Must Have Items for Quick Fixes in the Field

by Bret Edge | March 1, 2011

© Bret EdgeGenerally speaking, nature photographers aren’t known for traveling light. We’ve got tripods, ballheads, lenses, cameras, filters, flashes and reflectors, not to mention backpacks, headlamps, tents, sleeping bags and the myriad items required to hike into the backcountry. If you spend enough time exploring the great outdoors with all this stuff on your back, sooner or later, something will break. If you’re lucky, it’ll be a piece of gear and not a piece of you. In this article I’ll offer some suggestions on what tools you’ll need to bring with you to make most field repairs.

Duct Tape

Books have been written about the myriad uses of duct tape. There are tales of bush pilots in Alaska using duct tape to repair their beat-up old airplanes. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I’ve used duct tape to seal tears in down jackets or sleeping bags, patch up a rain fly, fix a broken trekking pole and hold a piece of gauze on a nasty laceration. I’ve also cut it into small strips and used it to secure a graduated neutral density filter to the front of my lens when my filter holder fell into a rushing creek to be lost forever. I’ve seen it used to mend tripod legs, tent poles and lens hoods. Duct tape does a nice job fixing hoses that have been gnawed through by malicious marmots. Broken doors covering the battery compartment or memory card slot are easily held in place with a little strip of duct tape. Wrapped around a blister prone heel, it allows you to hike longer and farther. Over the years I’ve carried duct tape in several ways, but the most convenient method I’ve found is to wrap it around the barrel of a discarded Bic pen. This takes up very little space, adds negligible weight, and is easy to unroll when called into action. Throw a few feet of duct tape into your pack and you might as well be carrying a super hero on every hike.


Next to duct-tape, my trusty Leatherman is the most important tool in my backpack. I carry one with needle nose pliers, which I’ve used to remove more cactus spines than I care to remember. Those needle nose pliers can be used to fix all manner of problems under the hood of your beastly backcountry off-road photography rig – or your Honda. When one of those itty bitty screws comes loose on your tripod and no human fingers are small enough to manipulate it, needle nose pliers come to the rescue. Most multi-tools also sport a decent sized knife, screwdrivers, a bottle opener, maybe an awl, perhaps scissors or even an LED light. You never know when you’ll need the knife to shave a little bit of plastic off a lens hood to make it fit properly, the LED light to guide you safely in the dark when your headlamp is resting peacefully on the driver’s seat, or the bottle opener to enjoy a post-hike malty beverage with your buddies. And, in the off chance you find yourself trapped in a slot canyon with a 300-pound boulder on your arm, you’ll be glad you kept the blade nice and sharp.

Allen Wrenches

My ballhead and tripod are both held together with Allen screws. How do you think the quick release plate attaches to the bottom of my camera? Yep. Allen screws. I carry a couple Allen wrenches with me to fit every Allen screw on all of my gear. I’ve used these babies to repair my own gear, my guided and workshop client’s gear and the gear of hapless photographers who are complete strangers but in desperate need of a helping hand. They may not be as cool or useful as duct tape and multi-tools but when you need them, you’re going to be awfully happy you have them.

Arches National Park © Bret Edge


I carry 50′ of parachute cord, also called para-cord or p-cord, in my backpack 100% of the time. The repair I use it for most often? Broken shoelaces. Once you’ve hiked 5 miles wearing a hiking boot that tries to fall off your foot with every step you take, you’ll never again leave home without some para-cord in your pack. It’s also handy when constructing an impromptu shelter out of a tarp, replacing a broken strap, lowering a backpack down a pour-off or hanging your food from a tree limb to keep hungry rodents and bears from eating better than you do. Camera strap broke? Not a big deal if you’ve got some para-cord in your pack.

Extra Fastex Buckles

Buckles break. They get old, they get abused and they pay you back by breaking at the worst possible time – like when you’re several miles into a hike and the waist belt buckle snaps, leaving your shoulders to support the entire weight of your pack. I carry an extra buckle to fit the waist belt on my backpack and a couple smaller ones for other miscellaneous straps. Again, low weight but big return.

Dental Floss and a Needle

Strong, lightweight and consuming very little space in your backpack, dental floss may not save the day often but on the rare occasions you do need it, nothing else will do. Use it to sew things back together, including your skin – in a pinch. Torn pants or shirts, tents, sleeping bags (when the hole is too big for duct tape) and even sunglasses, when the microscopic screw falls out of the temple never to be found again. Bonus: you might just make your dentist so proud she’ll cry when you tell her you flossed your teeth while on a week-long backpacking trip.

And, a bonus – Tow Strap

Yeah, I know, you don’t carry a tow strap in your backpack and it really isn’t used for “repairs”, per se. But, carrying a tow strap in your truck can lead to sizable deposits in your Karma bank when you’re able to pull poor, stuck souls free of a snow bank/ditch/mud hole. The more Karma you’ve got saved up, the less likely you are to need the aforementioned items. And, you just never know when that poor stuck soul is going to be you.

Of course, this is just my list. Some people carry more and others carry less. It’ll take some trial and error for you to figure out what works for you. Until then, I recommend you examine your gear and look for failure points. Screws come loose, hinges break, straps sever. What would you need to fix these issues in the field? Make a list and then look for the lightest tool that will effectively resolve the problem. Throw those tools in your pack and consider them the “11th essential” in your kit.

About the Author

Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret's creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret's work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret's images, visit www.bretedge.com.

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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