Here is a list of my top ten favorite things to bring into the woods. Some of these items are practical, and others are just fun. This list doesn’t account for large items like tents and backpacks. I feel like those are a little obvious. This is more a list of the little things I love - things that make my experience in the woods easier, safer and just more enjoyable. It’s probably worth noting that this list is in no particular order. It’s just ten things. That I like. Out of order.
Here we go.
1. Sea To Summit Aeros Pillow
For a long time I saw a pillow as more of a luxury item than a practical one. I used to just cram my dirty clothes into a stuff sack and rest my precious head on that lumpy concoction. I’ve evolved a little since then.
The Sea To Summit Aeros Pillow is the best weight-to-comfort value you can buy. It weighs almost nothing, packs down to almost nothing, and costs almost nothing. It’s the one piece of gear you won’t even notice you have until you pull it out at night.
2. 4x6 Tarp
Having a 4’x6’ piece of plastic in the woods is invaluable. It is arguably the most useful thing on this list. You can sit on it, you can put your gear on it, you can cover your gear with it or cover yourself with it, not to mention all the uses it has if you were to find yourself in a survival situation.
The biggest reason I love this tarp is because when I’ve spent the day walking through swamp and bugs and the ground is wet and muddy and I just want to stop and sit, I can deploy this tarp and instantly have a safe, dry place to rest. It’s amazing how luxurious a tarp can feel after a day like that!
If you are going camping in Florida, bring a tarp. You’ll thank me later.
3. Garmin eTrex 10
The ability to instantly summon a straight line to any specific point in the woods has gotten me out of more than one sticky situation. But the main reason I carry this is to log trip data.
After each trip, I import the GPS data into Google Earth and have instant feedback of what I did right and what I did wrong and which places I might want to explore in the future. It’s a powerful tool, and I argue it is the backbone of mine and Alex’s Juniper Prairie Wilderness project.
I like the eTrex 10 because it’s basic without all the bells and whistles. It’s also the cheapest Garmin on the market by a significant sum.
4. Buff tubular
If you aren’t familiar with Buff, it’s a company that makes lightweight airy pieces of cloth that keep the sun off your neck, head and face. I mostly use mine like a scarf around my neck, and while it might sound uncomfortable putting something around your neck while hiking through the sun, it actually keeps me significantly cooler. Plus it helps to prevent skin cancer, so definitely worth the $20!
5. Sawyer Squeeze water filter
Not bringing enough water can turn a fun camping trip into a dangerous one. Bringing enough water can turn an easy hike into a miserable one. A water filter ensures you’ll have more than enough to drink without having to carry all the weight, as long as you have a fresh water source nearby.
There are many good water filters out there. The reason I like the Sawyer Squeeze is because it’s small and versatile. I can attach it straight to my dirty water bag or my clean water bottle, or I can use it like a straw and drink straight from the water source. Sawyer is also a Florida-based company, which counts for something in my book.
6. Backpacking trowel
The invention of the sewage system was one of the single greatest advancements in human civilization. Please don’t forget this when you go out into the woods.
There are much nicer titanium trowels available. I bought this ridiculously colorful plastic version as an add-on item on Amazon and it hasn’t let me down yet. Probably good to note that most of Florida is sand, and that this particularly trowel wouldn’t fare too well in rocky terrain.
7. Patagonia Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack
That’s a lot of words to basically say “fanny pack.” While fanny packs are making a small comeback, you still have to be pretty confident to wear one out in public. However, when you’re wading with your camera through a swamp in the wilderness while trying to keep track of your phone and lens cap and filters and other accessories, the practicality of the fanny pack really shines. And practicality always trumps fashion when you’re in the woods.
I like this Patagonia model because it’s small, lightweight, fairly water proof, and I like supporting Patagonia for the awesome things they do.
8. Petzl ACTIK headlamp
Flashlights are nice, but it’s substantially more useful to have a focused beam of light at eye level, automatically illuminating whatever you point your head towards. It also serves as a nice light painting tool when I’m photographing at night.
I have a few headlamps from different manufacturers, but I always seem to come back to this Petzl ACTIK. It’s lightweight, comfortable and obnoxiously powerful.
9. Pentax Digital Spotmeter
If it’s good enough for Ansel Adams, it’s good enough for me. The Pentax Digital Spotmeter is almost more fun to use than the camera! I’m not kidding.
Unfortunately, Pentax no longer makes these, so you’ll need to find one used. But if you’re a film landscape photographer and you’re trying to decide which light meter to buy, I highly recommend grabbing one of these while they’re still available. There’s a lot to be said about good design, and the Pentax is just that. It’s simple, intuitive, and exceptional at the one thing it does. I hope mine lasts forever.
10. Mamiya 7ii
Last but certainly not least is my Mamiya 7ii. I had to fight the urge to make all ten items on this list camera related. It took an extraordinary amount of self control.
Of all my cameras, the Mamiya 7ii made the cut because of its form factor. You get the size of 6x7 medium format film in a camera the size of a DSLR. I’m a firm believer that every type of camera, whether digital or film or full frame or medium format or cell phone, has a specific purpose. But objectively speaking, the Mamiya 7ii is my favorite camera to bring to the woods. Period. In fact, it’s sometimes the entire reason I go to the woods in the first place. It’s just so much fun!