Field day prep: What’s in your backpack?
Bringing soap and shampoo bars instead of liquid soaps helps reduce the weight of your gear when camping (Photo by Scouts Canada)
Removing barbed-wire fences, weed pulling and property assessments: these are just a few of the grueling tasks that natural area managers (NAMs) at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) do every day on the job. Much of their time is spent driving out to properties that range from 30 minutes to up to three hours away. Every NAM is in charge of an area, and they are each responsible for monitoring and maintaining the properties that fall within that area (learn more about Alberta’s natural priority areas here).
We have a saying in Alberta: If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. Our staff needs to be prepared for whatever weather they might encounter in the field, from snow storms to heat waves and torrential downpours.
When you spend this much time in the weather-unpredictable Alberta outdoors, it's important to fill your backpack with everything you'll need to get you through the day safely, which is why our NAMs always carry food, water, a first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, bear spray, binoculars and communication tools. While some of these items seem pretty obvious to pack for a day outdoors, we’ve asked our NAMs what items they carry in case of emergency, or based on past experiences.
Megan Jensen (Photo courtesy Megan Jensen/NCC staff)
Several years ago, when Megan was out working on a property, her hydration pack leaked, leaving her with no water. The temperature was scorching hot and although she was surrounded by wetlands, she had no fresh water to drink. Megan made it back to her truck before the situation became dangerous, but ever since, she’s made sure to add a lifestraw to her backpack. This tiny water filter is pocket sized, but is powerful enough to filter out 99.9 per cent of bacteria from freshwater sources!
Ticks can be harmless if removed properly, but some ticks carry Lyme disease. Megan also makes sure she carries a small plastic bag in her backpack in the event that she is bitten by a tick. She says it gives her peace of mind to keep the tick in the bag and get it tested to ensure than any ticks that bite her aren’t carriers.
Tony McCue (photo courtesy Tony McCue/NCC staff)
Although Tony has plenty of experience working out in the field, he doesn’t pretend to know everything about wildlife in Alberta. He says that discovering new species and organisms is often the highlight of his day. With the advancement of technology, much of this information is now available online and Tony is able to carry around a library’s worth of knowledge on his device instead of on his back.
“No field pack is complete without it,” says Tony. He swears by the use of duct tape in any situation, to help repair clothes or to apply first aid. Tony says that this is a must-have for him on a daily basis, and he awaits other situations where it will come in handy. You will often find duct tape wrapped around Tony’s water bottle or other odd locations...just in case.
Change of footwear
Carissa Wasyliw, AB (Photo courtesy Carissa Wasyliw/NCC staff)
Being out in the field often requires wading through tall grass, puddles and mud. Nobody likes to sit through a long drive home with wet socks and shoes, especially not Carissa. She makes a habit of bringing along a second pair of shoes to change into at the truck after a long day outside.
Alberta’s weather is temperamental, to say the least. It’s not unusual for it to be raining, become sunny, and then start raining again within the span of 15 minutes. Alia brings her sturdy rain gear when rain is forecast, but she always carries a small, cheap rain poncho with her so she doesn’t get caught off guard, rain or shine!
Alia Snively (Photo courtesy Alia Snively/NCC staff)
Hours of physical work outside in the summer in full sun can get tiring and requires NAMs to be well hydrated. Alia makes sure she carries a liquid electrolyte to add her to her water bottle on hot days to help replenish her system when she’s sweating a lot and losing a lot of nutrients.
It's difficult to know exactly what you're going to need out in the field, but years of experience have taught these NAMs that sometimes you need unusual items under certain circumstances. Bottom line? When you're in the field, be prepared for anything!
Jackie Bastianon was the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) 2018 communications intern for the Alberta Region. She is currently studying journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa and hopes to use her writing skills to compel people to care about the environment as much as she does. The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.