View Full Version : Protecting lenses while backpacking

Brian Sims
14-Oct-2005, 17:18
After hiking up to The Enchantments in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, I noticed a scratch on the coating of one of my lenses. I pack my lenses in ripstop bags and wrap them in the dark cloth. This lens has a plastic cap that doesn't fit tightly. It came off somewhere during the rugged 4500 foot elevation gain and the metal end of the cable release must have rubbed up against the lens. What do you backpackers use to protect your lenses? I am not looking for a recommendation of a dedicated camera backpack. I need something that will protect my gear in a pack full of all the other stuff for a three day hike. Thanks

Eric James
14-Oct-2005, 17:26
Check out the LowePro lens cases - they are padded, zippered and water resistant. I carry a Ziplock bag in each lens case for extra protection from water should things turn sour. Be careful not to trap moisture in the watertight Ziplock; I also carry silica gel.

I've always wanted to go to the Enchantments in the fall when the larch have turned - not looking forward to the Aasgard Pass approach though.

Brian Sims
14-Oct-2005, 17:44
Thanks Eric,
I checked out the LowePro website and couldn't find 4x5 lens cases. I hike with a Sinar, so I need something to protect the lens while it's mounted on the lensboard.

BTW, I hiked up to Snow Lake and camped there, thus missing a 65 mph rain/snow storm. One guy who passed me on the way up camped at the Enchantments and in the middle of the night lost his rain fly. He said the rain was blowing right through his tent. I then went up the next day for a day of shooting. Well...a little shooting and a lot of waiting for the gusts to die down. But the Tamarack (Larch family) were blazing flames of yellow!

Joseph Dickerson
14-Oct-2005, 18:07

I too backpack, day trips though, with a Sinar and the large boards can be a problem. I use MC pouches and they work quite well. The top flaps close with velcro and they have a size that fits Sinar boards perfectly. I bought mine at Samy's in Santa Barbara but Calumet stocks them as well.

I have also thought of getting a Sinar/Linhof board adapter and putting all my lenses on Linhof boards to save some space. If I were overnighting I would definetly do so but for my day hikes it seems like to much expense for too little benefit.

Where is the Wilderness Lakes Area? My wife and I are planning to visit Rainier next summer.

Joe D

John Cook
14-Oct-2005, 19:05
Here is just the offering from one brand. Others, like Opti-Pro (or something like that) make them as well. The only trick is figuring out which size to purchase for each lens:


Brent Doerzman
14-Oct-2005, 19:09
I use the lens wraps like Dan mentioned, but have been looking into the multi lens cases from Gnass Gear. I have several friends with them, and they love them. Also, a similar product, but cheaper and a little less padded, is from Outdoor Research. Good luck!

Gnass Gear (http://www.gnassgear.com/products/product_detail.cfm?pcode=PG-84663)

OR case from REI (http://www.rei.com/online/store/ProductDisplay?productId=47910665&storeId=8000&catalogId=40000008000&langId=-1&color=DARK%20GRAY&img=/media/217868.jpg&view=large)

Scott Rosenberg
14-Oct-2005, 19:50
i'll second what brent said. i previously used cases from outdoor research, but recently decided to stop messing around with low-price substitutes and just buy the best... GNASS. there is no finer lens case out there.

Ron Marshall
14-Oct-2005, 19:51
I have a Gnass case. It is a little heavy, but solid, and it goes into an inexpensive very lightweight multipurpose pack.

William Barnett-Lewis
14-Oct-2005, 19:59
When taking my Speed Graphic out and about, I use Glad brand plastic sandwich containers with a long piece of bubble wrap that I wrap around the lens and board. Cheap and waterproof. I should pick up some of the silica packs though. These fit my film bag or backpack equally well.


Pete Caluori
14-Oct-2005, 20:10

Another vote for the Gnass cases.

In addition th ethe Gnass case, if you suffered a "scratch" then I would seriously evaluate how you pack your backpack. I have hiked many miles with my gear and never scratched a lens. I have suffered a slight rub to the front element of a lens, due to the flimsy lens caps that come with modern lenses. One of the best thinks you can do to protect the glass surfaces are replace the manufacturer's lens caps with the more ruggered types made by S. K. Grimes. Since I replaced mine, I haven't had any further problems.

Regards, Pete

QT Luong
14-Oct-2005, 20:22
I also use the padded cells made by Outdoor Research. The most important is probably tight lens caps. If the lens cap doesn't come off, you won't damage your optics unless something radical happens.

David A. Goldfarb
14-Oct-2005, 21:39
If your lenscap is loose, a little gaffers tape on the inside can snug it up until you can get a new one. If you have a relatively modern lens that takes common sized caps, you can order Schneider, Rodenstock, and Kaiser slip-on caps in mm sizes from B&H, and of course screw-on and snap caps are always an option, if your lenses are standard sizes.

For odd sizes, there's S.K. Grimes for custom caps.

Brian Sims
14-Oct-2005, 22:00
Thanks gang. As alway...great advice. I like the simplicity of the lens wraps, but, you're right, I need to spring for some good fitting lens caps.

Joe, the Alpine Lakes area is near Leavenworth, WA. When you visit Rainier, try the 4-5 mile loop that takes you up to Panorama Point. If you go clockwise, it will take you along a ridge that looks down on the Nisqually Glacier (this way if you don't want to do the whole trail you'll see this spectacular sight). It's hard to judge the scale of the crevasses until you notice a string of tiny dots (climbers). The trail is quite safe with maybe a 1500 foot elevation gain (starting at the Paradise parking lot). If you'd like more info let me know...I've spent a lot of time on the mountain, including once on the summit, although not with the view camera : )

Scott Rosenberg
14-Oct-2005, 22:41
i've been through many different types of snap on caps, and there is a difference in how well they stay on the lenses. imho, the best ones are made by contax, then next best by tamron. both available from b and h.

Dmitri S. Orlov
15-Oct-2005, 01:51
Sometimes I use the otterbox (http://www.otterbox.com) for my Grand.75/4.5 and 110XL with lensboards (Horseman FA) and some the silica packs.

Dmitri Orlov

Doremus Scudder
15-Oct-2005, 05:03
My two-cents worth. Get caps that fit (they're not that expensive...). I carry 5 lenses, a 4x5 wooden field camera, meter, holders and accessories in a combination of vest and fanny pack. My lenses all live in homemade cardboard boxes, double or triple thickness corrugated and well taped. They are very rigid, but lightweight and can be stacked. The boxes are open on one end (the top), which has never presented a problem (one could make lids as well). One lens stores folded in the camera, the others live in their boxes with properly fitting caps. My camera sits on top of two of the boxes in the fanny pack. I have had zero problem with damage or scratches.

I tried the lens wrap thing long ago, but found that it took a lot of space and provided only minimal protection. Boxes are a lot more rigid and surprisingly lightweight. The trick is finding boxes that fit your lens exactly, hence the "custom" homemade boxes. Sit down with the scissors, strapping tape, and the thickest corrugated you can find and make a box or two. You may end up being convinced.


ronald moravec
15-Oct-2005, 06:08
The wife made bags for each lens from ultrasweade. Each bag has a large flap. This material is expensive, but does not lint, scratch, pill, or do do anything nasty. The bag keeps the shutter free of dust also which is the main cause of failure.

Lenses go in with slip on manufactures caps and the flap wraped around. The wrapped lens is then put in the backpack which has divided compartments sized for the individual lenses .

Never use the plastic caps with the squeeze things that engage filter threads. A wrong bump on the clip and off it comes sliding acress the front of the lens.

Calumet maintains stock on the different size slip on caps as does Schneider. I have purchased replacements for used lenses that came without front and rear caps.

SK Grimes also will make proper metal slip caps.

Lens wraps also work, but are much more bulky and you don`t need that if it is going into padded compartments.

Schneider will replace elements for you. You can also use uv filters for extra protection.

John Cook
15-Oct-2005, 07:12
Ronald, I also use home-sewn ultrasuede pouches. Also have a large black piece for a focus cloth.

Just one quick tip: Should you decide to wash this material, DO NOT put it in the clothes dryer. It is 100% acrylic and will melt!

ronald moravec
15-Oct-2005, 10:11
Sounds like a great focus cloth. Light weight and 100% lightproof.

jonathan smith
15-Oct-2005, 11:23
Bubble pack. Light and good as anything. I have dropped one lens off my shoulder with no effect. Also I climb some pretty steep cliffs with it. Why was the cable release inside the same bag as the lens?

15-Oct-2005, 11:36
I carry (usually) two lenses. The first one has a screw-in rear metal cap. The front cap is a snap-on plastic kind, and i have one of those giant wide extra-strong rubber bands that goes over the lens (front to back) to keep the front cap on. This goes in one of those $10 velcro-corner lens wraps. The other lens gets the plastic cap and rubber band treatment on both sides, and the lens wrap also, but gets stuffed in the bellows of my disassembled camera.

Mike Greene
16-Oct-2005, 12:35
Try the $0.99 store for CD cases. Tear out the sleeves. Lenses mounted on boards up to maybe 210 fit just fine.

John Berry ( Roadkill )
16-Oct-2005, 18:43
I have had to replace a skylight filter twice, but I have never had the surface of the lens suffer. Even If I don't shoot with the filter, it always travels with one on it, saved me twice.

Doug Pollock
18-Oct-2005, 08:09
Orvis sells a foam padded, lightweight fishing reel and gear case which is padded and has spaces for 8 reels (lenses). The velcro dividers can be moved to make room for smaller and larger lenses. Only $59.00! On sale every once in a while.

Kerry L. Thalmann
18-Oct-2005, 11:37

Wow, a Sinar in the 'Chants. I've been up there six times, always with a large format camera, but never anything as bulky and heavy as a Sinar. I hope you got some good photos.

WRT your question about protecting lenses while backpacking... Proper fitting caps are a must, and a ripstop bag offers next to no protection. Others have made some great suggestions. The Gnass Gear cases are extremely well made. They protect your lenses from other things in your pack, and since they have dividers, they protect your lenses from each other as well. They are a good solution for carrying multiple lenses. I started using one of his standard length 4x5 multiple lens cases earlier this year for carry the five lens kit I use for shooting 4x10. Unfortunately, if you have all your lenses mounted on Sinar boards, they will not fit in his 4x5 lens cases. The larger boards will force you to use his larger, heavier 8x10 lens cases. One option that will save you both some weight and bulk would be to get a Sinar to Linhof lens board adapter and then mount the lenses you use for backpacking on much smaller/lighter Linhof Technika style boards. You could leave the adapter mounted on the camera and store the lenses on the smaller boards in one of the Gnass 4x5 lens cases.

Another option is to carry your lenses in individual padded cases, pouches or wraps (as other people have suggested). Again, using an adapter with smaller Linhof style boards will save some weight and considerable bulk. For years, I've used a variety of small padded individual cases to protect my lenses when backpacking. One type that has worked well for me is the small size Zing Pouches (http://www.tiffen.com/Zing_pouches.htm). They are cheap and lightweight. They don't offer as much protection as the Gnass Gear multiple lens cases, but they work great for individual compact lenses on small boards. I've used them with compact lenses on Linhof and Toho boards, as well as Canham and 110mm ARCA-SWISS boards (a bit tight, but usable). They come with colored collars (black, blue and purple). So, it's easy to know which lens is which when grabbing one from the pack. Again, they don't offer the same level of protection as the Gnass gear cases, but a lot more than a ripstop nylon bag.

As far as caps go, something that fits tight is a must and cheap insurance. Although others have recommended against them, I do use snap caps on some of my lenses when backpacking. I have standardised on 52mm filters for my bckpacking kit. Every lens that takes smaller filters gets a step-up ring and a 52mm Nikon snap cap in place of the original cap. I've never had one of the Nikon caps come off in my pack - but again, I'm carrying the lenses in protective pouches/cases. For some larger lenses, I replace the factory caps with something more rigid. For some reason, certain manufacturers (especially Rodenstock) have been skimping on caps in recent years. Some of these caps are so thin and flexible that any pressure at all on the front of the cap can cause it to flex and rub against the front (or rear) element while in your pack. Whether or not this is an issue depends on how big around the lens is, the curvature of the front element and the flexibility of the cap. If I can easily cause the center of the cap to contact the glass with mild finger presure, it gets replaced with something more substantial. The threaded metal caps mentioned above offer the highest level of protection, but contantly screwing them off and on can be tedious. A rigid plastic cap, like those made by the folks at S.K. Grimes is a good compromise. As long as the cap isn't too big around, the standard slip-on plastic caps from Nikon, Fuji and most Schneider caps work well. Many of the Schneider caps are bowed outward to provide a little extra clearance. The Schneider 54mm slip-on caps (labeled 223/25 - part number: 91-030356) fit snuggly over the 52mm Kenko step-up rings I use on my smaller lenses. These, and other Schneider slip-on caps are available from B&H or directly from Schneider Optics (http://www.schneideroptics.com/photography/accessories/lens_caps/). B&H also sells replcement Nikon slip-on caps at very reasonable prices. The Nikon caps are thicker and more rigid than the flimsy caps that come on many Caltar and Rodenstock lenses.

Once I have a properly fitting cap and a lens case/pouch (either an individual or multi lens case). it goes inside a small daypack, which then goes in the top compartment of my backpack. The only other things that get carried in the top compartment of my pack are clothes - nothing hard or pointed that could poke through and damage the camera gear. When I want to go off and do a little photography, I simply grab the day pack and my tripod and head off - leaving the big pack and camping gear beside the trail, or at my campsite. This works especially well in places like the Enchantments where I set up a base camp in the middle basin and then set off from there for repeated photo excursions.


Michael Rosenberg
23-Oct-2005, 16:09
I have also used the Outdoor Research padded cell cases. They are very well made, and the various size boxes are ideal for carrying multiple or single lenses. I reinforce the sides of the boxes with 4 ply mounting board to give some rigidity. Like Kerry and QT I put them on top in my bag. I recommend the red for large boards, the yellow (fits two lenses - eg my 58 and 75 or 200 and 300, on Linhof boards), or silver for 3 lenses. They are relatively cheap, and lightweight.


Mike Lewis
25-Oct-2005, 21:00
Fishpond makes a padded fishing reel case that must be similar to the Orvis case. Works for me. About $60, if I remember correctly.