Why You Shouldn’t Carry Too Much Gear

Photo by Martin Taylor

Photo by Martin Taylor

A few weeks ago I had a horrible accident: I cracked the LCD screen cover on the back of my Canon 5D Mk II.

I was carrying two cameras at the time, and wanted to change lenses on my other camera, so I put the 5D on my tripod, and began switching lenses on my other camera. Then, about ten seconds later, my tripod fell backwards (with the 5D still on it), and there just happened to be a big rock where the 5D landed ;)

I sat there staring at my 5D on the ground for about five minutes, terrified of the damage I’d see when I picked up the camera.

Luckily, it was just the LCD screen cover that got cracked (and not the actual LCD screen), so I was able to fix it for about $20 of parts and 15 minutes of my time (thanks to a great tutorial I found).

Of course, the first lesson I learned from this accident was to make sure your tripod is secure before letting go ;)

But, then I thought more about why this accident happened. I realized it was a result of carrying too much gear, because when you have a lot of gear to juggle around, it makes you more prone to mishandling it, or dropping it. This accident made me think about all the times in the past where I’ve come so close to banging my camera against a rock or having a camera slide off my camera bag.

I’ve always been worried about limiting the amount of camera gear I carry on hikes, because it might mean missing out on a great photo opportunity. But, for the safety of my gear, I’ve decided to start carrying less.

And, after carrying a lot less gear around for the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed another great benefit: carrying less gear forces you to learn more about the gear you DO decide to bring.

For example, last weekend I just walked around with one camera and my macro lens. So, instead of walking around and “looking for anything interesting to photograph,” carrying just the macro lens forced me to think just about photographing close-ups.

Instead of walking around with all your gear (giving you freedom to photograph just about anything), sometimes it’s helpful to limit your options to force you to focus on creating a particular type of image.

What about you?

Have you had a similar accident as a result of carrying too much gear? Or, have you found a way to carry a lot of gear, but still balance it all? Please tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below :)

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steveb2About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.

Comments

  1. Good advice, but hard to follow. The old Boy Scout Motto “Be Prepared” keeps creeping back into my memory when it was branded at an early age.

  2. I have come to this realisation a while ago, and since then, I’m being very minimal in what I brought. If you bring 17-40 lens and 70-200, no worries: the difference between 40-70mm doesn’t matter, just step back and forth, it’s a lot faster than juggling with another 50mm lens. I wrote this on my blog back then: http://mountain-light.tumblr.com/post/7533147535/learning-to-carry-less

    Today, I bring my 35mm fixed lens only and leave the town. I don’t miss any other focal length, I can totally focus on what’s in front of me with just that one lens.

  3. I didn’t have an accident but learned my lesson on one of our waterfall hikes. I had my backpack full of lenses and heavy duty tripod strapped on the backback. I thought I was going to die. Now I carry one camera and one lens, accessories go into pockets and only the tripod goes onto my back. Our hikes are much more enjoyable now.

  4. A couple years ago, I dropped my 100-400 lens on kagged rocks while hiking in Shenandoah NP. Thankfully, I was sitting on a big rock when it happened, and, even more thankfully, the filter took the direct hit and spared the glass, but there was that moment of not being able to breathe. Taught me a lot about not only what to carry but also how to carry it.

  5. I’m glad your 5D is OK! I’m sure that was a heart-stopping moment. I think it’s a good idea to carry less gear when hiking, but ultimately it’s hard to avoid those kinds of accidents. That’s why I have my gear insured!

    When I first started out I would take ALL of my gear on every hike. I quickly learned that dragging 10+ pounds of camera equipment up the side of a mountain can really dampen the enjoyment of a hike. Now I’m much more selective about what I bring with me. Honestly, I never used all of it anyway. These days I’ll hike with one body + 1-2 lenses, depending on weather conditions and what I expect to see that day.

  6. Two years ago I went to a national park and found a good spot for Bobolinks but against the light, so I put down my tripod with the Bigma attached to a K20D, I put down my bag, got the flash out, installed the better beamer and as I was closing my bag I realized that the tripod was at an angle and suddenly a big gust of wind blew my hat off and made the better beamer go upward like a parachute, the tripod lifted and went sideways and the whole kit fell hard on a big rock. The camera flew about 10 feet away from the rock. The mount was still on attached to the Bigma, the front of the K20D was ripped off. The battery grip was split open and the body was cracked on the side. The Bigma was intact. I picked my gears and reached for my second body, I realized that it stayed home, a 4 hour drive. I drove an hour to find some camera stores but it was a national holiday, so I drove back home. When I arrived I picked up my camera bag and found my spare camera bag with my spare body. I just laugh, I guess I wasn’t meant to take pictures that day. So now I make sure my tripod is straight and well balanced.

  7. Ellen K says:

    The old travel adage of “lay out your gear, then take half as much stuff and twice as much money” may be appropriate here only we can change it to “take half as much of the big stuff (bodies and lenses) and twice as much of the small stuff (memory cards and batteries).” I am always looking for the right combination to take on a hike, and if I bring it, I make myself use it for at least a few shots. That’s my rule…if I lugged it all the way up the steep trail, I darn well better find a reason for doing so.

  8. When it comes to choosing basic gear, hiking is far more demanding than driving to a shoot location, and so is foreign or interstate plane travel. Weight plays a part in the selection but there’s more I suggest. Most difficult is guessing what you will shoot and what conditions might apply. (time of day, weather, macro or wide angle, landscapes – portraits etc) On a recent family reunion trip to New Zealand (from Australia) that was my problem. I took my trusty Pentax K5 (built in flash), wide angle (landscape) and medium (portrait – midrange) zoom lenses, tripod, cable release and Circ Pol filter. I chose a lens for the day once the family outing had been decided and put the tripod and spare lens in my brothers car. Bare basics on the move – backup equipment not far away usually. Only once was I caught short without the tripod but a sturdy tree saved the day. Accidents? Yes. Transferring pics from the camera to a flash drive on a ‘foreign’ computer. (A day’s shoot lost) Never again. Take more camera cards. They weigh less than a flash drive anyway!

  9. Whenever I go out to shoot photos I always have an exact, specific idea of what I am going to photograph. If, I go out to shot insects, a macro lens is all I need. If I am going to shoot building and monuments, that calls for specific gear so I leave the rest at home. So, my answer to the question is, no. I never go out with all the equipment that I own hoping that something interesting will pop up. Ok…if I was going to go to Africa for a month of shooting I would carry all my equipment but that situation hasn’t come up yet.

  10. I’d rather carry the gear I think I will need tgan miss opportunities, within reason og course. But I’m pretty switched on when out there, so if sometging does happen it will be because of an unfortunate situation.
    Only incident I have had was when I lost a Nikon body, 17-35 f2.8 lens, and carbon fibre tripod into a fast flowing ravine. It was either the camera or me courtesy of boots losing traction on sloping rock, my mistake. These things happen and we learn by them.

  11. PS. I hate typing on thr iphone. Sorry about typo’s, it wouldn’t let me scroll to check before posting.

  12. Robert Visconti says:

    Hey Steve,

    Glad to read all was not lost…..just a minimal repair to bring it back to pre-accident. We have ALL been there indeed as I too have a couple of close calls! The more time spent out in the field, the more likely something will occur…..all one can do is minimize those chances.

    Hope all is well,

    Robert

  13. Great advice, Steve. I learn a ton about my gear when I only carry one option. When I’m hiking, I am always carrying my 500f4 with either a monpod on tripod. If I’m going to be far from the car, I’ll put on my ThinkTank belt system with an extra body, water bottle, spare batteries, spare memory, multi-tool and maybe a 35mm f1.8 or a 10-24mm on the spare body. If it’s cloudy or harsh light, I’ll occasionally put my sb-910 speedlight in a pocket.

  14. I like to take two lens on a hike – i use one on the way in and the other on the way out. Makes for a nice hike without messing around with the gear very much and I see the world differently each way!

  15. I always feel like walking away from a camera/lens on a tripod is an accident waiting to happen. I usually remove the camera/lens, but not always, and I know some day I’m going to regret it. I only carry one camera body when I hike and usually only two lenses.

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