It’s all about a balance of weight vs requirement if you’re hiking in the mountains. A temptation is to carry too much drone kit. Here’s a guide to what I bring into the mountains to balance weight and the ability to shoot some great footage …
My preferred choice is a 5″ drone, as it fits in a rucksack without removing the props, it flies a reasonable range, carries a decent battery size, handles some wind, and is able to carry a GoPro for those awesome cinematic shots. It’s a bit heavier than a 3″ drone, but the ability to carry a camera that supports high quality video recoding is a must. A 6″ drone is tempting for the longer more stable flights, but I find it’s too big for fitting into a rucksack.
Aim for a small and light one! I used to operate a Frsky Horus X12S controller, but at 1kg, it’s too big and heavy for being portable. Instead, I use a Frsky XLite-Pro (400g with batteries).
A compact size is preferred. I use a FatShark binocular-style headset, and they have the benefit of being compact and light. The carrying case keeps them safe from dust & damage. The box-style headsets are more bulky, but you’re probably not going to buy a new headset just for heading for a hike.
When I hike and fly, it’s usually for cinematic footage – no bando flying or stunts that will require a fix-in-the-field. Thus, I usually try and keep the tools to a minimum. After all, one isn’t going to be doing any major heart surgery on top of a mountain on a one-day hike.
Bare minimum tools
A toolset containing (1) a penknife for general purpose, (2) a prop key for replacing props and (3) duct tape to hold things together in emergency.
A toolkit as above, but with the inclusion of a (1) hex screwdriver for tightening bolts. The other items are (2) a penknife, (3) ability to replace props and (4) duct tape for holding the drone together!
Field fixing toolkit
A kit suitable for fixing in the field. The (1) classic penknife, (2) a prop key, (3) duct tape, (4) hex screwdriver, (5) portable soldering iron, (6) XT60 power cable (how many batteries did you bring?) and (7) soldering wire. Don’t forget your favourite replacement parts!
Which spare parts?
My advice is to keep it to the minimum. If you epically smash up your drone, it’s probably best to call it a day. Risks I tend to encounter are landing-related, as rocky mountains have limited soft landing places. A scree-slope or a knife-edge ridge can result in prop damage upon a non-stable landing. I’ve had a drone cartwheeling 20 metres down a steep slope.
A spare complete set of props is light and takes up no space. Likewise a spare battery strap. If you’re going further afield or for more than one day, consider things that may get ripped off. For example, VTX cable, VTX antenna or those extremely delicate TBS Tracer Immortal antennas.
Hiking with a drone backpack is not as comfortable as a normal backpack, and it’s also probably got a whole load of items that are not essential for a day out with a drone. I therefore use a 16L Osprey Zealot biking backpack (pictured) or 20L hiking backpack. After all, aside from the drone you’ll probably be carrying a jacket, food, water, etc.
My one day hike drone kit
Here is a table showing the drone kit I take on a hike. It allows about 10 mins of flight.
|1||Controller – Frsky XLite-Pro & module||400|
|2||Controller stick guard||5|
|3||Emergency tools (see section above for details)||200|
|4||Batteries (2 x 2200 mah)||484|
|5||Headset – FatShark goggles, battery & VTX accessories||556|
|6||GoPro Hero 8||120|
|7||Drone – e.g. Shadowfax 5″ drone||340|
|Total Weight||~2 kg|
Addendum to the list (July 2022):
- Spare battery strap (really light)
- Spare set of props (really light)
- I’ve increased to carrying 3 LIPOs rather than 2 (in case of epic location)
Any tips? What do you pack?