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I am planning a multi-day hike in the Drakensberg area of South Africa. This is a beautiful landscape with interesting flora and fauna. Consequently I want to have my Digital SLR close to hand. I don't want to inconvenience the group by setting my pack down every 10 minutes to take a photo.

In addition to the above information, it will be winter so I can expect sub-zero temperatures. I have heard of some people walking with the camera stuffed inside their coat, or spare batteries stuffed in their armpits.

My question is, what is the best way to have my camera close to hand, while still maintaining the battery life in the cold conditions AND not bashing it on a rock or something?

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In terms of batteries, you might want to give the rechargeable Eneloops a try - they hold their charge very well, and actually hold it better the colder they are. –  berry120 Jun 12 '12 at 16:03
    
@berry120 Thanks for the Eneloops tip, I hadn't heard of those. Having just spent a few minutes Googling these, am I correct in assuming they are only available in standard formats like AA or AAA? If this is the case, it would not suit my D-SLR which takes a proprietary battery format. –  D.H. Jun 13 '12 at 13:43
    
Ah, yes I'm afraid they're only available in standard formats - at least as far as I know. –  berry120 Jun 13 '12 at 14:05

3 Answers 3

We use a padded bag that goes around the waist like the dreaded fanny pack. It's handy to keep snacks, first aid kit, and so on in, as well as the camera. Here's the sort of thing I'm thinking of, though it's not the one we use:

http://www.mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/Packs/CameraBags/PRD~5027-259/mountainsmith-tour-fx-camera-bag.jsp

enter image description here

You might keep spare batteries in a shirt pocket under your coat and swap them back and forth as needed. But in my experience temperatures below zero celsius are not particularly hard on batteries. I take no special precautions in Ontario winter unless it's below -20C.

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Thanks Kate, it's good to know my batteries might be okay after all. Can you comment on the compatibility of using a waist bag like this in conjunction with a backpack? The waist bag on its own would not have sufficient capacity to hold my tent, food, sleeping bag, etc. –  D.H. Jun 13 '12 at 13:44
    
If you are in really cold weather get a holster to keep your batteries in your armpits. My father used to test cameras and batteries in the Antarctic and reckoned it was the only way to get batteries to survive more than a few minutes. –  Rory Alsop Jun 13 '12 at 16:56
    
@D.H. wear it facing forward - easy to get to whether you have a backpack on or not. Then whether you're full on hiking with tent and food, or just out for a few hours, the camera and such are always in the same place. –  Kate Gregory Jun 13 '12 at 17:53
    
@KateGregory Thanks Kate. That confirms the ease of access to the camera, which was a really important factor in my question. I guess the only point remaining to be confirmed is whether one can wear such a waist bag at the same time as a large backpack when that backpack is strapped to the hips. I assume the waist bag and its strap go above the backpack strap, between chest and hip level? –  D.H. Jun 14 '12 at 9:45

DSLRs work quite well in cold weather, but there are a few tips to keeping things working nicely from my experience.

  • The most important thing about cold weather and electronics is to prevent rapid temperature changes. In most cases, this means "let the camera get cold, and leave it cold". The enemy you are avoiding is condensation, which occurs when the cold camera warms up again (particularly if it warms up quickly). Being cold won't hurt it, but cold/warm/cold/warm will cause condensation, possibly in the lens or housing which will negatively effect your pictures.
  • Buttons are hard to use with gloves - setup your shooting modes before hand so you don't have to manipulate the camera much while using it. Flexible modes like aperture priority are my favorite.
  • The LCD screen may start to perform poorly in cold weather - don't worry, it will be fine later, it just may not work well at the time. Again, know your controls well and setup your shooting modes before hand so you don't need the LCD.
  • Your breath is a source of constant annoyance - it will condense on the viewfinder and lens and obscure your next few shots. Watch your breathing, and hold your breath briefly while shooting if you need to.
  • When you are reentering a warm area, put your camera back in it's bag or case, close it all up, and let it warm up slowly over a few hours. If it gets warm all at once you are more likely to experience condensation problems.

As for the rest of your gear, most of it will be fine also, but you may want to keep spare batteries in an inside pocket so they stay a bit warmer (modern Li-On batteries actually handle the cold pretty well, but still operate at reduced capacity). No need for extremes, I just use one of the little "stash pouches" sewn into so many mid layer things these days.

Keep your lens quantity to a minimum. I know a lot of photographer's tendencies (including mine) are to bring every darn lens, but you'll take better pictures and travel lighter if you choose 1-3 lenses. I usually force myself to limit to a wide-angle zoom, a 40-50mm prime, and maybe a longer zoom, if I think there will be anything to shoot with it. If you are shooting Canon, look into their new 40mm/2.8f pancake lens - it is positively tiny, and takes great pictures (cheap, too). You'll appreciate the low weight, and not feeling pressured to constantly change lenses to get the "right" one will give you more opportunities to take pictures, which will give you better pictures in the end.

You might use one of the light neoprene cases that wraps around the camera to prevent bashing injuries, but don't worry too much about protection. If you have to dig it out of a big case every time, you'll miss good shots. DSLRS are made for professionals, and are generally very sturdy beasts. Use a good quality strap that holds the camera close to your body so it doesn't flop around, and then keep it out and ready. If it gets a few dings on it, well just post a picture of your "well used" camera and enjoy the street cred.

To integrate storage with your existing pack, look into camera bag "inserts", like the ones offered by Naneubags.com (no specific endorsement, though they are popular in the expedition world). Look for an insert that will fit some existing pocket on your bag, instead of trying to get a whole additional bag.

References:

  1. http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/mountain-climbing.shtml
  2. http://www.backpacker.com/backpacking_cameras_photography_outdoors_wilderness_action/blogs/the_pulse/979
  3. http://www.naneubags.com/accessories
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I've been using a LowePro TLZ bag clipped to the front of my pack, just above the sternum straps. At the risk of repeating my answer verbatim from photo.stackexchange.com, I'll just link there. Note that the photo below shows this rig with a small day-pack, but I've also used this equally successfully with a full-sized pack. There are a few things I like about this for hiking:

  • It keeps my photo stuff separate from my camping stuff. This is nice if I want to pick up my camera and go shoot something w/o hauling my whole backpack along.
  • The TLZ bag opens away from my chest, giving my access to the pockets inside, and even a bit of a shelf there if I want to prop something there for a minute. Pay attention to how the bag opens, as this is ergonomically important when you're trying to change lenses. You want everything to be easy to see and easy to handle!
  • This particular TLZ bag lets me add on a lens bag to the side, giving me a multi-lens solution right at my fingertips.
  • I can keep the bag unzipped most of the time, leaving the camera protected, but ready in seconds if I want it.
  • The position of the camera & lenses (parallel to my body) offer a surprising amount of protection. I have to admit tripping at least once and landing hard enough on my chest (I had around 40lbs on my back at the time), that I feared damage to my camera, but it came out just fine. I don't think I'd have fared as well with something like a Cotton Carrier that leaves the camera & lens exposed.

In your case, you also mentioned cold weather as a concern. I've used this rig in sub-freezing conditions, though not sub-zero, and it worked quite well. As @phidauex mentioned, you want to keep your batteries in an inside pocket, but in my experience, you'll also want to rotate them frequently. Your battery will start to show a drop in power after an hour or so in the camera, but if you put it back in your pocket for a while, it'll regain a bit of strength. As you might imagine, though, you should expect the cold to drain your batteries a bit more quickly than normal.

Chest-mounted Lowepro TLZ

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