In planning out your perfect weekend hiking or backpacking trip, taking photos often gets left out. Whether you’re hiking solo, with a partner, or with a friend, you’ll want photos of people in those scenic landscapes later. After a thru-hike, it’s often said that you’ll treasure photos with people more than just beautiful landscapes.
That’s why it’s important to plan ahead to get a great hiking selfie that doesn’t look like a selfie! After 18,000 miles of thru-hiking, I’ve found sometimes the simplest solutions offer the best results.
Here are my top 3 ways to get a hiking self-portrait that actually looks good with 2 bonus tips
Taking a Hiking Self-Portrai
There are three simple ways to take a good hiking self-portrait. My partner and I have tried all kinds of ways to get photos with both of us in it over the years.
First, you could use an ultralight tripod. While the selfie stick works, it often fails faster. Ultralight tripods have come a long way and there are several that do the trick. Second, you can cleverly use rocks and the natural landscape to prop up your phone to take a photo. And third, if you’re in a popular scenic area, simply ask someone if they can take a photo for you. Usually, I look for someone who also wants a photo, but is too shy to ask.
I’ll describe how to use each method below with a few bonus tips.
- Use an Ultralight Tripod
The ultralight tripod has become a key luxury item for us. If you carry one, you can set it up almost anywhere and get a photo of yourself quickly and efficiently. The lightest ones have the least versatility; however, you don’t have to go heavy to get a good one.
I recommend the Joby GripTight One GP Stand for versatility, ease, and relative lightness. We took this one the CDT and GET and it took both of those trails to finally break it. We used it constantly and beat it up pretty well. I particularly like it for the flexible legs because the outside surfaces are not always flat. REI claims it is 2.5 ounces.
Joby also has a “micro” version of the GripTight. However, while smaller and lighter, it lacks versatility. As phones get heavier, these lighter stands will often not balance when they aren’t level. The claimed weight is 1.6 ounces.
Another popular small phone tripod is the Manfrotto Mini Tripod. While this tripod has more fixed legs when expanded, it has a ball below the universal phone holder to make the camera level. This one is a bit heftier with a claimed weight of 7 ounces.
- Use Rocks and the Natural Landscape
If you already have a luxury item and cannot afford the weight of another, you can get creative with the natural landscape. For years, we didn’t think it was worth it to carry a tripod. And, let’s face it, 5 or 10 years ago, they really were still too heavy.
You’d be surprised what you can do with a few rocks. You can grab a few and stack them to hold your phone in position for a photo. But, always remember to re-scatter them after you’re finished.
I’ve also found rock ledges particularly useful because they often have nooks that can hold a phone. Sometimes you need a small rock to hold the phone at the right angle, but with some creativity, they work great.
- Ask a Friend or Stranger, Offer to Take theirs
If you’ve planned a hike on a more popular trail, chances are that where you want a photo, someone else will, too. Most people will not mind snapping a photo for you if you ask nicely. I often find another solo person or a couple and ask them. Couples can’t always get photos with both of them in it, so they’re usually willing to take a photo for you and you can take one in exchange.
Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst they can say is no and you can just ask the next person.
Bonus Tip #1
Use a combo of 1 & 2! Temporarily stack rocks to get your ultralight tripod to the right height. While my favorite Joby tripod is fantastic, sometimes I want a photo from a different perspective. Occasionally, we’ll set it up on a rock or two to get an extra foot of height. The Joby with flexible legs can also use tree branches to get a different angle as well.
You can also use the flexible legs on fence posts for trail markers or those pesky barbed wire fences on some national scenic trails. We will often use the flexi legs to get a photo we otherwise wouldn’t be able to get in the middle of nowhere.
Bonus Tip #2
Instead of setting your phone’s timer, hit record on a video. That way, you don’t have to run to your position and possibly hurt yourself in the process. You can also set your video quality to 4K.
If you use a video, you can try multiple poses – just be sure to pause between them for a few seconds. Once you have the photos you want, you can walk back and stop the video.
Often, we will immediately trim the video to take out the extra portions and not take up extra space. Then, you can find the photo you want, pause the video, and screenshot it.
The best part? You can take as many screenshots as you’d like.
Conclusion: Plan Ahead and Take Those People Pictures!
A long time ago, while I was hiking the AT in 2010, I ran into someone who had thru-hiked in the past. I asked him if he would have done anything differently. He told me that he wished he had taken more photos of the hikers he met along the way. He wanted those “boring” photos of people cooking dinner at a shelter, snacking at a viewpoint, sitting on a random log by the trail. All those landscape photos he took? He liked a few. That really stuck with me and I hope that it will stick with you.
So bring that tripod, get creative with some rocks, or shamelessly ask other hikers to take a photo for you. Those are the pictures that will matter in the long run.