I hate carrying stuff when I'm out in the woods, even a small daypack or hip pack, but I guess I have to. I've always got my camera, and then I have to have bags and stuff in case I find edible mushrooms, or other mushrooms I want to examine more closely at home--maybe even get a spore print if I really want to get serious about identifying them...
This is what I've figured out to take with me on day-hikes, that I actually use regularly. You'll figure out what you need after a few hikes when you don't have it.
- Camera (mine's a point-and-shoot with a macro setting, enabling me to get 3/4" up on stuff). If you must use a cell phone, try keeping the lens clean.
- Lens-cleaning cloth--I found one at a camera store that crams into a little lidded plastic holder. Oh, you'll use it--keyword "spiderweb"
- Spare camera battery--of utmost importance
- Pocket knife, for harvesting mushrooms at the very least. I cannot live without mine
- Thin ruler cut down to about 2" to put next to stuff for scale (or, a penny works fine)
- Pocket magnifier--just a cheapo flip-out one--for looking at stuff (glass lens--plastic is terrible)
- Compass ($1 from JoAnn Fabric nonsense pile--seems to work fine)
- MAPS in a ziploc bag--I swear, the more you use them the better your internal compass gets
- Cell phone--I've gotten turned around enough to have to call people, if only to tell them that I temporarily had no idea where I was. Twice I've had to call for actual help. Both times I figured out where I was before they found me, but damn. Pay more attention than I do. It's scary.
- Ziploc bags--you know, to put stuff in (not mushrooms, though--they'll cook if it's hot out)
- Little wax paper bags--won't dry out or cook mushroom specimens
- Plastic grocery bags (for trash, on the way back...also for your friend that forgot theirs)
- Lidded plastic containers for things that might break (skulls, owl pellets, fragile seed pods, etc.)
- The omnipresent water bottle or two (if your pack doesn't have a bottle holder, put the bottle in a ziploc bag so it doesn't leak all over stuff)
- Snacks (Larabars! Just nuts and dried fruits, chewy)--and oranges are so good when it's hot out...snacks are no joke! Salty ones for very hot days!
- Basket for mushrooms. I resisted a basket for a long time, and used a flat-bottomed cloth bag instead, but baskets really are best. Mushrooms are protected from getting bashed up, and you can use it to gently push away thorny branches ahead of you.
- Hat with a brim, because wearing sunglasses doesn't work well when taking pictures. And why not make it an orange one, for safety.
- Grab all extra napkins they give you at restaurants etc., you will use them
- Bandanna--oh, carry one! Especially when it's really hot out! Much better for keeping sweat from dripping into your eyes than your bug-repellent-soaked shirt! And good for wiping off your glasses after you walk face-first into another spider web.
Don't mix your known edible mushrooms with unknown ones. Put the unknown ones in the wax-paper bags. You can also write notes on the bags themselves, to help when you're trying to ID them.
If you get some trail mix with chocolate in it, and accidentally leave it in the car on a hot day and the chips melt the whole thing into a big mass, throw it in the fridge and let it harden into a brick. It's more fun to eat that way anyway.
Right before I leave for a hike I apply bug spray on exposed skin (outside!), so I can wash my hands before I go, and maybe not rub it into my eyes. Sprays with lemon eucalyptus oil are getting reviews they work as well as DEET against mosquitoes. I'm using it, so far so good.
Here is a story: once, I had just got out on the trail, way earlier than usual, and was enchanted at how beautiful it was that early in the morning, and I took about four pics of a little mushroom in moss right near the trail head, and my camera told me it was out of memory. I figured I had finally just filled the card, so I deleted everything on it since I had just downloaded it all the night before. Went back to taking pictures and it ran out of memory again! The horrifying thought began to bubble up into my awareness that maybe I hadn't put the card back in. I looked, like looking around the corner in a horror movie. It wasn't there. I tried to imagine the whole day in the woods without my camera. I was totally set, I had a cooler in the car and sandwiches and fruits and drinks and all the time in the world on a beautiful day. I*could*not*do*it. So I drove back home and got it (took less than 1/2-hr, no speeding). Oh, sure, I could've hiked all day and seen everything, but how would my friends see what I saw?
I try to sort of beware of my own hands in general, because I'm probably crashing through poison ivy, so I just assume my hands and clothing are covered with poison ivy and then maybe I can avoid getting it on my own face, or other parts. A hiking acquaintance told me she has a pair of hiking boots she hasn't actually touched for two years...
I read that dish detergent breaks down poison ivy oil better than soap so I just keep a bottle of it in the shower during hiking season.
I have had zero luck with "natural" bug repellents, but stories about how great they work, and recipes, are welcome. Lemon eucalyptus spray is what I'm using these days for mosquito repellent.
Don't read the next paragraph without continuing to the paragraph below it! Important edit! All about tick-proofing!
If you want to be smart, don't wear any of your hiking clothes again until you've washed them, which sort of turns your clothes into single-use items...because your clothes really might have poison ivy all over them, and then there's the ticks you didn't see (and you really should use hot water, and a hot dryer, because I found a LIVE TICK in the lint trap--do everything you can to kill, kill, kill...). It may be coincidence, but every time I said "Screw it" and wore the jeans again, I ended up with a tick on me. I'm training myself to not immediately claw them off in frantic anger, but instead to grit my teeth, get the tweezers (blunt-tipped ones are better than the standard pointy-tipped one for this), get a good grip on them as close to my skin as possible and pull slowly until they let go. I'm hearing things like you can squish their guts into your flesh if you mess them up while clawing them off, which may be why the bite itches like crazy and gets red and angry and persists for an awful long time (I'm talking weeks. Sometimes many weeks. And that's not just me. I mention ticks and people invariably show me some purple scar they have from some bite that lasted two months). However I get them off me, I've taken to holding a hydrogen peroxide-soaked cotton ball on the bite site right before and after, which doesn't seem to make any difference at all in how long the bite lasts, as far as I can tell, but seems like a good idea. I hate ticks. I respect them for being great at what they do, but I still hate them.
Tick edit: I am 100% sold on permethrin now. Since I started wearing permethrin-treated clothes I have not had one tick on me in all the hours and miles of hikes I've hiked. I use the .05% spray-on version. Lasts for six weeks or six launderings. I should be a rep for the company. I hike with utter confidence crashing through waist-high brush now, and I don't get ticks. I swear I have never used anything that kept ticks completely off, including 100% DEET. I have not found a single tick on me in going on four years, since using permethrin. Believe me, I didn't want to use it, but nothing else really worked, and tick-borne diseases are awful, and spreading.
Packing tape for pulling them off works on clothes okay, not on skin (unless they're not attached yet). Even better, though, a very clever friend showed me his portable duct-tape (the stickiest substance known to man)--he just wound it around an old credit card. I make mine by starting from nothing and making a roll with no core. I make it about an inch thick. And somebody else suggested just slapping a length of it on your pants, and pulling it off to use as needed, then sticking it back on your pants! I still carry it, but the permethrin kills them now, so I just let them wander around on my clothes until they die. I'm not usually like this, but I really hate ticks.
Here is a secret: I used to throw ticks on the burner and turn on the flame.
And the most important, non-negotiable, do-not-be-distracted-from, never forget, always remember thing I do when I get home is to recharge the camera batteries. I put the (empty) battery case ON the camera case, so I HAVE TO touch it when I pick it up, and then I remember to take the charged battery with me.
Aaaaaah. Then I go see how the pics turned out.