Above: Some essential outdoor gear for sketching in the field. There wasn't any way to describe some of it without showing a photo. The fingerless gloves were impossible to capture even in the photo, but you get the idea. Read below for details. Click on the image to view an enlargement.
Why is Roz showing us some very well-used clothing on Project Friday? Today is about kitting up, getting your gear together for doing field work. This is a great project for any Friday or any weekend because it typically involves a trip to one of my favorite stores REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.).
A couple weeks ago an artist wrote to me asking what sort of cold weather gear she should take to Alaska in August. Since I couldn't believe it was really very cold in Alaska in August (I haven't been to Alaska yet!) I had to quibble with her about temperatures. To me it really isn't cold until we get down to around zero. But cold is a relative thing and she wanted to be comfortable enough to sketch. Since my main concern for her was that she not be eaten alive by black flies I split the difference between our concerns and gave her the advice for which she asked and a little extra. (If there is one thing I can write more about than art supplies it's outdoor gear, hence this very long post.)
It struck me that this advice would be useful to other readers of this blog, whether they are heading out this summer, fall, or winter. I augmented my original note to her with additional comments and some reorganization. So if you intend to sketch out and are concerned about art materials, bugs, rain, or cold take a moment to read this post. Then make an equipment and clothing list, and start gearing up as your budget allows.
You want to break all gear in. This is especially true of shoes—I'm breaking in a new pair right now as I type; remember that pair of hiking boots that got doused with gasoline at a malfunctioning pump? Well I've replaced them with a new brand, also Gortex lined, and yes, I can run in these too if chased by spies.
The try out/try on/break in rule (and it is a rule, one of the few I insist on in life) is true for all your equipment whether you are wearing it or carrying it. Make sure that you at least try things on around the house, but the best thing is to get out and move about in it—even if the temperatures aren't exactly what you'll experience. Imagine for instance trying to work with fingerless gloves for the first time when you are outside in the cold. You might not have the "system" down, and lose valuable body heat floundering around deciding if you can draw with your thumb covered or uncovered. And does the pair you purchased cut off your finger circulation? Bad on so many levels. If you test your gear first you'll be able to adapt it before you get out into the field. Then you'll have useful gear, instead of dead weight to carry.
You get the idea. Here are my recommendations:
Paper and Art Tools:
I recommend you take paper that you normally use for the way you work—in a book size that is portable and not too heavy. For instance two thinner books rather than one thick book would be preferable. You can have one book stashed away out of the rain freeing your hands to work in the other. A lighter book means less weight in your hands. (Journal cards are also a great option for sketching out in the wilderness.)
My correspondent asked about Rite-in-the-Rain paper. It's an acquired taste. I used this paper for years when I was tracking with the girls, typically to make notes. I still use it when I'm teaching tracking or if a friend asks me to lay a track for his or her dog and I want to make a map in iffy (i.e., it's going to rain soon) conditions. Rite-in-the-Rain paper is great if you are actually going to do just that, write in the rain. Let me tell you, it isn't fun to stand in what little cover you can find as the rain comes pouring down and try to apply paint to any paper. And that is an observation coming from a woman who stood outside in countless rainstorms with two waterproof dogs!
My 2009 fake journal was a little Alvin Notebook that contained this paper and I worked in it with a dip pen, acrylic ink, and watercolors—I had great fun. But I was typically sitting in a car using the dip pen, or sitting in the vacant lot nearby. If I spilt the ink it was no big deal. If you are going camping you're going to need some other type of pen and they don't all work well on Rite-in-the-Rain paper. Some of inks never seem to dry, others pen nibs just feel crappy to work with on this paper. So if you decide you need a hi-tech paper for your outing, test first to see if it's really how you want to be working for the day, week, month, that you'll be gone.
If you finally settle on that type of paper take a pencil. Pencil works much better on Rite-in-the-Rain paper. I went to a Mantracking class and spent three 90 plus degree days searching in a quarry. I was glad to have that pencil to write in the journal I'd made of Rite-in-the-Rain paper. It was so hot the ink seeped out of my pen and wouldn't dry on the page. At least not until I'd smeared it all over myself and the paper.
Here's the thing, on the Lewis and Clark expedition just about everyone kept a visual journal. They used regular paper and packed in without Gortex coats or duffles. It was the dawn of the 19th century, Jefferson was president, and paper had real rag content—you can use quality watercolor and drawing paper under every camping condition I've experienced.
If the temperatures you're going to be in are over 30 degrees Fahrenheit you can still use your Niji waterbrush. At 32 and below, if you're in a stiff wind, the water will start to freeze in the pen and come out in tiny sheets of ice that peel and float off the hairs of the brush. This causes some interesting patterns in your wash. Also your painting won't dry until you get somewhere warm enough for the wash layers to first thaw out and then dry. (Some artists actually use this as a painting technique!)
If there is no wind, the warmth of your hand (as long as the brush has been stored near your body when not in use) will keep the water in the Niji waterbrush liquid enough to still flow. And if it's a sunny day and windless you'll get some washes down even if it is close to zero. But work fast.
I recommend a small palette of watercolor or gouache paints that you make yourself. Or Schmincke pan watercolors. Leave the lid of your palette open each night in your tent, cabin, or motel so that it can air out, dry, and not become a science project, i.e, grow mold. You will want to uncap your Niji waterbrush and let the hairs dry each night too.
Typically at home I use filtered water in my Niji, filling before I go on a day trip, refilling from my drinking water if necessary. If you're out in the field you'll be limited to creek water and you might get some interesting stuff growing in your brush if you don't let it air out. It of course depends on heat, humidity, and what you have in the available water, but you get the idea. It's a simple task to take the brush apart and leave your paint box open at night. As simple as brushing your teeth. (You don't want stuff growing in there either.)
Note: it goes without saying, but I have to say it just in case, that if you are using creek water you never ever want to put your brush in your mouth. (Think intestinal parasites.) You shouldn't be putting your brush in your mouth in any case—because of pigment toxicity, but it has been my experience that people do the oddest things when they are in new situations. Don't.
You can take some small brushes or even travel brushes, but then you need a water cup. Depending on how you like to travel/hike and work this might be important to you. I suggest a collapsible cup of the type found at camp stores (only designated as a paint rinse water cup once you use it as such even once). Practice with it before you leave so you determine whether you need one or two (to have enough clean water) to do a typical painting.
Fingerless gloves (ITEM C in the photo at the start of this post) are essential if you are going out in any cool weather. And here I rate cool as any temperature at which my fingers feel chilled and cramped when I stand for 10 minutes in whatever breeze is blowing. (Again, go practice.)
For fingerless gloves be sure you get the ones with a mitten top that will fold over your fingers AND a little top that will also fold over and cover your thumb. Typically I don't need gloves until it hits 39 degrees F., but as I said, wind, humidity, even time of day can make your hands feel colder. You don't want a thumb that can't be protected! You want mitten tops because it's just easier than individual finger tops (and frankly I haven't seen one of those for forever so it's probably moot).
Neck gaiters (Item C, hot pink above) made of polar fleece to keep your neck warm are essential even as warm as 50 if there is a stiff wind. Frankly I'll wear one until it's 60 degrees F. They won't undo or untie like scarves will, and they aren't as bulky. They stay tucked into the collar of your jacket or vest. Because they stretch and go over your neck there is little way for wind to get through. They also dry quickly and they protect your chin from the zipper of your jacket. (I'll wear one in a rainstorm on a hot summer's day, just to protect my chin from the zipper of my rain jacket! Look, when you are marching around for miles in the wilderness you start to notice things like the repetitive rubbing of your zipper against your chin.)
Get two neck gaiters. If you have two one can always be drying, unless you are somewhere where drying is an impossibility, like Houston! (I was in Houston one Thanksgiving weekend and the humidity was so high it took me an hour of blow drying each morning to get my hair to "damp.")
Item B in the photo is a polar fleece earband. Get a couple of these too.
If my neck and ears are warm and protected I can stand out indefinitely even in a stiff wind.
Another essential is a duckbilled cap that is Gortex or other waterproof breathable stuff. (See the rather grungy item A above.)
This should be on your head all the time and you need one of those clippy leash things that you can use to attach it to your collar. I was standing at the side of a country road sketching an osprey in its nest (down in a little gully so I was sort of at the same eye-height) and a large semi blew by at 80 mph. While it was never going to hit me, if I had not had that little clippy leash thing on my hat my favorite hat would be long gone—just saying.
You need the duckbilled hat for sun of course, but also you need it to wear under your jacket hood. The visor will keep the hood up and out of your face when you are hiking in the rain or trying to draw with your hood up. A circular-brim on a hat is USELESS as it can't be worn easily under a hood.
The cap should be adjustable (at the back there will be a tab or strip for that) and feel comfortable when you have the earband on AND the hat is over the earband; yet you can retighten the hat to wear on warmer days without the earband if it's adjustable—and somedays our heads just feel a different size. This type of hat is preferable to a hat with ear flaps (the "Elmer Fudd" hat) because the wind can whistle in through those flaps. Also EF hats tend to be heavy and too bulky (to wear comfortably under your jacket's hood, which means more wind and some rain down your neck!).
If you can get a duckbilled cap with one of those "Foreign Legion" neckcloths (AGAIN THIS IS ITEM A) that's a good thing because you can spray that neck piece with bug spray and it will keep biting flies from your face, while keeping the bug spray off you.
You can actually make one of these yourself by adding velcro to your cap rim in 3 places (sides and back) and cutting and trimming the "cape" as needed to fit. A bit of velcro at each front base point will allow you to close it so it doesn't flop around on you. I used this set up searching in two swamps and had no problems with biting flies at all! (I put a little bit of dog bug spray on Emma's ears, and later Dottie's ears, and neither of them were bothered at all—except when they started finding dead fish to roll in and that I have to stay bothered me just a little!)
Leg gaiters are important any time you step off the beaten path. These are item E in the above photo. Those gaiters have obviously seen better days, but man oh man I love them. They zip up the side. There is a hook at the toe (see the one on the right flipped back) that you attach to your boot laces to hold in place. If they have straps that go under the boot cut them off. You'll wear through them anyway and they are just a pain in the ass. If you have a draw string or elastic gathering they will stay on just fine. I have tracked behind a dog through all manner of dense vegetation for 12 hours at a stretch and these gaiters have stayed put on my feet.
Note: Wear all your underwear and pant layers that you intend to wear on your trip, as well as your actual boots, when selecting leg gaiters—some are cut very narrow and will make a tight, uncomfortalbe fit around you leg, Gortex pants, regular pants, and perhaps long-johns.)
Most people wear gaiters because they are trying to keep snow out of their boots. They are useful for that, but their most important function is tick infestation prevention (and believe me I've walked in some woods where infestation is the only word for what might happen to your legs if you don't wear gaiters).
Additionally, in warm weather, gaiters keep twigs, thistles, and brambles out of your boots and off your laces. You'll thank me at night when you can simply untie your boots and not have to pick out the brambles for an hour before you can unknot the laces.
They will also keep sand out of your boots which means you won't have to stop and empty your boots frequently, and you'll be at less risk from blisters from walking with sand in your boots.
But gaiters and those ticks…what you do is douse the gaiters with Deet or your insecticide of choice and wear them over your boots and over your pants (Gortex pants). So you'll have on your socks, regular pants, Gortex pants, boots (preferably Gortex) and then the gaiters!
This way the bugs will think twice about crawling up your leg, and you don't have to wear any bug spray on your skin. If the gaiters get totally soaked during the day with either dew or rain, respray them (away from your camp site with the wind behind you) as needed. I haven't resprayed my gaiters in an age. They are radioactive.
People also swear by gaiters that are snake bite proof and if you're going to be somewhere you're likely to encounter poisonous snakes (and a swamp certainly qualifies) you might want to look into that. I have found that just regular gaiters work best for me. Gortex ones are too expensive and I already have Gortex pants so they are redundant.
I've been fortunate or perhaps the humming I do when I walk about scares the snakes, but I've only come across 3 snakes during the entire lifetime of both bitches. One was a rattlesnake anxious to get away from us. The other two were garter snakes. Like ticks you just have to take precautions and then put snakes out of your mind or you are going to be jumping out of your skin every damn second. And that's city girl advice! I never intended to be an outdoor girl.
You'll need a Gortex jacket and pants as mentioned above. Everything I wear is layered so everything I own is basically two sizes too large. If you are new to this type of couture then take your under layers (from underwear up through sweaters) and try coats and jackets on over your layers to make sure that you can still swing your arms freely, still raise them, and still do basic things with the jacket and all those layers on, like let your pants down (if you're female). (And of course the latter should be attempted with all the lower layers in place. Practice so you know how long you have at the crucial time so you can plan accordingly.)
Also think about the length of the jacket you buy. It's personal taste but some people like short jackets that end at the waist because they can bend more freely. I like a longer jacket because it creates a better rain slide, keeping rain off my pants and out of the waistband of any of my gear. Also I have a fanny pack I can wear on my waist and then wear my longer jacket over it. So what if my silhouette looks like I've got a bustle on: I'm dry and I'm moving and I'm functioning.
You don't want to have to think about your gear or how miserable you are!
So try a lot of jackets on and think about which will work with your layers and your activities. Also consider a down vest under an uninsulated Gortex jacket, instead of a heavier coat. That way you can take off the Gortex layer if it isn't raining or windy and just keep the vest on. I can stand comfortably in zero degree weather in Minnesota in long sleeves and a down vest. Of course it is usually brilliantly sunny in the winter here so it's actually quite warm with reflected light coming off the snow. (Sunscreen is essential in the winter too!)
Undergarments are a departure from "conventional" wisdom for me. I love cotton. I would rather sweat in cotton (cotton t-shirt, and underwear) than wear wicking fabrics. My cut off point is as follows: if I am going out for the day I can stand to be a little clammy for 18 hours or so, as long as there is no way I'll get stuck out overnight—then it's cotton. If there is any chance I'll end up in the field overnight it's wicking fabrics. Practice exerting yourself on a day trip of similar temperature wearing cotton, and then another day wearing a moisture wicking fabric and decide. But remember to make this a conscious decision because you're thinking about a decision that could mean the difference between hypothermia and your life here.
Addendum: Joan's comment (in the comments section) about working in sunny conditions reminded me that even though my focus today was on cold, rain, and bugs if you are going to be exposed to any sun I recommend you purchase one of those long-sleeved shirts with the sun protection built into the fabric. They fit comfortably over a t-shirt and they are a great addition to your gear. I wear one when I jungle (my version of gardening) and when I go to the Minnesota State Fair or Zoo or any place where I will be sketching and standing in the sun. It also eliminates the need to constantly reapply sunscreen all over your body. (You'll still have to use sunscreen on your face, neck, and any part of your hands that remain exposed.)
Gortex boots well broken in before hand are essential.
Opinions vary, but for me my boots are the most important piece of wilderness gear I own. My survival depends on them. If I am walking I'm living. It doesn't matter if it is a 118 degree dry heat blast in Australia or 15 degrees below zero in the north woods. My boots need to function. And mentally if I can't walk (because of foot problems) my morale goes right down. But as long as my feet are comfortable and working I can endure some rather horrible conditions with a smile. Protect your feet!
Take socks that you are comfortable walking in, and more pairs than you think you'll need. There are all sorts of wicking ones now.
Take some "Second Skin" just to have on hand in case you get blisters. (I won't even go on a car trip without this stuff! A long day in a museum might necessitate some "Second Skin.")
Depending on whether you are going for a day trip or a longer trip you'll need some other survivor/camping gear. A basic first aid kit is always good. If you go to a store like REI there are aisles of supplies that you can put into your first aid kit. It's a fun day of shopping—imagining all the disasters to prepare for.
Seriously, you want to go to a reputable store like REI (I'm a co-op member there so I can plug it) because the workers are also campers and can give you suggestions on all the little things I'm not even going into here like the contents of your first aid kit, water treatment kits, matches, etc.
A word about Camelback water carriers. When they came out I thought they were the coolest thing on the planet. I wished I'd had one when I was a distance runner. I finally got one late in Dottie's life and it was useful for both of us (don't ask) and replaced other cumbersome "solutions." But they aren't for everyone. You need to experience what it's like to carry water on your back. And maybe you'll have minions going with you? Or you'll portage and hike to a campsite and always work from there. Just try it out by carrying it around the neighborhood one afternoon before you decide to depend on it in the wilderness. Maybe having a small side flask will better suit your needs than wearing your water all day long.
If you have eyeglasses get some of those cord things to attach them to so they can be around your neck if you fall etc. Some of them have "floating" capabilities.
You might want a waterproof case for your camera. If you expect rain all the time then check out those waterproof sleeves you can shoot through (I don't have one but I caught a glimpse of one at a camera store; any camera store will be able to help you with that).
You'll need a waterproof bag for your camera memory cards. (And get a separate one for any medications you'll be taking.)
Charging a digital camera is going to be an impossibility if you are away in nature, but you can keep the battery lasting longer in cold weather if you carry the camera close to your chest, inside your down vest. I have a small Nikon with a long lasting battery. It can go several days without charging. Typically I'm home every night, or in a motel (I think tents are overrated) so I recharge batteries then.
Same goes for walkie-talkies and other devices you might carry because of whom you're traveling with and how.
Again, going to an outfitter or camping store and explaining what you're going to be up to will be the best way to make sure you have all you need.
Tents, backpacks—these are both complicated subjects. The new models always have cool features. Ask questions! And I have only one thing to say about sleeping bags—get the best one you can afford. I have one which zips up with a twin because if it's cold it's time to make friends. Also while I never had to use it this way, my last bag was purchased to accommodate me and Dottie zipped up. Motels are just so much easier.
And to end—the obvious thing once again:
Take all the gear and yourself out into the field at least 4 or 5 times before you leave, just to make sure you've got it right. Each of those times can be for as little as a hour. But this is essential prep for a longer trip. Even though wearing the neck gaiter and other stuff might be oppressive in summer heat, you can perhaps turn up the a.c. and wear them for an hour in the house trying to manipulate all the other gear in a "working" situation.
By practicing before you go you can weed out non-essential equipment to leave home. You'll be glad you did.
Before you leave, of course tell someone exactly where you are going, and when you expect to be back (or at your next destination with a phone).
Even if you are traveling with someone who will do all directional "stuff" learn to read a compass and map. There are places in the northwoods where you can step 5 feet into the woods and simply no longer see or hear any clues as to where you are. As my cadaver search mentor used to say to us, "Don't become geographically embarrassed." (That means if you're the searcher and on his team don't get lost you idiot, but it's good advice for anyone in the wilderness.)
So whether you're going for a day's walk in the woods to sketch, or a month in the wilderness these are some of the things you're going to need to think about.
It's great fun to paint out in the woods, and I'm not a landscape painter! Just think about how you can adapt your working style to the conditions. Plan ahead so that you can be comfortable and safe. If you are comfortable (not cold, not hot, not buggy, etc.) you'll enjoy painting out. Always have a snack on hand. Have fun, and of course send me a postcard with a painting on it!