You don’t take too many electronics with you on most hikes. You might bring your phone, an emergency signaling device, a camera… and a drone? Drones have a number of uses for hiking, but not all drones are good to take with you. Today, we’ll talk about why you might want a drone for hiking, what you can do with it, what to look for in a hiking drone, and what drones are the best out there for hiking.
What Is A Drone?
When we talk about drones, what we’re typically talking about are remote-controlled quadcopters that are used privately. (If you plan on making money with your drone– for example, if you take photographs and sell them– you will need a drone pilot license, AKA Part 107.) Many of the drones we’ll be recommending are small enough not to need FAA registration. Drones that don’t need to be registered are those that weigh under 250 grams (0.55 pounds), which are often quite small, making them easily packable.
While there is no such thing as a specific hiking drone, many small drones work very well for hiking purposes. However, if you’re facing high winds and elevation, a larger drone may be necessary. If your hiking trip includes fishing, you can also get drones that are specifically made to help you find fish, or even drop lines for you!
Why Pack A Drone
A drone can be a valuable companion for hiking adventures, offering a multitude of benefits beyond just being a flying gadget. Drones are an ideal way to capture the breathtaking beauty of the landscapes you encounter. Whether you’re traversing lush forests, scaling rugged mountain peaks, or strolling along serene lakeshores, drones equipped with high-quality cameras can capture stunning aerial shots and videos that you just can’t get on your own. Your drone is a great way to capture memories and share images from your hike.
Additionally, if you’re a rock climber or mountaineer, someone in your group who isn’t actively climbing can pilot the drone while you climb, capturing your movements as you scale up the rock face. It’s one of the safest ways to get these images, since it doesn’t require anybody on the rock to use their hands for a camera.
Another use of drones while hiking is trailblazing. A drone can scout ahead to explore terrain that may be arduous or nearly impossible to access on foot. This capability is particularly beneficial for identifying hiking trails and seeing what obstacles might be ahead. If you’re bushwhacking, a drone can help you find the path of least resistance and make sure that you don’t run into any hazards too dangerous to overcome. Drones contribute to improved safety during your hike, ensuring you make the most of your outdoor adventures.
At hikingandfishing.com we regularly use our drone while ski touring to scout descents, obstacles, and zones. This greatly enhances safety and movement in the mountains.
Wildlife observation is another great reason to take a drone hiking. Drones equipped with cameras enable you to discreetly observe and document the local fauna without disturbing the animals or venturing too close. It’s a great way to see animals that are easily spooked, like deer, or animals that could hurt you, like bison or bears. This unique perspective offers an intimate glimpse into the natural world, allowing you to capture footage of wildlife behavior without scaring or disturbing them.
Drones are also vital for many search and rescue operations. They can cover large areas quickly and provide crucial aerial views. Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras, for instance, can help locate lost hikers or individuals in distress, even in challenging conditions like low visibility or rough terrain. This capability can make rescue efforts easier and increase the chances of a successful outcome in critical situations. If you’re going to be exploring potentially dangerous terrain– like avalanche territory, for instance– drones can help keep you safe!
While drones have lots of uses in hiking, it’s important to choose the right one. You need to consider factors such as portability, battery life, camera quality, and adherence to local regulations. When used responsibly and ethically, a hiking drone can elevate your outdoor adventures and leave you with lasting memories of the natural wonders you encounter along the way.
Regulations and Permits
Be aware of local regulations regarding drone use in the hiking area you plan to visit. Some places may require permits or have restrictions on drone flight. Ensure you comply with all relevant rules; many other countries, including Canada, require pilot licenses for drones 250 grams and up– not just registration. Drone-Made maintains an interactive map of international drone laws, which is a great place to see where you can and can’t fly your drone.
Also, know that you can’t fly your drone higher than 400 feet above ground level in the US. Some drones have geofence systems that prevent you from accidentally going too high or into restricted airspace. If you hike a lot near government facilities, geofence systems can help keep you out of trouble.
Notable US Drone Regulations
- Flying drones in Wilderness areas is not allowed
- Flying drones in National Parks is not allowed
- Airspace around airports is restricted
- Flying drones near professional sporting events from 1 hours before and 1 hour after as against regulations.
- Most BLM or National Forest land allow drones
- Many drone regulations can be read about on the FAA website.
What To Look For In A Hiking Drone
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a hiking drone. Shopping for a drone can be challenging because the market is loaded with lots of cheap, poorly-constructed drones with tempting price points and confusing listings. But it’s worth it to pay more for a durable drone that will last more than a couple of flights. When looking at any drone model to take hiking, here are the major considerations that indicate a drone’s suitability for the backcountry.
Size and Portability
Opt for a compact and lightweight drone that is easy to carry in your hiking backpack. Foldable or collapsible drones are often preferred for their portability. We highly recommend going under 250 grams, which adds very little weight to your pack. Drones of this size have limited ability to handle elevation about 12,000 feet, and winds about 20 mph, which is worth noting.
Longer flight time allows you to capture more footage and explore a larger area. Look for drones with extended battery life or the option to carry spare batteries. Keep in mind that battery life really means “flight time,” as standby modes can last much longer– and you can always recharge with a portable power station, or fly back, replace the battery, and keep flying. Personally, anything about 25 minutes of flight time is long enough for almost all uses if you carry an extra battery or two.
The camera quality is crucial for capturing high-resolution photos and videos. Choose a drone with a camera that meets your photography and videography needs. Features like gimbal stabilization can help ensure smooth footage. Look for a drone camera with a large sensor– that’s actually better for image quality than a high resolution. A large sensor lets in more light and makes it much easier to capture good images.
Some specifications to look for:
- 4k video at 30 frames per second minimum for high quality videography
- 1080 at 120 frames per second for slow motion video capabilities
- Low aperture for low light shooting (f/1.7)
- 3 axis gimbal for stabilization
Range and Signal Strength
A longer control range and strong signal connection are essential for safely operating your drone in remote hiking locations. Ensure that the drone can maintain a stable connection with your controller!
We like to have a 3.1 miles (5km) + range which most higher end drones have. Recognize that these are clear line of site ranges, and with hiking there are trees and mountains that can greatly affect the signal.
GPS and Navigation
Built-in GPS and advanced navigation features, like obstacle avoidance sensors, can make flying your drone easier and safer. These features help prevent collisions and ensure precise positioning.
A return to home function is essential to preventing drone mishaps. This feature relies on the built in GPS system.
Flight Modes and Automation
Look for drones with intelligent flight modes, such as follow-me, waypoints, pre-programed paths, and return-to-home functions. These features can simplify the flying experience and help you capture the shots you want.
Drones come in a wide range of price points, so consider your budget and the features that matter most to you. Balance the cost with the quality and capabilities you require for your hiking adventures. If you’re a total beginner, don’t buy the most expensive drone with all the bells and whistles. Instead, choose a reliable entry-level model that focuses on ease of use and quality. If you like hiking with a drone, you can always level up and buy a drone with more features after you’ve mastered the basics of piloting.
Durability and Weather Resistance
Since you’ll be using the drone in outdoor environments, it should be durable and capable of withstanding varying weather conditions, including wind and light rain. Keep in mind that very few commercially available drones are capable of flight in intense inclement weather– and for high wind performance, you will have to sacrifice small size and low weight for motors with more control.
Drones use the Beaufort Scale to explain their wind resistance. As a general rule, to ensure safe flight, the wind speed should be two-thirds or less of the drone’s maximum speed. So if a drone can fly at a maximum speed of 18 mph, it is advised not to fly in wind speeds exceeding 12 mph. However, some drones are made to deal with higher wind speeds. Check your drone’s wind resistance number to see the wind speed it can safely handle.
Choose a drone that matches your skill level. Some drones are designed for beginners with simplified controls, while others offer more advanced features for experienced users.
We highly recommend watching videos on the function and controls of the drone prior to purchasing to make sure it fits your needs.
Hiking puts you– and your drone– into rough terrain. Between rocky trails, dense forests, and other obstacles, you need a drone with an avoidance system. Obstacle avoidance technology uses sensors and smart algorithms to detect and navigate around obstacles in real-time during flight.
Even if you have obstacle avoidance, you still need to use caution while flying. Whenever you can, choose open areas without obstacles to ensure a safer and smoother aerial experience during your hike. This proactive approach minimizes the chances of accidents and enhances overall drone safety during your outdoor adventure.
The Best Drones for Hiking
Now that you know what to look for, what are the best drones for hiking? Here are our top choices based on size, weight, battery life, and other important features.
DJI Mini 3 or Mini 3 Pro
This tiny, palm-sized drone has all of the features of much larger drones. It’s perfect for photography and videography, even when you start to lose the sun. With great obstacle avoidance, it’s a dream to fly, even for beginners.
The pro version boasts better obstacle avoidance, and higher quality camera/video capabilities. The non pro version might be the best entry level drone on the market (it is what we chose for our first professional style drone)
We highly recommend the RC remote add on. While it adds weight in the pack, it creates a better flying experience, a safer flying experience, and allows for the creation of better shots.
Here is some content we have created with this drone:
View this post on Instagram
Weight: 249 grams
Does it need registration? No
Key Features: Large sensor, obstacle avoidance, 4K video, low-light camera, 3-axis gimbal stabilization
Drawbacks: Controller is technically sold separately– you can get it bundled, but make sure that you buy the version with the controller. If the drone is listed in the $750 range, that’s the version that doesn’t come with the controller.
Battery Life: Up to 34 minutes (up to 47 minutes with Plus battery)
Price: $909+, depending on features
Autel Robotics EVO Lite+
One of the best drones out there for photographers and videographers, the EVO Lite+ is a heavy-duty drone that can capture beautiful, crisp images– even at night thanks to Autel’s complex moonlight algorithm. The camera has an adjustable aperture and a huge wide-angle front field of view of 150 degrees.
When you read reviews from the heaviest drone users, they talk extremely well about the Autel’s camera system and image sensor being amazing. In terms of ease of use and nimbleness in flight, the DJI competing products tend to win. That being said, if you are looking for the best camera setup, this may be a great option for you. We likely wouldn’t recommend this as your first drone, but maybe your second or third.
This is a great social post highlighting the image quality:
View this post on Instagram
Weight: 1200 grams
Does it need registration? Yes
Key Features: Huge image sensor, 7.4 mile range, GPS, automated return-to-home when the battery runs low, no geofence, 3-axis gimbal stabilization
Drawbacks: Heavier than most hiking drones.
Battery Life: 40 minutes
DJI Mavic 3
This drone is ideal if you want amazing videos of your hiking experience. It has a unique dual Hasselblad camera setup that includes a wide-angle and a hybrid zoom lens. It boasts incredible color and low light performance, best in class safety features, and might be the best drone on the market for combining portability, image quality, and ease of use.
Weight: 899 grams
Does it need registration? Yes
Key Features: Large sensor, obstacle avoidance, good battery life, great cinematic quality, 3-axis gimbal stabilization
Drawbacks: Expensive for those that don’t have professional use cases
Battery Life: 46 minutes
Autel Robotics Evo Nano+
Similar to the DJI Mini 3 in size, this is another great little drone for hiking. It’s easy to switch out the battery, so even though it does have a short flight time, you can pack a few extras. From reading a large amount of reviews, this drone appears to not perform as well as the DJI mini 3 in windy situations.
It beats the DJI mini 3 (non pro version) with more obstacle avoidance, and tracking capabilities. At the same price point, you get a few extra functionalities, but also less flying performance. There is a tradeoff. At this price point, we would recommend the DJI mini over the EVO Nano, but this is a great option if you are looking to avoid DJI for some reason.
Weight: 249 grams
Does it need registration? No
Key Features: Good sensor for low-light video and photography, tiny, durable, good obstacle avoidance, 3-axis gimbal stabilization
Drawbacks: Photos are challenging to process and some people find the video to look overprocessed, shorter battery life than other comparable drones
Battery Life: 28 minutes
DJI Mini 2 SE
The best budget option on our list, the DJI Mini 2 SE gives you all the quality of a DJI drone at a smaller price point. It’s perfect for beginners due to its simplified controls and all-in-one image editor. It’s an easy drone to learn on and not one that you’ll outgrow quickly– the images it creates are gorgeous and crisp enough for most beginning to intermediate photography hobbyists.
If you are looking to simply test getting into drone videography or photography, this is a great budget friendly option. The camera doesn’t quite compare to the Mini 3 or the Mini 3 pro, so if you need that higher quality, we recommend you go that route. But as a beginner drone, this is an amazing option.
Weight: 249 grams
Does it need registration? No
Key Features: Beginner-friendly, wind stabilization up to 24 mph, easy-to-use app for image capture and editing,
Drawbacks: Short battery life, less control over image editing in-app, lower quality camera compared to other drones on this list.
Battery Life: 31 minutes
FIMI X8 SE V2
Another budget-friendly hiking drone model, the FIMI X8 SE V2 has some features that make it really great for hiking. Level 8 wind resistance means it can stay stable in winds of up to 46 MPH, and the durable chassis means it can withstand wind and snow better than many other drones. This drone has a megaphone version and can be equipped with an airdrop system that can drop a life preserver, food, and other items, making this drone great for any potential search and rescue operations. However, there is one major downside to this drone: No obstacle avoidance. That means you should have some experience with drone flight before piloting this drone.
This drone actually packs some pretty impressive camera specks and very high wind resistance. Overall, all the features on this drone make it extremely competitive.
Overall, this drone has some incredible specs for the price range. It has far less adoption and usage than DJI drones making it hard to determine how well it lives up to specifications. ON paper, this is an incredible value. In reality, the reviews show really great results as well. If you are willing to risk it for a far less adopted drone, this is a great option.
FIMI also has an ultralight series that compares really well in specs to the DJI mini 2, but again, doesn’t have enough adoption for us to reliably say this performs on a comparable level.
Weight: 771 grams
Does it need registration? Yes
Key Features: 3-axis gimbal stabilization, ability to livestream aerial footage from your smartphone or tablet with the app, large sensor, good flight time
Drawbacks: Heavy, no obstacle avoidance.
Battery Life: 35 minutes
The Best Drones for Hiking Compared
How do our top picks stack up against each other?
|Drone Model||Weight||Battery Life||Price||Notes|
|DJI Mini 3 Pro||249 grams||34 minutes (up to 47 with Plus battery)||$909+ depending on features ($609+ for non pro version)||Our overall favorite.|
|Autel Robotics EVO Lite+||1200 grams (requires registration)||40 minutes||$999||Best drone for night flights and low-light settings.|
|DJI Mavic 3||899 grams (requires registration)||46 minutes||$1,749||The most expensive, but the longest base battery life and overall most versatile drone.|
|Autel Robotics Evo Nano+||249 grams||28 minutes||$729||Tiny and easy to use.|
|DJI Mini 2 SE||249 grams||31 minutes||$339||The least-expensive option on our list.|
|FIMI X8 SE V2||771 grams (requires registration)||35 minutes||$479||The most weather-resistant drone on our list.|
Taking a drone hiking can be very rewarding– and in extreme weather conditions or extra-challenging terrain, hiking with a drone can improve your overall safety. You will likely be very happy with each of the drones we’ve highlighted here, whether you’re using it for photography, videography, or anything else!
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about