Whether you’re planning to backpack across the United States, Switzerland, New Zealand, Thailand, Sri Lanka, or other fascinating destinations around the world, you’ll definitely want to snap photos of all the beautiful sceneries, culture, cityscapes, and precious moments of your adventure. As such, it’s a must that you carry a suitable camera that can capture your glimpse of nature and humanity in the highest quality.
Unfortunately, touring all the available options can be an intimidating task, especially if you don’t have ample knowledge of what to look for in a camera. Truth to be told, there are lots of factors that you need to consider to get the best camera for your escapade.
All are worth it, given that all that’s left with you after the end of your trip are the images of you enjoying pizza and pasta in Italy, trekking in Australia, or having fun at pubs in London, which are all priceless to look at.
So, let’s cut to the chase! We’ve prepared all the information you need in picking a camera for backpacking – helping you start off your backpacking journey on the right foot.
Best Camera Type for Backpacking
Before we go into the key factors to take into account when choosing backpacking cameras, let’s first talk about the different types of cameras and their relevance to backpacking. Knowing these camera types will be crucial in your decision-making process. Read ahead!
1. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Cameras
DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras are the primary choice for people looking to have professional-looking photos. These cameras can provide you with sharp, vivid, high-resolution images the same as the quality you’ll see in the photos posted in magazines. DSLR cameras’ strength is attributable to various features, such as a huge sensor, and a wide array of lens options.
While these cameras provide the best image quality, they are the least desirable type for backpackers. That’s because DSLRs are quite heavy and require lenses, which can add considerable weight to your backpack. Moreover, they are also on the expensive side – another drawback for backpackers who are on a budget.
To give you more perspective, see the pros and cons of DSLR cameras below:
- Superior image quality
- Large sensors
- Compatible with different types of lenses
- Professional customization
- Optical viewfinder
- Bulkier and heavier than other cameras
- Less user-friendly and requires a learning curve
2. Mirrorless Cameras
Mirrorless cameras are ideal for backpackers aiming for excellent image quality without bulkiness and heaviness, making them a great alternative to DSLR cameras. While these mirrorless cameras have fewer options in terms of interchangeable lenses, they can produce images that can match or even topple the ones that DSLR cameras offer. What’s great is that they also feature image stabilization and are mostly weather-sealed.
If you’re still having second thoughts about having a DSLR and a mirrorless camera, the main consideration for opting for the latter is that it is incredibly lighter. Still, you may check the pros and cons below for a more informed decision:
- Great image quality
- Electronic viewfinder
- Less expensive
- Better in-built image stabilization
- Better and faster video performance than DSLR cameras
- Lighter than DSLR cameras
- Fast shutter speeds
- Fewer options on interchangeable lenses
- Fewer customization settings compared to DLSRs
- Fewer compatible accessories
- Shorter battery life
3. Compact Digital Cameras
Compact digital cameras, also called point-and-shoot cameras, are one of the best cameras for backpacking. While they can’t compete with DSLR and mirrorless cameras, they can still take decent photos.
What most backpackers love about compact digital cameras is that they are very user-friendly and easy to learn, especially for non-professionals. All you need to do is point the camera to the object or landscape and click the shutter. Settings will adjust automatically, which is a great perk for “less techie” people but a drawback to those yearning for better customization.
If you’re looking for a camera that’s very small, lightweight, very easy to use, and typically cheaper, compact digital cameras are your best bet. See more of their pros and cons below:
- No need for extra lenses
- Not customizable
- Limited zoom range and aperture
- Lower resolution
- Image quality not as good as DSLR and mirrorless cameras
4. Action Cameras
If part of your backpacking trip entails getting into the water, skydiving, or other extreme activities, these cameras are your best choice as they are small, feature waterproof weather sealing, and have various suitable accessories that make them fit for “action.”
Though action cameras have a small image sensor, lack any form of zoom, and primarily rely on a wide-angle fixed lens, they are not as bad in terms of image quality. They are mostly used for recording videos or taking photos from angles that are inaccessible when attached to a helmet or selfie stick.
- Lightweight and compact
- Highly durable
- Mountable on many surface types and accessories
- Remote shutter and view (via smartphone)
- Fixed focus
- Lack of digital zoom
- No manual settings
- Less customizable
- Lower battery life
Virtually all of us have smartphones. Chances are you’d be bringing it on your backpacking trip, too. Plus, there have been some major developments in the world of smartphone cameras, making them a great option. Sometimes, they can be good enough for your needs.
Smartphone cameras can indeed take sharp images in brightly lit situations. However, their lack of optical lenses becomes evident in low-light conditions where they tend to perform poorly. They also don’t do well in taking landscape photography but will suffice for taking close-up photos.
Though smartphone cameras can’t fully replace traditional cameras, they offer many things that the latter don’t, such as a myriad of creative applications, editing on the go, cloud storage, and quick sharing on social media. The catch is that using all those means getting a chunk of your smartphone’s battery life.
- Good image quality in brightly-lit situations
- Integration with social media and creative apps
- Poor performance in low-light scenes
- Short battery life
- Not good for landscape photography
- Limited optical zoom
6. 360-Degree Cameras
360-degree cameras, also called omnidirectional cameras, are cameras that feature a 360-degree field of view, allowing you to capture impressive panoramic photos of a scene in one go. These cameras are equipped with multiple, wide-angle lenses set out in a circular fashion in order to take shots from different angles simultaneously. Thus, offering an unobstructed FOV.
Note that photos from these cameras are intended only for digital viewing. With that, 360-degree cameras are brought along by backpackers to take unique, fascinating photos of a place and not to be used as their main camera.
- Allow live streaming or viewing
- Mountable of different surface types
- Lacks versatility of traditional cameras
- Digital viewing only
- Captures the photographer
- Limited capabilities for artistic expression
- Fixed focus
- Modest resolution
If you’re truly passionate about backpacking, travel, and photography, you can elevate the experience by using drones. These modern aerial gadgets allow you to capture bird’s eye photos of the beautiful places you’re visiting. They provide a different perspective and open a new range of techniques and possibilities, compared to traditional pictures you take from the ground.
What you’ll love about the best drones for backpacking is that they are continually innovating not only on image quality and technical specifications but on portability as well. Today, you can find pretty compact models. Some even fold to save space and so you can easily carry them in your backpack. Just be careful as there are drone restrictions around the world. Better check with the local laws first so you won’t be flying the device in a no-drone zone and get into trouble.
- High-quality images
- Great for creating professional videos
- Offers different perspectives
- Many affordable options are available
- Extra weight and extra space if you already bring a DSLR or mirrorless camera
- Not legally allowed in all areas
- Entails a learning curve
- Long battery charging times
Factors to Consider when Picking a Camera for Backpacking
After knowing the types of cameras, you may already have some gist on what camera you need for your backpacking adventure. However, that doesn’t end there, as there are many aspects you should first look at to ensure that your purchase will be all worth it.
Perhaps, the biggest factor that you need to consider is the purpose of why you’re buying a camera in the first place. Each need can be catered to by a different camera and set of specifications. While you may want to get the best backpacking camera out there, remember that they can cost hefty amounts. Why spend thousands to get a camera that you won’t actually need?
To know your needs, it’s best to assess what type of backpacker you really are. Are you an average backpacker? You’ll most likely only need a solid camera to take photos of the fun moments. You won’t probably be needing a DSLR camera and a mirrorless or compact digital camera will already do the job. To gain more knowledge on digital cameras and their different types, you can read our Guide to Selecting a Digital Camera.
Are you an adrenaline junkie instead? Does your backpacking adventure involve paragliding over Interlaken, Switzerland? Diving with the whale sharks in Donsol Bay, Philippines? Or, whitewater rafting in the Colorado River? Obviously, you’ll need a durable, waterproof action camera to capture the thrilling moments.
Do you write blogs or produce vlogs about your backpacking trips? Then, getting a DSLR camera is your best resort as it will allow you to take fantastic quality photos and videos that will impress your audience. You can even take everything to the next level by adding a drone with you. If you are planning on visiting Southeast Asia and documenting your trip, read our Guide to Dressing for Backpacking in Southeast Asia so that you will know what type of clothes you should pack before heading there.
Establishing what you actually need will help you narrow down your choices and make the task incredibly easier.
2. Size and Weight
Size and weight are two important parameters when selecting a good camera for backpacking. You’ll be traveling long distances and walking miles. As much as possible, you don’t want something bulky and heavy to toss into your backpack. Plus, you also want to be carrying only the essentials.
And, that’s where DSLRs suffer a lot. Even the best models you can find are still larger and weigh more than compact digital cameras. Don’t forget that DSLR cameras also have additional lenses you should also find space for in your backpack. If you’re really after the best image quality, then you’ll have to compromise and leave out some pieces for your gear.
If you prioritize portability instead, be mindful that a smaller camera means having a smaller sensor. Thus, the lower image quality. If you’re taking photos during the day on the beach or in other brightly-lit environments, there’s nothing to fret about. However, if you’re planning to take nightlife photos, expect that compact digital cameras and smartphone cameras won’t deliver outstanding photos.
For most casual backpacking trips, a lightweight, compact point-and-shoot camera is already enough. If your priority is image quality but wants to cut down on some weight, carry a mirrorless camera instead of a DSLR camera. If you’re not much into photography but simply want to document important parts of your trip, your smartphone may already do and you may not be needing to add weight by bringing a separate camera. Everything boils down to what is important to you.
3. Weather Sealing/Waterproofing
Backpacking means exploring most of your time outdoors and getting exposed to different elements. Plus, there are also certain activities that you decide to do that require being on the water or underwater. As such, it’s crucial that the camera you’re buying is weather-sealed or waterproof. Note that these are two different classifications, which cannot be interchanged.
Weather-sealed means that the camera has a metal casing (usually made out of magnesium alloy) that shields the internal parts and provides protection against moisture, grit, and sand. Weather-sealed doesn’t mean that the device is waterproof. It is only water-resistant as it can only withstand minor splashes and very light rain.
On the other hand, waterproof cameras, like most action cameras, can be submerged underwater. Be wary that waterproof cameras are rated for the depth and length of time they can be submerged without taking damage. Don’t miss out on checking this so you won’t be going too deep with a unit that isn’t rated for that depth or exceed the time it’s allowed to be submerged underwater.
It’s either you get a camera without proper weather-sealing or waterproofing. Or, get one that has built-in protection, so you don’t have to worry too much about your camera getting wet or damaged and instead, just enjoy taking photos of your trips.
4. Image Quality
While you already know that DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer the best image quality, there are many technical specifications to look at and weigh to ensure that the resulting photos meet your expectations.
For instance, if you only intend to capture still images, look for a camera that can offer beyond the standard 640×480 resolution. A camera that can deliver 1080p resolution is perfect as the photos produced are incredibly sharp and considered high definition.
If you’re filming instead, 1080p should only be the minimum. If possible, go for a camera that can capture 4K, especially if you intend to create YouTube videos.
Meanwhile, if you’re using a DSLR camera, carrying a 35-55 mm lens is usually enough. However, if you intend to capture wide expanses of landscape, 70-300mm lenses will provide you with excellent reach and high-quality photos.
A blend of these technicalities, as well as the ISO performance, color rendition, sensor size, and vibration reduction, will help you find a camera with your preferred image quality.
5. Zoom Distance/Focal Length
Most backpackers tend to take zoom distance and focal length for granted, deeming that they won’t be snapping photos of objects or sceneries that are too far away.
While that is the usual case, getting enough focal length/zoom distance can be handy in situations where you need to take photos of wild animals in their natural habitat, the nearby mountains, or far-away landscapes.
You also need to zoom in should you wish to omit barriers or obstacles impeding your way, capture more intricate details, or get more personal to hone in on beautiful moments.
For DSLR cameras, the larger the focal length, the greater the zoom. A focal length of 18mm to 200mm is often enough for outdoor photography. For point-and-shoot cameras, optical zoom can range from 3x to 40, but you must get at least 10x zoom if you want to capture photos of faraway objects.
6. Ease of Use
Backpacking allows you to see the world in a unique way. Yet, all the amazing experiences at a certain destination can be ruined if you’re too busy learning how to operate a camera. Thus, missing all the opportunities to enjoy yourself.
As such, it’s also important to get a camera that’s easy to use. That way, you’ll not waste too much learning about it. Some DSLR and mirrorless cameras have an annoying user interface, while others are pretty user-friendly.
Always check them prior to purchasing to see if it is something you can get used to pretty quickly. See if the controls are intuitive, if it’s easy to change the settings, and if you can quickly focus, power up, and shut down the device. Again, you should always be seizing every moment of your trip and not fiddling with your camera.
7. Battery Life
Choose a camera with long battery life so you can eliminate the need to carry backup batteries or a power bank that can add a few ounces to your backpack. Plus, the long battery life also prevents the chances of your camera dying on you while you’re not even halfway through your backpacking journey.
In general, the batteries of mirrorless cameras drain faster than DSLRs, while compact digital cameras usually have longer battery life. Still, there’s nothing wrong with bringing spare batteries if you think you will actually be taking a lot of photos and videos.
8. Storage Capacity
This one is going to be quick. If you’re expecting to store tons of photos, aim for a camera with a larger storage capacity. For DSLR and mirrorless cameras, 32GB memory can store up to 1,066 pictures, while 64GB memory can store 2,132 photos. A 128GB memory can store up to 4,264 photos.
For an action camera, 32GB memory can already hold around 7,620 images. On the other hand, the same memory is equivalent to 6,300 images on a smartphone camera. Take the memory capacity you need. That way, you won’t be restricted on how many photos you can take on your backpacking holiday.
9. Bundled Accessories
Before purchasing a camera, it’s also great to check the accessories that it comes with. Some brands may include DSLR lenses, a memory card, neck straps, a tripod, or a selfie stick along with your camera. Other brands also provide software for image manipulation and sorting. All these accessories can help you improve image quality, act as add-on support, or provide better comfort as you use your camera for backpacking. These extras may cost a considerable amount when purchased separately, so it is always nice to see what’s included in the package to get good savings from your purchase.
Speaking of money, you should anticipate that cameras can be pretty expensive, specifically the DSLR and mirrorless ones.
To make things easier, set a threshold on how much you’re willing to spend on the equipment. For instance, you can decide that you’re only going to spend between $150 to $600.
Afterward, you can simply look at the cameras within that range. It will be a much easier task as you get to limit your options. If you cannot find any and are not happy with the models in that range, wait and save a bit more for higher-priced models.
Just make sure that you get a camera at a reasonable price. Some cameras may bear an expensive price tag but may not be worth it. Always read the reviews and watch videos to get an insight about the product and help you with your choices.
Picking the best camera should no longer feel like a daunting task. Just know your priorities and utilize all the information above to help you arrive at a smart decision. Once you get your camera, appreciate all the moments and treasure them in the stunning photos and videos you’ll take on your trips. Happy backpacking!