Photographer in mountains

The Best Cameras For Backpacking and Hiking in 2017

Buying a new camera can be a real slog at the best of times, but when you’re looking for specific cameras for backpacking and hiking it’s even more of a minefield. There are a LOT of amazing cameras out there, most of which will do a perfectly good job at taking really great pictures with little knowledge of photography. And most of which will do just fine at snapping your hiking experiences.

However, there are also some excellent options out there that are ideal for taking photos out in the elements, and that don’t compromise on image quality for the sake of convenience and weight. But once again, trawling through all the potential options can take far too many hours of time you’d probably rather spend out hiking!

So to make life as easy as possible, we’ve asked some professional photographers and travel bloggers to share with us their top choice of camera for backpacking, hiking and wilderness adventures. And there’s a cracking bunch to choose from:

ProductType of cameraWeightMegapixelsWeather resistantCost
Sony A7Mirrorless16.6oz (without lens)24.3No$$$
Sony Alpha a6000Mirrorless12.2oz / 346g (without lens)24.3No$$
Panasonic Lumix GX8Mirrorless31.2oz / 884g (without lens)20.3Yes$$$
Sony A7RIIMirrorless21oz /582g (without lens)42.4Yes$$$$$
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark IIMirrorless16.5oz / 467g (without lens)16Yes$$$
Olympus TG-860 ToughCompact8.8oz / 250g12Yes$
Canon PowerShot SX720 HSCompact9.6oz / 272g20.3No$
Ricoh GR IICompact9.6oz / 272g16.2No$$

Check out our buyer’s guide at the bottom of the article for more in depth information and tips on what to look for when choosing a camera for backpacking and hiking. Otherwise, read on to see what the pros have to say about which cameras they love taking out with them on adventures in the wilderness…

Mirrorless cameras for backpacking and hiking

Photo of Durdle Door

Taken with the Sony A7 by: Jack Anstey

Sony A7 camera for backpacking

Sony A7

Recommended by: Jack Anstey – Photographer

Weight:16.6oz (without lens)
Megapixels:24.3
Size:1.89 x 5 x 3.7 in (without lens)
Weather resistant:No

I use the Sony A7 as my primary camera, usually with a 28-70mm tele-lens. When I’m out shooting I spend a lot of my time hiking, climbing and camping, which means the camera I take has to be as light and small as can be, without compromising on quality.

The A7 is a full-frame body that’s half the weight and 3/4 of the size of its competitors, whilst being a lot cheaper too. For me it’s the perfect accomplice for my outdoor lifestyle.

After years of dreaming, I also recently picked up a DJI Mavic, which also needs to have similar requirements to my main camera – small, light and quality. I look forward to adding the drone to my arsenal on my trips in the future.

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Mountain scene

Taken with the Sony Alpha 6000 by: George Figueroa

Sony A6000 camera

Sony Alpha a6000

Recommended by: George Figueroa – Photographer

Weight:12.2oz / 346g (without lens)
Megapixels:24.3
Weather resistant:No

Taking quality outdoor photos can definitely be a challenge and the Sony Alpha 6000 is brilliantly practical for an adventurous landscape photographer. Here’s why…

As a landscape photographer, I greatly favor the mirrorless camera systems. The lightweight and compact design of the Sony Alpha a6000 opens up a new world of opportunities!

Unlike traditional DSLR’s, the a6000 does not use mirrors for the viewfinder but instead uses an electronic viewfinder which shows you in real time what your image will look like. This feature cuts down so much on weight and size and gives you ample room in your bag to load up some more lenses and accessories, (or backpacking gear!). The a6000 is roughly half or sometimes even a third of the size of traditional DSLR’s and it competes with some of the more advanced systems out there for a fraction of the price.

I have been able to use this particular camera in all kinds of scenarios and capture stunning images with it. The a6000 has made my journeys less troublesome and enjoyable knowing that I do not have to worry about compromising other gear in order to take pictures.

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Photo of lake and mountains

Taken with the Panasonic Lumix GX8 by: Laurence Norah

Panasonic camera

Panasonic Lumix GX8

Recommended by: Laurence Norah – Travel Photographer

Weight:31.2oz / 884g (without lens)
Megapixels:20.3
Weather resistant:Yes

My favorite compact camera for backpacking and hiking is the Panasonic Lumix GX8. This is a micro four thirds mirrorless camera. It has all the manual controls you would expect from an SLR camera, as well as an intuitive touch interface screen and excellent electronic viewfinder. Image quality is excellent, and there is a good range of lenses to suit a variety of situations.

It’s much smaller and lighter than a bulky SLR, yet does everything you would expect from a more professional camera. It’s even weather sealed, which is particularly handy for shooting when in nature, as the camera can withstand a bit of rain and moisture without giving up.

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Photo of green northern lights

Taken with the Sony A7RII by: Michael Shainblum

Sony A7RII camera

Sony A7RII

Recommended by: Michael Shainblum – Photographer and Filmmaker

Weight:21oz / 582g (without lens)
Megapixels:42.4
Weather resistant:Yes

It is a compact mirrorless full frame camera that shoots 4K video and 42 megapixel images with high dynamic range. It weighs a lot less then my Canon DSLRs and is much higher quality. One downside is the battery life, I need to bring extra batteries since they die quickly and the weather sealing is not perfect. So I bring a plastic rain cover in my bag with me.

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Photo of trees

Taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II by: Itai Danan

Olympus best camera for backpacking

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Recommended by: Itai Danan – Owner of Neocamera and avid travel photographer

Weight:16.5oz / 467g (without lens)
Megapixels:16
Weather resistant:Yes

Working for Neocamera has allowed me to actually use digital cameras from all major manufacturer and test then under adverse conditions such as the Canadian winter. The reality is that today there are plenty of very good cameras and nearly all mirrorless and DSLRs are capable of taking fantastic pictures. But the outdoor photographer needs something light, compact, durable and easy to use in all sorts of weather, and while wearing gloves. This last one actually is critical and not that many digital cameras make their controls easy to use and features accessible without entering the menu system. The key is to find the most compact camera that still delivers high image quality andgood controls in a weatherproof body. For this I recommend the Olympus OM-DE-M5 Mark II.

It is a Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless camera with image quality comparable to a DSLR except in very low-light (when hikers are not usually very active), yet has a much smaller footprint. Its Micro Four-Thirds Sensor also means that lenses for it are smaller than equivalent ones for a DSLR or even mirrorless cameras with larger sensors.

The E-M5 Mark II is very capable and has plenty of external and even customizable buttons, so that someone can use it efficiently even while wearing gloves. Its body is weatherproof and freezeproof to -10ºC. It is also rather fast with 10 FPS continuous drive in case one wants to capture wildlife. Also, the built-in stabilization is superb and helps get a steady shot when the shooter is tired and cannot get perfectly still.

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Best compact cameras for backpacking and hiking

Mountains and sky

Taken with the Olympus TG-5 Tough by: Warren Dobe

Olympus Tough camera

Olympus TG-5 Tough

Recommended by: Warren Dobe – Outdoors and travel addict

Weight:8.8oz / 250g
Megapixels:12
Weather resistant:Yes

Most recently I have been taking my photos with the Olympus TG-5 Tough Waterproof camera. I needed to source a camera that would serve me well for my sailing and mountaineering trip to Antarctica. Mostly due to its reliability, ability to survive the cold (-10ºC); waterproof to 15m and shock resistant (2m drop height). It has most of the standard compact camera settings and also GPS to track where the shot was taken from.

I believe photography in the outdoors is all about simplicity and being in the moment. Being able to access a quality camera quickly and know you can point and shoot with confidence that you will get a quality shot is essential. And to know the camera will survive no matter what the circumstances is also a major bonus. The Olympus Tough certainly fits that description and comes highly recommended from me!

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trees in swamp

Photos taken with the Canon PowerShot SX720 HS by: Daan Vreugdenhil

Canon compact camera

Canon PowerShot SX720 HS

Recommended by: Daan Vreugdenhil – Professional Ecologist

Weight:9.6oz / 272g
Megapixels:20.3
Weather resistant:No

I have been lugging along camera bodies with different focal lenses since I was 15, half a century ago! The last time I did so was on assignment for the national parks service of Ethiopia. On that mission, I carried a Canon body with a so-called vacation lens of 35 – 270 mm, as well as a compact Canon SX720HS. Being on the move constantly in the mountains, lugging a large camera is a hassle. While much slower that the professional camera, I had this little compact Canon camera in my breast pocket (out of harms way compared with having it in a pocket of my pants) wherever I went: on trails, in museums, on historical sites, at dinners – everywhere.

While the pictures I take with the Canon don’t match up with powerful DSLR cameras, they make up for the fact that you always have your camera with you when it fits in the pocket of your field shirt.

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Ricoh camera

Ricoh GR II

Recommended by: Mike Peysner – Photographer

Weight:9.6oz / 272g
Megapixels:16.2
Weather resistant:No

I absolutely love that the Ricoh GR II is so compact while still having great image quality. It’s simple to use and the JPG images look great right out of the camera without needing to do much editing to make them look good. It can still be a great idea to set the white balance (shade, cloudy, etc.) but otherwise just having this camera set to Aperture Priority mode will give you good results without any effort.

Being a professional photographer for many years now I’ve learned that when a camera and lens combination is more simple it inspires you to be more creative. Compositions, exposures, and moments become the focus instead of fiddling with settings or endlessly zooming in and out with the lens. The result is that your imagination kicks in and your photos become more creative and storytelling.

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Things to look for in the best cameras for backpacking and hiking

Weight

With the focus of pack weight becoming more and more important to backpackers and hikers, adding a 25oz (700g) chunk of memory capturing equipment to your pack is (in terms of weight) the difference between being cold at night, or not. Packing those extra layers, spare socks and a warmer sleeping bag instead would equate much happier and cosy snooze time. So keeping your camera as lightweight as possible is kind of important too.

Exactly how lightweight you go really depends on the quality of photographs you wish to be taking while out in the wild.

Compact cameras

While some of the lightweight compacts can weigh as little as 7.8oz (220g), you won’t be capturing award winning shots any time soon. For those wanting to simply make a record of their trip, compact cameras are ideal, and their small size makes them super accessible to snap away while on the move.

DSLR cameras

On the other end of the spectrum, however, a top level DSLR can weigh in at around 32oz (900g) for the camera body alone. That’s a few days worth of hiking food right there! But if taking wilderness photos is your thing, then you’ll find a way to carry it (along with all your other camera equipment), even if does mean foregoing a meal or three here and there!

Mirrorless cameras

The rise of mirrorless cameras bridges this vast gap of weight to quality ratio between compacts and DSLRs. Usually weighing around 13oz (368g) for a mirrorless camera body, these little beauties compete fiercely with their DSLR superiors in terms of image quality and shooting options. They are ideal cameras for backpacking and hiking when taking pics is more than just capturing a memory.

Size

As with weight, the size of most cameras for backpacking ideally needs to be as small as possible to not take up valuable pack space. And of course weight and size go hand in hand.

However, aside from the physical space required to carry a camera in your pack, its size can also impact on how convenient it is to use. A compact camera that fits in your pant pocket or the waist belt of your backpack will get way more use than a DSLR that you have to get out and put away each time you use it.

For this reason, many hikers keep larger cameras around their necks while on the move – fine if you’re on easy terrain, but less easy to deal with when the going gets a bit tough. Again, this is where the smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras really come into their own – they are much easier and more comfortable to carry mounted onto the shoulder strap of your backpack using a camera clip.

Weatherproof

Another important thing to consider when choosing a camera for backpacking and hiking is how well it will stand up to the elements. And how good you need it to be at this.

  • Rain

    All cameras have varying degrees of waterproofing ranging from the fully submergible Olympus Tough to cameras that can only deal with light drizzle, at best. Weatherproof compact cameras often end up being more pricey without offering more in terms of image quality, but are worth every penny when being used in more extreme environments. When it comes to mirrorless and DSLR cameras, like compacts, the price tag is very much on the hefty side if they are weather sealed.

    Unless you are likely to be hiking (and shooting) in predominantly rainy conditions then a better option is to cut the price tag in half and use specialised camera dry bags.

  • Cold

    Another thing to consider when it comes to exposure to the elements, is the ability of the camera to deal with the cold. Battery life can become a real issue in sub-zero temperatures so it’s always worth carrying more spares than you think you’ll need. But there are also some cameras that have no issues with functioning in the cold like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II which is freezeproof to -10ºC.

    It’s also key that, if hiking in cold conditions, you are able use the camera while wearing gloves. Touchscreens instantly become a no-go, as do many cameras with small/fiddly buttons and controllers. Of course many of you won’t be backpacking in conditions where frostbite is likely to set in during the time it takes to capture the perfect photo. But if you want to be able to use your camera for winter trips, mountaineering or skiing, then this is certainly something to consider.

Image quality

If you’re looking to get killer shots every time then you need to opt for something with a high number of megapixels (MPs). The more MPs the higher the image quality. This is especially important if you intend on printing large versions of your photos. And the more MPs there are, the more room you have to play around with the images when editing them.

However, if you’re unlikely to only ever view your shots on a screen then you can save some cash and opt for a less technical camera with less MPs.


Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article, helping us figure out which is the best camera for backpacking and hiking.

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