If you haven’t seen Elina Osborne’s 2019 PCT thru-hike vlog series then you’re missing out. In my humble opinion, it’s the best thru-hiker vlog series ever made.
Whilst her series was great it now means the bar is that much higher for anyone who wants their hiking vlog to stand out.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to outline some ways we can all improve our vlog setup when hiking.
This article isn’t about trying to mimic Elina’s personality onscreen. She is uniquely herself as you are uniquely yourself.
This is about the mindset, tools, techniques and gear we can all use to better tell our stories.
1) Edit After You Finish The Trail
This is the single biggest difference anyone can make for their video quality. Editing once you are off the trail changes everything.
When I was on the A.T. I filmed on a GoPro and edited on my phone when I got to towns. This is how the vast majority of people do their vlogs.
The major flaw with this is that your vlogs simply become a sequential log of the miles you hiked. For example, here is a rubbish example of my vlog, where I hiked from Winding Stair Gap to Fontana Dam.
The title of the video already tells you pretty much what will happen in the video. I walked from Winding Stair Gap to Fontana Dam, with some rambling along the way.
Editing in Trail Towns Sucks
On top of this it’s incredibly annoying to edit when in town. Your town time is extremely valuable so you don’t want to waste it stressing about getting your video done.
All smartphone video editors are pretty rubbish with pretty basic features. So they can be a pain to edit on.
The worst part though is that in nearly all trail towns your upload speeds will be incredibly slow. Something that would usually take 15 minutes to upload to Youtube could take hours.
A rushed edit invariably leads to a worse video. If you take 6 months to hike really you should be able to take the time to edit off the trail.
Big Picture vs Day-to-Day
By editing after the hike it meant Elina could tell a story, not just log the day-to-day of her hike. The narrative could zoom in on the silly mundane stuff or zoom out to the big picture about how she felt during that section, that day etc.
If you edit on the trail and post every week or so, you’re confining the story of that video to just that 5 or 7 day section.
It’s hard to add context to how you felt that week because you mightn’t even realize it until looking back on it weeks later!
Context is What Makes Stories Meaningful
For example, in episode 7 of Elina’s vlog series, there is a moment where she is hitching a ride back to the trailhead with two of her tramily; Irish Exit and Lucy.
So, this would be the last time I would hitch to trail with the two of them-Elina Osborne, Tip-Tap
By editing post-trail Elina could reflect on the significance of this moment. She had been hiking with these two guys essentially since the start of the trail.
If Elina was vlogging and editing on the trail, she likely wouldn’t have truly known the significance of this moment.
By editing post-trail she can draw greater attention to it. For us viewers this then becomes a very powerful moment.
For me, Elina captured something here that I think every hiker has felt in varying degrees. It’s something I’ve never effectively seen portrayed in a hiking vlog; the serendipitous meetings and partings that come with hiking.
People come, people go and a few days pass before you realize you haven’t see them in a while. When you do realize it’s a weird mix of nostalgia, at having spent time with them, but also a little melancholia that you could likely never see them again.
Such a moment is only really possible when you edit after your thru-hike. Her vlog is littered with these moments that could only properly be shared with the benefit of distance, time and hindsight.
How to Edit Off-Trail?
Whether you edit on or off the trail you need to properly store all your footage safely on trail.
This is even more important when editing after the trail. When you edit on-trail you can delete as you go whereas with after the trail you’ll likely have 100s of GB of data.
If you’re shooting with a large mirrorless or DSLR Camera, GoPro or Samsung Smartphone (or any phone that has an external SD slot) then your best option is just to have a whole bunch of SD cards. Depending on your device you can go from 16gb all the way up to one terabyte or more.
(Note: If you go the SD card route you’ll also need a SD card reader)
Another option is to pay for some cloud storage such as Google One Drive. The problem with this is that when you get to a trail town you’ll have to upload all your video to the cloud, which can take a while. It’s a handy back-up option, but I’d advise against using it as your primary source of storage for a thru-hike.
Another option and your best option if you’re using an iPhone is an external SSD drive. You can get really lightweight 500gb or 1 terabyte options.
This 1TB Sandisk SSD Drive only weighs 1.4oz/41g or this Samsung 1TB one weights 1.8oz/51g.
(Note: If you plan to use one of these with an iPhone you’ll need a USB-C to Lightening Cable Adapter)
A Solid Computer/Laptop
If you’re shooting hi-res video footage such as 4k then video editing is one of the most intensive things you can do on your computer.
As a general rule of thumb the more RAM (Memory) your computer has the better for video editing.
You’ll also need a good video card.
To comfortably edit on a computer I’d suggest a minimum of 16GB of RAM and good quality processing power and graphics cards.
You could edit on less but it will become a pain.
If you have a laptop below these specs, then try out one of the video editing programs below. If it’s too slow then you could consider getting an external GPU. This can help improve your machines video editing capabilities but they’ll never be as good as having more RAM in-built into your machine originally.
Elina herself edited on an iMac (I don’t know her full specs) but here are some options that you could reliably use for seamless video editing:
You got your footage, you got a powerful computer to edit with. Now what to use to actually edit?
There are 3 main options:
- Adobe Premiere Pro
- Final Cut Pro
- Davinci Resolve (Free Version Available)
Adobe Premiere Pro
This is what Elina used to edit her Vlogs. She edits video as part of her job in everyday life so I’m assuming she was already familiar with it.
This is professional-level editing software and you’ll be able to do amazing things with it, so long as you have the times, skills and CPU to handle it.
It requires a subscription to use. You can either get a stand alone subscription or upgrade for their entire Creative Suite which has programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects.
If you really want to use Premiere Pro but you’re strapped for cash, you could buy a once-off month subscription but this is more expensive that the monthly plan which has a 1 year minimum contract.
This would give you a full month to do everything but to be honest I’d probably advise against this, unless you’re a Premiere Pro expert already.
Final Cut Pro
This is another professional-level software. It’s generally regarded as been a little more user friendly than Adobe Premiere Pro, so if you’re a novice editor this might be a better option.
It’s also cheaper in the sense that it’s a one time fee instead of subscription.
So if you want something you can use well into the future without having to worry about ongoing costs then you’ll prefer this one.
Davinci Resolve (Free Version Available)
Davinci Resolve was developed by the professional camera company BlackMagic, whose cameras make me cry because of how beautiful they are but also how expensive they are.
Surprisingly there is a fully functioning free version available. No watermark, no export limitations etc. So you could definitely edit a professional film on the free version.
It was used professionally by Hollywood for years, especially for color grading. So even though there is a fully-fledged free version, this is a professional level editing software.
If you want even more features and options though there is paid version, Davinci Resolve Studio.
(If you buy a BlackMagic camera you get a free Davinci Resolve Studio license. This is how the editing program is free for us mere mortals. BlackMagic use the editing software as a way for filmmakers to learn about the brand. Then filmmakers buy their beautifully, expensive cameras which pays for the free editor.)
2) Film With Camera Gear You’re Comfortable With
Elina used her Sony a7S II Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera with a Sony 35mm F2.8 lens.
She described this as an extension of herself so it wasn’t even a decision that she was bringing this on her hike, it was inevitable.
She also brought a DJI osmo because it’s super small and has a gimbal for great stabalization.
Elina Osborne’s Camera Gear Set-up:
- Sony a7S II Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera
- Sony 35mm F2.8 lens
- Extra Camera Batteries (x2)
- External Mic
- Shoulder Clip (to attach camera to shoulder strap)
- DJI Osmo
Approximate Total Cost: $3500
Total weight: 51.3oz/1457g
This is all great gear (and expensive) but the message here isn’t go buy the best gear possible. The message is vlog with gear you’re comfortable with.
If you’re starting your thru-hike in a week then you probably shouldn’t go out and buy a full-frame mirrorless camera to go vlog with.
Start with your phone as we’re pretty much all comfortable with that. However, if you want to improve your video quality and possibilities then buy this gear months in advance of your hike so you can familiarize yourself with it.
Can You Vlog With Just a Phone?
With hiking, everything is a trade-off. Is the extra quality of a professional camera setup worth the extra weight, the extra costs?
More and more our smartphones videography capabilities are closing that gap.
It’ll be a long while before a phone can truly match a full-frame camera but can most people tell the difference?
With the trajectory of smartphone cameras there definitely will come a point of diminishing returns on full-framed camera.
Personally, I’m transitioning to a smartphone only vlogging setup. Partly for the weight, partly for the cost but also partly for the challenge. It can be fun to try to get more out of less.
This is what my setup will look like:
- iPhone 11 Pro max (256gb)
- Waterproof Case
- Rode Mic
- Smartphone wire for mic
- Smartphone Clamp (with 2 tripod attachment and Cold Shoe for Mic)
- UltraPod Lightweight Tripod
(I’m still assembling all this at the moment, I’ll update with more info when I have it. If you got money to burn then you can donate to help support me and get me there quicker)
Approximate Total Cost: $1,470
Approximate Total Weight: 14oz/396g
So if we compare that against Elina’s gear setup, hers cost $2000 more and weighs 37.3oz/1049g more. And it’s actually much more if you consider that nearly every has a smartphone already.
So to vlog like Elina there is a cost (both figurative and literal) but just as you don’t need to mimic Elina’s personality, you also don’t need to copy her gear setup exactly. This all comes down to you and your style.
When to Go With a Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera?
Whether to go with a full-frame mirrorless camera all depends on what your motivation for hiking and capturing your hike is.
If you just want some memories then a full professional setup might be too expensive and heavy for a lot of people.
If you love shooting film and just want to create something for joy of it then you could consider it but if you do make sure you have enough time to familiarize yourself with any equipment you buy.
Quick note: I wouldn’t recommend a DSLR when hiking. A mirrorless camera is where you want to go if you want a professional camera. They are smaller, lighter and easier to maintain when out on the trail.
3) Good Audio is What Makes Good Video
VoiceOver vs In-Situ Audio
Elina utilized the voice-over option quite a lot during her vlog. She could record this in a controlled environment and so could make sure it was of professional standard (again another benefit of editing after the trail).
I believe she used the same mic for the voiceover as she did during her hike. The importance of good audio can’t be overstated.
Bad audio is the quickest sign of poor quality.
The microphone Elina used is one you can also use on your Smartphone (with the right cable) so you don’t even need a professional camera to ensure you get professional audio.
Understand The Importance of a Good Soundtrack
Another great aspect of Elinas vlog was her use of great music throughout it. To me the best example of how she used music to portray the feeling and mood was ‘The Blob’ scene:
Youtube have their own free music you can use but the selection is limited. There are options for royalty free music and paid options too. Elina sourced music from:
Elina also created a playlist of all the music she used throughout her vlog.
4) It’s About The People!
I’m a predominatly solo-hiker but even I know what makes thru-hiking so special is the people and experiences we have along the way.
All too often hiking vlogs, including my own, focus too much on the miles or focus too much on the beauty and scenery. These may be reasons why we hike but they’re not the main reason we watch hiking vlogs.
The best hiking vlogs allow the personality and feelings of the vlogger to shine through. And as I said before this isn’t about changing your personality or doing your impersonation of Elina.
If you’re a grumpy curmudgeon then vlog like a grumpy curmudgeon. If you’re a goofy nerd, embrace it. People respond to authenticity.
Being authentic is more important than all the camera gear or the music or the editing but each of these extras enables you to tell your story more potently.
If you’re trying to be someone you’re not on camera our collective BS-o-meters go off. This is what made Elina videos so great, she was simply herself and it showed.
Couple that with some kick-ass gear and a great eye for editing and some tasty music and you’ve got great vlog on your hands..
Elina capped off most episodes with a ‘How I got my trail name’ interview series. The premise was simple, she’d interview a hiker, usually just sitting around at camp, and ask them to share their story about how they got their trail name.
Adopting such an approach introduced the viewer to some of the other people that appear in the vlogs and gives them a better sense of who they are.
You can strike the balance between sharing who you are but also the people around you because even though you’re telling your story, the people you hike with are apart of that too.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other things not mentioned here you can do to make greats vlogs. These are just some ideas you can play around with when it comes to how you think about vlogging.
Having a vision of what you want your vlog to look and feel like is something anyone who is planning on documenting their hike should do.
You can go out and just wing it and see what happens or you can proactively think about some things you’d like to captured along the way.
Invariably though the best moments you capture will require the right mindset, the right gear and likely some good luck! You never know when the weather might just roll in and block that famous view you were planning on capturing.
You can follow Elina’s hikes on her website, youtube and instagram.
And you can follow my hikes on youtube too, you’ll eventually be able to see how (or if) I progress my video style and quality or if I just remain a rambling Irishman lazily pointing his GoPro at his dumb face.