Longs Peak from Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Most of the U.S. national parks offer pull-outs along park roads that provide vantage points for some great photographic opportunities. However, to reach the best spots for making unique panoramic, wildlife and wildflower images, you‘re going to have to venture a little deeper into the wilderness. At times you’ll get lucky and be only a short distance from the trailhead, but most times you’re probably going to want to hike in several miles. This means you’re going to have to carry some hiking and safety gear with you in order to make your walk as safe and enjoyable as possible.
In addition to all of your camera equipment, including a dry bag to protect your gear from the elements, here is a list of the top ten essential items you’ll need to carry while on your photo adventure.
Note: You may need to make changes to your overall list based on weather conditions, season, terrain and the length of trip.
Mountain Goats, Rocky Mountain National Park
Take a map and/or guide book with you. National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Maps are excellent. And guide books written by a local expert can provide insights on when and where to see your photographic subjects. Use the map to keep track of your progress and your location – you need to know where you are at all times. Keep track of how long it took you to get to your location via your watch or cell phone, so you have time to return before dark. If you don’t have a smart phone, which can be used as a tracker for distance, compass or map, it’s also a good idea to carry a compass and know how to use it.
Ptarmigan Wall, Glacier National Park
Rich Mountain Trail, Glacier National Park
Note: Be sure your cell phone is fully charged before you head out and know that it may not function in all locations, but it could still save your life.
Take plenty of water with you, especially in the summer. You can sweat anywhere from 1/2 to 1 quart of fluid for every hour you walk in the heat. This fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 3 quarts per hour if you hike uphill in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day. If you plan on drinking water from the backcountry, know that it must be treated for Giardia Lamblia. Giardia is a parasite that can cause an intestinal infection with a variety of symptoms. To avoid this infection, boil water for at least one minute, or use a filter capable of removing particles as small as 1 micron. Liquids such as water or sports drinks are best most beneficial. Drinking soda or alcohol will dehydrate you. You should also pack extra liquids with you in case your photo hiking adventure takes longer than expected.
Cracker Lake, Glacier National Park
The best snacks for the trail are ones that will provide you with high energy, such as fruit, granola, peanut butter, bagels, power bars, fruit bars, G.O.R.P. (trail mix), beef jerky, or even candy. Again, take extra food with you in case of the unexpected. Throw a couple of energy bars in your pack. They’re light weight, and will pack a nice punch if needed.
4.) First Aid
Learn first aid and carry a first aid kit in your pack. Know what to do in case of an emergency. First aid training will teach you how to react and deal with a variety injuries.
Good Ole Rocky Top, Rocky Mountain National Park
5.) Shelter from the Storm
No, I’m not talking about toting a tent around with you. I’m referring to keeping rain gear in your pack in case the skies open-up while you’re out on the trail. Weather can be very unpredictable in the mountains. Nothing is worse than getting soaked to the skin miles from the trailhead. This is a circumstance which can lead to hypothermia. Even during the summer a wet hiker can succumb to hypothermia at higher elevations.
Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park
I’m not suggesting you carry something in order to cook beef stroganoff on your lunch break. But it is extremely important to have some ability to start a fire in case of an emergency bivouac. I always carry a fire source: waterproof matches or some other emergency fire starter. You’ll also want to carry some type of tinder, such as fire sticks, or even cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly and stored in aluminum foil, a zip lock bag or even an old film canister.
7.) Extra Socks
Extra socks are a must as well. If you accidently slip into some water, or you’re forced to cross a swollen creek, you’ll want to change your socks immediately. Besides having cold feet you’re almost guaranteed to take home a few blisters.
Blue Bird Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Although the forecast might call for a mild day, weather can change quickly in the mountains. Overcast skies, high winds, or light rain, can chill your hands fairly quickly.
9.) Emergency Blanket
An emergency blanket is an excellent item to throw in the bottom of your pack. They’re inexpensive, light weight, and will take about as much room as a pack of baseball cards. Using reflective material, they’re designed to reflect your body heat back into you in an emergency situation. You can also use the blanket to create an emergency lean-to shelter as well.
It’s preferable to have a multi-use knife such as a Swiss Army Knife. It can come in handy in a variety of situations.
Wild Goose Island, Glacier National Park
There are a few other items you may want to consider having in your pack, but didn’t quite make my top 10 list, including; personal medications, a whistle, flashlight, bear spray, toilet paper, moleskin, sunscreen, ski hat, and even duct tape. Decide what is best for you personally.
And by all means, be sure to let friends or family members know where you are going, when you plan on returning, and if possible, what trail you plan to take. If the plans change, let someone know of those changes.
Happy Hiking and Be Safe! Make some great photos of the adventure.
by Jeff Doran
All text & photos: © 2013 Jeff Doran. All rights reserved.