How to Carry Your DSLR While Hiking and Traveling: For Women

I love taking photos and I take my DSLR on every trip I go on. I see a lot of women carrying DSLRs yet the camera bag industry is still very heavily catered towards men. That means masculine-looking, large, heavy bags and carrying cases. There are bags for women but the selection is very limited and it’s even worse for petite women.

Before my trip to Africa last year, I must’ve spent 15 hours researching bags and how to carry my DSLR. And the reason I published this article is because I spent a lot of time researching this topic and couldn’t find info in one place and in detail to prepare me for one of my trips. I pieced the info together from several different sources. During my research I looked into everything from backpacks, to really high end, fancy camera packs, holsters, and cross body bags.

In the end I found a Lowepro crossbody bag that I bought on Amazon.

Lowepro-Toploader.jpg

I also bought the chest harness that can be attached to the cross body bag.

Lowepro-Chest-Harness.jpg

I also bought these lens pouches. I love these! They do a great job of keeping my lenses secure and were under $15!81KaYA5bRAL._SL1500_.jpg.

In addition to these items, I use my regular backpack. As a woman – and for petite women – in particular, I found these items offered the most value and comfort and I explain in more detail below.


There’s not one right answer to how to carry your camera while hiking or in transit. It really depends on where you are, the hiking conditions, what gear you’re carrying, and individual comfort. You might need a couple different bags on a single trip. I mostly address the advantages and disadvantages of carrying your DSLR in:

  • a chest harness
  • a crossbody bag
  • a fancy special camera bag
  • a regular backpack

Let’s first address hiking. If you want, you can scroll down to the In-Transit section.

{Where You’re Hiking and The Conditions}

Considerations that will determine what to carry your DSLR in while hiking:

  • do you need quick access to the camera (i.e. photographing animals) vs. vistas?
  • how strenuous is the hike?
  • weather conditions

Whenever I’m hiking in an area with great vistas but not necessarily a lot of wildlife, I’ll carry my DSLR in my regular backpack because I won’t need quick access to my camera; and amongst the options of carrying my DSLR in my backpack, crossbody, or chest harness, I find the backpack the most comfortable. I know that during the hike I’ll have time to stop, remove the camera from my pack and shoot.

Whenever I need quick access to my camera, I go for a chest harness or crossbody. I like the chest harness because the camera is more stable and the weight of the camera is distributed on my upper body instead of my neck. But it also depends on how strenuous and how long the hike is. On hikes where I need my hands to scoot, or hold onto something I prefer the chest harness, also because when the camera’s on my side in a crossbody it’s easier for it to scrape/bump against stuff in the environment.

When I was in Corcovado in Costa Rica a few months ago, I wore my DSLR in a chest harness. That’s a more serious, rugged hike and I optimized for having really quick access to the camera as the wildlife there is abundant – Spider Monkeys, Cappuccino Monkeys, Howlers, spiders, ants galore, and of course tapirs. (We saw the tracks of a tapir but didn’t get to actually see one.). Overall I was really really really (you get how glad I was) glad that I had the chest harness in Costa Rica. And for me, the chest harness was more comfortable than the crossbody.

In Manuel Antonio it was really hot and overall I think I was able to be out longer because I was comfortable in the chest harness. Couple extreme heat with an uncomfortable camera and that’s a recipe for crankiness.

Looking back I could’ve worn my crossbody bag at Manuel Antonio as well. We saw sloths, deer, snakes, and monkeys but I didn’t need super quick camera access and the chest harness isn’t the cutest look. But the chest harness is more comfy and looks were less of a priority that day.

{Protecting Your DSLR Camera From the Elements}

You also want your camera to be protected from the elements. Get rain covers. My Lowepro crossbody bag came with one and I bought a generic one from Amazon for my backpack. I also always travel with a few extra large plastic bags and ziploc bags.

I haven’t needed a proper dry bag yet, but I wouldn’t hesitate to get one – plus they’re not expensive.

If it’s raining or snowing a lot I just put my camera away completely – as in just enjoy the experience sans DSLR photos. For me it’s just too risky and not worth potentially ruining my camera. If it’s drizzling I still use the camera but have a plastic cover for it. You can find any number of these on Amazon.

One of my cameras died from water damage, so now I’m really sensitive about this! I had to buy a new camera – that was an expensive mistake!


When I was in Belize this past week I didn’t even take the chest harness with me. I only took my crossbody bag as I went to San Ignacio and Caye Caulker which are not areas known for having a lot of wildlife, we didn’t do any strenuous hikes and it was more of a leisurely walking around sort of trip. If I’d gone to the Cockscomb Jaguar Sanctuary, I would’ve taken the chest harness.

So as you can see it really depends on where you’re hiking, what you’ll be shooting photos of, the gear you’re going to carry and ensuring your own comfort.

Crossbody bag that fits camera body + a zoom and small wide angle lens, plus room for extra memory cards, and cleaning wipes.

{Function Over Fashion

For me carrying my camera in my backpack on my back is the most comfortable. But for some hikes, if your camera is tucked away in your backpack, then you might as well not carry a camera. Having it in the backpack is useless. If you actually want to use your camera, I think the chest harness is the most comfortable because the weight is not hanging from your neck. Unfortunately, the chest harness is also the most unattractive way to camera your camera, as you can see below.

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t the chest harness awkward for women…anatomy wise? And surprisingly no, it wasn’t. But let me keep it real, in all of my travels to over 30 countries over 15 years, I have never seen anyone carrying a chest harness. No men, no women, no one. I’m not one to let that stop me, as you can see, but just wanted to share that. My perspective was there were tons of parents carrying their baby, and I carried my camera!

Do you find the strap of the bag on the crossbody as well as the camera itself, get really uncomfortable after a while? That’s my only complaint with my Lowepro crossbody. I typically carry a wide angle and a zoom lens. I’m 4’11, and petite so for me that’s a lot of weight and if you’re on a long hike I tend to stop caring so much about how cute I look vs. how comfortable I am.

With the chest harness I had such quick access to the camera that I didn’t feel the need to wear the strap around my neck (even though the risk of dropping the camera are equally likely regardless of what bag I carried).

The crossbody bag is a lot more inconspicuous.

{Fancy Camera Bag or Daypack?}

In Costa Rica I was optimizing for having my camera quickly accessible to capture images of animals. I also wanted my camera to be protected from the elements. In Belize that wasn’t a need and we didn’t do any long hikes (except ATM and you can’t take your camera, anyway).

I researched some of the fancified camera bags that Lowepro and a few other companies make, that are meant for carrying your camera while hiking, but they all still had limitations.

Camera Bag = Day Pack. One of my biggest concerns was that a fancy camera bag would have to become my carryon and daypack. And those bags aren’t designed for that. They don’t have enough storage for the other things you might need such as laptop, snacks, rain jacket, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and other travel essentials – all at the same time. I either didn’t find any or they were way out of the price range I was willing to spend ($200).

And I didn’t want to buy an expensive bag that didn’t fit all of my needs in various scenarios, so below I describe how I carry my camera in transit.

{How I Carry My Camera in Transit}

For each of my trips I either take:

  1. Osprey pack + Ogio daypack
  2. Roller carry-on + Ogio daypack

For traveling on the plane, I usually wrap the camera body in a heavy scarf and put it inside a bag and then inside my Ogio backpack. I keep my lenses in these pouches, also in my backpack. That way I can put the crossbody bag in my Osprey pack or roller bag. It’s quite bulky so I don’t like carrying the crossbody in my backpack. I put the crossbody in my Osprey big pack or roller bag bag, and fill it up with socks and underwear.

I love my Ogio backpack. It’s feminine in style and color and has room for everything you might need – your laptop + charger, keys, snacks, water bottle, tablet, phone, extra clothes – literally everything – all simultaneously!

How I decide whether to take my Osprey pack vs. the roller bag depends on how much moving we’ll be doing at the destination and whether or not we’re doing any camping once we get there. In Costa Rica we moved around within the country a lot – every few days for 12 days so I took my Osprey pack. In Belize we only had two destinations at 4-5 nights each so my roller bag was perfect.

{My Costa Rica Itinerary}

  • Fly into San Jose International Airport
  • Drive to La Fortuna (Arenal) – 3 nights
  • Drive to Monteverde – 1 night
  • Drive to Uvita – 3 nights
  • Drive to Manuel Antanio – 3 nights
  • Drive back to San Jose Airport to head home

I did a fair bit of hiking in each location – hanging bridges, cloud forests, rain forest hikes, including pretty rugged hikes in Uvita and Corcovado; and I was REALLY REALLY glad that I had the chest harness. I was so comfortable and got some great photos!

{My Belize Itinerary}

  • Fly to Belize City Philip Goldson Airport
  • Drive to San Ignacio – 5 nighs
  • Fly to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
  • Water taxi to Caye Caulker – 4 nights
  • Water taxi back to Belize City

I was glad I didn’t bring my chest harness.

{Next Trip}

Costa Rica and Belize were my most recent trips. Last year we went to Toronto, London, Paris, Capetown, Zimbabwe and Botswana. We haven’t decided where we’re headed next but we’re looking into East Africa. I really want to go gorilla trekking and if we do, I’ll definitely take the chest harness. As I understand some of those hikes get pretty strenuous, so I’ll seek maximum comfort.


{Conclusion}

How to carry your DSLR while hiking and traveling is something worth spending some time to be thoughtful with. It’s a big investment to have a camera, so you want to get a lot of great use out of it and make sure you’re comfortable on the road too.

Each type of bag has a use case:

Backpacks: hikes that don’t require quick access to your camera
Chest harness: quick access, long hikes, strenuous hikes
Crossbody: quick access, shorter hikes, less strenuous hikes

I don’t go for specialized camera bags because they don’t double well as daypacks and can be quite expensive.

In transit, I wrap the camera body in substantial, heavy scarf and place it in my carry on along with my lenses. My crossbody bag and chest straps go in my checked Osprey pack or roller bag, stuffed with socks and underwear.

Samta at Tikal, Guatemala, carrying her crossbody bag

I hope you found this info helpful! If so, please let me know in the comments. I love hearing from our readers, as well as your fun, funny, interesting, and helpful stories from your travel experiences! You might like to follow us on Facebook and Instagram too, where we share a lot of different content and images.

Happy adding stamps to your PassportPages!

Sincerely,

Samta, Founder of PassportPages

{About PassportPages}

I created the PassportPages travel blog, to provide nuanced, detailed travel advice, tips, and hacks for traveling all over the world — from a unique and different perspective than the other popular travel blogs. There aren’t as many travel blogs geared towards:

  • petite women
  • vegetarians/vegan travelers
  • ethnic Americans, Canadians, and others

As a non-Caucasian there’s an additional layer to traveling abroad that other popular travel bloggers can’t relate to, like my experience on my most recent trip to Paris.

Other PassportPages articles you might like:

How to Use Your DSLR in Humid Conditions

Water Damage: Death of a DSLR


Women have specific travel needs and I’m really proud to be part of a community to share helpful tips and info. You might have seen links in this and other PassportPages articles to products on Amazon. I make a teensy amount of money if you purchase via my links, at NO additional cost to you. It’s Amazon’s way of rewarding bloggers for driving business to them. Thank you! 🙂

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