They say that the first step to solving a problem is to admit you have one. Okay, I’ll admit it. I can’t stand to leave my camera behind when I venture into the outdoors. I’ve tried many times but I can’t avoid the unassailable conviction that the first time I leave my camera behind I will be presented with photographic opportunities of unparalleled beauty. Accepting the inevitable, I began trying to find out all the ways how to carry a DSLR camera hiking, snowshoeing and generally being out and about.
How to Carry a DSLR Camera Hiking
Here are the ways that I’ve tried with some commentary on how they worked for me. Everyone is different so your mileage may vary. Keep in mind that as a avid photographer I sometimes carry a fair bit of photography equipment with me (Canon 7D, 24-105, 70-200, 10-22, 100mm macro, tripod).
Osprey Talon 22 Backpack
One of the easiest and cheapest ways to carry a DSLR camera hiking is to just put it in your backpack. I found a number of shortcomings to this though, the biggest being that your camera is not available for use unless you stop, remove your backpack and dig through it. That gets old really quickly and if you want candid shots of wildlife or your hiking companions it will be too late by the time you dig your camera out. I found that I got sick of doing this and would just skip taking many shots. Another hazard to this method is that your camera can bang and rub on other hard objects in your pack as you move. I now only use this method if it’s raining very hard and I won’t be taking photos anyway.
The Osprey Talon 22 can be used with this method.
Regular Camera Neck Strap
Carry a DSLR camera hiking with a Canon Camera Strap
Most cameras come with a strap meant to be worn around your neck with the camera hanging down on your chest. I found this worked poorly for me since the strap chafed my neck, allowed the camera to swing dangerously close to rocks and other objects when bending down and flapped in the wind causing vibrations when I had the camera on a tripod. I now have a growing collection of brand new neck straps collecting dust so that should tell how much I like this method.
Amazon has regular Canon camera straps.
Carry a DSLR camera hiking with a Black Rapid Classic Retro Camera Strap
This is a simple strap worn diagonally across your torso. Your camera dangles from this strap using a swivel fitting screwed into your camera’s tripod screw. A DIY variation of this can be made with some nylon web strap and a carabiner. For some light outings where I’m doing more shooting than hiking (e.g. shooting a rugby game or walking around town) I really like this method. It’s unobtrusive yet leaves your camera immediately available and you don’t look a total photo dork if you’re just walking around the local sports field. For any kind of more serious walking, however, it leaves your camera able to swing around way too much to be of much value on a hike.
The RS4 on Amazon
Carry a DSLR camera hiking with a Lowepro Toploader Pro
A Toploader is a small camera pouch worn on your chest (e.g. Lowepro Toploader). It attaches via a lightweight harness you wear over your shoulders (like a backpack in reverse). Toploaders offer an excellent way to keep your camera ready for use but safe from bumps, bruises and the elements. The straps don’t interfere with backpack straps so they can be worn together. Toploader are available in a variety of sizes depending on how long a lens you travel with. I used a Toploader for several years and was very happy with it. My only gripes were that it impaired your vision a little when going downhill and that you still had the bulk on your chest even when you had the camera out shooting.
Carry a DSLR camera hiking with a Cotton Carrier G3 Camera Harness
I tried the Cotton Carrier and was instantly sold. This system consists of a lightweight chest plate with over-the-shoulder straps similar to a Toploader and a small slotted hub you screw into your camera’s tripod screw. To fit the camera onto the chest plate you turn your camera so it faces 90 degrees to left or right, slide the hub into a matching slot on the chest plate and then let the camera hang with the lens facing down. The hub is constructed in such a way that the camera is securely locked into the plate when facing down but is free to slide out when the camera faces to the side. I have run downhill on snowshoes and the camera stayed firmly locked in place and yet I could have it out and shooting in less than 1 second. My hiking companions have started calling me ‘quick draw’. For even more security (perhaps when mountain biking or downhill skiing) there is a Lens Stabilization Strap which can be fitted over the lens and a camera tether available. I’ve never felt the need to use either. The Cotton Carrier is now my preferred way of carrying a camera. When I need protection from the weather I use rain sleeves from the same manufacturer. These work well in light rain. In heavier weather I’m unlikely to be taking photos anyway so I just put the camera in my backpack.
There are no doubt other ways to carry your camera but these are the ones I’ve tried so far. If you have other ways which work well for you I’d love to hear about them. I have no affiliation with any of the products listed here.
Originally posted April 2011. Updated July 2020.