What’s the Best Portable Wildlife Photography Hide?
Shooting from a wildlife hide (also called a wildlife blind) is a great way to get close to wildlife. Using your own portable hide gives you flexibility, too, allowing you to set up camp wherever you think you might be able to spot animals.
There are a few different portable hides on the market, so this article will look at the pros and cons of each of the main ones available.
Often seen in the “making of” segments of wildlife documentaries, this is a lightweight pop-up hide that is also relatively cheap to buy. The hide’s metal frame is flexible and twists as it folds down into a compact carrying bag. It’s definitely not a burden to take with you on a shoot, and will strap to your bag easily.
Once set up, the hide is spacious and forms a square shape. There are some short poles that you can (and should) attach to the ceiling to hold the roof up and keep rain from puddling in the middle.
The windows are large and allow for complete movement. You can also close up the full window and open up a smaller portion in the middle for a more covert approach.
Of all the hides in this article, it uses the cheapest material and they don’t last as long. It will tear fairly easily if you’re rough with it, and the waterproofing is less effective overtime so probably needs a top-up with a spray on occasion.
This pop-up hide has an octagonal shape, and feels a lot more premium than the above hide. The skeleton is strong and the hide holds its shape very well with no slack in the material; it is kept taught.
This is the largest of the hides in this article, with more than enough space for 2 people to shoot out the same window with large tripod setups and very big camera bags.
The waterproofing is better than the above hide, but I did find that rain seeped through the stitching at some points.
It’s worth noting that the windows are intersected by part of the skeleton frame, meaning that free movement of a camera lens throughout the whole window isn’t always possible. It isn’t a big deal, but means that the poles could get in the way if you quickly change angle. On the other hand, the windows are very wide and you have a large on each side. It makes for shooting in any direction possible.
This hide is also reasonably heavy, which might be a problem if you’re already struggling to carry your camera equipment.
Wildlife Watching Supplies is a UK-based company that creates more premium hides. These are the hides I started using when I first picked up a camera, and they lasted me a long time.
WWS hides are made from thick and waterproof material in a camouflage pattern. They are quite weighty, but the heavy-duty build is good for using out in the bush. They are very unlikely to tear – the only damage that mine suffered was from a mouse!
However, they do require you to insert poles and set them up like you would a tent. This means they can take 5-10 minutes to put up and are therefore the slowest to assemble from my recommendations.
They make a number of different versions, including a standard, large, and “long and low” version. My favourite is the “long and low” hide. There is a “normal” hide window, but you can also lay flat in the hide and use the ground-level window, often helping you to get on the same level as your subject.
WWS hides are the most expensive of this list. They are all handmade and use more expensive materials, which translates into the cost of the product.
Other top tips for using portable hides
Instead of just bringing a camping stool with you, I’d thoroughly recommend a proper camping chair with a back to it. Sitting on a camping stool for many hours hurts your back and makes staking out a location uncomfortable. Consider the ground you’re on, too. Chairs will sink into muddy or marshy ground, but that is easily fixed by bringing some square pieces of wood to sit the feet on.
You should also bring extra long tent pegs with you to get the hide properly anchored into the ground. The guy ropes are also good to use as they will help steady the hide in wind, and I will comfortably leave a hide out for weeks if it’s secured this way. Although that isn’t recommended if you live in bear country!
Cold conditions make hide work more difficult to endure: wrap up warm. My feet are always the first to get cold, and that can be game over for a stakeout. Bringing some cardboard to put your feet on will stop you getting cold as quickly. It can also help to take your shoes off and wrap your feet in a blanket (only necessary if working in below freezing conditions), as I find shoes become like wearable blocks of ice after a few hours.
Finally, bringing a tarpaulin is recommended if you’re on wet or swampy ground. You don’t want your camera bag getting wet or damp.