Understanding what you need from your camera before you go

Before knowing what camera is the best one to take trekking you first need to answer when, how long and where you will be trekking. Then ask yourself why you want to take photographs?

Overlooking Khumbu Glacier Nepal
The true answer is - can your camera's batteries handle the cold!

When are you going? This is important to know due to weather. Between December and February it can get brutally cold up in the mountains. So, you'll need to think about keeping your equipment warm. Ditto for getting your camera dry during monsoon season and dust free the rest of the year.

How many days will you be trekking? The primary reason you need to know how long you'll be trekking for is down to charging you batteries and how many spare batteries you'll need. While charging is possible it's not always available. Moreover in some remoter teahouses the solar batteries they use for light cannot handle battery charging beyond USB voltages.

Where will you be photographing? Are you planning to go trekking at high altitude? Is your trek going to take over three weeks? Or are you only going for a week? Knowing how long and where you'll be going is essential to choosing the right equipment. Battery charging, lenses and equipment weight will all need to be considered here.

Why are you taking photographs? Sounds silly but it's important. Are you planning to sell your photographs? Take specific shots? Or are you just going on a trip of a lifetime and want to capture the moment? If this is your professional work then tripods, backups and a whole lot more need to be considered. Maybe even porters. Otherwise you might want to lessen the weight and enjoy the trek more.

We won't be covering mobile phone cameras here. While new phones can take a nice photo for social media etc, for anything more they don't match the capabilities of dedicated cameras. Moreover, zoom lenses really work well for Nepal. It's also worth pointing out the lack of 4G or internet on many treks.

Once you've worked out the When, Where and Why you should now know what you are expecting from your camera and your equipment. e.g. there's no point in taking your Canon D1 with 5 prime lenses and two tripods on a 5 day trek to Poon hill in the middle of monsoon season with out a dry bag or spare battery.

Let's move on and put more of this puzzle together so you can better understand what to expect out there, what's available and what's not going to work at all!

Camera Tip

Batteries hate the cold. Make sure to keep you camera batteries above freezing when you trek. Your inner pockets are often a good place!

Camera Theft in Nepal

I get asked this a lot. Basically it can happen. Theft has been increasing in recent years in Nepal. Thousands of tourists enter into Nepal every year swinging big DSLR's from their necks and rarely does anything ever happen. It's when you leave your equipment unattended that something can happen.

Do certainly keep your camera equipment locked up safety when you are not around. And I really wouldn't wander around Kathmandu with one swinging away - not for worry of theft but more about crazy motorbikes, cars and people smashing in to it.

When you are out trekking you'll meet plenty of people carrying big cameras. It's a very normal thing to see in Nepal. Take the usual precautions that you would back home and you'll be fine.

All that said, it's advisable to make sure your camera and other valuables are covered with travel insurance. It's also important that you yourself are covered up to the altitude you will be trekking. Here are my recommendations on travel insurance for trekking in Nepal.

Altitude / temperature effects on cameras and batteries when trekking

Optimal camera temperature ranges vary as do battery temperatures. I won't get into the technical side of things as I will discuss my own experiences with camera and battery temperatures when trekking in Nepal. Sufficed to say on a Nikon D300 there's a listing saying 0°C to +40°C (+32°F to +104°F). Now let's move on into the real world.

I can positively say that I've never had a problem nor seen a problem with altitude and cameras. There are those that say the old spindle driven backup portable hard drives won't function over 4000 meters. Mine did. Now let's more on to the real issue - the weather.

Sanskrit writing on stone
Click photo to see a larger photograph of Sanskrit writing on a huge stone!

Remember above when I mentioned "when" as a prerequisite for knowing about what camera to take to Nepal? This is why. If you are going trekking in the winter then it's going to get very cold. How cold? Well I've been in -45 with wind chill. During my winter Everest Base Camp trek it reached -15 indoors with snow outside.

How cold can it get before your camera stops working? No idea. I met some Koreans at - 23 whose Canon Rebels stopped working. I met a girl in Kathmandu whose Olympus compact shutter jammed at +5. I met a Nikon user whose camera jammed at -10.

Truth of the matter is most camera malfunctions during the cold are caused by the batteries ceasing to function.

You'll also notice that batteries won't last as long in the cold either.

Keeping your equipment warm: I keep my batteries and camera close to me all the time. I trek with it a shoulder holster under my jacket and batteries in my inner pockets. Yes, it can get extremely uncomfortable, but I've never had a problem.

If you sweat a lot do be aware of freezing condensation.

The next biggest problem I came across where compacts getting so much grit and dust into their shutters they just stopped functioning.

Finally there's the old problem of moving a lens from a warm room to the cold and the condensation building up. If you are staying in a very warm guesthouse or by a fire then you need to keep your camera back a bit and be prepared for it to fog up.

Lastly there was one photographer who was convinced his DSLR shutter jammed in the cold temperature. This could happen, but I've not come across it that much.

My solutions to keeping your camera gear working in the cold: The best results I personally ever had was to keep my camera, battery and lenses as close to body temperature as possible.

I also carry plenty of spare batteries and memory cards.

Charging your batteries and cameras when trekking

Most of the treks in Nepal will have guesthouses with electricity. Again if you really are going into remote areas then you'll need to be prepared beforehand with spare batteries.

Guesthouses do however require payment for the charging of any types of battery. It's very rare to find a power point in your room unless you are paying for private rooms. Most are located in reception.

In remote treks electricity is usually solar, and that powerpoints are often just USB sockets. Something to keep in mind if you need something else.

Again, the moral of the story is to bring back up batteries and if possible fast chargers.

What camera to take trekking in Nepal?

As you've read I've made a point at not recommending specific cameras. Lot's of reasons for that. Specifically the rules of When, where and why. But also because there are new cameras out every 6 months. And if you are here, you probably already know what you want in terms of your own more frequent photography needs.

The real recommendation on what camera to take when trekking is going to be based on your own needs.

I've seen everything from Canon Rebels to Nikon D4's and small mirrorless cameras being used when trekking in Nepal.

If you don't have a camera then you might consider the following

Mobile, DSLR or Mirrorless.

Mobile: Nepal is a once in lifetime opportunity for fantastic photos. Personally, I would avoid the pitfall of using a mobile phone as your sole camera. Mobiles are great for selfies and social media, but for zooming in, high resolution e.g. printing or viewing on a big screen they don't do justice to a photograph

DSLR: Canon and Nikon are the main makers you should consider for what you might recognise as the standard big camera. They come in entry, mid-range and high-end ranges. You'll need a couple of lenses too. So their biggest draw back is weight and bulk. But, in return you get the best images. Batteries are a big plus here too as they last a long time (good for mountains). Both have lots of accessories and repair shops know the brands well.

Mirrorless: These cameras are becoming more and more popular the world over. They are able to produce amazing photographs with none of the bulk or weight that DSLRs have. The main problem with them is expense, they are much smaller and can be fiddly. But perhaps most importantly for trekking is that they consume a lot of battery power. One charge may only last about 3-4 hours while a DSLR could give you days. In the mountains, that last point is important.

My recommendation is to first and foremost understand when are you going, how long you'll be trekking , where are you going and why are you taking photos.

I will say if you plan on photographing inside monasteries or guesthouses then you'll need a camera and a lens with good low light capabilities.

When out above 4000 meters things tend to get bright - white (snow) and blue (sky). If it's just before the monsoon season things might get a little hazy too. Other than that dealing with light will be your main issue.

Remember if you are trekking at altitude you'll be dealing with a lot more than what setting to put your camera on. Altitude sickness and the effects of it are serious. It can have a serious on your concentration! Do read about altitude sickness before you go trekking.

You'll also be outside on the move nearly everyday. The idea of shooting only in the magic golden hours for most trekkers is reserved for where ever you'll be waking or sleeping that day.

After that, the following list of recommended equipment might help too!

Recommended camera equipment to take when trekking Nepal?

Spare Batteries: A must! Bring as many as you can

Charger: Again a must. A quick charge one is best

Lenses: As few as possible due to weight. A zoom, a prime and if possible a wide angle

Camera bag: keep it small, with some insulation. I'd go holster as you'll probably be carrying a bag with your clothes etc already

Lens cloth: You won't believe how dusty things can get. They are light, so bring one or two.

Dry bags: keep your equipment dry! Batteries, lenses, camera should all be kept as dry as possible

Tripod: Personally it sounds great, but there are plenty of boulders, backpacks and walls to rest a camera on. Lot's of light too (outside) so given the weight I say no.

That's it, keep things to a minimum. Remember you'll have to carry and care for it all!

Where to get a camera repaired in Nepal?

Do understand that there are no "Authorised" camera repair stores in Nepal despite what all the signs say!

I would also advise buying your camera at home rather than in Nepal in regards to warranties etc.

I've written a full article on where to buy or get a camera repaired in Nepal.

Should you hire a porter to carry your equipment?

If one of your purposes for trekking in Nepal is to take great photographs then I would seriously recommend you take a porter with you to help with carrying your equipment. Likewise take some extra days on the trek to allow for longer stops etc.

Porters are relatively cheap to hire and cab carry your equipment for you while you enjoy the trek, scout for great photos and make those little side treks with no load for some extra off the beaten path photographs. It'll also mean you can carry that tripod too!

Final tips on choosing a camera for trekking in Nepal

When, where, why + batteries = good photos when trekking in the mountains of Nepal.

I wouldn't go out buying a camera especially for trekking in Nepal. But if I had a DSLR already, I would buy extra batteries and seriously consider a porter if carrying extra equipment.

If you are comfortable with using your current camera, then take that one rather than trying to get to grips with a new one just before you go.

Remember, batteries don't like the cold!

Be careful when breathing near your camera when shooting at very cold temperatures. The condensation will gather on your cameras body and then freeze.

Finally do be aware of others out on the trails if you stop to photograph something. Blocking pathways can hold up others who may be in difficulty or who may be endangered by trying to go around you.

More articles on trekking in Nepal

You might find my following free guides helpful:

Trekking in Nepal

My guide on trekking in Nepal

  Trekking Equipment Check out my guide on equipment & gear needed for trekking in Nepal
List of treks to hike in Nepal Check out my list of treks to do in Nepal complete with maps   Nepal Mountain range Check out my guide on how to travel overland into Tibet for a lot more!
Trekking in Nepal How to choose a trekking guide in Nepal   Record of Mount Everst Base Camp Trek in the Winter My Day by day account of trekking to Everest Base Camp in the off season (winter)
Traveling overland into Nepal Check out my How to travel overland into Nepal guide   Guide to traveling Nepal Check out my country Guide to Nepal

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