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Best cameras for thru-hikes

As you plan your upcoming thru-hike, you likely want to document it. If you are looking into cameras for the very first time, it can be pretty overwhelming. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the best cameras for thru-hikes. Also, you’ll find some specific recommendations below. From compact point-and-shoot to rugged action cameras, we’ll cover the pros and cons of each option so you can choose the best for your needs. Whether you are taking only photos, or want to shoot a whole film about your hike, capturing the moments and scenery of your trail can make the experience even more memorable.

Photo by Joël Wüstehube


Smartphone cameras are getting better every year. And the best part is, everyone has one. If you are going on a hike, you likely will take it with you anyway, so why not use it as a camera? Most smartphones now have good-quality cameras that can take decent photos and videos, they even have multiple lenses or a wide-angle lens which can be useful for taking different types of shots. They are also much more compact and lightweight than dedicated cameras. Smartphone cameras are also designed to be easy to use, so you don’t have to learn new things and can focus on the creative aspects.

However, you may not have the same level of control or flexibility as you would with a dedicated camera. Using your smartphone for photos and videos can drain the battery quickly, so it’s important to bring a portable charger or extra batteries. Also, if you shoot a lot of video clips, managing the files can be a pain as the internal memory is limited. Finally, the quality of the images is not as good as with larger cameras. Smartphones do a lot of tricks to overcome the problems of smaller image sensors, which is fine in most situations. But that leads to a more unnatural aesthetic of the captured images, especially in tough lighting situations. However, for accessibility, this is one of the best cameras for thru-hikes. 


Action cameras

Action cameras will not give you much higher quality footage than a smartphone. And they are not good for taking photos. But if you want to shoot video, they give you much better functionality and for video are the best cameras for thru-hikes. As the name suggests, these cameras are rugged, waterproof, and designed for adventure. Most action cams use interchangeable batteries and memory cards, so it’s much easier to keep them going for a long hike. 

They also have lots of built-in features to make them as easy to use as possible. If you’re not interested in fiddling around with menus, just press a button and you can shoot a video, a time-lapse of the stars, or a hyper-lapse (basically a time-lapse with movement) of you walking up a mountain. The sound is decent for most cameras, and it’s virtually impossible to get shaky footage with the built-in stabilization. You can quickly transfer the files to your phone to edit or post to social media while you are out on the trail. Due to the extremely wide-angle nature of most action cams, the footage has a certain aesthetic, but it’s a good option to combine with footage from your smartphone.


Point-and-shoot cameras

If you want to take your photography or video game to the next level, point-and-shoot cameras are a great option. Although they are almost extinct because the quality and ease of use of smartphone cameras are so good these days. You can’t change lenses on them, although most have very flexible zoom lenses. They also have very good built-in microphones, so there’s no need to add extra accessories to your gear list

Point-and-shoot cameras give you a lot more control and functionality than the types mentioned above. While they are bigger than an action cam, they are still small and light enough to fit in your fanny pack or hip belt pocket, which is one of the best features for cameras for thru-hikes. Most modern point-and-shoots offer almost as many features as large professional cameras. You get a much more natural image from them and you can get some very impressive shots. Of course, they are somewhat limited by their size. To get the most out of them, you’ll need to learn how to use them, otherwise, you may not get as satisfactory results as you would with a mobile phone.


Mirrorless cameras

If you don’t want to compromise on functionality and quality, mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses are the way to go. In recent years, they have overtaken the old DLSR cameras, and all the major manufacturers are focusing exclusively on mirrorless systems, which can be significantly less bulky than DSLRs. As the range goes from very cheap and small to large professional cameras, it is difficult to make any generalizations. But if you look hard enough, you can find smaller options that still offer a huge leap in quality compared to all the other options. 

The biggest advantage is interchangeable lenses. Lenses have a much greater influence on the final image than the camera itself. Ultra-wide-angle lenses are particularly good for landscapes and are not usually available on point-and-shoots. You can also use very compact prime lenses, which not only produce an impressive image but are also a huge advantage in the dark, as they let much more light into the camera. 

However, when you’re looking for the best cameras for a thru-hike, most of these cameras will be too big to fit in your pocket, so you will need to find an alternative to take with you on your trek. However, if you have a keen interest in photography and video, the extra weight is well worth it. Depending on the model, modern mirrorless cameras can give you almost the same image as a cinema camera.


Which is the best camera for your thru-hike?

So now you know about all of these cameras, but which is the *best* camera for your thru-hike?

If you have no experience with cameras and no time or interest to learn about them it’s probably best to just start with your phone. It will be good enough for shorter clips and to post amazing pictures on social media. In some cases, you won’t be able to see the difference between more expensive cameras. 

When you want to edit together a video from your hike but keep it as simple as possible, you can add an action cam to your setup. 

If you see videography and photography more as a craft or art form instead of pure documentation, a point-and-shoot will give you a better workflow and more satisfying results. 

In the mirrorless world, it’s hard to recommend something specific because there are so many variables. The main difference between the cameras is the size of the sensor. The larger the sensor, the better the image quality. However, the cameras and lenses are then usually larger, heavier, and more expensive. But even the smallest sensor in mirrorless cameras is still larger than in most point-and-shoot cameras. 

Summary of the best cameras for thru-hikes

Smartphone cameras

Pros: Good quality, multiple lenses, easy to use, compact, and lightweight.

Cons: Limited control and flexibility, drains the battery quickly, limited memory, and the quality of the images is not as good as larger cameras.

Action cameras

Pros: Rugged, waterproof, interchangeable batteries and memory cards, built-in features, easy to use, and virtually impossible to get shaky footage with built-in stabilization.

Cons: Not good for taking photos, limited quality footage and the footage has a certain aesthetic.

Point-and-shoot cameras

Pros: Good zoom lenses, good built-in microphones, more control and functionality than other types, natural image, and can get impressive shots. Still small and light enough for pockets.

Cons: Limited by size, requires learning to use, image quality good but not epic

Mirrorless cameras

Pros: Interchangeable lenses, a huge leap in quality compared to other options, can produce an impressive image, and gives full control.

Cons: Too big to fit in pockets, requires learning to use, and adds much extra weight.