Nothing encapsulates the splendor of a backpacking trip quite like capturing some truly magical photographs, and not just with your smartphone. We all want memories of our first trip globetrotting across foreign lands, cavorting in new waters, mingling with a different culture, and basking in the sunsets of a hundred beaches. And what better way to fully secure these memories for the rest of our lives than with sharp, crystal-clear photographs of the vast panoramas and the intoxicating cities that we explore on our backpacking journey. At the end of the day, if you want to be a true pioneer and really see the difference in your backpacking photos, you undoubtedly need the best camera for backpacking. No camera phones!
To take with you on your trip, we suggest a strong, portable, compact, and very versatile camera. You can’t be pulling a sixteen-inch lens out of your pack every time you want to snap a shot. For backpacking, you need a unit that is small enough to sling around your neck, pop out of your pocket at a moment’s notice, and rugged enough to take a beating. You’re not going to have the normal comforts when hiking up the side of a volcano, and your camera needs to be strong.
5 Best Cameras For Budget Backpacking
Here is a list of the five best cameras for backpacking to buy today. And yes, we have included the best budget camera for backpacking.
The ultra-tough TG-5 is top on our list because this camera is going to stand up strong while you’re on the road. The TG-5 is totally waterproof, not only in the rain but also below the water up to fifty feet. This feature means the TG-5 is going to snap amazing photographs of underwater creatures while you’re swimming in a coral reef or with sharks.
So too can the TG-5 stand up to the cold, making it perfect for winter backpacking. It has a fantastic zoom range of 25-100mm and a pretty respectable aperture of f/2.0. The high-quality aperture means low-light nighttime photos are going to come out clear, great for exploring new cities at night.
Overall, this is a camera that will see you from the international airport to the frigid mountains of Nepal, then back again. This is definitely for the outdoor explorer or the hiking photographer.
- Great zoom range
- Fully functional underwater
- 12MP high-speed sensor
- Works well at night
- Rugged and durable
- Dustproof & crushproof
- Shockproof & freezeproof
- A little expensive
- Lens flares are known to happen
The RX100 V is the middle ground of Sony’s RX100 series of point and shoot cameras. These cameras are all pretty similar, but the RX100 V is right in the middle in terms of price and features. It’s a little costly for a backpacker’s budget, but if you have the dough and don’t mind spending it, this camera is going to be the icing on your travel cake.
The V model, dominated only by the VA model, comes with all of Sony’s trademark bells and whistles. It has a huge sensor, can capture stunning 4K videos (great for the rising mountain sun), has RAW capability, and boasts a comprehensive AF detection system for 315 points of autofocus. If this sounds like gibberish, let’s break it down. In English, the RX100 V captures perfect 20.1-megapixel images with its enormous sensor and can record videos of trains, cheetahs, and other fast-moving things with ease. It is a well-rounded camera that will take your backpacking photography to the next level, way above the other folks you’re bound to meet on the road.
- An all-around amazing camera
- Great for outdoor or indoor use
- Impervious to damage if the right care is given
- 20.1 megapixels
- 315 AF points w/ fastest in the world autofocus
- Will shoot 4K video
- The lens is seriously high quality
- Electronic View Finder
- 6x zoom
- built-in Wi-Fi
This is the budget RX100, the base model from Sony for those budget backpackers who still want better quality than their smartphone can give. In fact, this is the best budget camera for backpacking. Keep in mind that this version does not have all the fancy pants features as the more expensive models – no Wi-Fi capabilities, no 4K video shooting, no fancy viewfinder – but it does still have 20.1 megapixels. That’s substantial in receiving sharp and vivid photographs of your backpacking trip. Considering the massive price cut between the versions, we definitely recommend the base RX100 to any money-minded backpacker.
- 20.1 megapixels w/ Exmor CMOS sensor
- ISO is expandable for best low-light shooting
- Large LCD screen
- Operates at low & high temperatures
- Zoom range between 28-100mm
- Burst mode @ 10fps
- Sleek & slim for easy carrying
- Missing key features of more expensive models
- No 4K video
- No Wi-Fi
Not many people have heard of the Ricoh GR II, despite it having phenomenal reviews online, but it is nevertheless a very good quality camera for backpacking. This unit is slim enough to fit into your pocket, built rugged enough that you can drop it onto the cobblestones a few times before any real damage is done, and it takes clean, colorful photos of the world around you. Not to mention, it’s not even that expensive. This is hard to believe when you think about the ginormous APS-C image sensor embedded in the GR II, which produces photographs that are on par with some of the more professional DSLR cameras veteran photographers use. Still, this unit isn’t going to rob you blind. The new GR III is for that, sitting at nearly the same price as the Sony RX100 VA.
One of the main backpacker features with the GR II is its battery life, great for long trips without any chance to recharge or plug anything in. You get an amazing 320 still image shots or 190 minutes of video playback; or 45 minutes of straight-up movie recording.
- Long battery life
- Wi-Fi functionality works great
- Big Sensor
- Versatile and durable
- Slim and easy to carry
- Advanced GR Engine V
- Takes JPG & RAW images
- Full HD video @ 40fps
- Fixed focal length, limited when shooting outdoors
- No 4K video recording
Samsung is not a name that you see on a lot of “best camera” lists. However, we thought the WB350 Smart Camera would be a solid choice in today’s tech-centric backpacking world. The Smart Camera from Samsung comes with everything you would expect from the South Korean manufacturer. You get great photographs with a 16.3-megapixel CMOS sensor, recordings in full HD, and a wide-angle lens that will zoom 21x.
The real winning features of the WB350 are the smart features. We’re talking about instant uploads to social media, e-mail access, direct link, a mobile link, an automatic backup system to your PC, a remote viewfinder, and even a photo beam. What this means is that you can actually upload photos straight from your smart camera to your social media platform. Not only that, but you can also send your files without the use of Wi-Fi by using the mobile link or photo beam. This is incredibly handy if taking photos with a group of friends on your backpacking trip.
What makes the Smart Camera such an ideal unit for backpacking is that, combined with its high-tech sharing features, it’s pretty darn cheap. It’s not even budget, it’s actually dirt cheap, about half the price of our best budget camera. This is because the Samsung, while full of great features, isn’t a professional camera like the Sony. However, for a usable backpacking camera, this is worth less than two hundred bucks. It’s a great option for those on a tight budget or who don’t fancy themselves as professionals.
- Built-in smart features w/ Wi-Fi/social sharing/e-mail/direct-link/photo-beam
- 21x zoom
- 1080p HD video recording
- MicroSD slot
- Wide-angle lens
- Incredibly affordable
- Remote viewfinder for hands-free photos
- Special effects via Smart Mode
- High-tech with manual mode & creative control
- Not the most rugged
- Only about double the megapixels of your smartphone
- Not professional quality
At the end of the day, you want a camera that is lightweight, ultra-durable, and can capture high-quality photographs. As you are a backpacker and probably on a budget, try buying your camera before your trip, as this will feel less like you’re “wasting travel money.”
Another thing to take into consideration is where exactly your backpacking trip is going to lead you. A jaunt through Europe means major architecture and less chance of someone swiping your camera in the street (hostels are another issue), and so you might think about a more expensive unit that is a bit bulkier.
However, cruising through Central America and South America is a little different, and confronted by colonial architecture, rich wildlife, and precarious situations, you may want a more rugged and more cost-effective point-and-shoot camera.
The list of activities goes on and on, and while you want to take great photos, realistically you want something that will last until the end of your trip. Try to get a camera with memory card capabilities and Wi-Fi integrated, that way you can upload your photos each time you find an internet-savvy sanctuary.