In this post, we share the best cameras for hiking and backpacking trips. Of course, It’s natural to want to photograph the gorgeous landscapes when exploring. We’ve shot an innumerable amount of photographs from the trail and over time have learned a few things along the way.
There is a wide range of camera categories and price points that can make the decision a tough one. Point-and-shoot cameras are the most simple and lightweight so it’s a favorite among most hikers. However, the image quality and build from many mirrorless and DSLR cameras deliver the best image quality.
What Kind of Camera is the Best for Hiking?
There are several versions of cameras and then on top of that individual kits for cameras. You can break down the primary cameras used for hiking into four categories, which are robust, point-and-shoot, mirrorless, and DSLR. When it comes to lightweight hiking cameras, we prefer point-and-shoot and mirrorless cameras.
Best Camera For Hiking
Tough Camera For Hiking
Several camera manufacturers produce a tough or rugged camera. These cameras are waterproof, dustproof, and sturdy. The idea is to have a camera capable of handling harsh elements such as lots of water and dirt. However, the value of the cameras is wholly inadequate as they are expensive, and the image quality is subpar when compared to other camera categories. When it comes to hiking, it’s also not all that hard to protect a camera from the elements with a dry bag, so these cameras are better suited for adventures who need a camera for kayaking, surfing, rafting, or rock climbing.
Olympus TG-6 Waterproof Camera for Hiking
- Megapixels: 12
- Sensor: 1/2.3″
- Weight: 9 oz
- Avg Price: $450
The Olympus TG-6 will be right by your side, no matter if you are climbing the most rugged of mountains or diving in the ocean. This camera is a simple point and shoot, so don’t expect to have too many options in terms of manipulating the image quality. However, it is tough and ready for adventure.
With its lack of zoom and manual settings and small sensor, it leaves a lot to be desired for image quality at its price point. That being said, the TG-6 has a fantastic macro function and an aperture of f2.0. It also shoots 4k video that looks pretty decent.
It makes for a reliable second camera and a questionable primary. I’d only recommend going this route for a few budget-strapped and rugged adventurers.
Point-And-Shoot Camera For Hiking
Tough cameras are point-and-shoot cameras with rugged housing and waterproofing. Without the costly build, point-and-shoot cameras offer a lot more value. Furthermore, many of them offer excellent value in a convenient package that easily fits in a pocket. We love these cameras for hiking and think they’ll satisfy the demands of most people on the trail.
Sony Rx100 – VII
- Megapixels: 20.1
- Sensor: 1″
- Weight: 8.5 oz
- Avg Price: $450 – $1,200
There are several versions of this camera so the final choice depends on your price point. With the baseline coming in at a more reasonable $450 and the latest iteration around at a whopping $1,200 for a compact camera. Make no mistake this camera for hiking does manage to pack punch and in my opinion is easily one of the best cameras for hiking.
We have the RX100 V, which has one of the fastest fps in the world for still images (24 images a second), it contains a one-inch sensor, and shoots 4k video. The built-in lens is also plenty fast enough opening to a 1.8F stop and it has image stabilization for video. You can also gain full manual control with an ability to shoot RAW images even with the RX100 base model that retails for under $400. This produces wonderful images.
The negatives are the size of the camera makes it uncomfortable for shooting all day, okay at landscapes; it has a small viewfinder and fixed lens. In my opinion, it is the best camera for hiking. You don’t need a ton of accessories, just a memory card, and it easily fits in a pocket, hip belt, or backpack. It’s phenomenal, and the amount of camera that Sony packed into such a small product is fantastic.
Panasonic Lumix LX10
- Megapixels: 20.1 MP
- Sensor: 1″
- Weight: 11 oz
- Avg Price: $500
The Lumix LX 100 II is a compact point and shoot camera which still can satisfy even the most experienced photographer’s expectations. The LX 100 II is so versatile that its interface is simple enough camera for hiking photographers, while still providing extremely sophisticated manual settings which allow experts to have limitless creative control.
Its lens has an aperture equivalent of 1.7-2.8, making it perfect for macro photography and shooting in low light. On top of everything else, the LX 100 II also shoots in 4K ultra-high definition.
For so many advanced functions one would think the LX100 II would also include a tilting touchscreen which is fairly common with most newer cameras on the market today. If dependent on the EVF (electronic viewfinder), be prepared for the battery to be drained severely. You can conserve battery life, however, by using the optical viewfinder. A big deal when you may spend multiple days in the backcountry.
Even though weighing only 393g, the Lumix LX100 II can hold its own against the most hi-tech of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, making this camera one of the best point-and-shoot cameras you can buy today.
Mirrorless Cameras For Hiking
Since mirrorless cameras have fewer parts in the body, the cameras they weigh less and can provide better speed. While there were new a few years ago, the future of cameras now appears to be mirrorless. They deliver the best image possible in a package that is now weatherproof in a smaller frame than DSLR cameras.
They do come with a few negatives, but the most notable is the use of EVF or electronic viewfinder, which be a drain on battery life. However, with every model, battery life improves, and most are suitable for around 600 shots a battery. It’s our preferred choice of a camera for photography when hiking, granted they are much more substantial with interchangeable lenses. Most notable these cameras come with the highest price tag that can easily cost more than $2,000.
- Megapixels: 20.1 MP
- Sensor: APS-C
- Weight: 1.19 lbs
- Avg Price: $1,000 (Body Only)
This beautiful and reasonably priced camera for hiking is both weather-resistant and mirrorless. It is easily the best ASP-C camera on the market and gives a run at many of the full-frame cameras. After all, is a full-frame camera a necessity? In my opinion, not at all!
For any photography enthusiast, the Fuji XT3 will literally check everything down your list of expectations for your ideal camera. This state-of-the-art mirrorless camera has a highly sophisticated autofocus function, due to its cutting-edge CMOS 4 sensor and X-Processor. Almost unheard of by its competitors, the XT3 can shoot up to 30 frames per second with its electrotonic shutter and 11fps with the mechanical.
For those wanting to shoot video, this Fuji camera also shoots in 4K 200mbps. There is little to complain about when looking at the XT3. The only things which could be improved are its battery life. Also, for such high-end video performance, it lacks image stabilization. However, they addressed those issues with the Fuji X-T4 that comes in at a higher price point, only worth it for video-focused hikers.
The Fuji X-T3 is the camera we choose to carry in the mountains and on the trail. There are a lot of options for lenses, and Fuji makes some fantastic options. My favorite lens is the 16-80mm F4 zoom lens that provides a wide range of focal lengths in a convenient package and durable build.
Sony A7 III
- Megapixels: 24.2
- Sensor: Full-Frame
- Weight: 1.43 lbs
- Avg Price: $2,000 (Body Only)
Sony had a smash with this camera, offering a genuinely fantastic workhorse of a camera that has flown off the shelves. They’ve continued to deliver with the latest Sony A7 IV (61 MP). It has a full-frame sensor, excellent high ISO quality, an impressive 24.2 megapixels, and full-screen auto-focusing, it is no wonder this is one of the best professional cameras you can get.
If you are wanting to take videos, the A7 III shoots in 4k full-frame format. However, that 4K results in a cropped sensor and the rear LCD still lacks a touch to focus feature like the video-friendly Canon models.
The drawback, of course, is the price. It also weighs more than many mirrorless cameras. Other than the price itself, the other complaint would be about the battery life. Other than these two cons, this camera is as the top of the line as you can get for a mirrorless, full-frame camera.
DSLRs Cameras For Hiking
DSLR cameras are the heaviest and bulkiest type of digital cameras so they’re questionable cameras for hiking. However, the build quality and components are a better value than mirrorless cameras as shoppers do not pay for a pricey electronic viewfinder. They’re also pretty durable and have been a favorite of professionals for decades now.
Canon Rebel SL3
- Megapixels: 24.1
- Sensor: APS-C
- Weight: 16 oz
- Avg Price: $650 (With Kit Lens)
The small, lightweight Rebel SL3 makes for one of the most reliable and reasonably priced cameras available. Even though the Rebel is more geared towards beginners, the SL3 still incorporates the DIGIC processor, which is used in many professional cameras. Like other high-end cameras, the Rebel SL3 is complete with touchscreen capabilities, WIFI connectivity, as well as a highly effective live view autofocus sensor.
While it does have Dual Pixel AF in live view, it uses the outdated 9-point focus system. Overall, the Rebel SL2 is a well-built camera meant for beginner or casual photographers. It’s a great camera to get your feet with landscape photography and offers tremendous value.
Things to Consider When Buying a Hiking Camera
The sheer number of cameras on the market today is overwhelming. Hours can be spent researching brands such as Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony, and Fujifilm. Even after settling on a brand, the question of which model to choose will still take up the better part of your day. We’ve found ourselves in endless debates about which camera to choose and in the past put off investing in a new camera for a long time.
For those just getting started, words such as aperture, mirrorless, shutter speed, and full-frame may be terms you are not too familiar. However, once you understand the basics, none of it is too complicated. The key points lie in the type of camera you’d like, cost, photography style, weight, and features.
DSLR vs. Mirrorless:
Let me start by saying that the camera market works in trends. When Canon initially launched the Rebel camera, it brought the DSLR “professional” digital interchangeable lens system to the masses. DSLRs reigned supreme for nearly a decade as the digital camera of choice. Now, with the introduction of the mirrorless cameras, a new trend has been set, and it seems the whole market’s focus has shifted to mirrorless.
What’s the difference between these two types of cameras? From the very beginning of photography, mirrors have been an integral aspect of making a camera work. Today’s digital cameras have improved a lot, but that doesn’t change the fact that a mirror is still at the very heart of most cameras. DSLR or Digital Single Lens Reflection refers to the fact that you look through the same lens as the camera’s sensor (what records an image). So, when you look through the viewfinder of a DSLR you are looking at a mirror in front of the sensor that processes the image.
When first put on the market, mirrorless cameras couldn’t hold a light to the old DSLRs in terms of quality. However, as improvements have been made, mirrorless cameras are now on par with DSLRs – if not better.
Since mirrorless cameras have fewer parts in the body, the cameras weigh less and can provide better speed. The only drawback when purchasing a mirrorless camera is the lack of available lenses and accessories. Until recent models, mirrorless cameras also lacked weatherproofing a pivotal detail to professional photographers. In 2020 all of that is left behind with a wide selection of quality lenses and weatherproof cameras.
There is a clear trend towards mirrorless, but it does mean you are looking at an EVF or electronic viewfinder, something that may not be the most excellent experience for some people. It’s also a significant strain on battery life as it is needed to power the display. One last thing when it comes to video on full-frame mirrorless cameras they crop the image due to sampling and an overwhelming amount of data coming from the massive sensors, which can make 4k footage a slight pain to record.
Photography is one of the most expensive hobbies out there; it is easy for enthusiasts to sink thousands of dollars not only into the camera, but lenses, support, and various other accessories. Most hikers should focus more on hiking gear rather than buying the most expensive, cutting-edge equipment. So it is vital first to determine your budget and set priorities.
Would you rather pay to go island hopping in Southeast Asia or blow your money on high-tech electronics? To further that point if you plan to earn an income on your blog you need to start viewing a camera as a business expense. When we are set to make a new purchase we like to think about the bottom line and what the ROI will be for us. In my opinion, far too many people are walking around with far too much in the name of travel blogging.
Many cameras also require the purchase of lenses, this needs to be kept in mind when purchasing a camera. The vast majority of cameras are sold in kits which include one lens and the camera body. These lenses used to be garbage, but many now offer a wonderful kit lens that hits the mid-range focal lengths. It also may be more advantageous to go with a lower model camera in order to afford an additional lens like a wide-angle or zoom. If you’re into adventure and landscapes consider the cost of a wide-angle lens.
Make sure to consider the final price of your camera package add the cost of the camera, lenses, memory cards, spare batteries, a camera bag, and a tripod. Perhaps, you can not afford the camera you thought you could when you add up the total cost.
When choosing a camera, you need to think about your photography needs. If it is landscapes, portraits, low light, or the night sky, each of these shots requires your camera to do very different things. For portrait photography and working in low light, you will need a faster aperture; in layman’s terms, a bigger opening to let in more light.
For other people, they may have no need to have a maximum of 1.2 aperture. For landscape photography, typically you would be wanting a camera with a wide-angle lens to get all the scenery into the frame.
These features barely scratch the surface of the various features which contribute to crafting your perfect shot. Regardless, it is important to know what kind of photographer you are to sort through what you need and what is unnecessary.
This is a broad category, but the primary point I’d like to stress is the video capabilities of a camera. Even if you do not have plans to be a vlogger or video maker, I’d still encourage every photographer to at least have a camera capable of recording video and to use that camera.
Any camera as a bare minimum should record 1080p. Other great features come down to frame rates a camera can record in like 60p or perhaps 120? This refers to the number of images captured to create a moving image. Higher frame rate cameras allow for footage to be slowed down to a greater degree. This is a key component to the creation of buttery smooth shots now a key part of creating a beautiful video. Then there is image stabilization in which the sensor operates on small axis motors capable of reducing a shaky hand.
A lot of people believe they need 4k video recording capabilities. To this day, 4K is not a necessity for cameras and the simple fact is most laptops used by travelers are incapable of editing 4K video footage. To further this point if your video is destined for a digital world very few people are digesting the content on a large 4k TV and most computers do not have 4k screens. Those that can edit 4k are still faced with the creation of video proxies and understanding the intricacies of editing, just another task to learn.
Compression vs. Resolution
To drive home this point, even more, the resolution is the hot word these days when marketing to the consumer. As cameras continue to push 4k you see “4K” in gold slapped on boxes of nearly every camera these days. However, resolution refers not to the quality of the video, but the quantity of the pixels.
For example, you could take the 4k from average consumer camera and compare it to 1080p on a professional camera and the professional camera would blow that consumer camera out of the water. Why is that? If the resolution is not all that matters to cameras what does matter? It comes down the compression, bit rate, and color science. More or less quality vs. quantity.
A high bit rate and compression mean that the camera can record more color values. More color values mean a better-looking image and less banding when the camera has an inability to register all of the various shadows and colors of an image. If you want to see a good example of what solid color space in a camera looks, check out our most recent vlogs shot on the Fuji X-T3.
Weight, as well as size, is important for all equipment when living the life of a digital nomad. Cameras, of course, are no exception. No traveler wants to be stuck with extra weight in their bag when gorilla trekking in a jungle or exploring the city streets with a full rucksack. As mentioned above, cameras are gradually getting lighter.
With the improvements made with mirrorless cameras, you can get a high-end camera weighing half of what DSLRs weigh. When you know what you want out of your camera and decide that you are not willing to carry around loads of bulky electronics, it is much easier to narrow down your choices. Personally, we travel with far too much, but we’re at that point in our travel blogging career.
What are the Metrics of a Hiking Camera?
The sensor refers to the light-sensitive chip in every digital camera that interprets how light is perceived to create a digital image. Sensors come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have the most direct impact on image quality. This is the most important aspect of a camera for travel in regards to the final image. Generally the larger the sensor the better the image. It allows for more information to be collected entering through the lens and eventually results in effects like a shallow depth of field.
There are many cameras that employ a cropped sensor. The result is a cropped image because all lenses are measured mathematically for a full-frame sensor – the same size as a 35mm film camera. So, when cameras employ a smaller sensor this results in a cropped effect on lens focal length.
It means 100mm on a FUJI X-T3 is the focal length of a 160mm lens. Therefore a full-frame camera is the go-to for landscape photographers, but many wildlife and sports photographers choose a cropped sensor. Think about which kind of photography you intend to shoot. Full frame sensors are generally more expensive and reserved for professional-grade cameras, so they’ll fetch a higher price tag.
FPS (Frames per second)
This is a very important aspect for many. It refers to how quickly a camera can shoot a burst of photos. With fast-moving subjects, you’ll want to capture that perfect moment. This may require a burst and a fast fps. This refers to how many photos the camera can take in a period of one second.
This is not the most important aspect; however, it is something to consider when comparing similar cameras. For those looking to get into wildlife photography, sports, or journalism a camera with a fast fps will help give that extra edge.
The lens is one of the most important aspects when shooting photography. You can have the best camera money can buy, but if you have a cheap lens you aren’t going to get those stellar shots. Many cameras opt for interchangeable lenses which allow for a wide range of focal lengths to get wide landscape shots and tight close-ups.
When shooting wildlife the far-reaching lens, or zoom is important. Lens distance is referred to as focal length. Focal length is measured in millimeters with a short focal length (<5omm) creating a wide angle image and a long focal length (135mm<) creating a tight/zoomed image.
When it comes to lenses generally wide-angle lens is excellent for landscapes (10-35mm), the mid-range is excellent for street photography (35-85mm), and long lens great for wildlife and sports (100mm). However, once a photographer understands the characteristics of each lens, they can use them in any scenario to achieve the desired effect. See the cheetah photos below.
[The two images above were taken from the same distance.]
Hiking can be brutal on just about everything. It’s why everyone talks about having the best backpack, boots, jacket, or pants money can buy because when they hike their belongings can go through hell. We’re big fans of spending our time outside and that means our cameras can be exposed to dust, heat, rain, fog, snow, and even ice. While a great camera for hiking doesn’t need to be indestructible a good build that is weatherproof ensures its survival.
Professional cameras are built to be weatherproof meaning they can handle the dust, dirt, and rain directly on the camera. I’ve personally carried my Canon camera through rainstorms without fear of it being ruined. There are also a number of cameras that are purpose built to hold up to the elements.
Hiking Photography Accessories
I rarely am happy with a RAW image right from the camera. Almost every image we like goes through a post editing process. Every image in this post has been edited to be crisper, brighter, and to bring out colors. We use Adobe Lightroom to edit our photos, which we pay $10 a month for.
If you are just getting started there are free photo editing programs and tons of free apps to edit your photos for social media. However, when you start to take your photography seriously you need to invest in a real program.
Post-processing of images has and will always be half the work when it comes to producing great photography. Even with film cameras, a photographer took time to choose film stock and carefully develop their film to produce the desired result.
Side note, don’t waste your money on buying some presets, especially if it’s a couple of hundred dollars. It’s one of the biggest scams to ever hit the photography world. Anyone selling these presets edit images individually and not with a preset. Presets are great for bulk editing, but you’ll likely have to tweak each image individually after a preset is applied. No image is created equal!
We don’t really use Photoshop, but if you want to add layers or other elements to your photos (like the milky way to a dark sky or a flock of birds in the background), Photoshop is your friend. You can learn the basics of photo editing on Lightroom and Photoshop on YouTube, Peter McKinnon has fantastic and free tutorials.
PolarPro VND Filter
Control over the amount of the light that enters the lens of a camera allows for greater photo manipulation. For landscape photographers and videographers ND filters have become commonplace in order to achieve lower shutter speeds and better images.
Previously that meant a wide range of filters for varying light conditions. Now variable neutral density filters allow for the strength of the ND to be adjusted with a twist.
PolarPro designs exceptional filters that are cut from quartz for superior optical performance and scratch resistance. Photographers can choose from a 2-5 stop VND or a 6-9 VND to enable exceptional control for photographs.
For long exposures, landscapes, night photography, or self-portraits, you’re going to invest in a tripod. Our latest tripod is the Peak Design Travel Tripod.
What makes this lightweight tripod so great? It’s compact and folds up incredibly small, lightweight at only 3.44 lbs, has amazing stability, and can fully deploy in under 10 seconds so you never had to worry about missing a shot. I also love that it’s mobile-ready, and has a special device to hold your cell phone on it, just in case you would rather take a phone photo!
At $600 it’s definitely not cheap, they also have a cheaper aluminum model for those on a budget. Because of the size and how small it folds up the Peak Designs tripod is the best hiking tripod on this list and also the best lightweight tripod for backpacking.
Don’t expect to charge your battery every night and you never know when you’ll have a day that just begs for you to shoot the whole day. There is literally no worse feeling than not being able to take photographs because your camera is dead.
Extra batteries have come in handy for us when we don’t have access to electricity. Think camping trips, multiday treks, or anything off the grid.
Where to Buy Your Hiking Camera
We shop for almost all of our photography needs on B&H Photo. They’re easily the best camera shop in America and have been working with professional film, video, and photography needs for decades.
They’re responsible for handling the equipment of major feature films, Pulitzer prize photographers, and everyday consumers like ourselves. Their support is tremendous and knowledgeable. On top of all that they offer free two shipping, so forget ordering camera gear on Amazon!