Outdoor Enthusiasts On the Surprising Item They Can’t Travel Without

Hacks for your next nature excursion.
A female backpacking along a trail in the Olympic National Park.

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When you’re gearing up for an adventure in nature, there’s the standard packing list: hiking boots, a tent, flashlight, s’more ingredients—the usual suspects. But seasoned outdoor enthusiasts tend to pepper in their own can’t-live-without staples that range from practical to unexpected to borderline odd. And no matter how unpredictable these ideas may be, at the end of the day, it’s the things that make your experience outdoors more seamless and enjoyable that count the most. Ahead, 10 experts share their surprising secret weapon for hacking the great outdoors.


Sometimes it’s the least technical outdoor gear that can prove most useful out in nature. Travis Welch, the alumni programs coordinator at NOLS, can attest to this fact. “I love my fleet of hot pink umbrellas,” he says. Welch brings along a small umbrella for backpacking and a larger model for sea kayaking. “I get sun protection, rain protection, bug deterrent, and style all in one package,” he says. “I hook mine to my pack so I can still use trekking poles or tuck it in my personal flotation device while sea kayaking for hands-free use.”

Rumbrella Golf Umbrella

Pen and paper

Spending time in nature can be meditative and for Erin Sullivan of Erin Outdoors, bringing along a journal lends the opportunity to be present. “Journaling helps me get present to my experience, clears my head, and encourages me to be mindful throughout my day,” she says. "There is something really calming about the activity of physically writing or drawing that brings me into the present moment.” For writer Justin Park, a few folded up sheets of blank computer paper suffices. “The escape from my work and to-do lists that I get in nature usually bubbles up ideas that I don't want to lose,” he says. "Being able to write them down is a joy and only adds a few ounces to my pack. Some important decisions and great ideas have crystallized for me in the woods.”

Kata Golda Handbound Journal
Moleskine XS Volant Journal

National Parks pass

Unless you’re a seasoned park-goer, you may not be aware that an annual pass is the best way to see multiple parks at a lower price. “The annual America the Beautiful pass not only gets you into the more than 420 national parks, but also more than 1,500 other recreational sites across the country,” president and CEO of the National Parks Foundation Will Shafroth says. “When you buy it through REI, they donate 10 percent of pass sale proceeds to the National Park Foundation. It’s a win-win situation—you have a ticket to visit thousands of special places across the United States, while giving back to national parks at the same time.”

National Park Foundation America the Beautiful Pass

Standing pee funnel

Nature’s call can be inconvenient when there are hazards like poison oak or creepy crawlies roaming around. Heather Kubiszewki’s solution? A funnel. “The number one thing I recommend is what I call the She-Wee,” the REI Co-op product information specialist says. "Even if you have mastered the squat and pee, sometimes there are a lot of bugs and you don't want bites in certain places or, simply, it's just too cold.” (The pStyle has been recommended to Traveler too.)

Freshette Pee Funnel

Aluminum foil

Nothing quite compares to a meal among trees and under the stars. And for outdoor enthusiast and dentist Joel Buttworth, there’s one item that makes a world of difference for prep and cleanup. “My game-changing item for camping is always having a roll of aluminum foil,” he says. “Every meal gets thrown into a homemade aluminum foil pouch and tossed on the coals. I normally pre-cut and pre-season all my food before leaving, so it is super easy to wrap up and cook.” His personal favorite camp meal is chicken fajitas: peppers, onions, garlic, and sliced chicken thighs.

Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

Hybrid lantern

Multi-purpose items are particularly useful when you’re packing up to head outdoors. Shelter Co Family founder Kelsey Sheofsky brings along the UMA Lantern by Pablo to use as a light source and entertainment. “The lantern gives off the most lovely warm light and doubles as a Bluetooth speaker,” she says. “You can even pair it with a karaoke microphone for hours of obnoxious evening entertainment.”

Pablo UMA Sound Lantern


If you are backpacking and need to save on space, Mountain Madness president Mark Gunlogson says a pillowcase is a surprisingly resourceful item to bring along. “For a backpacking or climbing trip, I’ll bring a pillow case and then I fill it with my extra clothes to make a pillow,” he says. This hack is especially helpful if you find camping pillows to be too small or slippery.

Parachute Brushed Cotton Pillowcase Set

Campfire blanket

For those who run cold, Big Fish Collective co-founder and CEO Rachel Popp recommends a camp blanket. “I always bring a down blanket to get snuggly by the campfire,” she says. “Something about having it on top of me while I lounge in my chair just settles me in for stargazing. I could sit outside and watch the Milky Way and shooting stars for hours. I’ve even fallen asleep out there before with this set-up.”

Kelty Galactic Down Blanket

Multi-purpose helmet

Safety is a top priority for all adventurers. The easiest way to minimize risk, says Al Berrios, general manager at adventure tour operator Outerthere, is adding a multi-purpose helmet to your outdoor gear packing list. “People don't realize that a good helmet can be used for everything, including skiing, snowboarding, rock and ice climbing, bike riding, rafting and kayaking, horseback riding and caving, off-roading and zip lining,” he says. “Helmets may mess up your hair, but they are absolutely essential to reduce risk of injury for most outdoor activities.”

Nutcase Vio Adventure Gravelstoke

Camera clip

The difference between a great shot and a seconds-too-late shot is having easy access to your camera. Emily Mandagie of The Mandagies says a camera clip is the solution. “My husband and I are photographers and we can’t live without it,” she says. “It's a contraption with two parts: the first you secure to any backpack strap, and the second part secures to your camera. They click together for easy carrying when out on a hike, and it has a quick-release button for photographing those fleeting moments on the trail.”

Peak Design Capture Camera Clip