What's in your field kit?

There are already a few great threads on field guides, cameras and audio recorders which focus on specific gear, but I’d love to know more about your whole kit. What gear do you take with you when you spend a day (or an hour, or a morning, or…) in the field making observations? Does what you take depend on where you go? What works for you? What doesn’t work? What’s on your shopping list?

I’m no pro at this by any means, but I’ll start:

  • I carry everything in a North Face Jester backpack. It’s a great size as a day pack, but I don’t love it because the bottom isn’t flat (it tips over when you set it down unless it’s really full), it has a chest strap but no waist strap, and the bottle holders aren’t tall enough. I also have a Deuter Futura 32 external frame pack which I don’t use often enough. It’s pretty light and has a great waist strap (with a nifty zip pocket in it for, uh, snacks).
  • I often take photos on a mirrorless Panasonic GH4. It’s a great camera.
  • I often record tracks on a Garmin etrex 20 so that I can georeference photos from the Panasonic. It’s basic but it gets the job done, and is often more reliable than recording tracks on my iPhone.
  • I don’t often take notes but after reading John Muir Laws’ Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling I kind of want to start. I recently bought a waterproof Rite in the Rain notebook that I’m keen to try out.
  • I’d like to get a good little right-angled ruler or forensic scale card but I haven’t found one yet.

I do a lot of beach trips and stuff with inverts; a pair of strong tweezers are a must for me. They let you handle stuff that may bite/sting, and you can pick up anything you’re unsure about but want to take a closer look. Inexpensive too. I also have a fine-tip pair for more delicate stuff.


I try to take as little as possible. I take my iPhone X (I use the app) and an extremely cheap clip-on macro lens.( I want to buy a better quality clip-on, and I have read about a good one that costs only about $30.) I have a good battery pack that I take along if I am going to be out more than 2 or 3 hours.

When I am going to be shelling somewhere, because I am interested in the smallest shells and therefore have to repeatedly get down on knees and elbows, sometimes for hours at a time, I wear knee and elbow pads, both of which fit great and are a neoprene sleeve with a gel insert on the joint.

I wear around my neck two small pouches that contain different powers of over-the-counter reading glasses for easy magnification that is hands-free.

I wear a cloth over-the shoulder pouch containing a one-gallon freezer-quality ziplock, inside that a quart ziplock. Inside that a 3-ounce hinged-top plastic vial (one-handed operation) and inside that an extremely small hinged-top vial for the smallest micro shells.

If I am going to a place where there might be good flying insects that I can’t seem to be able to photograph when they are perched on a plant, I take a very good-quality child-sized butterfly net (from Bioquip) which fits into a regular backpack (it also comes apart into two pieces that easily fit into a rolling bag if you are traveling somewhere.) Along with that I take one or two clear plastic jars for the insects. And a plastic Petri dish which is good for capturing small fly-away insects, and photographing them too if necessary.

If I am going somewhere where I know there might be nice small marine algae, I take a flat plastic food dish, so I can lay the algae out in salt water to be photographed.

I am still looking for the ideal 6-inch plastic ruler with a hole at one end so I can wear that clipped onto my clothes.

I wear a sunhat in all seasons. I take something to eat and some water.


Can you usually hold insects with strong tweezers? I’m always afraid of hurting them so I only use featherweight forceps. Can you also get a hold of your specimen easily if they’re moving?


I hold live butterflies with my finger and thumb. I can do it so gently that scales don’t come off the wings, but it takes experience and good hand-eye coordination.


Most insects are more robust than you think, especially things like beetles. If they’re moving it can be hard, but in that case you can use the tweezers to shepherd them into a container. Another thing I always bring everywhere is small plastic dip containers. You can buy a pack of 8 at supermarkets for $2; they’re the perfect size for insects, shells, etc., fit in a pocket and are lightweight.

I use Dumont SS140 tweezers. Very fine tip, very nice control, albeit very expensive (luckily I got a pair for free from an insect lab I worked in)


Thanks Susan and Thomas for your replies, I’ll try to implement these recommendations in the field!


water, snacks, backup battery :) (i use the app)


For a tracking ruler (right angle ruler) :http://keepingtrack.org/keeping-track-store


For a scalebar, I got flexible 12" plastic rulers marked in raised marks in metric and English (the ones stamped “It’s Academic,” available lots of places). I cut them into about 3" lengths which fit in a pocket well. Eventually the paint wears off the marks, but then I use the next one. I don’t hang it on a cord, but it’s easy to punch a hole in it with a standard holepunch for that purpose.


I got my right-angled ruler from Adorama. Check out this:


I try to bring as little as possible. One bag that contains water, towel, sunscreen, iphone, chargers and cable, clip on macro lens, binoculars, and maybe some jars to inspect critters before they run/fly away are currently all that I bring.


I don’t bring much with me. Having a heavy bag out with you in a swamp at 95 degrees isn’t exactly fun.
I usually bring:

  • My phone for eBird tracking
  • My camera and binoculars
  • A bag + gloves for handling dead/injured animals (specifically birds)
  • Seeds for capturing escaped Budgerigars/European Rabbits
  • Hand sanitizer, for obvious reasons.

I put all of this in a small back that straps across my back. It’s lightweight and isn’t a hassle when walking.


backpack with water, iphone, my binoculars, camera, jars to collect specimens a notebook, sometimes a shovel (for breaking apart rotting wood), gloves, a white umbrella (for beating bushes in summer) and pipettes


One thing I carry that has been extremely useful over the years and weighs virtually nothing is a sheet of Tyvek (or equivalent house covering material) folded over on itself and tucked in my bag.

It is useful as a makeshift rain cover or more typically for me, as I am usually near a pond or water source when I shoot dragonflies, something dry and waterproof to sit down on temporarily or set my bag on. It has the added benefit of being mostly white so you can see if anything is crawling (or slithering) up next to you. When you’re done you can just pick it up and shake it off like a picnic blanket.

It is a synthetic material from a company that may not be popular in the naturalist community but I have used the same piece (given to me by a friend who had excess on a backpacking trip) for over a decade and been able to get shots or shoot in environments I wouldn’t have without it.


Just about every hike:

-backpack with necessary things for the day (water/food/sunscreen/etc.)
-camera with macro + telephoto lens
-camera batteries (many!!)
-iPhone (for sound recording, or obs I don’t want to make with a camera)
-small plastic box (for quarantining things that love to run/fly away)
-battery pack to charge my phone when it gets low


I usually bring around a camera bag holding most of my stuff, including:
-my old DSLR
-a macro lens for inverts
-a telephoto lens for birds and butterflies
-a few miscellaneous lenses for other stuff (mostly wide field)
-a waterproof camera that has a gps function for very wet places
-a small plastic ruler
-a small microphone
-a phone charger that also works with the waterproof camera
-spare batteries
-a few moss packets in case I see a cool moss that I know is only identifiable under a microscope or just looks weird

I mainly use my phone to tag observations with a location (unless I can’t, such as with distant stuff) and my camera to take better photos and combine the two when I get back from my outings.


I make sure that my pack has everything I thought I would need on my last outing but didn’t actually use, while everything I actually used on my last outing is either carefully secreted within the deepest crevices of my car or consciously staged at home and then forgotten.

The things I most often regret not having are

  • scale object (I usually have a small ruler in my wallet, but inevitably forget it in the field)
  • small dish for aquatic creatures (I’m good about remembering this for tidepooling, but I feel like I’ve botched several fairy shrimp opportunities this spring for lack of one)
  • flashlight / headlamp (usually in my field bag, if I actually bother to bring it)
  • the lens I didn’t think I’d need

Oh wow, when I think about all I carry on just a quick walk in the woods, I think I go a tad overboard.
But the things I don’t see anyone else mentioning, so I’m going to…
a sit-upon (Therm-a-Rest Z Seat) & a pstyle


One thing that’s really made a difference for me, because I love flipping logs, is this camera clip, which I use on my backpack strap. So much better than having my camera swing around on its own strap when I stoop to flip an object. I don’t want to shill specifically for Peak Design, I’m sure there are others as well, but this is the one I got.

I also use a Garmin eTrex 20 for geotagging, and it’s quite accurate.