We spoke with six park rangers to find out what products they won’t leave home without.
National Park Week started on Saturday, which means that more than 400 parks are waiving entrance fees through April 26. So go check out our national treasures (for free!) with this NPS employee–recommended, park-specific gear.
Arches National Park, Utah
What to bring: Water bottles
Lee Ferguson, supervisory park ranger for interpretation at Arches, suggests showing up well hydrated and with multiple reusable water bottles if you plan to hike in the Utah desert. “You should bring enough containers to hold up to a gallon of water,” says Ferguson. Refill stations in the park are limited, and it’s easy to not drink enough water.
In fact, dehydration is such a concern that Arches rangers sometimes perform what Ferguson calls preventative search and rescue by standing at the trailheads and discouraging unprepared hikers from undertaking the longest hikes.
We like: The Klean Kanteen Wide-Mouth 64-ounce saved me on an incredibly hot rafting trip I took down the Grand Canyon last year. It’s not insulated, which makes it lightweight. And lukewarm water is better than nothing.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
What to bring: Binoculars
Gettysburg management assistant Katie Lawhon suggests bringing binoculars if you visit the historic battlefield. “The birdwatching at Gettysburg can be really great in late April,” Lawhon wrote in an email. “Binocs also help visitors understand the terrain of the battlefield and how it affected the fighting.”
We like: The Bushnell Backyard Birder 8x40 is small enough to not be a burden but strong enough to let you discern details. At just under $100, it’s a great entry-level product.
San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, California
What to bring: Comfortable shoes
“The park has really cool ships, offers sailing trips on a schooner, has sea shanty singing and all types of remembrances,” says Alex Picavet, public affairs specialist at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Maritime National Historic Park is located at the Fisherman’s Wharf, a jumping-off point to many other day walks. “Sturdy walking shoes are a good suggestion because San Francisco is a really walkable city,” Picavet says. She suggests going from the Maritime Museum to Fort Point, which has beautiful views of the bay and is packed with Civil War history. When you’re finished, you can walk a short way to the Golden Gate Bridge and catch a bus back downtown.
We like: Oboz Missoulas offer the solid arch support of a hiking boot without looking like one, thanks to the short cut, casual styling, and multicolored leather accents.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
What to bring: Bear spray
“I know what my answer is right away—bear spray!” Jody Lyle, chief of strategic communications at Yellowstone, wrote in an email. Bears are particularly active during the spring because they’re hungry after hibernation. “Hikers need to educate themselves on what to do if they unexpectedly encounter a bear. Carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it is highly recommended,” Lyle wrote. Check out Yellowstone’s Bear Safety Web page for more info.
We like: Missoula, Montana–based ultrarunner Mike Foote never goes deep into the woods without an eight-ounce can of Counter Assault Bear Deterrent. Thankfully, I have never had to use the stuff, but I will take his word on its effectiveness.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Missouri
What to bring: Canoe or kayak
Public information officer Dena Matteson, who’s worked as an interpretive ranger for 17 years, suggests bringing a canoe or kayak if you visit Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The rivers are spring-fed, cool, crystal clear, and ideal for traveling by boat. “They are some of the most beautiful waters in the Midwest,” says Matteson. Not an expert paddler? Not to worry. “It’s more mild than rated whitewater. There are times when you need a little more experience, but in general it is a mellow float,” Matteson says.
We like: I’ve been paddling an Old Town NEXT for months and appreciate the short gunnels that make it easy to paddle and the short stature that makes it snappy. But it’s still plenty big enough for a weekend’s worth of gear.
Yosemite National Park, California
What to bring: Map
People who depend too much on their GPS devices can find themselves in big trouble in Yosemite. “We get people who are lost and call us all the time. We ask if they have a map and they say no,” says Scott Gediman, a ranger who’s worked in Yosemite for 19 years. Many roads around Yosemite are closed seasonally, information that some GPS devices don’t display. And a GPS can send you on a forest service road that isn’t intended for a sedan. “We had a family that was stuck out there for two days,” Gediman says.
We like: Get a map from the local ranger station, and ask the employees for tips on how to use it.