Gear Review and Advice: Headlamps and Night Hiking

Between the AT, CDT, and Long Trail, I've hiked into or through the night more times than I can count. Last year on the AT, we night hiked to escape the heat of the day in the Mid Atlantic. This year on the CDT, we night hiked to push more miles per day. We night hiked to avoid the impending darkness that was approaching sooner and sooner. Really, I personally night hike because I enjoy it. 

If you night hike, you're gonna need a headlamp, flashlight, or a full moon. That last one works especially well in the Basin of Wyoming when you and your bud are trying to push through the desert as quick as possible and test your limits. (Yeah, I'm looking at you Mayor.) We hiked through the entire night in the Basin during our 63 mile push and maybe only used our headlamps for an hour at most. 

Anyways, a headlamp or flashlight will be necessary, and just like EVERYTHING else, the options are seemingly endless. 

What I've used: 

  • Black Diamond ReVolt Rechargeable Headlamp
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp
  • Petzl Tika XP Headlamp

Black Diamond and Petzl are undoubtedly the most popular and well known choices when it comes to headlamps. Last year I used all three headlamps over the course of the AT. This year I strictly used the Petzl Tika XP. I have my gripes with each of them, but truthfully, they're all great headlamps, so here's some thoughts!

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

Here's a photo of Scooter illuminating the Ski Hut with his headlamp. 

BD ReVolt: 

I originally bought this headlamp because of its ability to be charged directly from my Anker Battery Pack. I knew that it had the Lumen power I needed, the red lamp that would prevent hikers from getting angry at me at night, and it was fairly light. 

As far as specs are concerned, the ReVolt is 3.4oz fully loaded with batteries. Speaking of those, it runs off of 3 Rechargeable AAA's, lithiums, or gives you the option to charge via USB. The headlamp itself is labeled as waterproof which provides a little bit of comfort for a thru hiker. As far as the light goes, it boasts One Triple Powered LED, and a Double Powered LED, combing for up to 300 Lumens with alkaline batteries. The thing is almost overkill as far as brightness goes, but it really does come in handy in the Green Tunnel at night or anywhere where there is no moon light. The red light is a double powered LED providing more than enough glow when you're packed in a shelter trying to avoid waking everyone up with your bright headlamp. (Don't do that. Use your red light for the love of god.)

The headlamp is easy to use with it's memory lighting allowing for you to turn the light back on to the adjusted brightness without having to cycle through all of its options. It has pretty much everything a thru hiker would need as far as a headlamp, however: the reason I switched last year was because the rechargeable aspect of the headlamp failed not 500 miles into my thru hike. I was left without a headlamp until the next town so I immediately texted my dad and told him to send out my backup, which was the Black Diamond Spot. Enter the time period where I was carrying two headlamps. SO UL of me right?

BD Spot: 

Another formidable headlamp made by BD, the Spot is a lesser expensive option to the ReVolt listed above. For the recent 2017 model, it boasts the same 300 Lumen Power of the ReVolt, but is not rechargeable, making it IMO MUCH more dependable. Last years model only put out 200 Lumens so they've made some adjustments this year. Sure, the rechargeable aspect is nice, but at this point, I prefer batteries. I like knowing that another piece of gear (shouldn't) fail me because of an electronic problem. 

At 3.2oz, its just under the weight of the ReVolt, making it a little more appealing. They also claim that the headlamp was and still is fully waterproof up to 3.3m. The only fault in this design is that sure, the headlamp will operate if water enters the battery compartment, but eventually those batteries will corrode. Kind of pointless right? Nonetheless, it offers the red light that backpackers and thru hikers should have, is light, and was and still is a good headlamp. Along with the power and weight being pretty spot on, it also offers a lock for the light preventing it from turning on in your pack or pocket. It does everything you need it to at a fairly decent price with some fairly decent technical specs. Overall, an awesome and affordable option for lighting. 

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp, Black, One Size
Black Diamond Equipment LTD

I used it as a backup until I got to an REI in Asheville where I swapped my ReVolt for the Petzl Tika XP and sent the BD Spot home. 

Petzl Tika XP: 

The heaviest option out of all 3 headlamps, the Tika XP is also the most reliable of the three in my opinion. It boasts 180 lumens with 3 options for brightness and a red LED for those shelters and camp scenarios. It doesn't have nearly as many 'features' as the above headlamps, but it is my workhorse for how reliable it is. In the 3,000+ miles I've used this headlamp, I have yet to experience any fault or failure in the product. It's as easy to use as any headlamp out there, but instead of being laden down with tons of features to fail, it presents the most simplistic design out of all of the options. It has one button which controls every aspect of the light, and provides more than enough light and power for any endeavor. 

Honestly, there's not MUCH to say about this headlamp because it's so simple. It takes 3 AAA batteries, gets the job done, and won't fail on you. For that reason, I chose to bring it along with me on the CDT and LT this year as well instead of swapping to a lighter and more 'capable' headlamp that had a bunch of features I really didn't need. I tend to value reliability and design over features/aesthetic/ability. 

Night Hiking:

Night hiking is probably the most underrated type of hiking. The miles seem to fly by due to the lack of light and lack of interest in the time. I've night hiked roughly 300-400 miles over the last two years, and I enjoy it probably more than most. If it's the middle of summer, nap and take a siesta during the day and crunch out some miles when the sun goes down. Click the headlamp on and go. I really enjoy it because it offers a different way to experience the trail. Different animals are active at night. You think differently at night. The trail is completely different without light. The lack of light makes you think more carefully about your steps, in turn paying more attention to the trail and each moment. Although you don't get the views you do during the day, you get something much more. Solitude. Time to think. Time to enjoy the most basic of reasons I and hopefully you hike as well. To do just that; hike. Sure, theres a level of eeriness in the woods at night, especially if you're alone. Sure, it's a bit more dangerous to traverse technical terrain at night when you can't visibly see each and every root and rock. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

Red Bass and I lighting up the sky with our headlamps in the Winds. 

I night hike and truly enjoy it because of the stillness in the air. It's quite calming when the only thing you can hear is the occasional gust of wind ripping through the trees. I find comfort in making the most of each minute and hour on trail, and that means taking the opportunity to hike as much as possible, even at night. It's not for everyone, but to me it's something that is unavoidable during a thru hike, making it that much easier for me to enjoy. I've had some of the most mind blowing experiences while night hiking.

Mayor and I heard coyotes and wolves howling in the Basin this year on the CDT around hour 5 of hiking through the night. I pushed my limits more than I ever have this year during our night hike through the Basin of Wyoming. Last year on the AT, Shotgun and I night hiked for 9+ miles one night and 2-3 of those miles were spent trying to outrun a Bobcat that was stalking us. 


There's a lot of headlamps to choose from out there, and these are just the three that I've used in the past, so don't limit yourself to these options. I know plenty of folks who have used headlamps from Walmart, or other off brand lights. Some are more reliable, lighter, and flashier than others, but generally, headlamps all do the same thing. I'm currently looking into some lighter options, specifically a flashlight. There are some sub 1-2oz flashlights out there that are brighter than most of these headlamps. Casting light from the hip rather than the head creates less shadows, allowing for a more clear step while night hiking. I'll be picking up some flashlights later on so keep posted for a review of those when it comes time. Night hiking is fun if you allow it to be. Hike at night to get some extra miles or to find the perfect sunrise spot. Wake up early, click the headlamp on and climb the next mountain to get the perfect sunrise.

It's not for everyone, but dang do I enjoy night hiking! 


Gear Review and Advice: Cameras on Trail

After roughly 4,500 miles of thru hiking over the course of the last year and a half, I still haven't found the perfect system for carrying a camera of any sort, but I think I'm finally getting close. I've used three different cameras, now having carried them three different ways, with multiple different lenses throughout those miles, so I figure I'll share some insight on what I carried, how it worked out, and what I'll be doing differently for the 5,000 miles I hope to hike this upcoming year.

Just like hikers with their gear, photographers have their preference for camera equipment which makes this entire subject subjective to each person, but nonetheless, the points I'll be bringing up are all extremely applicable to each brand of camera, whether it be Sony, Nikon, Canon, etc...

I think really the first question you need to ask yourself before deciding which camera to buy for backpacking or thru hiking is, "What do I want to take photos of?". Really, without answering this question, none of this information I'm about to write will help you. Do you want to shoot portraits, strictly landscapes, videos, time lapse, astro, or everything? Once you've decided want you want to take photos of, start scrolling. Specs, weight, capability, and of course, PRICE, will determine which route you want to take and what will suit you best.  

What cameras I've used over the course of 4,500 miles:

  • GoPro Hero 4 Session
  • Sony RX100iii
  • Sony a6000 w/ Sigma 19mm f/2.8, Sony CZ 16-70mm f/4

Lets start with the GoPro Hero 4 Session:

Arguably the easiest camera to operate, carry, and charge, the GoPro Hero 4 Session is an action sport camera that is perfect for mounting to trekking poles, strapping onto your shoulder straps, or even mounting on your head. It's just about 4oz or so, charges off a mini USB cable, and really does take some decent videos but not so decent photos as it only has an 8mp camera.The camera boasts a 2 hour recording time off of one charge, is waterproof right out of the package up to 10m, and is fairly easing to use as it has a one touch button design. One button literally controls 95% of the camera. It's an easy piece of equipment to use and get good at using. I carried this camera for a little over 300 miles on the AT last year, and I sent it home because I was primarily using it as a backup/second camera for short videos. 

Personally, I like GoPros for exactly what they should be intended for. Capturing videos where you normally wouldn't think to capture them. Putting them in places they shouldn't be. Getting the real 'point of view' aspect of whatever endeavor you're doing. They are really an immersive camera that works well for what it is. Now if you're leaning towards a GoPro and your budget is a little higher, definitely take the step up and either get a new model or an older model 'Black' edition. These little cameras can record 4k depending on the model and can actually offer a decent MP camera if you want to spend the money. If you're a professional, aspiring, or any sort of photographer, I highly doubt you will be totally impressed with the camera, but for a thru hiker looking cut oz's anywhere possible, it's actually quite a good option! 

I dont think they sell the 4 Session anymore, but the 5 is an improved version. 

GoPro HERO5 Session
GoPro Camera

Next let's take a look at the Sony a6000:

The a6000 by Sony is a lightweight, mirrorless, versatile camera that makes for an excellent option to carry on trail during a thru hike or backpacking trip. This camera has been my work horse for both on trail and off trail photography since I bought my first a6000 back in Feb. of 2016, right before my thru hike of the AT. The a6000 is an interchangeable lens camera, meaning that you can buy new lenses as you see fit to attach to the body itself. 

A6000 / CZ 16-70mm in Montana

A6000 / CZ 16-70mm in Montana

The CMOS APSC sensor boasts 24.3 MP, allowing you to blow up prints to a larger size, recover shadows and highlights well, and making for good image quality. Coming in at 16.5oz with the kit lens and batteries, it's a MUCH lighter option to carrying a DSLR or the likes thereof. As well as having a high quality sensor that produces amazing images, it's capable of recording in 1080 at a multitude of different frame rates, allowing for a pretty solid video set up for vlogging or making trail videos. 

I carried this camera along the entire Appalachian Trail, and around 1,000 miles this year on the Continental Divide Trail. Last year on the AT I paired the camera with the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 lens.

A6000 / Sigma 19mm

A6000 / Sigma 19mm

I had never had a real camera before, and prior to last year I had only ever used my iPhone to take photos on trail, so I was excited to get out on the trail and put the camera and lens through the ringer. I don't want to delve to deep into lenses and glass, but the Sigma is a decent quality lens for the price. It allowed me to capture everything I wanted and more without adding too much weight to the camera. I really, really love this set up, or a set up similar to this for on trail photography. Like I said, the weight to quality ratio is off the charts, but also compared to a GoPro, the options and abilities of this camera are endless. Between having multiple options for lenses and focal lengths, a higher quality sensor with ability to make large prints, and honestly just having a 'real' feeling camera, I made the decision to send the GoPro home last year. I just wasn't using it enough to justify carrying both the a6000 and the GoPro. Then again, I was primarily focused on photography and stills, not video.

When I was deciding on what to carry this year for the CDT, I knew that I wanted a little bit more versatile of a lens. Although I love the Sigma I carried last year, I found myself looking for a longer focal length with a bit more versatility. I started poking around at other lenses and ended up settling on the Carl Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 lens.

A6000 / CZ 16-70m

A6000 / CZ 16-70m

It had a much longer focal length, was a bit heavier, but is much higher quality glass. I picked a use one up on eBay and hit the CDT. This lens not only gave me an even wider FOV, but also gave me a much longer focal length. I was able to take photos of the mountains in a much different way than the previous year, and I absolutely loved having the extra range of the lens. Using a new lens day in and day out requires a little bit of learning, especially when you're shooting with a focal length you've never used, but after about a week or so, I felt like I was producing the best images of my career. 

Fast forward to mile 1,000 on the CDT; I've been hiking for 6 hours in a torrential downpour, 40 degree weather, and absolutely no tree cover. My camera is in my Thru Pack inside a ziplock bag. After attempting to run to stay warm during the downpour, I slipped on the trail (really a mud road) and fell into a mud puddle so deep that I came out of it covered in 2" of clay like mud. After that I called it quits for the day, entered my tent, started to get warm and brought the camera out. To my astonishment, the camera turned on then went black. Somehow water had entered the ziplock bag and moisture has seeped into the battery compartment, causing the internals to fry. Unfortunately, the a6000 series is not weather sealed, which means it is a bit fragile compared to other models.

A6000 / 16-70mm in Glacier  

A6000 / 16-70mm in Glacier  

I was all of a sudden on the CDT without a camera and no way to document my trip other than my phone which I wasn't too keen on. I knew that I could afford to buy another a6000, but after talking with Wankles, I decided to once again step outside of my comfort zone, pick up a different camera, and push my creative boundaries with a less capable, smaller camera.

Enter the Sony RX100 m3: 

After my Sony a6000 died on the CDT, I immediately ordered the Sony RX100iii. First off, to preface this section,  I want to iterate that this camera is a BEAST. Although it is the size of a small, pocket point and shoot camera, it is a fully MANUAL camera with a HELL of a lens on it. The camera boasts a 1" CMOS 20.2 MP sensor, featuring an unbelievably sharp Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/1.8 lens, and a weight of only 10oz fully loaded. 

I picked up this thing after talking with Wankles, but truthfully I was insanely skeptical because of how small it is and the lack of having the ability to swap lenses if need be. I was excited to push my creative boundaries and see what I could produce with a lesser piece of equipment. I was excited to work outside of my comfort zone and in an environment I wasn't familiar. I had never used this camera before and I wasn't sure how it would perform next to my a6000, but I was ready to see what I could do with it. 

Rx100 shining in low light in the Winds.

Rx100 shining in low light in the Winds.

I immediately was blown away by the design and the functionality of everything about the camera. The electronic viewfinder was incredibly accurate. The camera handles low light EXTREMELY well because of its f/1.8 aperture.

Rx100iii in the Winds / Cirque of the Towers  

Rx100iii in the Winds / Cirque of the Towers  

It was easy to use, easy to master, and perfect for backpacking. I was quickly neck deep in the camera, pushing its limits for astrophotography and portraiture. I love the lens that this camera has because of it's ability to produce bokeh, yet also retain sharpness on the edges at f/7.1. I was impressed not only with the image quality, but also the video quality. Because the camera is so light, it's quite easy to get clear, smooth shots without a gimble. 

With the RX100, it's small enough to put in your pocket, shoulder strap, or somewhere else that doesn't require a front pack or extra case. It's a strong enough piece of equipment that you can produce amazing results without question.

Rx100 in Vermont  

Rx100 in Vermont  

It replicates the a6000 almost to a T with a high quality lens on it. It's a camera that if you don't plan on or feel the need to buy different lenses, you will be happy with for a long time. I'm so impressed with the camera that I'm not sure if i'll ever carrying anything else while hiking. I just really can't get over how well it performs at every stage. The optics. Functionality. Design. Quality of material and glass. It's so much more than just a small point and shoot camera. It's just about everything I need in a camera for on trail photography. 

Captured on the Sony Rx100iii in the Winds. 

Captured on the Sony Rx100iii in the Winds. 


Carrying Methods:

Not only have I carried 3 different set ups, I've also carried those cameras 3 different ways. For over half of the AT, I used a chest pack which was attached to the shoulder straps where I carried my camera, extra lens, go pro, battery pack, headlamp, and SD cards. It was heavy, burdensome, awkward, and just not efficient at all. When I got to the Lemon Squeezer in NY, I realized that I had to change the way I was carrying my camera before the Whites, otherwise things would get broken and it wouldn't be good.

Peak Design Capture Camera Clip
Peak Design

I then switched to the Peak Design Camera Clip, probably the most innovative way to carry a mirrorless camera or a DSLR. It's a little clip that attaches to the shoulder strap and locks the camera there with a tripod screw mount. It's efficient because it allows you to always have the camera at the ready, and for hiking, it keeps the weight off your chest and back and puts it right on a shoulder. Pretty convenient, I used it for 1200 miles on the AT and loved it, especially when I used a pack that had hip belts. This year when I went UL and switched to no hip belts, I once again made some adjustments. However, if you're carrying a large camera and have a pack with comfy shoulder straps, pick up a Peak Design Camera Clip. 

This year on the CDT and LT, I used a new piece of gear from a company called Thru. Pack. I'll be doing a review on this product soon enough, but it's a dyneema grid stop fanny pack that I had custom made to fit my a6000 and use as a shoulder sling. Paired with the comfy strap, it was an extremely efficient way to carry my a6000 this year when I chose to go hipbeltless. 

Final Thoughts:

After all of the time I've put on trail with a camera in my hand, I would have to say that the RX100 takes the cake for my favorite. The ease of use, the quality images and lightweight and sleek design make it the PERFECT backpacking camera IMO. Sure, I'm not saying I won't ever carry anything else from here on out, but it's hard to imagine EVER carrying a DSLR, let alone my a6000 again when I could just pocked the RX100 and head out. I am absolutely blown away with some of the photos I captured this year on the CDT and Long Trail. I'm impressed with the battery life, the LCD screen and it's capability for selfie mode. I'm ecstatic about the camera in general. The range on the lens and the aperture make for a perfect all around lens that you wouldn't want to change even if you could. 

I think for someone just looking to take videos here and there, a GoPro would be perfect. It doesn't weigh anything hardly, it produces solid videos, is portable and convenient, and is waterproof right out of the gate. However, if you're a still photographer, I would say look elsewhere.

The a6000 will always be my baby, and I know I'll be bringing it out for certain sections of the PCT and CDT next year, but after using the RX100, the size of the a6000 is a bit of a problem that I can easily fix by not carrying it. I love having the a6000 at home, it's undoubtedly the best mirrorless APSC camera on the market, aside from the a6300 and 6500, its successors, but for backpacking, I can't believe I didn't have the RX before. 

Portrait on the Rx100iii

Portrait on the Rx100iii

If you're strictly looking for an all around camera capable of anything, look no further than the Sony RX100 Series. They have 5 different models, all offering different focal lengths, abilities, and designs. The latest two models offer 4k and OSS built in, and the earlier models are just some of the best cameras for their price.