What’s in Your Knapsack?

Photo by Jerry Nissley

By: Mary Jane Poulter, Central Piedmont Chapter and
Marilyn Parks, Fairfax Chapter

At the annual Virginia Master Naturalist conference this year, a favorite activity was the chat room. The chat room was a sub-area of the conference where attendees could start discussions on topics of interest. Since the conference was virtual, discussions could occur in real time or asynchronously.

Mary Jane had already been thinking about possibly writing an article for Central Piedmont about a naturalist’s toolkit – “What do you carry when you go out into the field?” Marilyn Parks reached out to Mary Jane via the chat room and said she had been collecting information and was also thinking of writing a “What’s in your backpack” article for the Fairfax Chapter!

The two shared emails and decided going forward with an article that should be less of a story and more of a list.

Here is the list that they developed. The items that you decide to pack in your knapsack will vary with the focus of the activity, with the environment where the activity is occurring, with the time of the year, and with the planned length of the activity. Sometimes you may only need a light knapsack and other times you may want a backpack. Whatever the plan is for the activity, you should always plan for the unexpected!

So, what’s in your knapsack? Did we forget anything? Feel free to send additions and comments to [email protected]

Possibilities for Your Toolkit

  • Appropriate clothing – long/short pants, long sleeved shirts, shoes that can get wet, hat, gloves, good walking shoes/water shoes
  • Bug, tick spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Tissues
  • Zip lock bags to keep knapsack items dry and organized
  • Plastic bags for picking up litter
  • Large plastic or “dry bag” if needed for protecting backpack from wet ground or rain
  • Water
  • Food bars


Safety Equipment

  • Smartphone, optionally with portable charger or extra battery
  • Map and compass and/or GPS if out of cell range
  • Basic first aid kit (band-aids, antiseptic, etc.)
  • Emergency reflective blanket
  • Flashlight
  • Few pieces of hard candy if needed for diabetic need
  • For Master Naturalists – Virginia Master Naturalist emergency contact card and incident report form

Observational Equipment

  • Journal and pencils/pen
  • Field Guide
  • Hand lens
  • Binoculars
  • Flashlight
  • Poker/ chop stick for poking into a crevasse

Apps for Identification

  • Seek
  • Leaf
  • INaturalist
  • eBird
  • Merlin
  • Flora of Virginia

Apps for geography/navigation

  • Apple Maps
  • Google Maps
  • Google Earth
  • Hiking or map app for offline use