How to carry your camera in the backcountry and keep it safe

Memories of our trips with our kids is what we want right? While we don’t want to always be behind the lens snapping images we do want to be able to look back through our albums with our family and remember the awesome things we’ve done together.

They say that the best camera is the one you use and that’s entirely true. It doesn’t matter if you have the best Canon or Nikon or Sony camera if you’re out on a trip and you’re not using it to take pictures.

What type of camera?

The first question to ask yourself is what type of camera are you going to carry with you? You’re going to have the best latitude to get great shots with a nice dSLR like the Canon 60D (Amazon.ca). It will perform better in low light than anything else and is fast. Then again with an expensive camera like that you may be worried about damaging it. You may be particularly concerned if it’s raining out since water and electronics generally don’t mix.

You could go with something like the Olympus TG-860 (Amazon.ca). With this type of waterproof rugged camera you won’t need to worry about banging it around or getting wet but it will take a few seconds to power up so you can take that picture you want. A rugged camera like this is not going to be able to deal with low light levels like a dSLR. It’s got a smaller sensor and can’t gather as much light as fast as the larger dSLR lens. These smaller cameras also have a longer cycle time between images. If you’re trying to shoot wildlife (or kids) that move quickly then that extra second or half second can be the difference between the shot you want and the shot you didn’t want.

A third option is just to use the phone you have with you. With great waterproof cases out there from Lifeproof (Amazon.ca)you really don’t need to worry about it getting wet and the phone can take quite a beating without damage, but it’s still a pretty expensive piece of electronics if for some reason you do loose it. Newer phones like the iPhone 6s Plus I have or the iPhone 6 take nice shots most of the time. Though they still have smaller sensor’s so they won’t perform as well in lower light levels as larger dSLR’s.

That’s not even all the options. You could go with a micro 4/3 camera which will be smaller than a full-size dSLR like the 60D and get you about 95% of the image quality you find in a dSLR. The thing you’ll give up with a smaller sensor is the top end of low light level performance. Finally, you could just grab a normal point and shoot camera which may perform better than the TG-860 but then you’ll have to worry about damaging it in rough terrain.

My family often ends up taking at least 3 cameras on our trips. First is the Canon 60D which I’m mainly in charge of. Second is our iPhones (both my wife and I bring them in Lifeproof cases) which I love for the easy panoramas they take and the quick access. Third we have an older Olympus waterproof camera that we give to the kids to use since they really can’t wreck it.

This Olympus camera is one of the keys to our children having a great time in the outdoors since they can capture what they love without needing to talk to us about getting the picture they want. Yes many of the images captured are of fingers and the ground but on almost every trip there are one or two unique images that we love.

So lets talk about how I keep my camera’s as safe as possible while I’m out in the wilderness.

Hiking and Trail Running

When I’m hiking I carry my iPhone in a Road Runner pouch attached to one of the should straps on my backpack. This lets me access it quickly and since the pouch is vinyl coated it provides some protection against the elements. No it’s not a waterproof pouch, but it keeps the worst off so the Lifeproof case is only really dealing with some splash.

The second camera I carry is the Canon 60D inside a Lowe Pro Case top loading all weather case (Amazon.ca). Here I take off the regular shoulder straps and put a carabiner on each side. I then attach these to my shoulder straps which hangs the bag securely in front of me for easy access.

dSLR case rigged on the front of my pack for quick access

dSLR case rigged on the front of my pack for quick access

The all weather versions have a built in rain fly that wraps around the case to keep everything dry inside. To protect the camera from rain while shooting I just poke a hole in a plastic bag and stick the lens through the hole. That leaves the back of the camera accessible for me to work the camera and keeps 90% of the rain away so I don’t have to worry about the camera.

For the kid’s camera we have a second Road Runner cell case that we put on our 5 year old’s bag so she can get it out whenever she wants. We really don’t worry about this camera at all since it’s waterproof and rugged. She drops it and bangs it on things and it still keeps taking decent pictures after 7 years of use and 4 with a kid.

Finally for trail running I generally just take my iPhone 6s Plus. The point to a trail run is to move fast and a dSLR just isn’t compatible with that move fast philosophy. For this reason alone I keep thinking of getting in to the Micro 4/3 realm so I have a smaller camera that’s feasible to pack on my fast and light days and retains the high image quality I crave sometimes.

Kayaking and Canoeing

When we’re whitewater kayaking we don’t take our phones iPhone. While we’ve never had a LifeProof case fail, dropping 40 foot waterfalls with a phone just sitting in a PFD pocket seems like asking for trouble. In the event that you loose a boat adding a $600 phone to the loss just makes it more pain than most people can stomach.

Our Olympus waterproof camera ends up attached to my PFD with a short string. This allows me to pull behind a rock quickly and get a picture with one hand safe in the knowledge that I can drop the camera as needed and just paddle. The worst that happens is the camera flips around and catches me in the face.

Here is Cynthia running a pretty gnarly rapid and I shot it hanging on to a rock on the side of the river with our small Olympus

Here is Cynthia running a pretty gnarly rapid and I shot it hanging on to a rock on the side of the river with our small Olympus

The second camera I carry is my dSLR which ends up in the back of my kayak in a Watershed Dry bag (Amazon.ca) with their padded fleece liner.

Yes this does mean I have to stop find a stable spot to get out then dig the camera out of the bag and shoot before putting it back in the bag and getting back in the boat then launching in to the river. I’ve found it’s a price I’m totally willing to pay to get the higher quality shots you can get with a nice dSLR with a decent lens. Even at smaller sizes on the web you can see the extra clarity the dSLR yields.

When we’re canoeing I just clip the Watershed bag in front of me between my feet and use it for not only the camera but all my personal items like my headlamp, notebook, pen…

Usually here my daughter has the waterproof Olympus camera and we clip it to a long piece of rope so that when she drops it we can just pull it back in and keep on going.

What about you? Do you have any tricks to keep your camera gear safe while enjoying the outdoors?

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