I recently returned from a seven day wilderness canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with my family.
The purpose of the trip was half family vacation and half extended photoshoot for my portfolio at Stocksy United.
Backcountry canoeing with an eight and ten year old meant that we had to stick to a relatively moderate route – but paddling roughly 60 km in total with 10 km of portages also meant that we had to pack as light and compact as possible.
So when it came to photography gear, I could only bring the essentials – but what camera equipment do you really need to pack for seven days in the woods?
Essential Photography Gear
I use all prime lenses, so if you have zoom lenses you can substitute an equivalent zoom. Since prime lenses are generally a lot smaller (and therefore lighter than zooms), I find that two or even three primes that cover the same focal range as a zoom are roughly equivalent in total size and weight – but use your own judgement to figure out what works for you.
My camera of choice is a Nikon D800 – its a fantastic landscape and low light camera and not overly large compared to say a D5.
The D800 is also incredibly rugged – I don’t baby my gear (including occasionally shooting fireworks at it) so I brought a camera that I knew could survive a little rough treatment.
I brought three batteries. I was on my last battery by the end of the trip (but I was also doing some live view work which eats battery life like crazy). I opted to bring spare batteries instead of a solar charger because a solar charger is larger and heavier than a few spare batteries.
I also brought two 32 gig CF cards. I ended up taking around 1000 photos over 7 days and both cards were full. In hindsight, I should have brought at least another 32 gig card as a spare / overflow (or you know, be more careful before I hit the shutter release…).
Wide Angle Lens – 35mm
I think a 35mm is the most versatile lens there is – so I made sure to pack my Sigma ART 35mm f/1.4.
I absolutely love this lens for outdoor photography – it’s wide enough to use for landscapes and tight enough to use with people without a lot of obvious distortion. Its also perfect for environmental portraiture, which is my primary style outdoors.
Ultra Wide Angle Lens – 20mm or 14mm
You can’t go on a canoe trip without an ultra wide angle lens.
In hindsight, the 14mm can’t be used with front filters and distortion in the corners is much more noticeable than with a 20mm. (In fact, the look of the 14mm is so close to the look of a fisheye, it would be more practical to just bring the much smaller and lighter fisheye).
Nikon’s 20mm f/1.8 is also a little smaller and much lighter than the 14mm.
I did get a few great images with the 14mm, but at the expense of a little angle of view, I would have much preferred the 20mm.
A polarizing filter is essential for landscape photography, so I brought a standard 77mm polarizing filter along with a warming polarizer that I have been using lately (it’s just like sunglasses for your camera!).
I also packed a 1.2 neutral density filter (necessary for photographing running water with a low shutter speed during the day).
Remote Camera Shutter Release & Tripod
If you’re planning on doing any long exposures of the night sky, you’ll also want to make sure you have a remote shutter release and a tripod. I brought a Joby Gorillapod and my trusty Vello Shutterboss.
The last thing you want to do while on an extended camping trip is rely on your shirt to clean your lenses – so I bought a set of lens pens along just in case.
Nice To Have Photography Gear
Along with the essential photography gear, there are a few other items that are nice to have.
Normal Lens – 50mm or Short Telephoto 85mm
A 35mm is great for almost everything, but sometimes you need to get a little tighter for details or portraits where you want to isolate your subject.
I brought a 50mm Sigma ART f/1.4 but I only used it a few times.
In the future I think I will bring a short telephoto lens instead – like an 85mm f/1.4. The 35mm can fill in for a 50 in most cases, but an 85mm would give me a lot more ability to separate my subject from the background.
A fisheye is a bit of a gimmick – but the Nikon 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye is actually very compact and lightweight. I did end up using the fisheye on a few occasions to capture images that would not have been possible with any other lens, so I’m glad I brought it along.
I brought a set of graduated neutral density filters with me because you never know when you’ll really need a graduated ND and it’s really frustrating if you don’t have one available.
Luxury Photography Gear
I had a few images in mind before I left that required some specialized equipment – so I packed what I call luxury items along specifically to capture those images.
Seaport Digital Megamast
OK – this is a totally impractical item to bring along on a wilderness canoe trip (read our full review here) – but I really wanted to capture at least a few aerial style images of the canoe. Weighing in at 15lbs and 62 inches long – I had to strap the megamast to the canoe during portages – increasing the weight of my ultralight 17′ kevlar canoe from 42lbs to nearly 60lbs.
That is a BIG difference in weight that is really noticeable after a few hundred meters on a portage.
Remote Live View & Control
It’s easy enough to guestimate the scene that you’re going to photograph from the top of the Megamast – but for moving subjects remote live view is necessary for composition. To solve this problem, I packed in a TP Link router and my mobile phone with the DSLR Dashboard app installed (Android or iOS) (here’s how to set it up step-by-step for only $40).
Strobe and Radio Triggers
I didn’t bring a strobe with me on this trip, but I wish I did. I wanted to do a few of those images with the glowing tent – but without a strobe it was impossible to get enough light from our flashlights unless it was completely dark.
I’m not a wildlife photographer, so I never have much use for a long telephoto. However, depending on where you’re travelling, a long telephoto can be useful for landscape photography as well.
Telephoto lenses are big and bulky, so for this particular trip I didn’t bring one.
My 7 Day Canoe Trip Camera Bag
Here’s a photo of everything I had with me (except the Seaport Digital Megamast). I was able to just barely stuff everything into a little Lowepro over the shoulder camera bag – which weighed in at 14 lbs. The Megamast added another 15 lbs for a total of almost 30 lbs just for camera gear.
What Essential Camera Gear Do You Take With You?
If you’re trying to pack as light and compact as possible – what camera gear would you take with you?
What would you leave at home?
What’s the one camera and lens combo that you couldn’t live without?
Leave a comment below and let us know!