View Full Version : Thru-hikers: Is a digital camera worth the weight?

12-02-2005, 19:27
I rode my bike across the country two summers ago and used a basic camera. After having a digital camera for a few years I was disappointed with the wasted film from horrible pictures. My friend was with me and used a digital camera. All of his were of course excellent, because he could erase the ones he didn't like and retake them until the shot suited his fancy. He could also record a message with the picture so he remembered where the photo was taken.

In gathering my gear I have been extremely weight conscious. Right now I'm looking at a 30 pound pack weight, with five days of food (2 lbs a day) and a full 100 oz. camel pak bladder (7lbs).

My casio camera with charger would be 1 pound. I have a very large memory stick, so running out of space isn't an issue. I understand it will be a chore to recharge it from time to time, but if I conserve battery by shutting off the LCD screen, I won't need to do it very often. I'm also not worried about it getting wet because it will fit in a small dry bag I have for my sleeping bag. (I know a trash bag works but my best friend had a horrible experience with soaking wet down sleeping bag...not necessary, but will be a peace of mind while fording)

For those of you who have experience with digital cameras, what are your thoughts and experiences with them while thru-hiking?

12-02-2005, 20:04
I carried a digital camera on my thru in 2003. In my opinion it is the way to go. Shop around and get input from a lot of hikers who have carried them more recently, since there is a lot more available now than when I purchased mine.

There are too many brands and models for anyone to make an specific recommendation to you. But, if you make the decision to go digital, my suggestion would be to find a camera that uses AA sized batteries and use the Lithium style AA's. They pack a much better punch than the rechargeables and prevent you from having to carry a charging unit. Carry a set of spares with you. Buy some batteries in advance of your hike and ship them to yourself along the way, just in case they are hard to find up the trail. Using a 4 - 6 day re-supply interval in 2003 I never ran low on battery power. That said ...if I had it to do again I'd probably take more pics which may have cause me to dip into my backup set of batteries. But hey, that's what they're there for.


12-02-2005, 20:22
I'm also not worried about it getting wet because it will fit in a small dry bag I have for my sleeping bag.So, do you only plan to take pictures at bedtime?

Put your camera in a quart size freezer zip lock and do not completely close the zip (prevents moisture build up on the camera) unless its pouring it outside. Put the camera in the top of your pack, in your top lid (if your pack has one), your pant pockets, side water bottle pockets, etc. My brother and his friend did this their entire thru without issue. Took plenty of pictures.

There are a few cameras (Olympus Stylus???) that are "water resistent" that are quite nice (though I don't believe they use AA batteries). I'd avoid the waterproof camera (from Cannon??) as I have read in several places the pictures are not that great.

12-03-2005, 07:42
I carried a discontinued digital no name "dxg" $99 from Radio Shack. It weighed 6 oz plus two AAA batteries. It took pretty good pictures. It used a 1 gig SD card,$65, which I would swap out on mail drops. I have over a thousand pictures on trail journals.

12-03-2005, 08:59
Everyone has their own ideas of what equipment to bring along, including cameras.

All things considered equal, digital cameras are the way to go now. Film is getting harder and harder to find, especially slide film. For most of us, a pocket camera works just fine.

Most good photos are spontaneous. Carry the camera in your pocket, or in a pouch on your shoulder strap or hip belt. Keep it accessible.

Someone is writing a whiteblaze article on cameras. Read it. It's got lots of good advice.

12-03-2005, 10:09
I carried a digital camera this past year on my thru and think it is the way to go. Don't go with a cheap camera, though. You will be disappointed with the results in the end, especially when you can have a camera of stellar quality for well under $300, and probably more like $200. I would recommend either a Nikon or a Canon, both of which are some of the best point-and-shoot out there. With digital you can delete pictures that don't turn out, you can print only the pictures you want, you can easily get duplicates made, you don't have to worry about having film ready all of the time or the film going bad, and you can enjoy the pictures on the camera as soon as you take them.


12-03-2005, 17:57
some hikers get a few memory cards and mail them home to someone who can download the pix, then clear them and send them back to you. this is a good way to carry less weight although you must rely on others to do things for you. digitals are cheap and lightweight now. I've seen 3 megapixels for $99!

12-03-2005, 20:02
I shot slides for my thru this year. I own a digital camera and it takes good pictures and all, but slides last. Yeah, they may start to fade in a couple of decades, but I wanted long term archiving for this trip, and I didn't want to worry about losing pictures if a memory card went bad. I can rescan my photos as scanner technology improves too. Of course, for 5x7 (or even 8x10) prints, it really doesn't matter too much and digicam prints at this size look great.

I killed two Olympus Stylus Epic cameras on my trip. They were cheap enough that it wasn't that big of a deal. I used them in bad weather, and I didn't think twice about it. The two cameras together cost about the same as my Canon PowerShot A520 digicam goes for on Amazon today.

The cost of my two film cameras, enough film bought in bulk to take a roll of film a day for six months (way more than I ended up taking), and getting about 50 rolls of slides (1800 photos) developed was about the same as two Canon PowerShot A520 cameras with memory cards.

Digital is nice in that you can preview your shots, people can just email files around without fuss, and it's already digital, but for the once in a lifetime trip, I decided that I wanted to take no chances on losing my photos then or in the future even if it would potentially cost me more money.

So, in the end HYOH and take whatever camera film or digital you prefer. Both formats have advantages and disadvantages and as far as I'm concerned you can't really go wrong with either. I'm looking at doing another long hike or three and I may very well decide to carry two digital cameras on me next time, but film is still a good option.

12-04-2005, 12:30
umm first of all ditch the 7 lbs of water, carry at most 2 liters at a time. I used a Olympus all weather 4 mega pixel camera on my thru and I have actually blown some of the pics up to 8x10, I had a little Mountainsmith pouch on my hip belt, and since it was all weather I never put it in a ziploc. As for getting the pics off the computer, you can go to cvs or walgreens and put them on a cd and mail em home. I had a 256 and a 128 size cards and hardly ever ran out of room, and took 800 pics on my thru. But yeah ditch the 100 oz of water, there are plenty of water sources to drink from.

12-04-2005, 12:45
What Lifestrong said, too much water. You might fill that water up at night, or on the hottest day of the year, but you will definently save a lot of weight with 2 liters of water. That is about the most I ever carried out there. As far as digital cameras are concerned, I carried a cheap one I bought on ebay, and I was very happy with it. It is all good.


12-04-2005, 13:11
Film is getting harder and harder to find, especially slide film. For most of us, a pocket camera works just fine. .
On our six week tour of the National Parks that began Aug. 21, I quickly ran out of the 10 rolls of slide film I started with and found it difficult to find new. One camera store had only ASA 100. Most of the park stores had none at all.

I would not plan on finding slide film readily available on the AT any more. Slides have become a niche product. Aside from availability, the price is increasing. A small independent camera store and film processor near me has vacated his ground floor location and moved to a second floor to cut costs. It still sells a limited variety of slide films, however, though the price is a bit high.

But aside from mail order, the store is the only source of slide film within a 90-mile round trip. Our local Walmart stopped stocking slide film a year ago.


12-04-2005, 13:47
Although film cameras are still competitive on a weight / quality / cost basis, the vast majority of people are choosing digital (as is evident by the lack of film in tourist areas.) You should only consider film if you fall into two classes: First, weight or cost are the primary considerations and you are willing to sacrifice quality. You could then get a cheap light disposable camera. This works for many, but I would encourage you to "graduate" to digital before you make your big hike. A few people have a lot of money and emotion invested in their photography hobby. There is nothing wrong with being a photographer who happens to be thru hiking, rather than the opposite, but if you are, you know it.

I carried the 4 meg Olympus Stylus for two years. It broke last year, was fixed under warranty, and held up well this year's thru. I bounced the charger so only carried < 7 oz with a spare memory card. I like this camera, but it is close to obsolite, but probably very affordable.:D

Carry the 100 oz bladder. 2 L is a little small for dinner, breakfast and morning hike. Even if you never dry camp, there will be lots of shelters where you only want to make on trip down to the spring once. I think those who tell you how much to fill it are being a little condenscending and off topic. I think there is a good point that if good pictures and a low budget are important, your camera (but bouncing the charger ) is probably justified or the weight can be carried or saved somewhere else.

12-04-2005, 14:09
...You should only consider film if you fall into two classes: First, weight or cost are the primary considerations and you are willing to sacrifice quality. Rambler
I don't believe this is true -- certainly the bit about sacrificing quality is not true. A digital camera equal to a good 35 mm slide camera, still costs several thousand dollars.

As near as I can figure out, the argument for digital is not increased quality, but lower overall cost, coupled with adequate quality for most purposes. Digital does have the advantage of being able to view photos you have taken and quickly erasing those that have obvious deficiencies -- poor focus, bad exposure, camera movement and such.


12-05-2005, 11:17
Go digital.
I made the mistake of buying a fairly large digital camera with a 10x zoom. The zoom was fun, but not really worth the weight. Its like binoculars, which just aren't practical. Also, I wasn't able to keep the camera as handy as I wished for those shots where you only have seconds to take them.

You should only need 1 mem card since you can easily erase bad pics and then go to walmart/drugstore and print them to cd and mail home. I wouldn't worry about the mem card getting messed up, they are pretty tough. I would worry about your expensive camera getting messed up though. I was always aware of where my camera was so when I threw my pack down I didn't break it.

To me, a camera that weighed 5 lbs would be worth all the memories it can keep.