How To Document Your Thru-Hike
First of all don’t worry about documenting your experience. Part of the joy of being on the trail is the present moment, every mile of it. You should also know off hand that no matter what picture you capture, it won’t be as beautiful and dynamic as the actual moment you are living it.
However, we all love those visual memories. I was no exception, going so far as to film my experience. Granted, I had an idea of my story before I left and knew, for the most part, where the story was going to go. That is the benefit of being a filmmaker. Even though I was out there with the main purpose of filming a documentary, capturing those amazing moments were a lot more difficult than I could have ever imagined. With that in mind, here are some tips on how you can maximize your camera use without obsessing over it.
It is very difficult to get a camera out as quickly as you see a bear or deer. Having a camera in a spot that is easily accessible is the key to a successful shot. I kept my still camera hooked on a carabineer on my hip belt and it afforded me some great shots of snakes and deer.
Honestly, you can’t get through a conversation about hiking without talking about weight, even when it comes to what kind of camera you are using. Each of us have our priorities and mine was worth 8 pounds in audio and camera gear. However, if you are just looking to hike without making a full-length feature film, you can easily bring along a camera that captures both stunning video and stills in one package.
Having an “indestructible” camera is the way to go. My point and shoot could smash up against rocks, go underwater and still take beautiful images.
More than likely if you are reading this post, you are into doing some research. There are so many cameras out there and each have their pro’s and con’s. I was given a great deal of advice from filmmakers and hikers on what might be best for me to use on my trek. Here is the gear list I chose to make my documentary Hard Way Home:
GoPro Hero 2 – I started with three of these bad boys and every mount imaginable. I quickly realized that a third camera was overkill and sent one home. At times I tried to shoot with two at once, but, often didn’t. The GoPro is great because it comes with waterproof encasings that help on the sometimes too often rainy days. The disadvantages were the battery life. 3 hours tops, so I really had to pick and choose what I shot despite having 5 batteries. In the end, I had mounted the camera to my head, my trekking pole, my backpack and accumulated 700 hours of footage. I would definitely recommend the new GoPro, it is a lighter model. You can find that and some killer video samples here: www.gopro.com
H4nZoom Audio Recorder – I knew the GoPro didn’t have a great internal audio microphone. Knowing that my film had to be more than a glorified slide show I decided to take an audio recorder with me. The H4nZoom is a great recorder and allows for on site monitoring. The down side is the weight, and it was kept in a big ziplock bag in case my pack got soaked through, which, of course, it did.
Pentax Optio WG-3 – This camera was indestructible. I even upon occasion would smash it into rocks in the white’s (not on purpose of course) and it wouldn’t break. The pictures I took were more for my personal use though some of them ended up being in the final film. This is the camera I kept hanging from my hip belt and never hike without.
iPhone 4 – The A.T. destroyed the otter box that kept my phone safe. It was rare that I used it, but, when I did I was taking photos and uploading via instagram or updating my blog for the film.
With all of this technology taking up prime pack real estate, I had to set up a way to back up the media. I carried pre-stamped, pre-addressed small bubble mailers to mail my SD cards to my Assistant Editor in Boston. She would then download them and save to two separate external hard drives before mailing them ahead to my next mail drop. Most hikers send food in their mail drops, I sent SD cards. I also kept what SD cards I had in a waterproof container. Out of 700 hours of footage I only lost one SD card in the mailing process. Not a bad ratio.
When it comes down to it you need to find what is most important to you to use as a documentation source and keep in mind the elements will battle you tooth in nail. In the beginning I carried a solar charger, which worked until the trees grew leaves. At that point, it just seemed silly. Keep in mind the best part about the experience is being disconnected, bring the camera to capture some of the best moments, but remember to be present while experiencing them.
Check out the trailer for my documentary, Hard Way Home.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Great article! I plan to thru-hike the A.T. next March. I am a writer, and plan to document my trip in multiple ways! I have a dated Zoom H2 recorder, and a brand new cheapo recorder, and I’ve been struggling with the decision of which one to bring, or whether or not to buy a new one. I’m also interested in purchasing a GoPro. Your advice will definitely aid me in my decision-making. Thank you!
I am also attempting a thru hike on the AT. I’ll be flip flopping from Harpers Ferry. I also plan to document my journey with video and audio. Your take on the products has helped but your advise to be present resonates most strongly.