Lifechanging Upgrades?

What are some things you’ve added/changed to your observation gear that have really transformed your iNatting experience?

Template / My Example:

Before: Backpack & Water Bottles
After: Waist Pack & Baby Food Pouches

For short hikes/jogs it was a hassle having to stop and get water from the backpack and it was just too bouncy. With the waist pack, no awkward vibrations and it has room for my phone for quick observations.

With a small funnel, I’m able to clean/refill the baby food pouches with water/juice and they end up taking less room in the waist pack after I drink them, leaving extra room for specimens.

A bonus is the confused look I get when drinking red tomato juice from something labeled “Blueberry & Banana”.

Other Ideas:

  • Upgrading from Camera X to Y
  • Clip-on Lenses for Smartphones
  • Foam Sitting Pads

Really interested in cases where the change made you feel like, “Wow, I wish I thought of/done this years ago!”

Related: Sit down, you’re rocking the focus


Tick-repellent field pants.

Olympus T5 camera (upgrade from smartphone) - built-in GPS function, shockproof, waterproof, macro with focus stacking. Easier to handle than my phone.




DEET sprays → Thermacell mosquito repellers.

Regular pants → Cargo pants (great for flying, too, to avoid paying for carry-ons).

Handwritten notes → Speech to text software.


Should be kinda obvious but boots lol.
Up until a certain point i was exploring with either sandals (unsafe) or regular shoes (gets wet & dirty)


Gear That I really like , and which have made my life easier while I am out

  1. Gore-tex Jacket (Absolutely 5*)
  2. 30 Litre Backpack with a space for a hydration pack
  3. Dry Bags
  4. High Lumen Torch (USB chargeable)
  5. USB Chargeable and USB Charging Battery Bank

Gear That I think will be “life changing” (Wish list)

  1. Light weight solar setup to charge the battery Bank (Goal Zero Type) that includes a AC / DC converter
  2. A lighter camera (Mirrorless / Bridge etc) long zoom and macro both - with GPS

I have no idea how I used iNat so long before getting a GPS logger. I entered locations manually for my first few thousand observations. I can’t imagine going back, it cuts SO much time and guesswork out of the process.

Other than that, my current boots (completely water-proof, no heel rub) and current camera bag (lots of room, padded, actual backpack instead of a shoulder bag) have done wonders for not only making things easier but saving a lot of stress and pain on my body.


I personally don’t know how people find such success with smartphones. I feel like using it in those situations brings the risk of dropping it in a puddle so high that it might just be cheaper to buy a separate (old) camera than to try to save money using a smartphone for everything.
Even if it didn’t seem financially more dangerous, I can’t even get the iNat app to load my observations, it just crashes. Do most high frequency mobile app users have incredible internet connection or something?
The most life changing thing I’ve ever gotten was a 15 year old digital camera for a hundred bucks. Photos take 1/4 as long to take, and have almost double the resolution of a phone.


How much does that cost?
People always say there should be GPS coordinates on phone photos but my phone doesn’t seem to do that.
Whenever I look into GPS I get the impression that maybe I’m looking at the top of the line ones. Usually 150 minimum when I look, but that’s theoretically more expensive than a phone with a gps in it, so that can’t be the cheap tech

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I wonder if you checked your Settings? My phone’s Settings has Location Services as On/Off switch.


I think smartphone camers are hit or miss. My impression is that flagship phones (the ones that cost the most, get advertised aggresively) can be very good. Some related posts that might be helpful:

I personally use an Android-based Pixel 4a, which is mid-tier, costing about 1/3rd the price of a flagship phone. No manual focus, auto-focus isn’t great, and it can take multiple shots to get a good photo:

I haven’t tried a macro lense yet…


You should maybe try the camelbak drinking systems. I think on the long run they are more ecological then these Baby Food Pouches and serve the same cause… when Empty, they don´t take up a lot of space and you can easily refill them and drink from them without hasseling around :-)


For sure, get pants infused with permethrin (and a shirt). I recently went on a trip to the Pine Barrens and while my friends were harassed by Chrysops, ticks, mosquitoes, etc., I went off scotch free.


You can spray any clothes with permethrin yourself. It isn’t really necessary to buy them already treated.


That’s a good option for sure!

My wife uses a camelbak and is pretty happy with it, but I’ve had a problem with getting the long drinking tube to dry properly between long intervals of non-use, often needing to flush it with dilute bleach to get rid of the mildewy flavor.

Regarding the ecological impact of the baby food pouches, I’ve been using the same few for the last 4 months, so they seem pretty durable so far.

One obvious risk is degredation of the PET plastic from which they’re made and leaching of plasticizers, I’m sure there’s more since the pouches are so flexible. I store them out of direct sunlight though, hopefully that helps.

I think, based on texture, that camelbak uses PVC with plasticizers as the pouch resin and silicone rubber for the hose, not sure though…

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I just got the Merlin app, and it has really helped with birdsong ID.


If you’re using a larger camera using a shoulder sling rather than a neck strap. Makes an enormous difference.

I prefer the Hama ‘Quick Shoot’ because the mounting plate is flat so you can still rest the camera on the base, and it also has a secondary tripod mount screw hole, so you can attach a baseplate. There are lots of different shoulder slings to choose from though.

If you have a large lens on the camera, getting a hip holster to go with the shoulder strap. Another massive difference as it puts the majority of the weight on your waist instead of your shoulder.

I use the Hakuba camera holster GW-PRO G3 - Japanese link to the company itself, but you an find them on Amazon and other places. Again, there are many models to choose from, this is just the one I like.

Cotton bandanas, extras of them too. I generally have 2-4 with me. They are good for sweat, cooling off if you’re too hot (get them wet), as pads to rest your arm or camera on if you have jagged rocks or something similar that you’re trying to brace against, for making quick pouches to carry things, etc, etc, etc.

A larger hand lens. Not one of the tiny ones that are common with botanists and geologists, but a 4-5 cm folding one. Makes peering at small things much more comfortable and it’s large enough that you can take photo through it. Also, in an emergency, in sunny conditions, it’s big enough to use for making a fire and things like that.

I use a pocket magnifier kind of like this one

A small, high powered flashlight. one of the ones that can be ramped up to be extremely bright for a few hours run time (eg 800-1200+ lumens), or turned way down for tens of hours run time at the low setting (eg 10-15 lumens). For nighttime and cave photography I use one of these now instead of a flash. Hold it in the same hand that does the focus so it’s up near the end of the lens. At the bright setting you an get relatively long shots, and at the lower settings you can get closer shots without washing them out. Some of the small torches like this have tripod mount screws so you can even mount them directly to the camera flash shoe if you want.

I have a few of these. The E200s Angel Eyes is a good choice, but the dual lights can sometimes make for odd shadows when photographing things up close, as in this Glyphodes bivitralis moth observation. This has a tripod mount, which is really nice, as well as a magnetic back so it can stick to things. I also use several of the Fenix torches and headlaps which are excellent quality.


You store it [the camelbak] in the freezer. Then there is no need to worry about fully drying it out, and no gross growth ;) Just make sure to ‘thaw’ it for like 5-10 min before bending it around a lot when you pull it out.

I use my constantly (Search & Rescue) so I don’t ever freeze it anymore; and I just have to clean it about 3x a year, they sell a cleaning kit if you want or just need a long armed small tube brush. Usually the growths start in the top of the loop so once I see that I know to clean it :) I don’t know why you would use bleach, eww. Just a bit of soap in hot water swish around in main compartment and then drain through the tube; then soem rinses of water, this will clean it great if there is nothing actually growing.

Camelbak makes little cleaning tabs too if you like. I’ve heard folk use those little denture cleaning tabs with equally good results but basically same idea.


My friend told me about that ap, Merlin
I am hard of hearing and don’t usually hear birds, and when I do, I usually don’t hear whole song or hear it ‘correctly’. So far it seems pretty accurate and I’m actually learning what birds are around. When he and I are out in the field he’s always like “oh theres a viro and this that and other” and I always joke when he’s on about the tenth new call he hears, “know how many I’ve heard?” NONE! xD I rarely see birds either, hiding in the leaves with no audio to zone in to where they are. Even if I can hear something, my ability to figure out direction is almost non existant. So litterally the little popup on the ap of what it hears is my only way to tell what birds are around unless it flies right in front of me and i can see where it landed.


Great idea regarding freezing the camelbak!

Regarding bleach, municipal drinking water treatment basically uses the same process on a larger scale, so I think it’s safe enough for decontamination as long as I use unscented.

I clean it out with water after so it’s not as though I’m drinking dilute bleach, so maybe a bit less eww?