I thought it might be interesting for those who hike a lot as well as those who don’t do much hiking to take a look at how I felt various pieces of equipment performed during our 6 day 5 night hike in the Western Arthurs. I’d say it was a pretty stern test for most pieces of gear as we experienced all sorts of conditions during that time. I’ll divide it into a few sections and I’d love to hear your comments if you’ve had more experience with a certain product or you want to know some more. Where products are currently available, I’ve tried to include links in case you’re looking!
- Berghaus Jacket : (too old to find a link) 9/10 . This black jacket has been with me for over 10 years now and is still going strong. Waterproof in light rain but as with other fancy jackets that claim 100% waterproof, it eventually does get wet when the rain persists for hours and comes in all different angles.
- Cheap rain pants ($20 from Rays): 5/10. They were super light and did a surprisingly good job at keeping out the water. I wore them over my hiking pants and gaiters . The 5/10 is because they were not at all durable and eventually ripped after snagging on a branch. I might look into some lightweight gortex alternatives eventually.
- Sea to summit Quagmire gaiters: 10/10. Can’t complain about these. Relatively light, did the job as best they could. Even when the buttons were clogged with mud and couldn’t snap shut, the velcro held out the moisture and mud .
- Salmon midcut boots: 9/10 : Remained waterproof throughout except when water came in from above. Awesomely comfortable for my wide feet. No blisters or even a hint of them despite some long days .
- Various beanies , gloves, neck warmers did fine. Nothing special about these that deserved mention nor a need for getting anything fancier than what I had.
Food and Food preparation
- Jetboil: 10/10. These are simply amazing for weight and convenience ‘if’ you are just preparing rehydrated meals. Not for anyone who actually likes to ‘cook’ while on the trek. This was never on the cards so it didn’t matter to me. 1 small sized gas cannister lasted the whole trip with some to spare. I used it for every lunch and every dinner on the track.
- Utensils: 1/10 I had some polycarbonate utensils that snapped early in the trip. Note to self : get some titanium ones for future treks. I brought a mug with me but really didn’t need to use it since I didn’t bring any hot drinks or soups as such!!
- Meals : 0-7/10. I went freeze dried meals for both lunches and dinners. Snowys outdoor store has them at a great price and free shipping around Australia. It was great for weight conservation, not good for the stomach. Overall, backcountry meals tasted OK and were easier on the stomach. For some reason, ‘outdoor gourmet’ brand tasted great but had terrible effects on my stomach causing diarrhoea on a few of the nights. At the end of a long day’s hike, I could easily finish a double serving for dinner (175g for backcountry or 195g for outdoor gourmet) but ended up giving some of my food to others where we were ‘base camping’ from a location. Mind you, I do only weigh 60kg. For convenience, you may wish to avoid meals which require opening two packets (often a second packet of mash). On future trips, I will be trying lunch wraps with packaged tuna and perhaps a box of rivita type biscuits with a tub of peanut butter . The BBQ pork I brought however, was amazing and I should have brought more than 2 packages for treats!
- Snacks: 7/10. I think it’s easy to overthink the snacks. Basically, bring what you’re going to eat and what you’re going to find palatable. I thought it would be a good idea to mix up M&Ms, raisins and nuts for trail mix. I ended up hating the nuts portion of it because guess what, I don’t snack on nuts at home. I wouldn’t worry about food groups too much for a trip of this duration , just make sure nothing goes to waste and the nuts did go to waste as I ate all around them in the end. Muesli Bars were great – I consumed about 2 a day on top of the 1kg of trail mix I brought. Just don’t bring anything crumbly or you’ll be sucking it out of the packets.
- Drinks : Water from flowing sources in the Tassie highlands was fine. I did bring a Sawyer filter system and used it when we were forced to camp at the top of Alpha Moraine on day 1 without any flowing water in sight. Filtering puddled water seemed a good strategy. I brought enough gatorade for 4L but wouldn’t do it again. There were times when I just wanted pure water and my nalgene 1L bottle was filled with gatorade. Unless of course you plan on bringing two water systems (which I didn’t : just a 1L bottle and 2L of sawyer fillable sachets for filtering). In the future, I’m going back to drinking pre-prepared milo/powdered milk/sugar combinations with meals.
** All up the meals and snacks weighed about 4kg**
- Pants: I found no role for softshell pants on their own for this trek. Though comfortable and relatively weather resistant, once wet, these weigh a ton and take forever to dry out and still need additional cover for extreme conditions. This was my experience from last years trip, so this year, I opted not to bring any and just hiked in regular hiking pants that had a zipoff option. This worked well for me. Camp shorts were useful for the warm day we had. Keeping a clean pair of thermals for the evenings was useful. Gross as this sounds, I only changed underpants every 2nd day but hey, the clean ones were only going to get soiled immediately yea??
- Tops: I’ve tried all sorts of stuff from merino to just simple sports running tops. For the conditions we were in, normal running T shirts did the job just fine. In fact, I just wore one the whole trip. Nothing fancy required. Merino stuff (I’ve found) just tends to rip with repeated use, and wearing it as a T shirt rather than a warming layer seems very cost ineffective to me. I also find they stink MORE when wet with my sweat (a personal oddity perhaps?). A thermal top for night time was also great. A mid layer is also good for the cooler days and while resting. I brought a down jacket but it never really got cold enough to require it so it was consigned to pillow duty at night.
- Other: I brought three pairs of explorer socks and like the jocks, changed them every 2nd day – often for pscyhological benefit. A pair of cheap crocs is useful for walking around campsites as well.
- How many sets of cloths? Too much! I actually brought 2 pairs of most things and ended up using one of everything I’ve mentioned above. That’s a fair bit of weight and space you’re saving. The second set ended up being used for the car ride home to feel clean but these could have been left in the car.
- Dry sacks: You want clothes to be 100% dry at the end of the day so despite the waterproofness of your bag, I’d still stuff clothes in a dry sack. Oh and reserve one for ‘that’ vomit inducing bag of soiled clothes that you’ll eventually have to rinse out on your return!
Pack / Tent / Sleeping
- One planet 80l Strezlecki backpack: 9/10. I’ve had this tank of a pack for the last 7 years now and have had no issues with its durability or waterproof-ness. Even in the horizontal rain from this trip, or drenching fiordland rain around Milford sound – the water simply does not penetrate despite hours of constant exposure (without a rain cover either). The only issue is that because of its toughness, it is fairly rigid and compared to the packs the other guys were carrying, there were far less options to attach gear on the exterior. My narrow waist means its always a challenge to find a pack with the right length yet be able to strap tightly enough around my waist to reduce the burden on my shoulders. This pack has done it the best of several I have tried.
- Hilleberg Nammatj2 : 9/10 Tank of a tent and withstood winds which I’m told were getting up to 80km gusts (possibly more?). Roomy inside for 2 and the vestibule is fairly large but can get filled quite easily with 2 occupants’ gear.
- Talus I sleeping bag with +8degree liner. 9/10 This was a good combination for me. The Talus weighs in at only 850g and combined with the liner, I was toasty and warm though the nights did not get below 5 degrees (I don’t think). I’m a very cold sleeper. I would need a warmer bag for colder conditions
- Sea to summit sleeping mat: 9/10: No issues at all with this. Before I started using these, I’d have restless nights sleep due to comfort. No longer! by 60kg bony frame does not touch the ground any more. The R value of the mat I was using was 3.3 – again more than adequate for the conditions we experienced.
- 5dmk4 : This was my main camera of the trip paired up with the 16-35 lens most of the time. This isn’t a camera review but rather how suitable it is for a multiday trek. Durability was no issue though I did not test it in serious moisture. The AF did very well for ‘on the go’ images. I went through 2 batteries during the trip (not right down to 0%) while firing off about 900 images. One thing that is very useful about the mk4 is the touch screen. I don’t feel like I have to use a remote when using the mk4 as even the slightest of glances will trigger the shutter and it can be used for bulb exposures.
- Sony A7r2 : I brought this along as Luke and Tim were both Sony users so it was good to have some redundancy. Since I brought it with me, I actually ended up using it quite a lot. For shoots after the first day, I was shooting with a 2 camera setup with each lens attached ready to go depending on whether I wanted a wide or telephoto style of image. To have this setup brings significant weight but I didn’t have any issue with carrying 25-28kg on my back for this trip so I would do the same for future trips. Despite not using it as much as the mk4 I still did go through 2 battery lifes for 400 shots. The convenience of the sony over the canon being that you can charge it directly and that if you’re using native lenses, it is a lighter setup.
- Gopro hero5: This was sturdy , provided great footage and I basically did not have to worry about it even any conditions. I’d bring it along for future trips without hesitation. The battery life went down to 50% a few times and was recharged without issue.
- Canon 16-35 F4L : Definitely bring a wide angle with you to the Arthurs. The F4 was even usuable for night images when paired with the 2 bodies I was using which had great high iso capability. AT 800+ grams, it’s quite a weight investment for the hike though.
- Canon 70-200 F4L : It’s personal choice as to whether you bring a mid range zoom like the 24-70 or 70-200 or a second lens at all! I used the 70-200 quite a bit and it gives many different opportunities for compressing planes and for images of people perched on ledges. I ‘d say bring the second lens only if photography is your primary priority for the trip. I’d have lived with just the wide angle though the 70-200F4 actually weighs less than the 16-35!
- Sirui K30x ballhead and N220 series tripod: These aren’t the lightest of tripods or combinations but they definitely did the job when the wind was blowing. Once again, how close you stick to your ‘normal’ set up depends on how high photography lies on your priority list when hiking in the wilderness. A sturdy tripod will be missed on a trip like this especially if you are planning on shooting long exposures.
- Nisi V5 pro and filters : To this point I have been more than happy with any Nisi product I have received. The V5pro holder is the sole exception. Unfortunately I received this very shortly before departure so its limitations came as a surprise on the trip. Once again, this post isn’t a photographic gear review as such so I will say that the holder itself is sturdy and more than capable of withstanding a wilderness trip. Just use the regular V5 if you’re a Nisi user. All up , my hard case and 5 filters I brought weighed close to a kilogram but it is my shooting style to use filters and I had accustomed myself to carry all of this gear. A rectangular slot-in filter kit could be foregone for simple screw on NDs if you want to do long exposures. For me, my regular set up is worth its weight in order to get the best out of the scenery photographically.
- Aquapac Stormproof : I used this case as a ‘front pack’ strapped on to my backpack straps with carabiners. This worked quite well for me (even if a little squeaky at times). I had no concerns with moisture infiltration as the case is pretty well described by its name. Ergonomically though, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to stuff a DSLR + UWA along with a second lens. Getting things in and out could be a little frustrating.
- Other camera accessories: Along with the filters, a few other odds and ends were stored in a waist pouch which sat on my hips attached to a waist belt. Inside the case were a ziplock bag of Kim wipes (highly recommended and easily obtainable from any friend you might have working in health care or science!), an air blower, a hahnel remote for the sony, a second neck warmer to use as a blackout tool for long exposures, 5 canon spare batteries and 3 sony spare batteries. I brought a rain cover which I never had to use.
- Headlamp : I used a pretty standard Kathmandu headlamp. Nothing exciting to say here.
- Charger: Xiaomi make an awesome 16000mah charger. During this trip, I charged 2 sony batteries, my go pro a few times and my phone to some degree every day and it still read 2/4 bars. This is a good weight investment if you need it for those purposes.
- Mobile phone /GPS : I had a Samsung galaxy 7 with Avenza and view ranger apps installed. Both worked fine on a previous trip to Canada but for some reason, the location finder chose not to work on this trip??? This made solo trips on my first visit more risky and I was disappointed that this did not work as intended. It now seems to be back working since I’ve come home? I’ll have to find out why it didn’t work during the last trip before I can take in confidence anywhere as my sole navigational device.
- My Garmin forerunner 235 watch went for the whole trip without needing a charge (though I did not record any activities).
- Toiletries : Normal toothpaste and toothbrush were fine though I did worry if the toothbrush was going to snap like my cutlery. I brought a whole toilet roll and used 2/3 of it (with several nights of diarrhoea mind you). For this trip, I successfully controlled my pace not to sweat too much so I didn’t feel like i missed having the option of getting clean with wipes but I did see the other guys using them regularly.
- Sunscreen is essential . I bought one which was a combined insect repellant and did not come away with any insect bites for the whole trip? I think that’s got to be a first!
- A small bottle of alcohol hand gel can serve two purposes. The first is for cleanliness around food preparation. The second, is to use any leftovers at the end of the trip to wipe down feet/socks and boot interiors with . I’ve found this to be a fantastic deodourising strategy , particularly if a plane flight or bus ride is coming up!
- Map and Compass should be part of anyone’s kit over and above the electronic equipment.
- PLB. We had three of these in our group and there was only one occasion where I borrowed one when going shooting alone. It’s advisable to have at least 1 between 2 on a trip like this I would think.
So there you have it ! Pretty much everything that I had on my back or wore during the trip. Your thoughts would be appreciated 😉
Just so you know you’ve stumbled across a photographic site and not a patient booklet about gastroenterology, GAS = Gear Acquisition Syndrome. In my medical career, we try to be relatively firm about our diagnosis and once it has been made, treatment options have to be considered. What is the evidence that the treatment will work? What is the cost-benefit ratio of this treatment? What are the potential harms? Lastly but most importantly, what are the goals of the treatment? I reflect upon this as a photographer who has been vacillating between various upgrades and have taken a minimal approach. First, the diagnosis:
GAS major criteria
- Internet search history contains >50% gear forum and review sites
- Everyone who is using craved item is producing images better than yours
- >50% of your social media history is involved with discussions about why X is better than Y
- >50% of your posts in such discussions ends up being arguments about semantics rather than tangible results.
- You start to imagine flaws in your current work that will be fixed by new gear
- Any item of gear has a shelf life of <18 months
Minor criteria (CAGE questions)
- You feel you should Cut down your gear seeking
- You feel Annoyed when people suggest you don’t need said gear
- You feel Guilt when looking at the potential cost of said item
- You need an Eye opener in the morning to satiate feelings of GAS
Diagnostic formulation :
- Explosive GAS = >5 major criteria, any minor criteria
- Inconvenient GAS = 3-5 major, >2 minor criteria
- Concealable GAS = < 2 major 1-2 minor criteria
My main invented first world dilemma at present is whether to stick with Canon or to shift to Nikon or Sony due to the better sensor technology. This would be a major commitment with the potential loss many excellent Canon functional aspects. The camera foremost in consideration is the Sony A7R version 2. To understand why we might want to make the switch, our current bodies are the 5dmk3 and 6D. Our main lenses are the 16-35mm F2.8II, 17-40mm F4, 24-70 F2.8 II, 70-200 F2.8II. We use a gitzo and benro carbon fibre tripod and a BH55 RRS ballhead and Benro B2 ballhead. The following is a list of issues I have encountered with our images in recent times.
- Inconsistency of quality with wide angle images particularly with corners losing resolution and significant coma in wide angled astro images.
- Reduction of image quality when shooting long sessions in cold or damp environments with dirty filters and smudging.
- Trouble with flare when shooting into direct light and image quality loss as a result
- Trouble with attaining low enough angle to achieve some compositions
- Difficulty with blending when exposure bracketing results in different appearance of moving aspects (eg. water motion)
- Insufficient resolution to do significant crops for large prints.
- Occasional difficulty with isolating subjects using unresponsive peripheral AF points for photographing kids and pets
So , how would a potential switch to Nikon or Sony assist me with the above?
For point 1 : I realised that after upgrading our 24-70 F2.8 (after our original lens took a nasty affinity to concrete from standing height) , it is possible to have images with clean corners and I love our new 24-70mm lens for that! After much thinking, we have chosen to purchase the 16-35mm F4 version to address this issue.
For point 2 and 3 , I’ve invested in a box of 5 dollar kim wipes thanks to the recommendation of Michael Bolino! This will be one of the cheapest remedies if it works and I’ll be bringing a box with us for our upcoming New Zealand trip. Keeping filters clean is also something I should look at and that probably means a lintless filter pouch.
For point 4: I figure I don’t do ultra low perspectives very often but I will admit to looking at several brands of centre columnless tripods. I’m hoping that in certain scenarios, I might even be able to take advantage of the 16-35mm F4 image stabilisation to attempt some low frames for seascapes within the 1/10- 1/4 sec range.
For point 5: I counted a grand total of 2 images from our last 2 week trip where I would have potentially benefitted from not having to blend for dynamic range. One was a seascape into direct light, the other was a shoot into direct light with gale force winds moving clouds very rapidly. The seascape image turned out OK but wasn’t that strong compositionally, the gale affected image was a spot I couldn’t find a decent composition anyway. So was the canon sensor really the issue in both cases? Maybe there will be an occasion in the future where I’d have nailed everything but the dynamic range blending for moving objects killed the image?
For point 6: I don’t need to switch systems for a megapixel upgrade but on the other hand, I decided that I was not going to shell out $5k purely for a megapixel update with the 5dsr. I can remember a total of one occasion where a company has rejected an image because of insufficient megapixel count and even on that occasion, Marianne and I were of the impression that the messenger did not know what they were asking (requesting a 200mp non panoramic image). I have recently prepared a group of 5 posters 1.5m wide where the higher megapixel count would certainly have been handy but they still turned out very well.
For Point 7: Much as I love my kids and pets, I don’t think that achieving the crucial composition matters in the long run. I don’t think the major switch to Nikon or Sony would benefit me anyway. If anything, I’d be considering a 7dmk2? I dunno, I haven’t really even invested time into sorting out this problem I don’t really have.
So in summary, I think I’ve remedied my GAS for now by stepping back and looking at what we would benefit from. Even though we’re constantly on the path of self development and looking to improve, I don’t feel that an upgrade in our bodies is necessarily going to result in a dramatic improvement in our work. It will make some aspects of our shooting and post production easier but honestly, these days with some experience at using luminosity masks it is rare for me to spend more than 5-10 minutes doing an initial blend. It’s all the other post-work that takes the time. We’re lucky to be in a position in life where we could actually afford the upgrade but if we weren’t, the upgrade price of bodies and lenses would equate to a family holiday to New Zealand for a couple of weeks. I’d rather travel with a little unresolved GAS than sit at home with my temporarily satiated GAS. The problem is that GAS not only relates to photography but outdoor gear, home computers, and basically anything that costs that you potentially don’t really NEED. Or maybe I’m just arguing all of this out because in reality I’m a miser with GAS – ugh, hand me the infant’s mashed prunes!!
Well, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a Gitzo; I’m not being paid to advertise for them after all! I have just forked out a reasonable sum for my second Gitzo tripod and ballhead combination though, so as you can see, I AM a little biased. Here are some reasons why you should have a tripod for your SLR, Gitzo or not.
Firstly, you just need one – a good one. Any serious landscape photographer does. The difference in the quality of images taken with a tripod setup is unsurpassable – blurred images can forever be eliminated. Don’t go out now to your local camera store and buy a “consumer” tripod. These ones are usually around a hundred dollars (or maybe less), come with the ballhead already attached, and the legs of the tripod are made stable by pushing down on the attachment linking the legs to the middle section of the tripod. Not only are these extremely inflexible, but they are usually also quite flimsy and will not support a heavy camera kit. More on the inflexibilities later – we are talking about reasons right now.
Secondly, a tripod will allow you to be more creative. Usually those spectacular dawn or sunset shots are not taken hand held, simply because you cannot hold the camera still for long enough. As an example, our image exposures at dawn average about 25 seconds. If you shoot sunsets, you can get some very nice long exposures over several minutes and you can even capture those star trails over longer periods of time. Having a tripod means you also have your hands free, which means you can use those graduated neutral density filters you went out and bought but never really used (speaking from experience here!). Of course, you CAN get filter holders, but sometimes (actually, most times) I hand hold them ( Shh! Don’t tell anyone that!).
Thirdly, a tripod improves your composition. Since it takes some time to set up the tripod, it allows you to assess the scene in front of you a little more carefully. A landscape isn’t going to change much, so you can take your time and make sure that you capture the best image possible.
Let’s talk now about those inflexible consumer tripods, starting with the ballhead. As already mentioned, in most cases, these are attached to the tripod legs and you don’t have much of a choice. If you buy that tripod, you’re stuck with the ballhead that comes with it. They’re not always all that bad, but I’ve found that they are usually quite limited in movement, and the handles and levers tend to get in the way more often than not. I prefer the centre ballheads that don’t come with pan-locking ability (i.e. a single handle allows movement in any direction) but they do take a little getting used to, and sometimes making minor adjustments can mean recomposing if you’re not ready to support the camera before you untighten the handle!
The second issue I found concerns the tripod legs. Have you ever visited a tourist spot and you’re trying to wedge yourself between other tourists whilst battling with the barricade of the platform and your tripod won’t allow you to get close enough to eliminate the ugly man-made barrier from your composition? That’s because to make your tripod stable, you had to fully extend the legs of your tripod with that centre attachment and of course there’s not enough room to do it! A good tripod should have three totally separate manoeuverable legs; easy enough to manipulate, but not so much that they move by themselves. They should also feel solid and not wobble! With three independent legs, it’s possible to position them separately such that you won’t only remove the barricade from your view, but also save other tourists from tripping over your tripod at full extension. You can also get very low to the ground with these tripods, giving a whole new perspective to a scene.
So now you know the reasons, how do you choose the best tripod for you? Here are some questions you need to ask yourself:
What am I using this tripod for? Landscapes, portraits, sports, low light environments, bird photography? In what environment will I be using it? Indoors, outdoors, trekking, climbing, in rivers, in ice, my backyard? How easy will it be to use? How much weight will it need to support? How high/low can it go? How much am I willing to spend on it?
We bought our tripods for the purpose of trekking with them. So for us, they needed to be light, stable, easy to set up and of a short length (to fit inside our hiking packs). I prefer the twist leg locks on a tripod as opposed to the flip locks. I find they are a bit easier to handle when your fingers are cold. Other factors: easy to dissemble and clean, excellent stability vs. weight ratio, G-locking mechanism (where the weight pressing down on the tripod makes it even more stable), removable centre column (allowing super low angles) and a good height range for more creative purposes.
The current tripod kit we lug around with us consists of the GT2531 and GT2541 Mountaineer tripod legs, and the G1178M and G1278M classic centre ballheads. These are not overly heavy and are not suited to long telephoto lenses, but are ideal for landscape photography.
So hopefully now that you realise how important a tripod is, you’ll make more of an effort to use it – especially if it means a higher percentage of keepers from every outing you now embark upon. And if you don’t have one… well maybe it’s about time it made it to the top of your equipment list, because you can have the best camera kit in the world, but without a good tripod, it won’t mean a thing. At least that’s what I think.