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Camera Bag Essentials for the Hiking & Outdoor Photographer

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The Basic Essentials to Always Have in your Camera Bag

I wouldn’t have to write this post if I only had one camera bag.  But alas, I’m a camera bag junkie, and it seems like I have one for every occasion!

As such, I’m always moving gear between bags every time I switch!  And it requires more than just transferring the camera – there’s all the gear too!  These are my camera bag essentials I always have with me.

There are some things you just don’t want to forget!

The Must-Have Minimum Camera Bag Essentials

These items should always be with you when photographing on the trail or anywhere outdoors.

I keep most of these items in a Think Tank Photo Little Stuff It so they’re always together and I can quickly move them from bag to bag.  I never forget any of these this way.

Lens Cleaning

1. LensPen.  For easily cleaning lenses.  One side contains a brush for dusting, the other side holds a proprietary cleaning pad for quickly removing fingerprints.  At around $5, just buy a few of these essentials. Check out some options here.

2. Microfiber Cloth.  For drying off lenses if they get spray from rain or waterfalls on them.  Also another alternative for dusting a lens.

3. Air Blaster.  You might get dust on your camera sensor when changing lenses.  You don’t want to remove this dust with a LensPen or cloth!  Instead, blast some air in there so you don’t touch the sensor.  Then correctly clean the sensor when you’re back indoors.

You can save some money by purchasing a kit including a small Rocket-Air Blower, a LensPen, microfiber cloth, and lens cleaning solution.  This lens cleaning kit is under $20.

Additional Camera Bag Essentials

4. Extra Batteries.  This should go without saying, right?  I have some more tips on extending your camera battery life in this post.  Keep them charged at all times.

5. Extra SD Card.  Even if you carry a 64GB SD card and say, “I won’t shoot through all of this!”, that card can still become corrupted and fail.  You should always have a backup!  They weigh nothing and take up no space!

6. Smartphone with apps.  It’s usually always with me anyways, but it does have some phenomenal essential hiking photography apps.

7. Polarizing Filters.  I normally don’t have these on my lenses at all times, but they’re wonderful for reducing glare on water & foliage, and for making the sky a deeper blue in certain situations.  Carry one that will fit on each lens you carry.  Hoya makes great mid-range circular polarizers – affordable value & a great product.  Use something like the MindShift Filter Nest Mini to keep them safe.

8. X-Rite ColorChecker Mini Classic.  Some outdoor lighting situations can be difficult to color balance.  This most often happens when the light comes through foliage or reflects off of a colored rock.  X-Rite makes color checkers of many different sizes; the ColorChecker Mini Classic is the smallest and will comfortably fit in your pocket.  Put it in the same light as your subject and take a photo for color balancing in post-processing.  Check it out here – it does cost $50 but has other applications like setting white & black points and creating camera color profiles.

camera basic essentials

The Nice-to-Haves

1. Lens Cleaning Solution.  These small pump bottles do take up a small amount of space, but if you can afford it, bring one.  There are just some times where the LensPen can’t remove everything.  This spray is safe for lens coatings and will get all the haze off your glass.  It’s included in kits like the one mentioned above.

2. Small Portable Tripod.  This is almost an essential, but there are just some times where I can’t carry one.  But when I do, I take a small, light tripod like the Sirui T-005KXRead more about lightweight travel tripods in this post.

3. iPad Mini & GNARBOX.  If I have the room to carry these, it’s the best way to process photos without a laptop!  The GNARBOX acts as backup storage & processor, and the iPad Mini serves as the screen.  Used with Lightroom Mobile, this is a robust processing solution.

4. Rite in the Rain Notepad & Pen.  The Rite In The Rain is my preferred method of taking notes over using a notes app on a smartphone.  Bulletproof and much quicker.  Taking notes will make your cataloging and post-processing much better!

5. Portable Battery Charger.  And now that I’m using a smartphone to record a GPS track, GNARBOX & iPad Mini to process photos, and probably burning through camera batteries, I need a way to keep these juiced up!  Anker makes a great line of portable chargers; I’ve never run out of battery juice on extended trips using the Anker PowerCore 20100 (review here).  Don’t forget the cables!

camera accessories

Situation Dependent

1. Cable Release.  There are many great uses for a cable release with intervalometer function.  Use it to trigger a long exposure without shaking the camera; set the intervalometer function for snapping multiple selfies in rapid succession; astrophotography almost certainly requires an intervalometer & cable release.

2. Red Headlamp.  For seeing what you’re doing in the dark and without losing your night vision!  Get a regular headlamp with either a red filter or dedicated red light like this cheap & simple headlamp from Black Diamond.

3. External Flash.  Natural light portraits are great, but there might be some times where you’ll anticipate taking portraits of people and will want an artificial light source.

  • Get the flash off the camera.  You can buy cheap but reliable triggers & flash units from Godox; check out this post for how to put together a cheap off-camera travel flash kit.
  • Carry a small light modifier if you have the room.  The Rogue FlashBender is very portable; it can be used as a reflector, snoot, gobo, and even modified as a softbox with an additional small kit.  Multi-use is the name of the game!

4. Rain Cover.  There are many options for keeping your camera dry, from gallon-size Ziploc bags to the OPTech Rainsleeve to more advanced solutions like the Peak Design Shell.  If there’s rain in the forecast, or you anticipate being in a dirty, dusty environment, bring something to protect your camera from the elements.

more accessories

What are your minimum camera bag essentials?  Leave a note below!