Major update in 2018 - see the new post here!
The backcountry is where it's at for landscapes! The feeling of waking up in a remote location that only a few people see in a year and capturing a sunrise that no one else witnessed is amazing. Many times when I get to my destination there isn't another person to be seen anywhere! It really lets us connect with our surroundings and create better landscape images. It has changed the way I photograph forever. After being in such remote locations and having a whole mountain valley to yourself, it's really hard to imagine going to a crowded landscape "icon" to photograph with dozens of other photographers and hundreds of tourists. I've had several people ask me how I go about backpacking into the wilderness with a large format camera, so I wanted to write a quick post to explain my setup. In the future, I'll make another post to help with planning trips in the backcountry but for this time I'll focus on how I manage to carry my stuff out there to places like this:
I don't tend to talk much about equipment, but after trying to haul a 4x5 and overnight gear into the wilderness I quickly realized I needed a better bag. The one I had was bulky, difficult to open with anything attached to it, and it just plain hurt my back and shoulders. It was designed to transport cameras, but not to be used by a photographer.
A few years ago I discovered a company by the name of f-stop gear and quickly ordered their largest bag, the Satori, before heading off on a trip to Alaska. I quickly came to love this bag! It's designed more like a backpacking bag, and you can put padded inserts of different sizes (they call these inserts ICU's) in it depending on the amount of camera stuff you have. My favorite part about this bag is that it opens just the way you would want it to. Instead of putting it on the ground, rolling it over and fighting with a zipper that runs all the way around the bag, all you have to do is put it on the ground with the shoulder straps facing up just the way you would normally take a bag off. The best part of it? You can still easily access your cameras when you have all sorts of other stuff strapped to the bag. Here's how it looks all loaded up:
Anyway, on to how I bring backpacking stuff with me. As you can see from the image above, most of it ends up on the outside of the bag. Since large format backpacking is not the most common activity in the world I'm not sure a company will ever make a bag big enough to fit all of our camera equipment AND camping gear on the inside, so this is how I make do. It does alright, but gets a little sketchy in the rain. The bag has a weather shield that I store in the bottom pouch that can be placed over the bag (works perfectly after you've set up your tent and removed some gear from the bag), but it doesn't fit over the extra stuff. Bring a small tarp or something waterproof to place over your other stuff in long rains. Most of my spare clothing, toiletries, meals, stove, first aid, and camping necessities fit in the green waterproof bag that I strap to the top. I pack pretty light in those regards. Now onto the inside:
Here I have room for the camera (not the lightest, if someone would donate the funds for a carbon fiber one that'd be great!) 4 lenses, all of my filters, and my light meter (er, small digital camera). I also fit my film changing bag and some boxes of extra film as well as empty boxes to put exposed film in. Only one thing is missing... the film holders!
I knew I needed to fit those somewhere! There's ample room for about 8 to 10 holders up there in the upper compartment, so I have a good variety of film types to choose from.
So there it is, that's how I bring everything with me. I'm sure there's other ways to do it, and I'm always tweaking my layout and moving things around but it's worked so far. All in all, it weighs about 65 pounds fully loaded with a full water bladder. If I don't get any good photos from a trip, at least I get a good workout!
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