Wilderness camping with 4x5.

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I am now looking to do overnights and maybe two night outings with camping equipment. Thus I need a different pack, besides smaller tent. I'm questioning the need for a small stove on the shorter hikes. I'd like to ask those who have more miles under their belt what equipment they have found that works, and what they found was unnecessary. Probably most important is a decent water purification system,(normally carried it) and a medical kit and a good pack that will allow quicker access to equipment while hiking. Thoughts also on a GPS.

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), December 30, 2001



Packs are like cameras. No one fits all. I have a Dana Astroplane and like it very much. I don't know how much it can hold, but it's more than I can carry. It packs in the traditional manner, i.e., from the top. you do have access to the interior from two side zippers that run almost the length of the pack, but 1) it's difficult to remove large items via these openings, and 2) I've never been able to replace the items without opening the main compartment from the top, because other stuff shifts. Best to keep your camera gear high.

You can leave the stove behind if 1) you like cold food and 2) aren't traveling in a time or place where hypothermia is possible. Sometimes a series of hot drinks like jello will keep you on this side of a problem.

Depending again on the time and place, you can leave the tent behind. I used to hike in the desert (most times) and Sierra Nevada (summer) with just a plastic tarp. You might take a look at "Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills" for some other thoughts on what's essential.


-- Bruce M. Herman (bherman@gci.net), December 30, 2001.


I have a Gregory Denali pack that I can put all my necessary camping gear AND a Tamrac 778 camera backpack inside. That way I can basecamp somewhere and strike out from there with just the camera pack. I've whittled my pack weight down from 82# to 60-65#, which is still a lot to carry, but 90% of my backcountry travels are in Colorado, where a tent, rain gear, cookstove, +20 degree sleeping bag, pad and extra clothing are (for me) not optional. I did get a lighter tent last year, and that helped. Check out Kerry Thalmann's site (http://www.thalmann.com/largeformat/), I think he has something on there about lightening the load.

-- Todd Caudle (todd@skylinepress.com), December 30, 2001.


I do a fair amount of backpacking with my 4x5 (a Toho FC-45X these days - an Anba Ikeda Wood View previously). My trips range from 2 nights to 10 with 3 or 4 night being the most common.

As far as a pack goes, I won't recommend an specific make or model. They seem to change from year to year. The strategy I employ is to use a pack in a pack. My camera gear (other than tripod) goes in a small daypack that then goes in the top compartment of the main backpack. The tripod gets strapped to the outside of the main pack using bungee cords. This accomplishes two things. First, all my camera gear is together in one easily accessible location and not loose in my big pack with my spare socks, freeze dried food, etc. It's a snap to stop, unhook the tripod from the main pack, grab the daypack full of camera gear and take pictures whenever I feel like it. Also, once I reach my camp site for the night, I can drop the heavy pack, set up camp and head off for some photography with just the daypack and tripod in my hand. This is great for last light, and first light (the next morning) photography.

There are a lot of good ultralight tents on the market these days, but don't believe the advertised weights for a second. Weigh them yourself. I did this a few years ago at REI and was shocked that many tents advertised in the 3 - 4 lb. range actually weighed 5 - 6 lbs. I am personally using a Stephenson tent that was very expensive, but is also amazingly light and roomy. None of the other utralight tents were really long enough for me - and the Stephenson is one of the only ones whose true weight (a smidge over 3 lb. for my model) was stated accurately by the manufacturer. In any case, several new models have been introduced since I bought my Stephenson, and less you're substantially taller than average, you will have lots of choices.

I always carry a stove and some lightweight dehydrated meals and cup-o-soup type soups and noodles. These are very lightweight (especially when re-packaged in Zip-Loc bags. I use both the cheap kind you get at the grocery store (Nile Spice, Norr, etc.) and the more expensive "backpacker" variety (MSR, Mountain House, etc.) sold at the outdoor stores. They weigh almost nothing, are easy to prepare, and no clean up. I'm usually out shooting until last light, which means it's well after dark (and often getting quite cold) when I finish my dinner. The last thing I want to do is wash a bunch of messy pots and dishes. My camp "kitchen" consists of a 0.6 liter titanium pot and a lexan spoon. That's it. I only use the pot for boiling water - that way I never have to wash it in the field. I bring the water to a boil and dump it in the bag with the freeze dried food, let it seap for about 10 minutes with occasional stirring and then eat it right out of the bag. The only thing I have to clean is my spoon (lick all the food off, rinse it with a little water and wipe it on a sleeve or pant leg).

For a stove, I have a couple. One is a little Coleman Micro that runs off iso/butane cartidges. I think this model may have been discontinued, but there are similar models from other makers. Mine cost about $25 and weighs about 6 oz. It works great. No priming, no fuel spills, easily adjustable flame from simmer to blow torch. To go even lighter, this past summer I started using an Esbit stove with solid fuel tablets. The stove weighs 3 oz. and the tablets weigh 1/2 oz. each. It takes longer to boil water than the Coleman and the solid fuel leaves a black residue on the bottom of my pot, but this stove is really light, maintenance free and I carry only as much fuel as I'll need for the trip (usually a tab a day for evening meals, another 1/2 tab per day if I want a cup of soup for lunch or a hot beverage). With any ultralight stove, a wind screen made for a piece of foil and a paper clip can save a lot of fuel if it's windy out.

Whether or not you can (or want to) do without hot food will depend on the length of your trip and the conditions. For a one night trip, you can probably just bring cold food and skip the stove. For longer trips, the freeze dried food plus stove/fuel is a lot lighter than carrying a comparable amount of "whole" food.

I always carry a water filter - whether I'm hiking in the mountains of the PNW or the desert of the SW. In the NW mountains water is clear and plentiful. Just about any filter will work fine and flow freely without clogging. In the SW, I've had to filter some pretty murky, stagnant water. So, a filter that is cleanable in the field is a necessity. Chemical treatments and boiling are another options, but both are much slower and less convenient than a filter.

Where you are going and how well you can navigate will determine if a GPS will be helpful. Some will say it's one more gadget and more batteries to carry - others will claim they are a life saver. I managed for many years without one, and still don't own one. However, a friend of mine brought one on our trip up to Mt. Rainier last summer and it came in handy. Not that we ever got lost, but Mt. Rainier NP has all kind of camping restrictions and limited designated sites. We ended up doing the majority of our camping off-trail in designated backcountry "zones". To camp in the backcountry, you must be at least 1/4 from any trail, 200 yards from any water source, etc. With the GPS, and some good mapping software, we actually selected our desired backcountry campsites before we hit the trail. We downloaded the locations of the campsites to his GPS ahead of time and then used it to find our off-trail campsites. By setting a waypoint when we left the trail, it was also a piece of cake to find our way back to the trail the next day.

Of course, you should be able to do so anyway. And I would not recommend a GPS as a complete replacement for good map and compass skills (and a bit of common sense). After all, batteries and electronics can, and do, fail. The GPS can be a useful navigation aid, but learn the basics first.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 30, 2001.

Hello Wayne, What part of the world are you going camping in? Alaska requires very different gear than the Everglades or the Mojave Desert for example. There are as many gizmos for backpackers as there are for fishermen(or photographer) and I suspect many are worthless. The rangers in charge of the 'neck o' the woods you want to explore usually have the latest info. For minimalist camping, a tarp can work quite well. For an overnighter MREs available at army-navy surplus stores and survival type places are pretty good, and there are catalytic heaters for them so you won't need a stove. If youre short on time, you might consider having a packer pack you and your gear to a base camp and back. That way you can spend more time shooting and less time traveling and take a heck of a lot of film holders with you to boot! About the MREs : don't buy old ones, there was a scandal a few years ago about some of them making the troops sick. I believe they were made in Corpus Christie, but I'm not sure. And if you're headed for the High Sierras or the Rockies,. don't buy the ones with beans! My Sweetwater purification system has worked well for me. Happy Trails!

-- John Kasaian (www.kasai9@aol.com), December 30, 2001.

If I'm travelling alone, I've found that replacing the tent with a bivy bag is a compromise I can live with. Although it's not for everybody, it packs down to the size of a loaf of bread and weighs next to nothing. The good ones are fairly expensive, however. I almost always bring a stove because I like warm dinner after a long hike and cliff bars get old quickly. If I am just going overnight I sometimes leave the stove and cookware and bring a couple Alpine Aire prepackaged granola, fruit and milk dinners. You can add cold water directly to the bag they are packaged in. They are pretty good and very light. For a pack I've got a big Gregory, but you should really go to a good store and try them all on. There are lots of good packs but the important thing is that it fits you well. I'm not sure if it is really helpful, but I have written a short article on what I use here: http://www .photo-mark.com/Travel/Pack.html

-- Mark Meyer (mark@photo-mark.com), December 30, 2001.

Just for comparison sake, I used to routinely carry a 65 - 70 lb. pack (including a complete 4x5 system). These days, after trying to eliminate as much unnecessary weight as possible, my pack weight generally runs 45 - 50 lbs (with a 4x5 system including 3 or 4 lenses and enough film for the trip). Occasionally a little more or less depending on the length of the trip, location, and time of year. It's always better to be prepared for worse weather and conditions than you are likely to encounter. If things do take a turn for the worse, it's always better to have a little extra safety cushion built in.

Although many might consider backpacking with LF too much of a burden, if you plan carefully and take only the essentials, it can be surprisingly easy. And there is nothing like photographing first light on the shore of a remote wilderness lake, miles from the nearest road (and other LF photographers).

Not everyone likes to backpack, but I love both backcountry travel and large format photography. For me, they go hand in hand, and combining the two brings me great joy and peace (and an occasional nice image to hang on my wall). It is no coincidence that I have taken a large format camera with me on every backpacking trip I've ever been on. I started backpacking the exact same month I bought my first LF camera and have been combining the two ever since.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 30, 2001.

I am currently assessing various 4x5 options for backpacking. Currently looking at Tachihara, Shen Hao, Toho. Wista may be too much $$$$ for me and I've heard consistently qualified (I won't go so far as to say negative)evaluations of Wisner. I have a Toyo 45AR field which I like, but it's too darn heavy! I like the movements of Shen Hao, but have been told ( I have no access to one to preview other than purchase one) that they are actually about as heavy as my Toyo -- errggh! The Toho FC-45X sounds interesting, and seems to have excellent movements, but is it really suited to field??? Also will it accept my Grafmatics? I think the Toho Mini or whatever it's called, the new one, is super-light, but maybe too strange or not versatile enough. Any the Tachihara and Toho FC-45X sound like light weights that sacrfice nothing and can be useful studio or field. However -- without buying one of each to try out, it's hard to judge so I'm hoping some learned (and prejudiced) opinions can help me decide where to make my gamble.



-- Paul van der Hoof (ds21z@pacbell.net), December 30, 2001.


The Toho FC-45X is most definitely suited for use in the field. That was what it was designed for and what it excels at. If you haven't already seen it, I have a VERY long review at:


You might also try a google groups power search for Toho on the newsgroup rec.photo.equipment.large-format to get a few more opinions from Toho users. I haven't tried a Grafmatic on the Toho, but it should work. The back opens much wider than most cameras, so unless there is some other issue with the Grafmatic, it should work fine. After a few minor modifications, my Toho weighs 2 lb. 12 1/2 oz. That's less than 1/2 what your Toyo AR weighs. The Toho also has more extension and more movements, but the Toyo will be easier to use in some regards. All cameras are a compromise, but for backpacking, I find the Toho tough to beat.

WRT to the Shen Hao. I currently have one in my possession and it is a tremendous camera for the money. Well built with lots of movements and features like interchangeable bellows and a Graflok back for only $625. It is a bit heavy (compared to the Toho anyway) and nearly 5 1/2 lb. (my sample weighs 5 lb. 7 3/4 oz.). Still, a heck of a camera for the money.

There is no perfect camera for all users or all uses. What I may like, you may hate. It is too bad that many potential buyers never get a chance to try a camera hands-on before buying it. So, weigh the opinions presented carefully against your own needs and preferences. Read as many of the online and print reviews as you can get your hands on. There is a wealth of knowledge available. It will help you narrow down your search, but will not ultimately tell you how the camera will feel in YOUR hands. If you're located anywhere near Portland, OR, I'd be happy to let you compare my Toho to the Shen Hao.


-- Kerry Thalmann (largeformat@thalmann.com), December 30, 2001.

If there is a REI or similar outdoor supplier close to you I would suggest you try on several different backpacks and find the one that feels the best and meets your needs. I went through this process a couple of years ago and ended up with a Gregory.

Unlike others who have posted I do not take a stove. However, I'm usually not gone any longer that 3 nights. (Hot food sure tastes good when I get home.) I live off of granola bars, trail mix, and Mountain House granola with milk and blueberries that you mix with cold water before eating. Tastes great but just about everything does in the backcountry.

I use the Exstream personal water purification system. The only drawback with it is the capacity of the bottle. You would only want to take it into areas where water sources are plentiful, like the mountains of the Pacific NW where I do my backpacking.

The suggestion to put your camera gear in a separate bag that then goes inside your backpack is a good one.

REI has several first aid kits to choose from. They have a web site if one isn't in your area.

I would also recommend a subscription to Backpacker Magazine.

-- Mark Windom (mwphoto@nwlink.com), December 30, 2001.

Dear Wayne

If you are seeking a good GPS system, I heartily recommend Garmin products! I have owned five or six of their products and each one has been better than the last. They are terrific GPS receivers and will provide you with good data which is easy to understand and easy to operate. I would first look at the Etrex Vista. I know money is always a consideration, but I would not skimp on GPS-that said, I find the whole Garmin line from entry level to the top of the line will probably satisfy your needs.

Look at this unit for starters:


As Kerry stated, don't rely 100% on any electronic device, but you will find this is an excellent addition to your pack. You might be surprised how often you will use a GPS unit even when you are back in the city or traveling. Many have world wide capabilities and they have downloadable CD maps to give you detailed maps of almost any destination.

Hope this helps.



-- John Bailey (Mdwphoto@aol.com), December 31, 2001.

Thanks all for your responses; I'll be doing some local camping here in Florida to test out equipment and loads before I head west. My first real trip will be in northern AZ just after Easter, and probably NW of Sedona unless I find a more attractive area with better scenery. Later in the summer I have a free flight to anywhere and will probably go to Colorado, maybe Rocky Mountain NP. (I also wanted to ask about top hikes in Colorado.) I have a friend outside Denver who will pick me up and drive me most anywhere. It's nice to have friends and family all over.

One question that I forgot to ask is, what kind of lighting are others carrying?

Now film holders. 5 too many? Not enough? I suppose you can hike all day and not see a shot, but I usually can find plenty, so my problem might be stopping too much. At least tho I won't have to worry about security running me off from commercial property. I also need a replacement for a dark bag, if needed? Mines to heavy. Thanks

-- Wayne Crider (waynecrider@hotmail.com), December 31, 2001.

For lighting I use a mini Maglite and the Petzl Tikka.

Film holders and a changing bag or tent can add quite a bit of extra weight. I would look into a Quickload system depending on the type of film you are using. With only 5 film holders you may be loading and unloading them alot more than you would like to. The last thing you want to do is get into some great light and burn your last sheet before it's gone.

-- Mark Windom (mwphoto@nwlink.com), December 31, 2001.

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