HAVE CAMERA POD, WILL TRAVEL: A SEASON CAPTURING IMAGES IN WILD PLACES
I was making my way down the trail, bounding with excitement as I moved through the great halls of granite that are the Wind River Range of Wyoming. A small group of day hikers was on an ascent, and I stepped off to let them by, noticing the incredibly capable Canon R5 and a big lens hanging from the shoulder of one of them. "Sweet camera, man!" I said as he passed. He laughed and retorted, "Yeah, a lot better than that Nikon you have." "I'll bet mine has seen better things than yours ever will!" I chuckled as I took off down the trail, onto the next part of my CDT adventure.
This past summer, I had the exorbitant pleasure and privilege of connecting many of those "better things" by hiking the Continental Divide Trail from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. As always, I carried my trusty Nikon Z7 and a 24-70mm f/4 lens, as well as, at times, a couple of other lenses for specific scenarios. The CDT is no joke when it comes to terrain and weather, so I needed a guardian angel. I added the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Camera Pod to my kit to take on that role.
In total, my size large Camera Pod has been to fourteen states and the United States Virgin Islands, and it accompanied me along my thru hike of the CDT. If there was a chance of rain, snow, hail, sandstorms, river crossings, or smashing rocks, the Camera Pod was strapped to my chest to keep that important piece of gear secure, stable, and easy to access.
Even before my CDT hike, I had my first real chance to use the Camera Pod when I did an overnighter in Petrified Forest National Park of Arizona. This area was so desolate and barren that all the water we needed had to be carried into the backcountry. A cold front had moved through that evening which brought intense winds that picked up the super dry sands and blasted my legs, dumped sand in my mouth, and irritated my eyes. Anything that was exposed was covered in sand and dust. Thankfully, my camera gear was safe in the Camera Pod!
The second day of the CDT was the first time I got to use my Camera Pod on the trail. Parts of Glacier National Park remind me more of the Pacific Northwest than the Front Range of the rest of the CDT. Day two brought those PNW vibes with a dreary and constant drizzle. My Camera Pod, along with an umbrella, allowed me to shoot the entire day, even while going up and over a barren pass. I knew then that this 3.7-ounce piece of protection was going to become immensely useful throughout my hike.
The single worst day of weather for me on the CDT came in the Teton Range in the form of heavy downpours, high winds, simultaneous lightning/thunder, and the worst damned hail I've ever been in. The day started in the storm clouds, and we quickly raced up and over Hurricane Pass during a small break in the weather, eager for treeline on the other side. During the sprint across the open tables in gusting winds, I couldn't help but notice how relatively stable my camera remained while in the Camera Pod. That afternoon brought the real storm. Bouncing in between stands of forest and open parks was not ideal as the storm clouds got heavier and darker and began throwing lightning bolts over our heads. We ducked into a thicket and began to set up my Hyperlite Mountain Gear 8x10 Flat Tarp to shelter under. That's when the hail started. We were largely saved from the bombardment, at first, then the distinct smell of fire filled the air. Given the options–being struck by lightning while running through a hail storm or the potential of getting cut off by a wildfire, we quickly packed up and hit the trail again. The inside of my Camera Pod showed no signs of leaks throughout the entire day, and the cushioning helped protect against the barrage of hailstones, which lay nearly three inches along the trail.
There were several occasions where I was immensely thankful to have my Camera Pod there to protect my gear from colliding with rocks. The most memorable was a hellacious ascent of Square Top in the Wind River Range. A night ascent, complimented by a dying headlamp, meant several cairns were missed while pushing up the near-vertical face. Unsure on how to progress further, up was always an option, and several Class 5 moves were made with a full pack. To counterweight a five-day resupply, my body was as close as humanly possible to the rocks I was holding on to. The Dyneema fabric and light cushioning of the Camera Pod meant my Nikon was safe from damage as I shimmied my way up the mountain, eager to photograph the sunrise.
Since completing the CDT, I have had the opportunity to travel via plane, and the Camera Pod is still no slouch in that setting. Looping my camera strap through two of the loops on the Camera Pod, I had a secure and relatively inconspicuous way to store my camera as I traveled through the airport and through cities. I also used this method while visiting trail towns, and I found it especially useful if my clothes had no pockets to store a phone and wallet.
At this point, I would imagine that my Camera Pod is one of the most traveled and real-world tested Camera Pods out there. It has seen–and helped me see–so much beauty, no matter the conditions. Though I don't use it constantly, I will always have it in my pack, regardless of the destination.
Matthew Morelli is a thru hiker, route finder, peak bagger, mountain runner, and photojournalism student at the University of Georgia. He is aspiring to be a jack-of-all and a master-of-some when it comes to human-powered sports. See more of his work at www.mmorellicompositions.com.