Looking the for the best camera for hiking? You have come to the right place.
One of the best things about hiking for us is that it offers the chance to get outside and take in some of the best sights nature has to offer, whether you’re traveling along the Walker’s Haute Route or on holiday in the Manjuyod Sandbar. Reliving these memories when you get home is pretty good too, especially if you have a camera that’s allowed you to take some great shots that can help bring your whole trip back to life.
So, while packing a camera might not be top of your list when it comes to getting ready for a hike (you are probably more concerned with which boots or sandals to wear, which backpack to take and whether your water bottle holds enough to keep you hydrated), it’s still definitely something you need to think about taking with you.
If you don’t already own a camera that works well on a hike, we’ve taken a look at five of the best on the market, helping take the guesswork out of any decision you make. First, though, we’re taking a look at what to look for in a camera your using for hiking.
What to look for in the best camera for hiking
With cameras, unlike watches, for example, there aren’t any explicitly designed for hikers. There are, however, ones that make them easier for hikers to use to get great shots because of design features that include:
As a hiker, you will likely carry a lot of things with you in your backpack, so having a camera that is small enough to fit into a side pocket (or the pocket of your jacket or trousers) is a must. What you want to avoid is a camera that is too bulky to carry with ease or you have to store in the main compartment of your backpack, which will make it hard to get to when you come across the perfect shot.
With bulk tends to come weight, which is something you also want to avoid when looking for a camera for hiking. In general, the lighter the camera, the better it is for taking on the trail because every ounce starts to add up when you’re carrying it on your back (so long as you don’t lose other essential features such as picture quality and durability in the process).
If you are going to go to the effort of taking a camera with you on a hike, you need to make sure that the pictures you’re getting, as a result, are good ones. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the camera, the better the images (though with new cameras entering the market every day, this is no longer always the case) so you’ll need to find that balance between size, weight and the quality of picture you get.
Focal length plays a part in picture quality. The best cameras for hiking are ones that let you get a great shot, which could include taking one that makes you look like you’re a lot closer to your subject than you are. The traditional zoom you’ll find on a lot of ‘point and click’ cameras won’t offer you the chance to get this close. Choosing a camera with an excellent focal length will.
No matter how careful you plan on being on a hike, accidents happen. People slip on uneven terrain, and backpacks get dropped. Which is why it’s essential to pick a camera that is built to withstand shocks and scratches. The material used to manufacture the camera is key when it comes to durability, so you need to check this before making a final decision on which to buy.
Along with durability, you need to check whether the camera has been sealed to protect it from the rain and damp along with dust. Joints and buttons should ideally be sealed with rubber to keep them clean and safe. They aren’t in a lot of modern ‘point and shoot’ cameras, so it’s a question you need to ask, along with whether you’ll be able to take photos in the rain (because we all know you can’t predict the weather when you’re out hiking).
Battery life is essential when looking for a camera for hiking because the last thing you want is being without a camera throughout the trip. You can reduce the risk by taking an extra battery but choosing a camera with a long battery life is a better option.
Ease of Use
Today’s cameras often come with lots of features that most amateur photographers won’t need and probably won’t use. What you do need is a camera that has easy to understand and easy to use features. This will make it easier to get the shot you want without having to spend ages making changes to your camera’s settings.
Alternatives to cameras for hiking
If you don’t fancy taking a camera with you hiking, there are alternatives which will still let you get a good, if not great, shot.
Most people already own a smartphone, and a lot of these come with pretty decent built-in cameras nowadays. Moreover, while the quality of picture you get won’t be as good as using a separate camera designed to do nothing but take phones, using a smartphone does mean you have to take one less piece of equipment with you.
Another benefit of smartphones? They work much better than cameras when it comes to taking selfies, meaning they’re worth taking even if you have a camera for those up close and personal shots, and you can upload your pictures to social media sites straight away, which is a big plus for lots of people.
Unlike cameras, GoPros aren’t designed to take high-quality pictures, though you can take ‘point and shoot’ shots. Their primary purpose is taking videos on the go. This makes them popular for hikers who like to take more adventurous routes along with those into action sports.
The main benefits of the GoPro are that they can be used in any weather because they’re waterproof and, because they were built for the more active amongst us, have been made to last; there is little you can do to break a GoPro. They are also straightforward to use, with a limited number of options and controls. If this sounds like it might be something you’re interested in, check out our GoPro vs. DSLR comparison.
Our pick for the five best cameras for hiking
So, when it comes to cameras for hiking, it isn’t as easy as going into a shop or heading online and selecting a specific category. Instead, best if you shopped around, reviewing each for the size, weight, image quality, and durability. Then deciding which are more important to you.
If you want the best image quality you can get, for example, you need to be willing to give a little when it comes to weight. If you’re planning on taking on rough or wet terrains, finding a camera that is durable and weatherproof is definitely key.
We’ve picked five of the best cameras we think are great for hikers because they offer a right balance of all of these critical features.
1. Olympus Tough TG-6 Waterproof Camera
The Olympus Tough TG-5 is a great camera for those who enjoy hiking over rough terrain. As the name suggests, the Tough TG-5 was designed to withstand the elements including wind, rain, and cold temperatures. It is waterproof up to 50 feet, meaning you can take underwater photos (something you won’t get in a lot of the cameras on the market) and dustproof for hikers in drier conditions.
This design, however, comes with some downsides. The extra protection means you won’t get as large an image sensor or zoom range as some other cameras, though at 25 – 100mm what you get with the Olympus Tough is still fairly respectable. The extra protection also adds a little to the weight with the Olympus Tough TG-5 coming in at 1.1lb (~500gr).
The camera comes with a 3 inch LCD screen, making it easy for you to see what your shot will look like, and a 12 MP resolution. It offers four modes for photos and five for underwater pictures as well as the ability to take 4K movies (with image stabilization), giving you flexibility. You can extend the depth for underwater shots by buying an additional case and take close up macro photos using an add on fish-eye lens.
The Tough TG-5 isn’t a feature heavy camera but those it does have to make it an excellent option for hikers including Pro Capture which lets you capture a moving target by taking frames before you press the shutter button. Plus, it comes with GPS, a compass and thermometer so you can add extra details to help you remember your trip.
Available in red and black, in many ways the camera doesn’t offer much more than you would get from a standard ‘point and click’ camera. This would make it hard to justify for the price if it wasn’t such a strong and sturdy design, one which a lot of hikers will appreciate if they accidently drop it or find themselves in extreme conditions.
- Designed for extreme conditions including wind, rain and cold weather
- Waterproof to 50 feet
- Shockproof to 7 feet
- Freezeproof to 14oF
- Crushproof to 100kgf
- 3 inch LCD screen
- High-resolution F2. 0 lens
- 8x zoom
- Back-illuminated CMOS Image Sensor
- Four shooting modes (5 underwater)
- 4K movie mode (HD120 fps)
- Robust, sturdy and highly durable
- Works in any weather condition
- Able to take photos and videos, including underwater
- You lose some image quality because of the durability
- Limited zoom compared to other ‘point and click’ cameras
2. Canon PowerShot SX720 HS
The latest in the Canon travel compact camera range, the Powershot SX720 HS has a lot to recommend it. Not least just how many features it packs into its lightweight design. These include a 40x optical zoom lens equivalent to 24-960 mm. A digital zoom of up to 120x (known as Zooom Plus) and a 20.3 MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor as well as the ability to record 1080p HD videos.
Weighing 0.54lbs and measuring 2.51 x 1.41 x 4.32 inches, the Powershot SX720 HS is light to carry and fits easily into the pocket of a backpack, hiking trousers or rain jacket, making it ideal for those who don’t want to be weighed down on their hike but do want more than a standard ‘point and click’ camera.
The downside of this type of design, however, is that there isn’t much to protect the camera if it’s dropped (unlike the Olympus Tough TG-5). Users comment on how the rubberized grips on the front and back of the camera fit well into their hands and doesn’t leave them worrying they are going to drop it. Another potential issue for those looking to get a quick shot in is the start up time; it’s only a few seconds but, depending on the subject, this could be a few seconds too long.
The camera itself is easy to use and follows a similar/the same layout as other Canon models. You can get to most features quickly and easily, something you’ll need if you don’t want to miss the perfect shot. Helping you get that great picture is the Zoom Frame Assist button, which alters the focus if your subject decides to move during the shot, bringing it back into the frame.
You can also choose from five modes, including auto, hybrid auto, live, scene, and creative shot (in addition to the movie mode). The Creative Shot mode is a fun feature that lets you play with your shot before settling on an image. You can, for example, add filters or crop the scene. Once you’ve decided on the best one, you can use the built-in WiFi to upload it.
- 40x Optical Zoom
- Image stabilization
- Built-in WiFi
- 20 MP
- HD 1080p Video
- Four Photo Modes
- 3 inch LCD screen
- Excellent zoom including optical (x40) and digital (x120)
- Small enough to fit into a pocket
- Easy to use
- Multiple Modes
- Zoom Frame Assist feature for moving subjects
- Ability to take videos (including image stabilization)
- WiFi lets you share photos wherever you are
- Not as sturdy as some other cameras (though a grip design helps make up for this)
3. Sony Alpha a6300
For those looking beyond a ‘point and click’ camera, the Sony Alpha a6300 is a good choice, though the price tag means it won’t be suitable for a lot of budgets. If you can afford it, you’ll get a camera that is capable of taking amazing pictures and 4K videos.
You’ll be able to see those photos too, thanks to a tiltable LCD screen that you can adjust as needed if you’re in direct sunlight, for example.
At 24.2 MP, the a6300 offers hikers the chance to take high-quality pictures. The downside is that the camera is heavy (compared to others we’re looking at). It weighs, 1.8lbs (~800gr), so you’ll need to take this into account when you’re deciding what else to pack in your backpack.
You’ll also have to forgo putting the camera in a pocket too; you will need to carry the Alpha a6300 around your neck, in the main compartment of your backpack or you’ll need a separate camera backpack to keep it safe.
When it comes to keeping it safe, the magnesium frame will definitely help. It is strong, sturdy and will help protect the camera against any bangs and bumps along the trail. It all adds to what is a really nice, solid looking, design.
This design extends to the control panel, which is easy to use (though the number of features means it can take time to know just where everything is and what everything does).
One of the best things about this camera is the quality of the photos. These make up for the weight, and the extra features that make it more than your average camera. Including what Sony says are the fastest frames (at 0.02 sec) on the market and multiple movie functions, allowing you take time-lapse movies or speed up / slow down the videos after you’ve taken them.
- High-speed frames (at 0.02 sec)
- Object tracking
- Enhanced subject capture
- High-resolution images
- Multiple modes including video functions
- Tiltable LCD screen
- Comes with a range of accessories including AC adapter, body cap, shoe cap, eyepiece cup, and micro USB cable.
- Takes high-quality images
- Fast AF
- Image stabilization
- Multiple modes including for videos
- Robust, sturdy and highly durable
- Heavy to carry
4. Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 is a great option for those wanting to take photos and videos. Especially if you don’t want to have to take a camera and GoPro on the trail with them. As a camera, the FZ1000 offers a 20 MP MOS sensor and the chance to zoom to 200mm (16x optical zoom).
As a video, the Lumix FZ1000 offers 4K video at 1080p. You can shoot at 60, 30 or 24 fps and it includes focus peaking (ideal for taking wildlife shots).
The camera maintains a fairly sleek design by slowing the speed of the lens to reach this zoom size without having to add inches and weight. For most people, this lower speed won’t be noticeable and so, for us, didn’t seem like much of an issue, especially with the camera’s other features.
The camera has Bluetooth, for example, and WiFi to let you share pictures and a 3-inch screen that allows you to look at your shots and control your camera.
The screen offers a 180-degree tilt that lets you take selfies (without having to resort to the lower picture quality of a smartphone) and control the camera at the same time. The controls themselves are easy to understand and to use through five on-screen buttons.
A nice thing about being able to move the screen is that you can place the screen against the body of the camera while traveling, meaning it is safe from scratches. If you don’t want to use the LCD screen, there’s a viewfinder too.
As a video recorder, you have plenty of features to choose from, including post focus and focus stacking. You can also combine images or review those that you’ve taken so you can decide which you like best.
It’s the ability to switch between camera and video that makes this a good choice for many hikers, as long as you don’t mind the weight and size. This is definitely an option we consider as the best camera for hiking.
- 20 MP with MOS sensor
- 25-400mm zoom (x16 optical zoom)
- Multiple photographs and video modes
- 3 inch, 180 degrees tilted screen
- 4K video at 1080p
- Focus Peaking
- WiFi and Bluetooth
- Takes high-quality photos
- Can be used to take pictures or videos
- Made of durable materials for a tough design
- 180 tilted screen adds flexibility to the photos you can take and protects the screen when traveling
- Doesn’t have as many features as some other cameras
- Heavier than some other cameras
5. Nikon D3500
For those who are new to photography, the Nikon D3500 is a great entry level DSLR model that doesn’t stint on the features. It offers 24 MP resolution, for example, and extended battery life (meaning it should last you on most trips).
What you also get is a chunky, sturdy, design that will protect the camera from most bumps and knocks that can come with hiking. What’s nice about the Nikon D3500 is that, despite this chunkier design, it doesn’t have the weight of some of the other cameras. And you can retract the lens to make it easier to carry.
What you don’t get is a 4K video, though given that this is an entry level model and the price point, that probably isn’t surprising; not using video helps on battery life too, with the D3500 letting you take 1,500 pictures on one battery. You also don’t get a great flash function, meaning the camera isn’t ideal for low light.
- As easy to use as a ‘point and shoot’ camera but with the benefits of a DSLR
- Chunky design that offers durability
- Retractable lens and flash
- Provides a value pack option that includes lenses, speedlights, and other accessories
- Great entry level model
- Sturdy design
- Retractable lens
- Long battery life
- Doesn’t offer all the features more expensive models do
- Doesn’t have video
Final thoughts on the best camera for hiking
While a camera isn’t essential when it comes to hiking, it’s something most people will want to take with them. If you’re in the market for a camera to take with you hiking and camping, the question is, which is the best one for you?
In part, the answer depends on what you want the camera for and just how interested you are in photography. If you’re new to hiking then a simple ‘point and click’ model will probably be best for what you need.
At least until you know just how much equipment you take with you on a typical camping trip. In which case, the Canon PowerShot is a great option. It’s lightweight, slipping into the pocket of a jacket or a backpack, and has a ton of great features, including the ability to take videos and play around with your shots, meaning you probably won’t need to replace it anytime soon.
You will probably need to replace the Nikon D3500 within a year or so if you find you enjoy photography. Mainly because it is a camera designed with novice photographers in mind. It doesn’t have the number of features other cameras we looked at had, for example, and it isn’t the best in low lights, meaning it isn’t as flexible as others when it comes to what photos you can take.
However, it’s a sturdy and robust design, meaning it can cope with the knocks that can come with hiking and can take high-resolution images. Truly one of the best camera for hiking.
Our Verdict on the best camera for hiking
If getting the best images is your aim, then the Sony Alpha a6300 is your best bet. Though you will need to put up with a heavier camera that is more awkward to carry. The same is true of the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 when it comes to weight.
At least you won’t need to worry about having to take a GoPro with you too because it takes high-quality videos as well as images.
The camera that finds the balance between quality pictures, videos and durability you need is the Olympus Tough TG-5. We like that the design makes it ideal for use in extreme conditions, which you could well come across when camping.
But this doesn’t come at the cost of taking good photos and videos. The fact that it’s waterproof and can be used underwater was a big plus too, making it the most flexible camera we looked at and our top choice when it comes to choosing the best camera for hiking.