How to hike light with a FPV drone

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 …

Which drone?

My preferred choice is a 5″ drone or a folding 7″ drone, as both can fit in a rucksack without removing the props. The 5″ flies a reasonable range, carries a decent battery size, handles some wind, and is able to carry a GoPro for those awesome cinematic shots. The 7″ drone flies about twice as long. Both are heavier than a 3″ drone or Whoop, but for me, the ability to carry a camera that supports high quality video recoding is a must.

7″ foldable drone
5″ drone

Which controller?

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 TBS Tango 2 (570g). It has a nice touch of both the antenna and sticks folding in on themselves for a slimmer travel shape.

Which headset?

A compact size is preferred. I personally use an Avatar binocular-style headset. The carrying case keeps them safe from dust & damage. The box-style headsets are more bulky.

Which tools?

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.

Recommended tools

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.

Repair time?

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.

Which backpack?

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.

NumBERComponentWeight (g)
1Controller – Frsky XLite-Pro & module400
2Controller stick guard5
3Emergency tools (see section above for details)200
4Batteries (2 x 2200 mah)484
5Headset – FatShark goggles, battery & VTX accessories556
6GoPro Hero 8120
7Drone – e.g. Shadowfax 5″ drone340
Total Weight~2 kg

Addendum to the list (July 2022):

  1. Spare battery strap (really light)
  2. Spare set of props (really light)
  3. I’ve increased to carrying 3 LIPOs rather than 2 (in case of epic location)

Addendum (Feb 2024):

  1. Upgraded to digital headset and 6S LIPOs
  2. Switched from FrSky XLite to Tango TBS 2

Any tips? What do you pack?

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