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

I see a lot of women carrying DSLRs yet the camera and camera bag industries are still very heavily catered towards men. That means a lot of masculine-looking, large, heavy bags and carrying cases. There are bags for women but the selection is pretty limited and doesn’t really address other needs women have, namely an all-in-one camera + handbag.

In this article, I’m going to share my favorite pieces of DSLR carrying gear and how I use them in different travel scenarios. I travel internationally around 3 times a year and have spent a pretty long amount of time researching and figuring out the most comfortable, effective and affordable ways to travel with a DSLR.

I hope this article helps you. 🙂

{Core DSLR Carrying Gear for Women}

I have whittled my camera carrying gear to a few items:

  • a camera strap (not the one the camera came with, $32)
  • a crossbody bag ($40)
  • a chest harness ($17)
  • regular backpack ($60-$80)
  • lens pouches ($14)
  • strap tether ($5)

And to be honest I think I could reduce it even further, by getting rid of the chest harness. So for about $200 I’ve got all the carrying gear that I need for a variety of scenarios. I have all of this gear but I don’t necessarily take all of it with me on all of my trips. It depends on where I’m going and the conditions and scenarios I’ll be photographing. I’ll break down scenarios below.

I looked into a variety of carrying bags, cases, straps, and systems from backpacks, to specialized camera packs, holsters, and cross body bags.

{Specialty Camera Bag vs. Good Old Backpack}

I found a lot of specialized camera bags are vey nice but they are really made for men.

For traveling, your camera bag doubles as your carry on. So you need it to have space for your laptop/tablet, a light jacket, maybe some snacks, toiletries/makeup and other travel essentials. Most camera bags do not accommodate those needs. They’re really great for what they’re meant to do, carry your camera gear, but personally I found them impractical for the modern traveler and women.

Instead I found a regular, backpack like the ones we used to carry to school are the best. In particular, I’m a big fan of Ogio’s Soho Women’s Laptop Backpack. I’ve had mine for 7 years and taken it on serious hikes and treks, as well as using it as a daypack in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, London, Paris, Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, Uganda, Australia, Canada and the bag is still super sturdy.

This backpack fits everything I need during long haul flights, day trips, or even trekking in the rain forest.

{Crossbody DSLR Bag}

I also like my Lowepro crossbody bag. (I bought it on Amazon ~$40). This bag is comfortable and fits my camera body with a zoom lens attached, plus my nifty fifty lens, along with extra memory cards, cleaning wipes and even a small wallet, hotel key, my lip balm, and tissues. The drawbacks of this bag are that it screams, “camera bag!” and the strap can get a bit uncomfortable as it’s not padded. I travel with this bag when I want quick access to my camera without having to stop and reach into my backpack to get it. I’ll also use this for rain forest and trekking hikes as it comes with a rain cover.

Lowepro-Toploader.jpg

What I can fit into my Lowepro crossbody.

{Chest Harnesses and Camera Straps}

I also bought the chest harness ($17 on Amazon) that can be attached to the cross body bag. This is for maximizing comfort while also maintaining quick access to the camera and protecting it from the elements. The harness attaches to the Lowepro crossbody bag. Let’s be real, this is very unattractive and VERY dorky looking. I travel pretty often and I’ve never seen another person in all my global travels – man nor woman – donning one of these. So you have to be all in to wear this. I wore this thing throughout Costa Rica and I was VERY comfortable. But I have to be honest, I regret many of the photos that I’m in because I’ve got this huge bulky thing on.

What the chest harness attached to the Lowepro bag look like, on. Photo taken at Manual Antonio National Park, Costa Rica, 2017.
Lowepro-Chest-Harness.jpg
Lowepro chest harness to attach to carrying case

Just a month ago I found this Joby camera strap. I took it with me to go gorilla and chimp trekking in Uganda and this strap is my official chest harness replacement. The Joby strap is perfect for women (even very short women). I was trekking through extremely thick foliage in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Kibale National Park and I had the super quick access to the camera that I absolutely needed, it was very comfortable and locks into place on your person. The camera is not protected from the elements and even in those tough trekking conditions it was fine. I had a rain cover in my pocket that I could whip out at a moments notice as it’s not called a tropical rain forest for nothing!

The camera locks into place on your person and will not swing around.
ps://passportpagesco.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/img_7456.jpg” alt=”” width=”960″ height=”1288″ /> The strap isn’t padded but it wasn’t uncomfortable. You grab the O-ring and the camera and pull them in opposite directions to tighten or loosen the camera while wearing it. Very simple, effective design!

[/caption]

Attach the strap within minutes. No cumbersome installation.
In addition to the strap, invest $5 in a secondary tether. This doesn’t have to be Joby’s tether. Altura sells a very good one for less.
Install tether into the eyelet on your DSLR – only takes a few minutes and really worth it.

{Buying the Right Sling Strap}

Before selecting the Joby Sling Strap, I looked into the Black Rapid Curve Strap, Altura Rapid Fire Neck Strap and the new Cotton Carrier Skout. The Skout was immediately disqualified because it’s not available yet and I needed something immediately.

Black Rapid vs. Altura vs. Joby

There’s a big price difference between the Black Rapid Curve ($80), the Altura Rapid Fire ($20) and the Joby is right in-between at $32. Features that I liked about the Black Rapid strap were that the strap is curved like its name, which is more ergonomic. The strap has a mesh lining to release heat – making it breathable. It attaches to the camera in the tripod connection just like the Joby UltraFit Sling Strap, but it comes with the tether redundancy. And the tether is more secure compared to the tether on the Altura Rapid Fire. Additionally it has a locking mechanism so that when the camera is not in use, you can lock it in place on your side.

The Altura Rapid Fire is basically a low cost copy of the Black Rapid Curve without some of the features: mesh lining for releasing heat, the curved ergonomic strap, extra secure tether, and no locking mechanism at all. The strap itself doubles as pocket to carry extra memory cards or a microfiber towel. That’s nice, but not a reason to buy that strap. You get what you pay for and the reason why the Altura is so much less expensive compared to the Black Rapid is because it doesn’t have the most important features that the Black Rapid does.

But I went with Joby. And the reason I didn’t buy the Black Rapid nor Altura Rapid Fire was because, in my opinion both have a big design flaw – the camera swivels. Even though you can lock it in place on the Black Rapid Curve so that when you bend down, the camera won’t fall forward – it still swivels on your back and when you’re walking. And the Altura just has no locking mechanism at all.

The Joby has a locking mechanism that keeps the camera secured to your body – no swivel AND stays in place when you bend down. In the photo below, I’m bending down to pick up something from the floor and the camera didn’t move!

So, I really like the locking mechanism on the Joby. The two things that I don’t like about the Joby are that the strap doesn’t have padding. It’s still comfortable, but I wish it had some padding. And it doesn’t come with the tether redundancy. I had to buy that separately. But still, overall I spent $32 for the strap + tether and got a functional, comfortable strap that women of all sizes can wear.

There are separate Joby straps for men and women. The strap is adjustable, so you can adjust it to your height. They’re one size fits all. I’m 4’11” and the women’s strap fits! I wear it at its shortest length and it’s perfect.

I just received the strap today and it literally took only a few minutes to attach it to the tripod connection on the bottom of my camera, and I was ready to go! It’s super comfortable, functions really well and my camera feels firmly secured on it. For extra peace-of-mind, I also bought the Altura tether as a redundancy just in case the Joby connection ever gets loose.

You just thread the tether through one of the eyelets on your camera and attach the lock side to the sling strap. For the $8 I spent on the tether it’s worth it.

{Lens Pouches}

I bought these lens pouches. I love these! They do a great job of keeping my lenses secure and protected and were under $15! These fit nicely into my daypack and are perfect for when you’re traveling with lenses that aren’t attached to the camera body.81KaYA5bRAL._SL1500_.jpg

{DSLR Photography Scenarios and What Gear to Carry for Each}

Now that we’ve gone over camera carrying gear, let’s talk about what gear to use in various scenarios. There’s not one right answer on how to carry your camera while hiking, trekking or in transit. It really depends on where you are, the hiking conditions, what other gear/luggage you have with you and your individual comfort. You might need a couple different bags on a single trip. Let’s first address hiking and trekking.

{Where You’re Hiking and The Conditions}

Considerations that will determine how to carry your DSLR while hiking and/or trekking:

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

Quick camera access not required. Whenever I’m hiking in an area with great vistas but not necessarily a lot of wildlife, I’ll carry my DSLR in my Ogio backpack because I know I won’t need quick access to my camera. Alternatively, I could carry my DSLR in my crossbody bag, chest harness, or Joby strap, but I personally find the backpack the most comfortable. If I carry it in my backpack, I know that during the hike I’ll have time to stop, remove the camera from my pack and then shoot photos — but in this scenario I’m ok with that. What I do is have the Joby strap attached to the camera anyway, so if I  change my mind while hiking I can easily wear the camera too.

When I was in Belize recently 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 with 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, crossbody bag and the Joby strap.

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

Below is a photo of my husband and I at Tikal, Guatemala. I didn’t take the chest harness because I didn’t need it. The crossbody carrier was perfect.


Quick camera access required. Whenever I need quick access to my camera, I go for a chest harness or the Joby strap. 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 which makes long or strenuous hikes much easier. I’ll leave the lid of the crossbody bag open so I can quickly grab the camera out and start taking photos.

On hikes where I need my hands to scoot, or hold onto something I prefer the chest harness as well, as the camera is secured and chances of it bumping against a boulder or debris are slim. The chest harness leaves me completely hands free.

The Joby strap on the other hand, locks the camera into place on me, but if I’m butt scooting or have to walk through heavy brush like I did in Uganda I found myself holding my camera in one hand in a protective hold vs. being completely hands-free with the chest harness.

When I was in Corcovado in Costa Rica 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 glad that I had the chest harness in Costa Rica which was more comfortable than the crossbody. I didn’t have the Joby strap during that trip and now looking back, if I had I probably would’ve replaced the chest harness with the Joby strap reason being, I don’t like how the chest harness looks on me in photos.

In Manuel Antonio it was really hot and overall I think I was able to be out longer because I was comfortable wearing the chest harness. Couple extreme heat with an uncomfortable camera and that’s a recipe for crankiness. Again looking back I could have replaced the chest harness with the Joby strap or just worn the crossbody without the chest harness.

{What About Carrying Multiple Lenses and Tripods?}

I am a hobbyist photographer. I tend to travel with 1-2 lenses. One lens stays attached to the camera body and the other in a pouch in my backpack or in pouches in my Lowepro crossbody.

This is where preparing before your trip is really important. Spend time before you leave to understand the shooting conditions ie will you need a zoom lens? Low light capability? Wide angle?

For my trip to Costa Rica my Canon 55-250mm was perfect. I was shooting on bright and sunny days and zoom was the most important thing I needed. For my trip to Uganda I had to rent a lens because I needed a lens with a wide zoom range as well as good low light capability.

For the most part I have one primary lens and a back up for special scenarios.

I don’t travel with a tripod.

{Different DSLR Harnesses}

A quick note here about harnesses. I bought the chest harness that attaches to my Lowepro crossbody. You may have also seen Cotton Carrier’s chest harness system (below). My issue with that carrier system is that the camera is completely exposed, whereas with mine I could protect the camera by carrying it inside my padded Lowepro bag. But I still had quick access.

Cotton Carrier chest harness. The camera is exposed.

Cotton Carrier also makes a harness that attaches to the strap of your daypack/backpack. Again the camera is exposed and I don’t like that the weight is all on one shoulder.

{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 at Victoria Falls, so now I’m really sensitive about this! I had to buy a new camera – that was an expensive mistake!

{Function Over Fashion} 

For me carrying my camera in my backpack, on my back is the most comfortable. But for some hikes or treks as mentioned above where you’re going to be coming across wildlife, 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. 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 carry your camera.

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t the chest harness awkward for women…anatomy wise? And surprisingly no, it wasn’t.

I found the Joby strap to be the best of both worlds. It looks normal and it’s comfortable and functional. As for protecting the camera against the elements, I always kept a cover on me that I could access quickly.

{How I Carry My Camera in Transit}

For each of my trips I either take:

  1. Osprey pack (check in or carry on in overhead bin) + Ogio daypack (carry on under seat in front of me)
  2. Roller suitcase (carry on overhead bins) + Ogio daypack (carry on under the seat in front of me)

For traveling on the plane, I usually wrap the camera body (without lens attached) in a heavy scarf and place it inside my Ogio backpack. I keep my lenses in these pouches, also in my backpack. That way I can put the crossbody Lowepro carrier in my checked luggage rather than my daypack, as it would make my daypack very bulky and uncomfortable. And to save space, I fill up the crossbody carrier with socks and panties.

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.

{My Uganda Itinerary}

  • Fly into Entebbe and stay for 1 night
  • Fly to Murchison Falls – 3 nights
  • Fly to Kasese Airstrip + drive 2 hours to Fort Portal – 2 nights
  • Fly to Kihihi Airstrip + drive 1.5 hours to Buhoma area of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
  • Fly to Entebbe Airport from Kihihi airstrip

I only took my Joby strap.

{My Uruguay Itinerary}

  • Fly into Carrasco International Airport
  • Stay in Montevideo 9 nights
  • Day trips to Colonia, wandering around Montevideo and maybe Punta del Este depending on weather

I’m taking my roller bag and Ogio backpack + crossbody Lowepro carrier and Joby strap.

{My Toronto Itinerary}

  • Fly into Toronto Pearson Airport
  • Drive to accommodation in Brampton – stay 5 nights
  • Day trips to Niagara Falls, City center (Royal Ontario Museum, Dundas Square), Shopping at Square One Mall, Mississauga

I’m taking my Lowepro Carrier and Joby strap.


{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 or carrying system 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
Straps: hiking, social events, walking around a city

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

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

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