I’m a huge fan of outdoor adventure! I love exploring wild places, being immersed in nature and photographing rare moments of natural beauty! I’ve had some amazing experiences and also had some close calls. I’ve learned some important lessons along the way. It pays to come prepared, you never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. Whether it’s a photo excursion, back country snowboarding, mountain biking, backpacking, or day hiking there are 10 essential items I always carry with me. These are all items I’ve used to get myself, or other people out of countless sticky situations.
1. First aid kit. I know this seems pretty obvious, but I’m always surprised how many people I meet without a basic first aid kit in their bag. I’ve used my first aid kit countless times, several times on myself, but also on friends and stranger in need of help. I’ve patched up fellow mountain bikers after a crash, photo workshop participants who have had various bumps and scrapes, strangers I’ve run into on the trails and my own kids on several occasions. A first aid kit is something you hope you won’t need, but when you do, boy are you glad it’s in your bag.
2. Warm hat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 90 degree day in the middle of summer, I will always carry a warm hat in my bag. This is one lesson I’ve learned the hard way too many times. I’m usually photographing before sunrise and after the sun sets. The temperature can drop quickly as soon as the sun goes down. In particular, when photographing in the mountains weather can turn on a dime. It’s really easy to get caught un-prepared. A warm hat really helps keep me warm when the temperature drops unexpectedly.
3. Gloves. I always carry a thin pair of gloves with me. It’s amazing what a difference even a thin pair can make. I found my thin gloves at REI, they allow full control of my camera and do a great job keeping my hands warm .
4. Light weight jacket. I always have a light weight, water-resistant jacket in my bag regardless of the forecast. I’ve been caught in some pretty nasty summer storms. I remember getting caught in a heavy thunderstorm here in the high desert of Oregon. It was a gorgeous summer day, I headed to the Cascade Lakes hoping for some interesting cloud formations as the thunderstorms started firing up. One minute, the weather was beautiful, warm air, calm winds and puffy clouds. A few minutes later the wind picked up, the clouds thickened and it was hailing. The temperature dropped considerably. I took shelter under some trees and quickly pulled out my jacket, gloves and hat from my camera bag. I was still pretty cold, but much more comfortable and in no danger of becoming hypothermic. I waited out the storm and was rewarded with some beautiful storm light. There have been countless times I’ve been thankful I had an extra jacket in my bag. It’s an essential part of my kit and I never leave home without it.
5. Emergency energy bars. It’s always nice to have some extra calories in my bag. Great for emergencies, or if I change plans and want to stay out longer. I generally carry around 4 extra energy bars in my bag just in case…
6. Extra water. I usually carry more water than I think I’ll need. It’s come in handy on many occasions. Your body needs water before it needs food. I’ve run out of water on several occasions, it’s a terrible feeling knowing you’re out of water when you’re thirsty. In fact, if I know I’m about to run out of water, I’ll save the last sip for psychological reasons. I very rarely run out of water anymore, I usually bring more than I need. I’m a big fan of camera bags that have a sleeve for water bladders, these generally allow me to take as much water as I need for an outing. On longer adventures and backpacking trips, I generally have a water strategy and backup plan if that strategy fails. For instance, I usually bring a water purifying pump and a water sterilizing pen for backup. This strategy has served me well over many years and on many adventures.
7. Multi tool. A multi tool is one of the most versatile and useful non-photographic tools in my bag. I’ve used my multi tool to repair my tripod, pull cactus needles out of my boots, fix parts on my mountain bike, fix bindings on my snowboard, cut branches to setup a temporary shelter and countless other things. I particularly like tools with plyers built in. It’s definitely an essential tool that I always want in my bag on every adventure.
8. Duct tape is another incredibly useful and versatile tool. I love knowing it’s always in my bag. It’s helped me get out of many sticky situations. One memorable occasion was in 2006 while snow camping near Mount Hood. The snow was so light and fluffy, my tripod was sinking deep into the snow making impossible to get the angle I was hoping for. I had trekking poles with snow baskets with me, I quickly removed the baskets from the poles and duct taped them to my tripod legs. For the third leg, I used a filter case to create a platform to float on the snow. This temporary solution allowed me to get the perspective I was after. Image shown below.
9. Extra cleaning cloth. I always carry an extra micro fiber cleaning cloth or two in my bag. I use these all the time. If conditions are wet, often times my main cloth becomes saturated and no longer functions. It’s nice to have a backup or two. I’ve also used these for countless other things as well. It’s great for drying and cleaning my camera, lenses, sun glasses, or anything else that might it.
10. Space blanket. This is part of my first aid emergency kit, but I thought it deserved its’ own spot. This little sheet of reflective plastic has helped me get out of several dangerous situations, helping me to stay dry and warm. While solo camping on the Oregon Coast I used a space blanket to make a little tent out of my tripod legs to keep my gear safe and dry in torrential rain. On another trip to Mt Rainier I got soaked while hiking in a rain storm. My clothes were so wet they were no longer insulating me and instead were leaching the heat from my body. When I got back to the car I took my wet clothes off and wrapped myself in a space blanket till my car warmed up.
Honorable mentions: An emergency satellite contact device like a SPOT locator can be a life saver in an emergency. I do have one, but I only take it when I’m in a very remote place on my own and will be out out of cellular service. I also carry physical maps with me quite a bit, but there are so many good GPS and map apps on my phone that don’t bring them most of the time. If I’m going somewhere unfamiliar and remote I do try to have a map for backup still.
All of this fits easily with the rest of my camera gear in my very compact F-stop Kenti bag. Those are my 10+ essential items I like to have in my bag at all times. Let me know what essential items are in your camera, or adventure bag.
Author: Zack Schnepf
Location: Bend, OR
Zack is an award winning photographer specializing in fine art landscape photography and post processing. “Art is in my blood. My father is a well known poster artist and painter. My mom was a painter, and print maker and my brother is an art director at Facebook. Art is a way of life for my family, and I will hopefully pass it on to my children as well.”
“The love of nature is also something that my family and I are passionate about. I’ve been hiking, biking, rock climbing and backpacking since I was little. From an early age, I learned to appreciate the beauty in nature.”