Thank you to all who contributed! We’re unable to publish all of the over fifty entries, but it was a tough race with many evocative and lush photographs. Though I wasn’t a judge, it was fun to collect the images and captions, learning a bit more about each of the photographers in the process. Here are the top ten entries, with the photographers’ captions and the judges’ commentary on each. Special thanks to our judges: Ryan Jordan, Chris Wallace, Damien and Renee Tougas, and Tony Wong.
Congratulations to the winners!
- First Place (Hyperlite Mountain Gear Porter Pack): Heather Allen
- Second Place (Ruta Locura Wasatch Bivy): Scott MacButch
- Third Place (Mountain Laurel Designs eVent Mitts and Gaiters): Frédéric Maillard
First Place – Heather Allen
Sierra Sunrise: Mount Banner as viewed from Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California. Shot with a Canon G10.
Ryan Jordan: With reflections, I prefer a more symmetrical composition, and I miss just a tiny twinge of blue in the dark sky, but the alpenglow on this peak is unreal and I really, really, really want to camp here.
Chris Wallace: I love the alpenglow here, but I find it lacking an easily identifiable focal point (my eyes are not drawn anywhere in particular).
Damien Tougas: I love the way this photo makes me feel; when I look at it I feel both a chill of cool air and the warmth of the sun. Although the color of the sky seems a bit unnatural for my tastes, it does provide a nice contrast to the mountains.
Renee Tougas: The color on the mountain is fabulous. It would have been perfect if the water was still.
Tony Wong: I love the combination of overall sharpness of the image in the light and dark areas and how the photographer captured the early morning light on the mountains. The image would have been a little nicer if the shot composed a little "lower" so that tip of the mountain in the reflection on the water was not almost touching the bottom edge of the photo.
Second Place – Scott MacButch
Brooks Range, Arrigetch Peaks. We made a big circle, first floated a short distance down the Noatak River, hiking up Portage Pass to the Alatna, floated down the Alatna, then backpacked through the Arrigetch, and finally floated down the upper Noatak River to our starting place – 14 days.
Ryan Jordan: I yearn for this scene to appear during the magic hour of dawn or dusk, whatever gives me alpenglow on those peaks, and colors that are a little less harsh, but given the lighting limitations, the technical quality of this image is superb.
Chris Wallace: I find the colors washed out a bit, but the shelters provide a great sense of scale and make me want to camp here.
Damien Tougas: The scene is beautiful; I really want to camp here. While the colors feel a little washed out to me, I think the composition and location are great.
Renee Tougas: This photo makes you want to camp here and pack light to get there. The composition is great. The color seems a bit washed out, but I think that’s just a time of day lighting issue.
Tony Wong: This photo draws me in to explore all of it with my eyes. The shelters in the foreground makes the photo immediately personal, making me imagine that I could be there. They provide scale to the image and make the foreground more interesting. It would have been better if the shot had been composed a little higher so that the peaks on the upper right side included more of those white clouds and offered more room to "breathe" vs. being pinched by the top edge of the photo. The one missing element of this photo was if the sky had been much deeper, darker, and blue… overall, more contrast to bring out the details in the mountains in the background.
Third Place – Frédéric Maillard
Taken in Iceland, the first day of the Laugavegur hike. The incoming storm wasn’t yet reducing visibility; in the background you can see the rhyolite-coloured hills, typical of that area. The photo was taken with an Olympus E420 + kit lens.
Ryan Jordan: This image has everything – terrific composition and technical quality, beautiful color, and interesting lines that draw the viewer in. This would make a fantastic enlargement, when the viewer can identify the hikers. For web viewing, the people are too small. I want to know if they are in pain or smiling.
Chris Wallace: I love the the vivid color and expanse of the scene, but I’d prefer the hikers be more identifiable.
Damien Tougas: The crispness of the colors and lines in this photo really grab me, the scene is really nice too. There is so much going on here visually that it almost feels like too much to take in at once.
Renee Tougas: I love the soft mounds in this photo – it speaks peace to me. Whereas the sky has a sense of foreboding – such a striking contrast. I love the scale of the humans here – small.
Tony Wong: The wonderful contrast of textures and colors makes this photo a joy to look at. There are so many different elements that are well captured- rock, snow, dark, brooding clouds, and water off in the distance. Small details of the trail meandering along the crest of the ridges rewards closer inspection and shows people as the smallest thing to provide perspective and context of the landscape. Only thing that I could want is a little more detail of the people on the trail, if they were closer to the photographer when it was taken.
Honorable Mention – Steve Denny
Elly descending toward Taylor Lake near Durango, CO; finishing up a four-week thru-hike on the Colorado Trail with a hail storm hot on her heels. Camera: Canon G12, f/4 1/80 ISO100 Hiker: Elly Harder
Ryan Jordan: A harshly lit sky detracts a little from this image, but composition is strong, color is natural, and her pack is sufficiently light!
Chris Wallace: All the greenery makes me feel a little at home, and I love having the female hiker showing how to get it done, but the sky could be a bit more colorful.
Damien Tougas: This photo makes me want to go backpacking right now. I love all of the varying shades of green, but the overexposure of the sky washes things out a bit towards the top of the photo.
Renee Tougas: The scene is wonderful, the foreground action against the backdrop – great composition. It would have been perfect if the foreground was more illuminated, seems a tad dark, but that’s simply a natural cloud and lighting issue.
Tony Wong: I really like this photo because of the woman on the trail in the foreground and the beautiful backdrop with the lush green surrounding the lake and trail covered mountains. The strong composition of this photo is that it’s completely familiar as one of those special moments on the trail that is just so recognizable. Unfortunately, what distracts on this photo is the softness and dull colors of the foreground. If the sky in the distance had more contrast, it would serve to make for a more complex and interesting skyline.
Honorable Mention – Danny Milks
Our Norwegian friend reaping the sweet reward of backcountry skiing in the mountains of Norway’s stunning west coast. Camera Data: Panasonic TS1 Focal Length: 29mm (in 35mm equivalent) Exposure time: 1/500 sec. F number: f/10.
Ryan Jordan: Placing trekkers who are far away in an image of such grandeur is difficult – this photo accomplishes this well with a simple, snow-dominated background and outstanding framing using cloud shadows, the horizon line, and rock. The position of the trekker in the frame is first rate – my eyes keep coming back to him/her.
Chris Wallace: It took me multiple viewings before I saw the trekker and their trail, but the colors are eye catching and I love the clouds.
Damien Tougas: I really like the composition of this photo, especially the way the sun, clouds and sky feel alive. The extreme contrast between the rock and the snow feels like too much, but was probably necessary to prevent overexposure of the snow.
Renee Tougas: A bit dark overall (polarizer?) but what a great scene.
Tony Wong: Shadow and light do well to light the singular and distant path cut into the snow by the lone adventurer. I love how the clouds catch the light and ride along the ridges of the snow covered peaks to softness what is a stark environment. The composition and shadows of the photo allows for complexity in enjoying the scenery in what could have easily been a washed out and featureless photo. The only complaint is the softness in foreground of the image at the lower bottom right.
Honorable Mention – Sieto van der Heide
The location is the high camp on Denali, Alaska, looking at Mount Foraker. Although a Denali trip is probably not backpacking ‘light,’ for me this is very much in the context of exploring beautiful places and challenging myself. The person in the photo is having a moment to herself and enjoying the surroundings. She’s stated, to her, “This is my most favorite place in the world.” This picture was shot with a Canon S95 and enhanced using Adobe Lightroom.
Ryan Jordan: Washed out colors that are slightly too warm for me to be natural don’t detract from the fact that I want to sit here, view this scene, and write in my journal.
Chris Wallace: I really love seeing the hiker sitting there on that ledge, but I’d like a little more vivid color.
Damien Tougas: The first word that comes to my mind when I look at this is "dreamy." I feel like the guy sitting on the rock dreaming of mountains beyond my reach. Exposure of this scene must have been difficult – the guy sitting on the rock feels dark, while the rest feels a bit light.
Renee Tougas: Impressive scene, doesn’t say much about lightweight backpacking per se. Doesn’t speak to me as much as the others.
Tony Wong: A dreamy landscape of clouds surrounding a snowing island in what seems the edge of space heights. The ledge of rock planking out for the lone and bundled figure makes this shot interesting because it allows the viewer to place themselves into the photo. If there were more contrast or color in the sky to bring out the blue, it would make for an even bolder image.
Honorable Mention – Ludovic Pradel
Taken in the Pyrenees Mountain (on the south of France) during a three-day hike in February last year. I’d opened my eyes at 3:30AM with a beautiful starry sky: I have to take a picture! I’ve made about 20 pictures with different time exposure until 5:30AM, just one picture was nice this one! Taken with my Nikon D90, 10 minutes exposure.
Ryan Jordan: In this image, I’m wanting more strength and color from the sunset, I want to be closer to the shelter (but with a wide view offered by a wider lens), but the star trails are mesmerizing. A great technical image of a lightweight shelter in a beautiful environment.
Chris Wallace: Absolutely love the star trails and lit shelter, but I wish the sunset were more colorful.
Damien Tougas: This photo is well done technically, and has a lot of really good ideas going on. I think that composure could be better, as everything feels a bit too far away.
Renee Tougas: This is my least favorite (totally subjective). I’d like more color in the tent (I’m a color girl).
Tony Wong: The bright light illuminating the shelter in the provides a warmth and makes the starkness of the environment seem more inviting. The blur of the stars above creates a sense of motion and action in what is a moment frozen in time. I have no idea of where that orange glow is coming from in the lower right, but its soft glow casts a light that allows for the details of the ridge in the background and the footprints in the snow to be seen. I am wondering if that orange light was gone, would the heavens be darker and the streaks of the stars more stunning?
Honorable Mention – Jack Kan
Usted Esta Aqui. Taken on the trail to Laguna de los Tres in Patagonia, Argentina. One hour 45 minutes from Laguna de los Tres. Two hours from El Chaltén. One of our favorite trails. There were two nice camps on the way, one for backpackers and one for climbers. Fitz Roy kept playing hide and seek behind the clouds. Details: Taken with Nikon D90. 16-85mm Nikkor lens. Hand-held. 1/320. f8. 16mm. ISO 200.
Ryan Jordan: Slightly blown highlights in the sky and just a smidge too much yellow don’t detract greatly from this image, and the tension between the sign that tells you how much time it will take to get to the lake, against the high peaks that say "don’t even try me, pal" is awesome.
Chris Wallace: The colors here are unreal and really make me want to be there in person, even though the sky is a bit bright.
Damien Tougas: The green evokes the smell of fresh mountain air and those jagged peaks look so inviting. The overexposure of the sky detracts from the grandeur of the scene and draws my eye to the sign, which I am sure wasn’t the intended focal point.
Renee Tougas: The sign dominates the scene a bit too much. The cloud looks over exposed but those mountain peaks, the composition draws you in.
Tony Wong: The "primitive" wooden trail sign makes this shoot something special. That it is not in English lets you know that you are somewhere "exotic" and invites you to explore the map to guess where you are in the world. The stunning background with its vibrant colors, green foliage, and snow draped stone spires only confirms that you are somewhere far from home (North America). The only flaw in this photo is that the image seems a little bit overexposed that loses contrast and details in the hills and mountains in the distance. The blue sky would have been nicer if it were not overexposed.
Honorable Mention – Emily Mathews
Sony Cybershot 25 mm wide-angle lens, 14.1 megapixels. Lovely visions looking east from the Apache Peak area of the San Jacintos in southern California. Morning rime ice covers the area. Caught a greet-the-day pose by my daughter as we hiked the PCT in May 2011.
Ryan Jordan: This image has it all, including the authentic expression of smugness that comes with carrying a very light pack.
Chris Wallace: I’m partial to more color, but I definitely feel the cold by looking at this and love the posing hiker.
Damien Tougas: The sky is beautiful, the composition is really good, and I just love the way everything feels so crispy cold. For me, it is missing a certain sharpness that I think would make this a truly amazing photo.
Renee Tougas: Love the playfulness in a natural place. Quite grey, I’d love a smidge of color.
Tony Wong: I love this photo because it simply captures the snowy beauty of the illuminated backdrop against the fun, whimsical joy of a young woman posing for the camera. Yes, the image of the woman’s face is a bit too soft, but with the soft haze of the white clouds lingering everywhere, it can be forgiven and seems to blend into the rest of the shot. The heavenly rays of the sun reaching down through the clouds to give light and warmth to this cold environment makes for an enjoyable photo. My only desire is to have more detail and clarity on this woman’s face to capture the emotion of the moment.
Honorable Mention – Mandy Redpath
Hiking up to the head of the Ashburton Glacier on the south island of New Zealand one bright morning. Camera: Fujifilm FinePix AX300.
Ryan Jordan: Good technical quality, nice color, and solid composition make this scene a beautiful one. I wish the avalanches were more prominent as part of the image.
Chris Wallace: The trekkers making their way up reminds me of past trips, but I wish there was more to the sky.
Damien Tougas: The exposure, contrast, color, and scene all work really well. I think it would look better if the people were a little closer as I think it would add more life and color.
Renee Tougas: Sky in the top right corner too dark. Great composition and story – where are they going, where have they been?
Tony Wong: The intricate details in the snow with the adventurers in them is what makes this photo compelling. Fine details abound, from the footsteps in the foreground to the crumbling trails of snow that have slid off the step sides of the mountains on the right to give texture to what could easily be an overexposed and bland landscape of whiteness. I like that the adventurers are close enough that we can see the details of their packs and imagine the effort in their task to reach the top. The deep color of the sky helps, but I wish that it were a bit brighter and lighter in blue in the upper right corner contrasted with what is already a darkly contrasted image of the rock.