I have always had a passion for nature, but it wasn't until recently that I started spending a considerable amount of time vlogging on my hiking YouTube channel, Hit The Trails KC. While I'm no stranger to carrying audio recording equipment when I travel, my interest in vlogging evolved rapidly. With each new video I produced, my operation seemed to grow more elaborate.
The name of the game in hiking is to reduce pack weight as much as possible. But doing so became exponentially more difficult as I piled more and more vlogging gear into my operation.
Through a process of trial and error, I stumbled across a compact yet effective set of vlogging gear. The magic behind this kit is that nearly everything included serves more than one purpose. Many pieces of my gear are interchangeable and build off one another. This allows me to minimize my gear load without compromising on my production quality. Here are 10 essential pieces of gear for any mobile vlogger.
Vlogging Gear - Table of Contents
I seldom keep up with the latest and greatest of phones, opting to stay a couple generations behind and save some cash. But since I started vlogging for YouTube, my iPhone 11 Pro has been a game changer.
Within a very small form-factor, this phone packs an arsenal of lenses (wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto) which lead to substantial improvement in my production quality. The telephoto lens is my favorite, and is the first native camera phone lens that can really capture the bokeh effect--that beautiful soft-focus background that is the hallmark of a professional photo.
My phone also doubles as my GPS device, running the AllTrails app in the background to keep me on track as I hike.
My camera backpack of choice is the Lowepro Flipside Trek BP 350. I auditioned several other candidates for the trail, but ultimately settled on this one because it is a perfect hybrid between a camera bag and a hiking backpack.
The bottom half offers good protection with adjustable dividers for all of my video gear. The top half is essentially a large clamshell, large enough to hold all my essentials for hiking--things like food, a change of socks, sunscreen, and bug spray (thank you, Missouri). The outside of the pack contains several straps and small pockets to hold other gear like my water bottle and tripod.
But my favorite feature of this backpack is the rear access panel and the waistband. The pack is designed so that you can twist it to your front side and lay it flat like a suspended table to access your equipment. I'll admit it looks a little obscene in this position (somewhat of a flashback to a SNL skit perhaps?), but I never need to set my expensive gear down in the middle of a dirt trail.
Even with the latest camera tech, I still need a camera stablizer in order to get that smooth cinematic look. That is where the Osmo Mobile 3 comes in.
The Osmo Mobile 3 Smartphone Gimbal is the most compact gimbal of its class. The stabilizer arm is collapsable so it can fit easily into my pack. The unique design of the stabilizer arm also allows me to utilize the ultra-wide angle lens on my iPhone 11 Pro, where other gimbals are visible in the frame. This gimbal features a joystick for pan/tilt control, and a slider for digital zoom. It also has helpful features like target-follow-lock and hand gesture control while using the DJI software. Otherwise, the Osmo Mobile 3 is compatible with the popular Moment Camera App.
While I love my Osmo Mobile 3, sometimes the shot I'm trying to get requires a little extra control. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is heavier and has a larger footprint, but makes up for it with a large control knob which allows for easy manual adjustment of zoom and focus. This gimbal is also fully compatible with the popular Filmic Pro camera app, which is unfortunately not the case with the Osmo Mobile 3.
Both gimbals I mentioned earlier come equipped with an attachable mini tripod, but they lack the adjustability required on uneven outdoor terrain. The Xenvo Squidgrip Flexible Tripod is a brilliant solution to the problem.
I'm usually hiking solo, so this tripod gives me the ability to put my camera at interesting angles on the trail. It can be contoured securely around a large rock or wrapped around a tree limb, and the rubberized legs have enough tack to grip onto these surfaces.
When I twist the legs together, it is sturdy enough at the joints to support the weight of my entire gimbal assembly. This allows me to use it as an arm extension to get some really dynamic movement in my shots. The Xenvo Squidgrip Flexible Tripod has been a great addition to my vlogging kit.
As a sound designer, I'm more likely than not to come across a sound on the trail the piques my interest. Camera audio quality is notoriously poor, and often I'm recording sounds with the intention to create stock sound effects for my audio company (Frontier Sound FX), or to mix them in while doing the post-production design for my Youtube channel (Hit The Trails KC).
While the Zoom H2n is not necessarily a standard piece of gear for every vlogger, it is a compact and versatile recorder that I can carry with me at all times and set up to record in a pinch. It also has a standard camera mounting screw on the bottom, which pairs well with my Xenvo Squidgrip Flexible Tripod.
The Saramonic Blink 500 Wireless Microphone has quickly become one of my favorite pieces of gear in my vlogging kit. In my experience, it is the dictionary definition of the phrase "it just works". It's super easy to set up, sounds great on my voice, and the unit is powered from a lithium ion battery via USB-C port. Good riddance loose batteries!
The price point varies depending on the model combination that you get, but all sets come in at significantly less than a UHF system like the Senneheiser Evo Series. The connection is made from transmitter to receiver via 2.4Ghz connection; a far more stable protocol than some cheaper bluetooth units.
This microphone system is modular and expandable too. While I recommend using the standard lavaliere setup, you can use the mic built directly into the transmitter if a time crunch demands it. The receiver can be connected to any type of audio input depending on which unit you purchase. My personal favorite is the lightning connecter-compatible receiver for iPhone, which can be used cleanly with my gimbal setup.
Powering Your Phone From a Gimbal
One incredible feature on both the Osmo Mobile 3 and the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is the ability to charge my phone from a pass-through micro USB charging port on the gimbal. Recording video is hard work on my battery supply, and this option greatly extends my shooting time. Of course you will need the proper cable to access it, which is no provided with the gimbal.
Fortunately, you can pick up these short cables for cheap from Amazon. Just select micro USB to whatever connection you need for your smartphone, and you are good to go. Get the shortest cable possible in order to keep the gimbal balanced and moving freely. As a bonus, they are also compatible with the Mavic Mini drone.
External Power Bank
Even though both of my gimbals can provide additional power to my phone, it is always a safe idea in any hiking situation to bring a universal power supply. I prefer Anker as a trusted and reliable brand that will not harm my equipment. They are outfitted with an intelligent Power IQ USB port, which detects and delivers the proper voltage to any device connected to it.
The Anker PowerCore Slim has a 10000mAh capacity and comes in at only 7.5 ounces. Using this single device, I can charge my phone, either gimbal, or my wireless microphone system. Now that's versatility!
This lighting kit is not part of my standard trail vlogging gear kit. More often I use it indoors as studio lighting as intended. It is worth pointing out, however, that the UBeesize 8" LED Light Ring is very light weight, collapsable, and powered by USB. While I typically rely on mother sun to do my lighting for me, in an outdoor nighttime setting, this unit can be powered directly from my Anker power bank. Add another one for versatility!
The UBeesize LED Light Ring is adjustable, dimmable, and can be tuned to 3 different color temperatures. As a bonus, it includes a wireless camera shutter fab, which comes in handy for the tripod still photos I take out in the field.
Did I Miss Anything?
Is this a comprehensive list of essential vlogging gear, or did I miss something? What else would you bring in you vlogging kit? Let me know in the comments below.