The following packing list for outdoor field work was submitted by Bern Perchalski. I get a lot of emails asking about packing for summer field work and outdoors related research, so I’m excited that we finally have something that can help guide others in the right direction! See all of our packing list posts here.
For many students and professionals summer means a chance to go into the field to collect data. My research takes me to the Wyoming badlands looking for fossils from the late Paleocene and early Eocene, a time in which many modern mammal lineages started to appear in North America.
This summer I worked with a small crew for 4 and half weeks in various parts of the state. We make our base camp in the badlands and travel out each day to different localities looking for fossils. Unlike a backpacking trip, concerns about food and gear weight aren’t as important. However an extended camping trip presents a lot of challenges such as choosing the right gear and amounts to bring for a harsh climate and when showers and laundry may be few and far between.
We worked in the Bighorn and Bridger Basins, which are considered semi-arid climates and range in temperature in the summers from the low 50’s at night to the mid 90’s in the days. Humidity is fairly low, but this year happened to be extra rainy for the regions we visited. Elevation ranged from 4000 to 7000 ft, which I personally had to adjust to coming from a low lying East Coast city.
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I’ve done two seasons with my Eureka Apex 2 XT*, and I plan to bring it out next year as well. The major advice I was given when purchasing a tent was to have one that is short (my tent is approximately 4′ high) and equipped with fiberglass poles and good stakes so that it could withstand the high wind speeds the badlands experience. This year I purchased MSR Groundhog stakes* and was impressed with how easy they went in and out of the ground, but still managed to keep my home from blowing away.
Most tents are not expected to be long term shelters and our crew experienced a fair share of ripped rain flies, broken zippers, holes in our floors, snapped guidelines, etc. Tents are also very susceptible to UV damage, which is hard to avoid in the badlands. Therefore when picking a tent you should look for something resilient but also keep in mind that it may only last a few seasons in these conditions. Most people also brought a footprint* to help the longevity of their tent floors.
Temperatures at night ranged from the low 50’s to high 60’s in the different parts of Wyoming we camped at. My sleeping bag rated for 15° F was overkill most nights, and so I opted to sleep with just a fleece on the warmer nights. I also brought a mattress pad, and I recommend bringing a patch kit as well since mine got a hole in it within the first week! During the day when I left my tent I put my sleeping bag and pillow into a trash bag to keep them from getting dusty on very windy days.
Each day I had a small pack with what I needed for walking around an outcrop for 8 to 9 hours, or for going to a river to screen wash for microfossils. Collecting gear (e.g. paintbrushes, canvas bags, plastic capsules, ice picks, rock hammers, etc) and lunch was provided for each crew member in our camp. Here’s what I typically carried on any given day:
- Daypack – I got a REI 18 L Flash Pack this year and was pretty pleased with its simplicity and durability
- 2 L worth of water, and a separate bottle for mixing Gatorade powder with water
- Durable field notebook (e.g those made by Sokkia or Rite in the Rain*)
- 2 Sharpies
- Hat and bandana
- Light rain jacket and a small waterproof sack for electronics
- A granola bar or jerky
- Basic first aid kit for small scrapes
- Knife or Multitool
- Toilet paper
- Sandals – specifically for river days
- Wallet with at least $15 in cash for surprise town trips or gas station stops
We experienced a lot of rocky and uncomfortable sage brush covered terrain in near constant sunlight, so most people wore pants and long sleeve shirts to protect themselves.
- 12 days worth of socks and underwear…you never know when your next laundry day might be!
- 2 to 3 pairs of pants
- 3-4 work shirts (e.g. a button up with a tank underneath or a t-shirt)
- Climbing or weightlifting gloves (no fingertips)
- 1 outfit to relax in during the evenings
- 1 outfit for town days (think: doing laundry, eating at a restaurant, travel back on the plane)
- A wide brim hat
- Hiking boots
- Sandals with good treads or sneakers
- A fleece or sweatshirt
- Rain jacket or poncho
While I could pick up basic stuff from the supermarket (we went into small towns every couple days for food), there were certain products and brands I couldn’t find. Therefore if there’s something you can’t live without you should plan to pack it because there’s a strong possibility you won’t be able to find it. For me this was unscented/sensitive skin wet wipes and high SPF sunscreen, so I loaded up on these items before leaving. I also packed liquid toiletries into ziplock bags to prevent spillage caused by changes in elevation between sites or melting from daily temperature changes.
- Shampoo/conditioner/soap for those precious shower days
- Wet wipes (enough to use at least 2-3 each day)
- Bug spray – I recommend low DEET or DEET free since it may be on your skin for several days before a proper shower
- Feminine hygiene supplies (whatever you’re comfortable with, but remember to pack it out) – At Her Packing List, we love the Diva Cup. Check out our advice for cleaning a Diva Cup outdoors to see if it might work for your adventure.
- Liquid or roll on deodorant
- Lip balm
- Lotion – the climate tends to be very drying
- External battery pack or solar charger
- Yoga mat – this made my tent more comfortable and was easy to shake out
- Pack towel
- Watch with alarm
- Lots of ziplock bags
- Headlamp and spare batteries
- Sewing kit
- Baking soda – for funky smelling tents
- A good book or eReader
About the author: Bern Perchalski is a Ph.D. student at Duke University who researches the evolution of primate feet. You can follow her on Twitter at @bern_perchalski
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