Essentials in My Outdoor Backpack

Whether I’m getting ready for a day hike or a long walk to do some birding, I make sure that my backpack has the essentials. Here’s a list of things that I like to keep handy at all times, as well as a few optional things!

Whether I’m getting ready for a day hike or a long birding walk, I make sure that my backpack has the essentials. Here’s a list of things that I like to keep handy at all times, as well as a few optional things!

Health & Safety Items

Extra water

If there’s one thing I’ve learned to be careful about, it’s making sure to always pack extra water! Just in case you take a wrong turn on your hike that extends the trip, or the weather ends up being a crazy heat storm, it never hurts to have some extra water on hand.

First aid kit

To help with first aid preparedness, I bought a small travel-sized kit that fits right in my backpack. In case you’re looking to downsize on the amount of room your items take up, it never hurts to grab a Ziplock bag and throw in some band-aids, gauze, a pack of electrolytes, a couple of Q-tips, Neosporin, and a pack of ibuprofen.

A map

It’s always a good idea to plan your route ahead of time. In addition to this, I like to print or pick up a map before my hike so that I’m prepared if I make any wrong turns.

A snack

Just in case I need a little boost on the trail, I like to have an individually-packaged snack on hand. My favorites include small bags of trail mix or Clif Bars.


This one goes without saying. If you don’t want to end your hike looking like a lobster special, I like to apply before and bring some along just in case. To minimize on the amount of things you’re carrying, I find it’s helpful to buy a travel-sized lotion container and throw some sunscreen in there.


Depending on the season that I’m hiking, I like to pack either a baseball cap or a beanie.

An extra warm layer

No matter the forecast, I like to be prepared just in case there’s a weird lapse in the expected weather. Try packing a light shell that’s easy to fold up and store in your bag.

One pair of extra socks

You’re on your third mile of a ten-mile hike and you’ve stepped in a puddle deep enough to get around your waterproof shoes. Now what? Extra socks, of course!

Field Observation Items

Waterproof notebook

My favorite outdoor notebook is a Rite-in-the-Rain spiral-bound notebook. They’re a bit on the expensive side, but well worth it in case your bag gets wet. These little guys have survived many disasters with me over the years – from having an angry herring gull poop right in the middle of my page to my book being dropped in a mud puddle while stalking superb lyrebirds.

Pencil or waterproof pen

This goes along with the waterproof notebook. Pencils will work flawlessly in the Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks. However, if you’re looking for something a little more fancy, I would suggest the waterproof pen made by Rite-in-the-Rain. Again, they’re on the expensive side, but my pen has lasted years and is well worth it.

Field guide

I love looking up what species I’m observing right in the moment. To help with this, I pack a local field guide. My favorites include Sibley’s mini-sized Guide to Birds of Western North America. The Audubon Society also has put out a number of amazing pocket-sized guides to wildflowers, butterflies, and trees of North America. If you’re looking for deals, libraries will often have monthly book sales where you can pick up heaps of guides like these for 50 cents to a dollar each.

Plastic ruler

I love bringing flexible, bendy rulers that have a plastic coating so that they’re also waterproof. These help in case you need to measure something you find in the field.


Good field observations have the time and date that they’re recorded! Never miss out on a good field note by keeping a watch handy.

Optional Items


Okay, I’ll admit – I’ve only used my Leatherman multi-tool out in the field a handful of timesBut each time it saves the day so drastically that it’s well worth carrying around.


I love to know generally which direction I’m headed, just in case I end up off-trail. I especially like the compasses with glow-in-the-dark headings. My favorite one comes attached to a ruler!


As you can tell, I love shooting photos of wildlife and landscapes while out on my outdoor adventures. There are some relatively affordable digital SLR cameras out there, too! I recommend Canon’s Rebel series.


What kind of birdwatcher would I be if I didn’t carry around my trusty binoculars all the time?

Author: Taylor Crisologo

Taylor studied biology at Cornell University, where she worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on projects ranging from breeding herring gulls off the coast of Maine to dancing lyrebirds in Australia’s Blue Mountains. When she’s not researching great places to experience Bay Area nature, you can find her birding or reading a book at home with her husband and their two indoor cats (Max and Penelope).

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