Photographers always talk about the best equipment for certain photographic purposes – lenses, cameras, accessories, and so on. But what about packing and carrying your equipment in the first place? For something like landscape photography, you’ll often need to pack the most versatile possible kit given very limited space. This article provides several tips for optimizing the equipment you bring on a landscape photography trip.
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This is the easiest case, because you have minimal space and weight considerations. It’s still possible to go overboard on equipment, but there’s also no reason to be stingy about things.
To start, most road trips include a bit of hiking along the way, so I’d certainly bring along a kit that you’re comfortable carrying for a while on your back. But you’re also likely to encounter plenty of overlooks and other locations near your car – so it’s as good a time as any to pack along that heavy lens, too.
What about tripods? If you have two tripods, a travel and a heavyweight option, bring them both. Again, you’ve got a lot of room and a wide range of subjects to shoot. One for car-based shots and one for hiking is ideal.
The biggest challenge is simply organization. If you bring your entire gear closet, you’ll need to make sure you know where everything is. That’s easier said than done, and it’s an argument for leaving at least some gear at home.
Over time, I’ve grown to prefer a two-bag system. First, I keep all my equipment in one large bag (or even suitcase), carefully organized; this bag never leaves the car. Second, I keep my empty hiking backpack next to the suitcase and add items to it as needed for whatever day trip I’m taking. Easy enough. It certainly beats keeping everything in one bag and throwing the extras onto your carseat when going on a hike.
The only other gear I carry is specific camping equipment. I put all of that in a separate box in my trunk, completing the set. It’s a simple method, but it works.
What else is needed? Whatever you want – although I’ll emphasize again that minimalism helps even with roadtripping. The more equipment you bring, the easier it is to lose track of small accessories or trick yourself into bringing the wrong lenses on an excursion.
- A camera and one or two backups – might as well.
- All the lenses in your normal rotation. Don’t bring along that old 55mm f/1.8 “manual focus gem” just because you feel guilty keeping it on your shelf for too long. But don’t skimp on something you’d actually use.
- The same goes for accessories. Bring enough to cover reasonable situations, but don’t go crazy. My rule – if I haven’t used it for the past 12 months, and there’s not a specific shot in mind where I know it will help, I leave it at home.
- Two bags. One for organization, which will stay in the car, and one for carrying along.
- At least one box/suitcase of hiking and safety equipment.
You won’t always have the luxury of carrying everything along in a car. Sometimes, it’s just the opposite – it goes on your back, or it stays at home.
Hiking sounds great for landscape photography, and it often is. But poor planning can turn a brilliant excursion into a missed photographic opportunity, or worse. Safety equipment and food are more important than camera gear in the long run. How do you make sure to capture good photos anyway?
Step one is to figure out how much you’re comfortable carrying, and for how long. A rough calculation is that you should not carry more than 25% of your body weight in a backpack, and less if you are recovering from any injuries. For a long hike last summer, I carried about 28%, and my Achilles tendons felt pretty rough by the end. Don’t carry more than that unless you’ve worked up to it – and less will always be more comfortable, anyway.
That doesn’t leave much room for camera equipment. Here’s my default: one camera, two lightweight lenses, and a tripod.
Some people will decry using a tripod on a hike, but I find them so valuable that I’d never be caught without. Others will recommend more than one camera if yours fails, and that’s fair, but I’d make the second camera as lightweight as possible – something like a Ricoh GR III or Sony RX100 series camera.
For the lenses, I recommend a wide angle and a telephoto, without anything in between. You don’t really need those middle focal lengths for most uses, and you can always make a panorama or crop slightly to simulate those fields of view anyway (hey, like I wrote about in my first Photography Life article).
The reasonable alternative is just to bring a single lens instead, most likely a zoom, that goes from moderate wide to moderate telephoto. I just came back from a trip where I did just that (only bringing one lens, a 24-105mm f/4) – but it’s not normally my first choice. As versatile as those middle focal lengths can be, I tend to find the “middle extremes” more useful (the 18-24mm and 100-150mm ranges). But that’s just me.
Either way, the lens or lenses you bring should be lightweight if at all possible. Ditch the 14-24mm f/2.8 for an 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 or 14-30mm f/4. And especially leave the 70-200mm f/2.8 at home if you have a lighter alternative, even an 85mm prime. A great hiking kit is something like a 20mm f/1.8 with a 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, paired with a single camera and a light-to-medium weight tripod. Plus extra Oreos.
- One camera, potentially with a compact camera for emergency backup.
- Two lightweight lenses that cover wide and telephoto, like an 18-35mm and 70-200mm. Or, one medium zoom like a 24-105mm or 24-120mm.
- A tripod. Some photographers will find this excessive, but I find them absolutely essential for landscape photography.
- How heavy of a tripod? Personally, I just use my regular kit (4.3 lbs / 2 kg total) because I’m a stickler for tripod stability, and weight remains the best weapon against the wind. But if you have a lightweight option, now’s the time to use it.
- What about hiking and camping gear? It depends on the trip. You can see my full packing list for a nine-day Iceland trek here, including everything from clothing to food. But the reality is that all hikes are different. Warm weather hiking would have been another list entirely.
- This is as good a place as any to mention my favorite blister-avoidance tip. Just wear two socks per foot: a thin toe-sock liner beneath a tough wool sock. You can thank me later.
International and Air Travel
This is my least favorite of the bunch – not photographically, of course, but in terms of packing camera gear. And that’s because of a difficult dilemma: Either bring a slimmed-down camera kit (about the same size as the hiking kit mentioned above) and carry it onboard. Or, bring all the gear you’d want but leave it in checked luggage under the plane.
I usually go the carry-aboard route, and I’ve been lucky enough not to lose any camera equipment the few times I’ve checked important gear.
Looking it up online, USA Today says that there are 3.09 reports of mishandled/misplaced luggage per 1000 passengers. Or, about one in every 300. That’s still significant if you fly a lot, but even if you don’t, those numbers only account for lost and damaged luggage – not delays.
Personally, my checked bags have been delayed for more than a day at least twice I can remember, which is enough to change the overall structure of a trip if your camera gear is in those bags. I don’t know what the stats are on delayed equipment, but I think it’s fair to say that the odds are not exceedingly low.
If you need to risk it, go for it. Sometimes, you’ll have no choice. Otherwise, I’d do the carry-on route and lean toward the “hiking” recommendations more than the “roadtripping” side of things. That’s especially true if you’re flying on an airline that has strict weight and size limits.
Depending upon the amount of clothing and other travel items you bring, you can probably fit two regular-sized cameras, 3-4 lenses, a tripod, and no shortage of small/lightweight accessories in a carry-on. This assumes that you fill your backpack to capacity with camera equipment, then put the rest of your things (and potentially your tripod) in your carry-on suitcase. If that calculation doesn’t work for your needs, slim down the camera kit as needed.
- Two cameras that, ideally, take the same lenses – one primary and one backup.
- A larger set of lenses than for hiking, but not too many. I generally limit myself to the obvious three: an ultra-wide, medium, and telephoto lens.
- Remember that these recommendations are for landscape photography. Wildlife photographers, portrait photographers, etc., will have their own equivalents.
- A tripod. It can be a bit of a hassle to carry while flying, but not enough to leave it at home. One tip is to remove the tripod head while you fly, making it easier to fit the tripod in your suitcase or the side of your backpack.
- All the important accessories. Most photography accessories are pretty small and light, so there’s not too much of a limit here.
- Noise canceling headphones. They’re a great jet-lag killer.
Photographers often think about camera equipment in terms of the best gear for taking a particular photo, and that makes sense once you get into the field. But just as important is getting your gear there in the first place. Depending on your mode of transportation – driving, hiking, flying, or something else – the kit you can bring will change, often drastically.
Packing strategy isn’t sexy, but it’s just as important as the field-based side of things if you want the best results. The good news is that a lot of this is probably second nature to you already, and you’ll optimize it more and more each trip you take. But little tips along the way can help improve this process, so hopefully this article gave you some useful ideas for your own excursions.
I’ll leave you with one final recommendation: Keep a spreadsheet or checklist of all the equipment you bring on your next trip. List everything, however small. After the trip, go back and add anything you forgot, or gear you don’t own that would be nice to have next time. Delete or demote items you carried along for no reason. Use the same list for your next trip, and keep updating it over time. You’ll end up with a pretty powerful tool toward streamlining your bag as much as possible.
I am always fussing about my gear, but the fact is that what I have provides options (isn’t that what it’s about?) I mix wildlife photography with a city tourism. It’s a huge range. Right now I am using a Nikon D610 and mostly have FX lenses. I recently added a D7500, which has proven to be a real bonus. It uses the same battery as my full-frame and extends the reach of my FX lenses in the field. Under this new arrangement, I can fit both cameras, a 24-70mm, 70-300mm, 80-400mm, a 50mm prime, a DX 35mm prime, and a very old DX kit lens-18-55 in one bag.
Great tips, Spencer! I’m planning to go to California next year (hopefully, fingers crossed). I would be carrying two mirrorless camera bodies along with 14-30 f4, 85mm f1.8 and a 70-200 f2.8 (and a tripod of 2.7 lbs). The 70-200 is a beast in terms of image quality and weight so I will have to keep it in the car anytime I will be on a hike. Now looking for a lightweight camera bag to fit all these in.
A piece of gear I don’t know that I’ve ever seen on a list that I find indispensable for outdoor photography is a backpacker’s waterproof ground cloth – the kind that unfolds just big enough for one person in a sleeping bag. It takes up almost no space and weight and makes shooting outdoors so much more pleasant, whether unfolding part way to kneel on or fully to lie on, it makes it possible to get those down-in-the-weeds angles without having to hike out with soggy jeans, even when shooting at the dew-covered crack of dawn or from the saturated-humus forest floor in a Pacific Northwest winter…
I enjoyed your thought provoking article . Normally 3 weeks before going away I put all of my photo gear on a spare bed and then start to slowly remove stuff that is surplus to requirement.
My next vacation will be to the Rann of Kutch, in India. This won’t be a photo- trip as I will be with my wife. So my ‘Travel gear will be Olympus EM1 MkII with 12-100 f4, 17mm f1.2 and Panasonic 8-18 F2.8 – 4. I always a tripod and rarely use, but on this occasion will take the mini RRS ultra with BH25 ball head.
The main problem will be what camera bag to take! Now you can never have enough and it would be good to know what other readers use. My hiking backpack is the Mindshift Gear Backlight 26L, which is simply superb for hiking trips. I am not sure what to use for India, perhaps a small and light Tenba shoulder bag? The Tenba Cooper 15, will be a bit heavy for this trip. Perhaps I will have to get a small bag and leave the 17mm lens at home?
I am am not going to say that it would be so much easier without my darling wife!
Terrific article Spencer! Some excellent advice. I’m going on a walking tour along the tip of Cornwall in Aug. We will be hiking between 6 and 8 miles/day and will only need to carry our day pack, as our luggage will be transported for us each day. I’m planning on carrying the Z6, 24-30, 24-70 along with the FTZ attached to my 70-200/4. Instead of a tripod, I’m planning on bringing a Platypod with a small ball head. I haven’t weighed everything yet, but I think it will be manageable. I should even have room for some ND and GND filters. The 70-200/4 is probably my favorite lens and I’ve had excellent results on the Z6. I can’t imagine leaving it behind.
Spencer, a big thanks for all the articles. I always learn something.
When I read the title of the article, I was excited because I wanted to learn about your favorite accessories for landscape pictures. After the camera bodies and lenses, what are the other must-haves on the checklist?
I’m an amateur on a limited budget, so I’m bringing my only camera and three of three lenses on most landscape trips.
Thank you as always.
Good summary, Spencer.
I’ve quite often gone on international trips where my objectives are varying combinations of landscape, wildlife, architecture, macro, street photography and infrared. So I tend to take more lenses and cameras than you are suggesting. Your suggestions are mainly for Nikon full frame. I now have two camera systems, Nikon (full-frame) and Fuji. Crop format is another way to save weight because the weight savings of lenses designed for crop format are much greater than mirrorless vs DSLR bodies. Nikon does not provide much of an option there because they’ve neglected their DX lens range for many years, apart from moderate range consumer zooms, which I don’t tend to use.
Lots of good advice here. I’ve been on trips where part was wildlife and part was landscape (Glacier) so I needed both. This fall I’m going to Southern Utah, which will obviously be mostly landscape, but I also like to be prepared for opportunities that might arise. I use a Think Tank carry on roller bag to transport my equipment on the aircraft and in car, and then I take an Osprey backpack with hydration for hiking with selected lenses. Here are the lenses I may take to Utah; Sigma 12-24 f4, Nikon 16-35 f4, Nikon 70-200 f4, Nikon 300 f4 PF. I will likely also take my Rokinon 24mm f1.4 for potenial star shots and I may also take the Nikon 200-500 if a telephoto opportunity arises. And I will typically carry a 1.4x to augment the 300.
I’ll likely not hike with more than my D850, either the Sigma 12-24 or the Nikon 16-35 depending on anticipated opportunities, the 70-200 f4 for situations where I want a landscape shot but cannot get that close, and they 300 f4. I’ve found that manageable for up to 12-15 mile hikes.
Thanks, Mark! The landscape/wildlife combo is definitely trickier than the landscape-only kit. But the 300mm PF – and now 500mm PF – are hard to beat in terms of weight and quality.
Looks like your airport travel method (suitcase rather than backpack for the camera gear) lets you get closer to the “road trip” recommendations in the article above. That’s definitely a good thing. Sounds like your Utah trip will be an exciting one – have fun while you’re out there! Is Escalante one of your destinations?
Thanks for the kind response. Our plan is to start with Bryce, which I’ve always wanted to see. After two nights there we are driving to Moab and will pass by Escalantee and if time permits I’d like to do the scenic drives there. We were not planning to overnight in that area as we planned to spend time at Arches and Canyonlands and maybe some of the state parks in the area.
I don’t yet own the 500 PF and I’m not sure I can justify that lens vs. my 200-500, which is pretty good and more versatile. When weight is no issue I own a 400 2.8 and the 800 5.6, so I’m not really short in the telephoto department. For this trip I’m unsure if I even want to take the 200-500 and just settle for the 300 + 1.4x being my telephoto limit.
And I will add that I want to take my Sigma 12-24 f4 because I think there will be some great opportunities to use that lens, and with the very large filters that come with that lens it will be a lot to pack, but I’d probably then switch from the roller bag to a smaller camera backpack.
Just did 19 days in Europe with much walking and travelling. I have a lot of gear, most remained in the States. A Z6 & 14-30 on a strap and 70-300AF/P in a belt mounted case served well as a daily walking kit – no bag! Still, the lenses could be smaller. I took an M mount Voigtlander 40/1.4 on the trip also. It was nice to go out with just the 40 on the Z, much less bulk than the 2 zooms.
A good small alternate to the two zooms would be the 40, a small 90 like a Leica T-E, and a small wide something like 20mm/3.5. I have not found a small wide that works well on the Z yet. Any suggestions? The 14-30 is fairly small and light, but you still KNOW you have a camera around your neck with that lens.
Robert, very cool! The kit you brought along is quite good for your task. Hope you got some successful photos along the way.
In terms of native Z lenses, we’ll have to wait and see how heavy the 20mm f/1.8 and 24mm f/1.8 Z will be. I suspect that they’ll be pretty light, but not pancake by any means. The F-mount versions of those lenses weigh around 350 grams / 12.5 ounces. I doubt that we’ll see much lighter than that, and there’s a good chance the Z versions will be heavier.
That said – the F-mount 20mm and 24mm f/1.8 are two of the lighter, sharper wide-angle primes available at the moment. They’ll save you about 130 g / 4.5 oz compared to the 14-30mm f/4. That’s not a dramatic difference, but it’s better than nothing.
If you want lighter still, the Voigtlander Color-Skopar 20mm f/3.5 and Nikon AF-D 20mm f/2.8 are the two I know of with the best optics. Not as good as the others, but high quality once you get to f/5.6 and f/8. They weigh 200 and 250 grams respectively.
Ken Rockwell actually has a good 20mm comparison that you might find useful, mostly comparing manual focus lenses: kenrockwell.com/tech/…/index.htm
Spencer, thanks for your reply and the good article. Actually, I took a Nikon 20/3.5AIS and 105/2.5RF LTM on the trip. Wound up mailing them back to the US (with some other unnecessary stuff). By the time you add in the FTZ, the 20/3.5 is not that much smaller and lighter than the 14-30.
The Voigtlander 20/3.5 might be worth trying, but I read that the don’t do well on Sony A7, too much color shift in the corners. Not sure how it would be on the Z system. I have an early VL 25/4 LTM, it is small but not great on the Z6. The 14-30 is so much better than the VL25 that it is worth the extra weight and bulk.
I am hoping that something comes along similar to the Samyang 24 that is now available in Sony FE.
Agreed, with the FTZ, it’s a bit of a wash anyway. However, if you were bringing along other non-Z lenses (especially an all-adapted kit), you’ve already paid that weight price.
It’s one reason why I’m looking forward to the Z 70-200mm f/4 S! Can’t wait to finally leave the FTZ at home and get more of the mirrorless weight benefit.
And I forgot to mention – this is one reason why I think third-party manufacturers are really missing out by not selling a modern line of sharp (at least stopped down) pancake primes. I’d buy an 18mm, 35mm, 70mm, 150mm kit any day for landscapes. Make them f/4, make them f/5.6, I don’t care. Just make them light.
Agreed! For me, it would be 18, 35, & 100 or similar Fl’s on one mount, preferably Z but it could be Leica M on adapter. I have the 40 & 100 M mount, just need something wide in Z or M.
I recently came back from Iceland and used there the following gear : nikon Z6, nikon 24-70mm f/2.8S, 45mm PC-E and nikon 105mm f/2 DC. No tripod because the ibis allowed me to make 1sec long exposures when I wanted it (waterfalls, etc.).
Gaetan, that sounds like an awesome trip and a great kit to bring along.
How did you fare with 24mm as your widest focal length? I went to Iceland in 2015 with a 24mm prime as my widest lens, and I actually found it quite suitable overall. But I know that a lot of photographers go to Iceland primarily for ultra-wide shots.
At least for me, avoiding the 14mm range required some unusual compositions at the more popular locations (especially places like Kirkjufellsfoss and Seljalandsfoss). Or just panorama stitching.
To be honest, I don’t like the UWA look that much (I sold my 14-24 a long time ago) and most of the time I use mid-range focal lenght even with landscapes. So, with 24mm as widest, I was feeling very comfortable !
I also visited Kirkjufellsfoss and Seljalandsfoss and I didn’t feel annoyed by my range of focal length.
You can see the first entry of my trip to Iceland on my blog : gaetanlepage.myportfolio.com/islande
I will post 2 others parts about Iceland later.
It’s just a matter of taste I believe. Most of the time I use 28mm 1.4E and 58mm f/1.4G, it tells a lot about my favourite tools and how I see.
What I enjoyed very much with the Z6 and 24-70 2.8S was the IBIS ability to capture scenes of 1sec long exposure without tripod, as you can see in my blog. I was travelling with wife and kids and I had to follow them all the time, it wasn’t a pure photographic trip so it was really convenient.
I want to go back in Iceland with full gear on a dedicated photographic trip. ;-)