera gear islimited. Many people differ on what is a good load. I have spoken with people who recommend a single 35-70mm lens and a few rolls of film, some who recommend a 24 and 85mm primes a couple rolls of film and call it a day and some who recommend a medium format camera with 3 extra lenses, a tripod a 35mm body with another 3-4 lenses and various filters, film holders and film. Personally what I would suggest is either a single zoom lens of around 28mm-100mm equivalent focal length if that is doable. That or what am settling down to is a 24, 50 and 100mm prime. If you have something superwide and you are going to be doing a lot of ridge hiking then maybe a superwide like a 14, 17 or 18mm lens would be a good bet even if it increases your pack weight some. Medium format just doesn’t really have a place in backpacking unless it is day hiking. Also heavy tripods are a big no-no. Get a carbon fiber travel tripod or even a super cheap aluminum one. My Bogen 055xb is vastly superior to my cheap Targus, but the targus got the job done even with my 85mm lens on it (and especially withthe 24mm lens) including night exposures of 40s or so long and also 1/8-1/4s long exposures. This was with light wind, not still conditions. There is no way I would put a heavy lens and camera on there like a 24-70/2.8 and 1ds mkIII, but it’ll handle a lightish body and a smaller prime lens, and for backpacking what else are you using mostly? At around 1lb the Targus was the easy choice for backpacking over the around 5.5lb with head 055xb. Someday maybe I’ll look in to a Gitzo carbon fiber travel tripod, but until I have a spare $300-500 I’ll go with the Targus.
Tamron 28mm f/2.5
Prep – Backpacking isn’t all about the gear. There are important things to prepare for the trip as well.
1) Pick your friends. This is probably the most important. Go with people who you’d enjoy backpacking with. Remember you might be sharing a tent with them and might be the only person/people you have to talk to for the next several days.
2) Be realistic and get in shape – If you’ve never been backpacking before, don’t expect to be able to do 20 miles a day on a steep trail. I’ve been before and am in decent shape and 10 miles one day and 8 miles the next kicked my butt some with just a 33lb pack (around 37 with water and I was recovered by the next evening). That one nearly 30 mile day back when I was 18 and in very good shape left me worthless for nearly 3 days afterward because of sore muscles and blisters. Better boots would have helped for both, but it wouldn’t have entirely solved everything. If you are going over several days, plan on working your way up to it. Keep the first day or two shorter then the rest of the trip so that your body can get used to the back and the distances. Take breaks as well. Hike for maybe an hour and then take a 10-15 minute break. At a fast hike you can probably cover 2 miles an hour, even with a 10 minute break every hour. At a more moderate pace a mile and a half in an hour is still quite possible and if you do a full day of hiking, which I don’t recommend for the first day or so on the trail you can easily cover 12-15 miles once you get used to it. Before you go get decent maps of the area. If there isn’t potable water readily available have maps of where springs or water sources are. Bring a backpacking water filter and iodine tablets. Even if there is potable water (water pumps, etc) along the trail a $2 bottle of iodine tablets can save you a world of hurt if it turns out that the pumps aren’t working. Before you go take 2 or 3 day trips with your pack loaded down with at least as much weight as you’ll be taking with you. Do at least 5-6 miles of hiking on each day trip. This will also help you get in shape and your body used to the weight. Lastly, good boots that have been broken in with hiking socks is a must.