The backcountry hates technology. It wants to dent it, crush it, freeze it, burn it and drown it. But damn does it look good on camera. Visual storytelling in the wilds isn’t easy — ambitious photographers have to add extra weight to already-heavy bags, put thousand-dollar gear investments at the mercy of unforgiving environments and spend long hours waiting in harsh conditions to get the perfect shot. An adventure photographer can’t afford not to have a trustworthy kit that’s both versatile and highly specialized, and as it is with all outdoor equipment, there is no one solution for every situation. In place of that, here are four photo kits that stand up to the trials of adventure — tried, tested and put to use by the best names in the game.
“I carry a variety of gear depending on what type of shoot I am doing. It’s always about trying to find a balance between weight, versatility, the difficulty of shooting location, the difficulty of activity, and whether I am shooting video, stills or both. Most recently, I was working on my current feature documentary project where I was directing and filming but had also been asked to shoot the feature print story simultaneously. I generally try to avoid this type of scenario because I feel like I have to make a lot of compromises and end up not doing any of it particularly well. But in this case, I didn’t have a choice. The shoot required a wide range of coverage including vérité film scenes, photojournalistic coverage of day-to-day life, and filming and shooting stills of high-angle big wall climbing. I think it is a good example to look at since I needed a quiver I could shoot video and shoot stills within multiple environments. Here is the basic kit I traveled to location with. This equipment would get paired down depending on what I was shooting for the day.” — Jimmy Chin
“As an adventure photographer, my kit is ever-evolving thanks to the numerous environments I choose to shoot in. I call the road worldwide home; however, I return to Australia fairly often for the chance to reset my bags for upcoming adventures. I typically favor wider lenses as my work often involves a lot of space in the image. It’s not a case of creating a pretty picture with a small figurine in a grand landscape that is often seen on social media. It’s the desire to tell a story of that person or athlete in their environment as I wait for the right subtle moment for things to fall into place. I try my best to strip down my gear since it has to be carried on my back, but I also prefer simplicity and focus on the important things such as being creative. My dream set up is just the Canon 5DS R and the 35mm f/1.4. At times, this has been the only thing in my bag, but when I am working for clients I need to carry a few more options to make sure the job is done.” — Krystle Wright
70-200mm f/2.8 II USM by Canon $1,899
24-70mm f/2.8 II USM by Canon $1,699
85mm f/1.2 II USM by Canon $1,849
35mm f/1.4 II USM by Canon $1,649
24mm f/1.4 II USM by Canon $1,549
24mm Cine Lens by Canon $4,220
14mm f/2.8 II USM by Canon $2,099
Elite 5D3 Canon Water Housing by AquaTech $1,595
LP-1 Dome by AquaTech $395
LP-3 Dome by AquaTech $495
P-30Ex 30mm Extension Ring by AquaTech $195
Pistol Grip by AquaTech $395
Sport Shield Small Rain Cover by AquaTech $130
“I shoot most of my work-oriented stuff on Canon and a lot of my personal stuff on Leica. For me, simpler is better. That’s why I always bring up Leica — the Leica cameras are made to be so simple in the way they work. When I get a new Leica I can be shooting that thing within ten minutes whereas with some cameras — I went through a few different companies — some of them I’m having to call friends and ask what menu they use for this and that; I’m not even shooting the camera for like a day because I’m trying to figure out how to work it. With a Leica I just put in the battery, turn it on and I’m shooting. With photography, you look at some of the best photos taken in the world, and some of the best photos from the ’60s, ’50s, and even ’40s, and they’re using old cameras with one lens and getting beautiful things. It kind of comes down to the photographer more than your equipment in a way. You can get really good stuff with real simple equipment. I’m constantly trying to simplify my deal a little bit and have less options. But I do have a ton of camera equipment and a ton of options. Sometimes I just like to limit that a little bit.” — Jeff Johnson
M10 by Leica $6,895
“I spend a lot of time shooting in some pretty nasty, wet and cold mountain conditions, so I really need my gear to hold its own in the outdoors. I take care of it but I don’t have time to baby it. The Canon 1DX Mark II and the Canon 5D Mark IV are both rugged, reliable, weatherproof bodies and will take what I throw at them.
I’m often without power for multiple days on end so I also value the battery life of the Canons. I recently did a basecamp backcountry ski shoot in Northern British Columbia in -40 Celsius and even though the batteries spent a lot of time in my jacket between shots I was so impressed with how well they coped in the cold.
Weight is a big factor and often is a daily balance given that I carry all of my own gear on my back while chasing athletes around the mountains. I always prioritize the quality and speed of the 1DX when shooting action like skiing, trail running or mountain biking, even if it means I have to suffer a little more on the uphill with a heavier pack.
When efficiency in the mountains is an absolute priority, as it is with alpine climbing or long multi-day missions, I go for the lighter kit like Canon 5D Mark IV. My standard lens kit when I am out in the field is 24-70, 70-200 and a wide option like the 16-35 or the 15mm Zeiss. I sub in prime lenses when I can carry the extra weight, or when I know I am going to have early 3 AM starts in the dark and need a few more stops to work with I usually throw in the 24mm 1.4.
Backpacks are key piece of gear for me, not only does my pack have to carry my camera equipment it also has to fit my personal gear for the activity like climbing gear or avalanche equipment and be still able to carry my skis, ice axe, crampons etc on the outside. For multi-day missions, I use a custom-made backpack that Arc’teryx made specifically for me.” — Angela Percival
Mountaineer Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Center Ball Head by Gitzo $1,250
Leash Camera Strap by Peak Design $40
Venture 30 Recharger by Goal Zero $100
Nomad 14 Solar Panel by Goal Zero $150