Backpacking with camera gear.... decisions.

Discussion in 'Nature' started by photo_dark, Apr 11, 2008.

  1. I am an avid backpacker and climber and in the past I have only brought a 350D
    w/ kit lens on my backpacking trips, and usually don't bring a tripod, instead
    using natural 'tripods' for longer exposures.

    This year i'd like to start bringing my 40D w/ 17-40 and a tripod, but being a
    bit of a weight weenie, i'd like to keep the overall weight of the camera gear
    down. So I am looking for an extremely lightweight but still not overly
    expensive tripod to bring along as well. I have a cheapo optex tripod, but it's
    about as flimsy as they get, and the ole manfrotto set is way too heavy at 4lb
    (the camera/lens combo is already pusing 2.5lb)

    Everything so far (including food, 40D and 17-40L) comes to about 27 lb, which
    is getting pretty close to being too much for long 20km days in the rockies at
    high elevation. My two questions are: What do you typically bring on longer
    backpacking trips (not dayhikes) and does anyone have any suggestions for a
    sturdy, lightweight, but not overly expensive tripod? I would like to spend less
    than $350 including the head.

  2. Real light stiff tripods are not going to be cheap. The lightest will be carbon and from my experience Gitzo's work very well. Go for as few leg sections as possible.
  3. I have a plan for a hike on the AT this summer where my pack is probably going to weigh in at near 40lbs including water (might tip at about 45lbs). It is lower elevation though and I don't know if you are doing set trails, but we are planning on about 15 miles a day to keep it on the moderate side (about 24km). The worst ever was just after graduating high school I went on a backpacking trip through the Shanendoah valley and we got stuck with a long hike on one of the days because we were using old maps (first mistake) and some of the springs on the maps didn't exist anymore (and we didn't know where new ones might be) and we also couldn't pitch tent in some of the burn we had a 1 day 32 miles hike our 2nd to last day instead of a 17 and a 13 mile hike like we had planned (we had to hike 2 miles past the trailend to camp as we were getting picked up instead of meeting a van).

    Anyway, I digress.

    For camera gear that I am planning to pack for the trip I am packing my Oly OM-1n, 35-70/3.5, 24/2.8 and 135/3.5. I may or may not also stick my 300/5.6 in my bag. A few rolls of film and some filters will also accompany me. Total weight of the camera gear is something like 4lbs including a few rolls of film and filters. I don't do a tripod as even if I could afford a really light weight one, it is just to much gear to strap to my pack. I certainly wouldn't mind carrying one on a day hike or an overnight hike, but nothing longer. As you said, nature is my tripod.
  4. awahlster

    awahlster Moderator

    Velbon 343E and it's kin about 1lb Slick also makes a travel tripod that also goes right down to the ground for close up stuff.
  5. "Real light stiff tripods are not going to be cheap. The lightest will be carbon and from my experience Gitzo's work very well. Go for as few leg sections as possible."

    That's kind of what i'm afraid of. I've contemplated buying a cheaper, but slightly heavier tripod and cutting off the bottom section of legs. I really miss a tripod in the mountains, but I can't seem to find a reasonably lightweight/sturdy set that won't break my bank account (and my wife won't hit me too hard when do buy it)
  6. @ Mark....

    Thanks for the tip, that velbon doesn't look too bad. Tripod+camera+lens = 4.8lb or so... A little heavy, but that's the sacrifice I suppose. That would put me at around 31 lb for everything. Maybe 28 if I tell my buddy he has to carry the pots and fuel :)
  7. SCL


    When I used to do long solo hikes (3-10 days) my goal was 33 lbs max, less whatever water I carried. I chose 1 body, 2 lenses. As far as tripods go, I occasionally tried a light weight aluminum one, but finally settled on a collapsible table model which I could attach to trees, rocks, etc via the bungee cords I had to carry anyway.
  8. SCL


    Forgot to mention, that about 5 years ago I began using a lightweight monopod which is also my trekking pole in rough terrain. It can also be attached to stuff via the bungee cords, but in general is less convenient to use than the collapsible table model tripod.
  9. For almost exactly the same applications you describe, I have a Gitzo 1128 (not sure of new model #) and a Giotto medium (I think it is MH-1301 or something like that) ballhead. Very light and easy to pack in a backpack as well as in a suitcase. Don't be put off by the 4 section tripod design or the extreme thinness of the lowest leg section. The small folded size makes the minor hassles of the extra leg section worth it and I have not had trouble with stability. I wouldn't use it for my 500/4, but it's fine with my D200/vertical hold/80-200/2.8. In windy conditions, hang something on the tripod hook.
  10. I just went through the same issues and I realized quickly that I had to make certain compromises. I prioritzed what was important to me and it came down to weight, size and rigidity. I already own to CF tripods (one Gitzo and one Benro) but for longer hikes they are just too much to carry around.

    So I bought the Gitzo T1540 Traveler Tripod which weighs just shy of 2 pounds and the Really Right Stuff B25 Ballhead. Both are rated at 9.9 pounds and I trust those two companies to not overstate their load ratings. I received the two items two days ago and they will do just fine. The Gitzo, while very small is actually quite sturdy (despite the thin last leg section) and the tiny ballhead clamps down really well and will hold my 5d and the 24-105 or the 17-40 without any problems.

    This outfit is not cheap - I could have bought a 30pound rated Gitzo with a nice heavy duty ballhead for the same price, but it would not have solved my problem.

    There are other less costly solutions out there - a SLIK tripod and alos a Benro that collapses to a tiny package.
  11. Something you could try out is a Gorillapod. I have their midsized version. It won't support more then my OM-1 and a short lens on it with any kind of rigidity, but with mirror lockup and no heavy winds it works okay. The larger size is supposed to support more then double the weight of the midsized one. They are all light weight and they work great for attaching themselves to tree branches, wrapping around odd shaped rocks, etc.

    Might be worth a look.
  12. Hmm... some great advice thanks!

    I've actually considered one of those Gorillapods for the reasons mentioned by Stephen... the only problem is a good portion of my trips take me well above treeline, and across the occassional glacier... which further frustrates things by tacking on an additional 10+ lb in ropes, harnesses and an ice axe.... why can't carbon fibre be cheaper anyways?

    That Gitzo 1540 looks pretty much perfect, but i'm balking at the $550+ price tag. If I could find something a bit shorter and cheaper, I would probably be pretty happy... I don't think that I necessarily need a full 6' tripod... 4-5' would probably be ok for what I do, if it would cut down on cost and weight somewhat.
  13. lots of variants on Stephen's idea: "...I began using a lightweight monopod which is also my trekking pole in rough terrain. It can also be attached to stuff via the bungee cords, but in general is less convenient to use than the collapsible table model tripod."

    cheap, Get a hardwood 3/4" dowel at home despot and epoxy a 3/8" thread in the top handle, mount an arca-style QR clamp, check out the monopod section in RRS catalog online for ideas. Sand/sharpen the ground tip - if you can push in a tent stake by hand you can push this in. You could even mount an AS clamp on a frame pack - oh i'm "old school" still use a kelty ext. frame pack. Me, I've always carried a 4 lb +/- tripod and will continue to do so.
  14. I'm using a Benro C128 - pretty affordable, stiff enough if you hang your bergen from it, and very light. I'd recommend spending the rest on an acratech head. The other alternative would be a walking pole with a fitting for a camera, and just using it to steady yourself.
  15. hey david,

    i had the same problem a while back.

    saved and bought a CF tripod and never looked back.

    what you'll find is that no matter how lightweight your tripod is that's only half the equation and usually the cheaper half.

    the expensive part will be the ball head or whatever kind of tripod head you are comfortable with.

    good luck!

  16. Thanks David.... I'll keep that in mind.... I will need a good head, the one on my manfrotto is kinda big and heavy for backpacking, even with a light set of legs.

    It's funny, but I have a totally different outlook on weight depending on whether i'm shooting landscapes in the backcountry, or doing regular 'paid' gigs.
  17. I like to carry my Konica Minolta 7D with built in image stabilization. For me, that radically
    reduces any need for a tripod. Tripods are also helpful for careful refinement of a
    composition, though.

    If you wind up carrying a light tripod, you might add a hook at the center column and hang a
    heavy object (daypack, backpack, a bag of rocks) from it. That will add a little stability.
  18. This is a vintage article but still useful.

    and this is a more recent update

    Hope this helps.

  19. I'm a weight weenie when it comes to cycling, but in the mountains I remind myself that a
    pound off the stomach is like ten off the back. You may find that trying to stay with in
    budget and compromising will only leave you "less than $350" poorer and still in need of a
    good camera support, to that end I would use David O's approach and save before buying.
    I always think if I'm going to haul this beast around for a week and up this mountain is it
    going to pull its weight when I ask it to, if not it doesn't make the cut. I own two gitzos,
    one CF one aluminum, I also own one of those manfrotto CF travel tripods(amongst the
    ever growing collection), I can say that little manfrotto is just as good a my gitzos in
    achieving the end it was designed for, and with in a much better budget. You might also
    check out Berlebach, I have one of their wooden tripods which has a ball mounted center
    column. So long as I don't need more than 30 degrees of tilt from the column(which of
    course can be supplemented by adjusting leg extension) there is no need to mount a head
    on it. With out a head its lighter than any of my tripods with a head, and more stable than
    trying to fit a light head and a light tripod together with a heavy load on top. Its also very
    good at absorbing vibrations and warmer to the touch in cold and wet environments than
    aluminum with out the price tag of CF. Worth a look at, if you can get up close to one
    before buying I think you'll be surprised how it incorporates light weight with a sturdy feel
    that would seem only possible in a big studio tripod. Oh and its feet have little rubber
    ends that screw in revealing nice spikes, for all that ice you'll be climbing over.

    Also if your buddy will be looking forward to sharing your well earned beautiful photos on
    your return home, it is totally fair in my opinion to count some of that camera weight as communal and get his assistance with it. Think of yourself as the expedition photographer.
    When the Endurance was crushed and sank off antarctica Shackelton made sure to bring
    back as many photos as could be allowed even though that was weight that would have to
    be hauled by his men instead of gear and food which might have made their lives easier.
    Such was the worth of those images to the expedition. CF cards are much lighter than
    glass plates, I think we're lucky to have the luxury of making these decisions.
  20. If I had $350 to spend, and I was going to be backpacking, I'd definitely go with carbon fiber. When I shot a Pentax 67, I had nearly as much tied up in tripods as I did in lenses. I've owned three different carbon fiber tripods, and they were well worth the money. Eventually I moved to a Mamiya 7 and black and white, and found I was using a tripod less and less. I couldn't justify the cost so I moved to the little Velbon, but it was far to flimsy. Then I bought the Slik Sprint Pro. It's right around two pounds, and it's surprisingly sturdy for its weight and size. If I were in your shoes, I'd go carbon fiber, but the Slik Sprint Pro ain't bad.
  21. I like the Velbon 343E for backpacking with my 20D + 17-40 lens. I did replace the native ballhead with a more secure Velbon head. I've used this setup on a couple backpacking trips with good success.

    When I really want to go light, as I will this weekend in the Grand Canyon where I will be taking backpacking AND rock climbing gear (we're climbing Zoroster Temple), I will take my new Canon G9 + Ultrapod II.
  22. It really depends what your priorities are David. I've huffed a D70 and Gitzo G1127 up Whitney, Wheeler, Half Dome and across the Grand Canyon. It's worth it in my opinion, but that's just my opinion. I often wonder how the experience would be altered had I traded my Nikon for the Pentax Optio W10 I left in the car. Now, months to years later, I have no doubt I made the right decision.
  23. Great responses thanks!

    I suppose i'll have to make a decision one way or another. I have had some interest peaked in the new adorama flashpoint tripods... well within my $300+ limit, and so far good reviews.

    The big decision rests on the type of trip. On a backpacking trip, I can probably get away with a slightly heavier tripod, but if there's any ropework needed, then every ounce starts to count. I'm only 150lb and 5'11"... so not much can be saved there :) But for all intents and purposes, thanks for all the insight and suggestions! I certainly appreciate it.
  24. Ritz has the velbon 540 for 259 but/also a pan head. IF thats the one i looked at it seems like it might be what you're looking for.
  25. Try the Gitzo GT-0530, with the smallest RRS ballhead. I got to play with one when another photographer I met was using one with his D300. It's solid enough of a combo that I'd use it with a 4x5 very carefully. I think the combined weight was something like 1.75 lbs.
  26. " not much can be saved there :)" pure envy on my part.

    Could you tell us your decision and how it goes once you get it and go? And of course it
    would be nice to see the results too.
  27. As for the issue of carrying weight, I tend to bring along a donkey or two to carry all my gear; you can pick them up for relativley cheap, and can be used as "natural tripods". But seriously, I've used the Calumet brand tripods, and for under $100 they seem to support quite a bit of weight for a relatively small size; something like 11lbs.

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