Gear: Essentials

"Money spent on good-quality gear is always money well spent."

― Tahir Shah
Don't you hate it when you find the perfect gear, but when the time comes to replace it for one reason or another (damage, loss, etc.), you discover it's discontinued. This is precisely why when I find something I really like, I'll often purchase a backup. I've done this for shoes, backpacks, cameras, lenses, etc. Though my excursions into Nature are generally day-trips, I always bring essential gear ― especially food, water, and a First Aid kit. My all-time favorite backpack is the above Vanguard Endeavor 1600, which is discontinued. Fortunately, I have a brand new one in my closet once I have utterly destroyed this one. For the kind of outdoor work I do, this backpack really has everything:
  • Butterfly attachment system for tripod and other gear. 
  • Exterior pockets for essentials, including watertight compartment for documents & insulated pocket for warm snacks.
  • Waist belt with detachable binocular pouch.
  • Orange total coverage rain cover.
  • Hydration reservoir compartment with drink tube clips on both shoulder straps (for hydration I use CamelBak products).
This is the most comfortable and versatile backpack I've ever used, so why was it discontinued? Vanguard offers nothing else like it today. I also have the Vanguard Waist Pack, which holds all of my camera equipment. It fits perfectly into the backpack with room to spare for other items. Should I ever destroy my backup backpack, I've looked at Osprey for a possible replacement. I suspect that's a long way off, though. 
When I see an opportunity to photograph an interesting insect, I'll take off my backpack and remove the waist pack for short-distance missions, especially tiger beetles. Then I'll set that on the ground and pursue my quarry until I get the perfect shot. Between rounds, the waist pack serves as a platform so sand doesn't corrupt and ruin my camera and lens, like so:
What about other stuff? This Leofoto multi-tool is super handy. It has a flat-head screw driver that's perfect for camera mounts, plus wrenches for tripod or monopod maintenance. I keep one hooked to the exterior of my backpack:
I use a Suunto Core Watch with a digital compass, altimeter, and barometer:
No matter the time of day, it's good practice to keep a flashlight handy. I use the Olight Baton Pro 2000 Lumen rechargeable ― it's super bright and very reliable. I have a SureFire flashlight as well, but far prefer the Olight.
Pocket knives! Their applications and uses are immeasurable and you should always carry one with you whenever you hit the trail. My personal favorite is this Benchmade Hunt Grizzly Creek model:
Astonishingly, this particular knife is the only one I've actually purchased myself ― all of the other knives pictured with it were gifts I've received from coworkers and customers:
Last but not least, shoes. As someone who often puts 10 to 20 miles per weekend on the trail, a good quality pair of hiking boots/shoes cannot be overstated. My favorite brands are Keen, Merrill, and Asolo, though I've tried brands like Vasque and Lowa as well. 
Other odds and ends I bring: First Aid kit, insect repellent, poison ivy wash, sunscreen, a variety of lens cleaning gear, extra carabiners, spare camera batteries, a few compressed towels, and more. I'll bring several Cliff Bars for nourishment on the trail. Binoculars? Naturally, I have more binoculars than you can shake a stick at!

All images © 2021 Mike McDowell