River canyons like the Zion Narrows are incredibly rewarding for photography, but they are absolutely treacherous for camera gear. When you hike the Narrows in normal conditions, you are typically hiking in knee to waist-deep water and occasionally, there may be one or two short sections of chest-deep water. (The base of Mystery Falls near the Temple of Sinawava is often deep.) At several crossings, the current can be quite powerful and it takes a great deal of balance and strength to keep from falling over. (In higher water conditions, hiking is much harder.) Needless to say, this is a dangerous situation for your exposed camera gear.
|A bowling ball peeks up above the rushing water of the Zion Narrows.|
When I hike with my big camera, I typically stow it in a small Lowepro Toploader camera bag and use webbing and a small carabiner to attach it to a high point on the shoulder strap of my backpack. That puts my camera pretty high at chest level, yet keeps it easily accessible for shots. For balance, I use my big, sturdy tripod as a walking stick alongside one of my normal trekking poles. For added safety it is important to also bring a drybag for your camera and other electronics that fits in your backpack (like the Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Bag 35L), just in case you need to stow all of your camera gear for a precarious section of river. I also put a small towel inside the drybag to soak up any drops of water that might make their way inside. Be sure to test out your rig before your big hike. See the Hiking Gear page for more suggestions.
|A little swimming pool in Orderville Canyon. A drybag for your camera gear will save the day.|
For other wet adventures like Orderville Canyon, the Left Fork of North Creek (the Subway), and many of the technical canyoneering routes, you can pretty much count on having to swim several times, so be prepared to constantly set up and stow your camera gear in a drybag. You will also have to battle lens fog, moisture build-up and fine particles of sand that like to get in the buttons and dials of your camera. That's the risk you take to get great photos in such difficult locations. Be prepared for the possible loss of your gear.
If you are looking for an easier solution to getting souvenir photos, consider purchasing a small one-piece waterproof camera like the Ricoh WG-6 or the Olympus TG-6. Models like these make canyoneering photography easier, although I do wish manufacturers would make newer high-resolution models. (Development of high-quality tough/waterproof cameras has sadly stagnated over the past decade.) Alternatively, as smart phones get better and better with image quality and ruggedness, simple cases like the ProCase Waterproof Pouch have become very popular for canyon photography. None of these cases are completely foolproof though, so be sure to test your rig out before your big hike.
|A smart phone gets luxurious ferry service though a wet corridor.|
|A spot in a technical slot canyon where you want to know your drybag is working properly...|