This gear list is provided for Conservation Interns whose positions may involve field work, potentially overnight work. We recommend that you think about gear purchases based on the individual site where you will serve your term. Many of the items on this list are designated as necessities and others are recommended or optional. This resource guide is meant to help keep you safe and comfortable during your term of service, not to get you to spend hundreds of dollars on gear.
Online Retailers: Below are some suggested online retailers. We do not endorse any product or its supplier. However, what you’re seeing are recommendations made by alumni in previous years. Be sure to check the sizing guides for the item(s). Products may run large or small depending on the manufacturer.
Recreation Equipment Inc.
Sierra Trading Post
Steep & Cheap
In the Office / At Interpretive Centers
Pants (necessity): While these don’t have to be canvas “work pants” like Carhartts, they should be appropriate to the agency and position. Jeans may be acceptable, depending on the site, and any leg-wear should be professional in appearance.
Closed-toe shoes (required): Something comfortable to stand and walk in. Hiking boots are generally recommended, lighter tennis shoes may be acceptable, as well. Host sites may vary in their expectation; when in doubt, ask. Avoid sandals, Crocs or Vibram 5-finger type shoes.
In the Field / At the Worksite
If you are new to camping and backpacking the cost of items can add up. If you are unsure of what you need or what to purchase after reading through this list you can contact your host site or the MCC office.
Work Pants (Necessity): You’re expected to wear work pants (professional fit and cut) while serving in the field, and should have a pair that fit prior to your arrival. Sizing may pose an issue, please allow time for exchanges if ordering online. One pair is usually enough to get through the season, some people opt for two or more.
Excluded: bibs, cargo pockets, baggy cuts, skinny cuts or stretchy material
Below are some examples of appropriate work pants:
Carhartt (M1, M2, W1)
ArborWear (Chestnut color)
Red Ants Pants
Work Boots/Hiking boots (Necessity): Your feet are one of the most important tools out there. Take the time to find boots that fit well and will continue to protect your feet throughout the season. Boots should be mostly leather and roughly 7" tall, tall enough to support and protect ankles. MCC does not recommend a steel toe boot. Look for waterproof brands that maintain breathability. A wet foot equals a soggy attitude. Regardless of brand, find boots that fit snugly. Unoccupied space in your boots will make your feet more susceptible to blistering during long hikes. Boots must be durable. Spending a little extra money up front will eliminate having to buy a replacement pair in the middle of the season. Read more about choosing hiking boots here.
Here are some boots alumni have recommended in the past:
Asolo TPS 535 LHV: Women’s boot or Men’s boot
La Sportiva: FC 4.0 GTX: Women’s boot
Lowa Renegade GTX Mid: Women’s boot or Men’s boot
Creek Crossing Shoes (Recommended): Creek crossing is a common occurrence in the field. Using shoes other than your boots will allow your feet to remain dry through most of the day and prevent blisters and trench foot. They are recommended, but as we do not allow individuals to cross creeks bare foot, consider them required if you are adverse to getting your boots wet. A pair of old sneakers, sandals with an ankle strap, or water shoes will suffice. Creek crossing shoes can also double as camp shoes for down time in the evening.
Work Gloves (Necessity): Site supervisors will generally provide gloves for project work that requires hand protection from chemicals, cuts, or abrasion; however, they do not always carry the widest range of sizes, so MCC recommends having at least two pairs of backup leather, synthetic leather, or gloves that fit the specifications for the job.
Rain Jacket and Pants (Necessity): Rain gear needs to be durable and effective. April-June tend to see the most precipitation. Always make sure it’s labeled as 100% waterproof, not water resistant. Windbreakers and ponchos will not keep you dry and project work will not stop because of rain. It’s an added bonus if your jacket has pit zips.
Backpack (Necessity if backcountry camping): Backpacks are the easiest way to transport your personal and work related gear to project sites or camp. On average, an appropriate multiday pack for your term of service should hold between 50 to 70 lbs. That falls within the range of 3,000 to 5,200 cubic inches (cu) or about 75 to 85 liters. A multiday pack (60-85 liters) provides a great deal of versatility for projects and recreational use. It is helpful for it to have straps on the outside of the bag to carry tools. Gear you will need to carry includes: a tent, sleeping bag, group gear, personal gear, food, and extra items for extended trips if camping (up to ten days). Needless to say, it’s important that the pack is comfortable and of solid construction. As with most gear, check sizing/fitting guides before making a purchase. You may want to hold off on purchasing one until you have a more solid understanding of your project schedule. Read more about choosing backpacks here.
Water bottles (Necessity): To be effective and safe you must stay hydrated. Plan on carrying at least five liters of water for a day; more in the heat of the summer. You can carry some of that in a hydration bladder (MSR DromedaryCamelback/Platypus) but you should bring at least one bottle with you in case the bladder is punctured.
Personal First Aid Kit (Necessity): Have your own personal kit for moleskin, ibuprofen, band-aids, emergency blanket, and any other items/medications you use frequently.
Day Pack (Optional): A smaller pack adds a level of convenience that many find advantageous during their term. The pack should be comfortable to hike in and wear for long hours and is 2100 cubic inches (35 liters). It should hold your lunch, water bottles, rain gear, first aid kit, and extra layers. Often times, multi-day packs can be adjusted and used as a day pack.
Belt/Suspenders (Optional): These are helpful for comfort and you’ll be surprised how loosely your pants fit after a few weeks on projects.
Staying Warm and Keeping Dry
Montana’s weather may fluctuate wildly in the spring and fall months, but it can still get chilly at night even during the summer. Base layers that pull away moisture, coupled with mid and outer layers that insulate, are crucial to maintaining your body temperature. You can find great deals on all the layers mentioned below at army surplus and thrift stores. Read more about the importance of layers here.
Base and Mid Layers (Necessity): This layer pulls moisture away from the skin. Light base layers can be used in summer or winter. You should have a couple of pairs, ideally of varying weights. The most important factor is that they should NOT BE COTTON! Cotton holds moisture against your skin, which pulls heat away from your body. In the heat that can be nice, in the rain and snow it can be deadly. The mid and heavy base layers are good to have in spring, fall, and winter. These provide you with some insulation. Fleece, wool, and synthetics are materials that will continue to provide warmth even when they are wet. You can have a couple of items for this layer—something fairly light for minimal insulation and something thicker/ warmer for maximum insulation. All layers should fit under your rain gear.
Other layers (Necessity): Bring one more layer to go over the others and under the rain jacket. This can be a fleece/down/wool vest, jacket or hoodie.
Warm hat and gloves (Necessity): Your extremities are almost always the first thing to succumb to the cold. Trust us; starting the stove at 5:45am is a chilly experience in the Rockies. Bring a pair other than your work gloves.
Plenty of warm socks (Necessity): Your feet are one of your greatest tools, take care of them! Look for synthetic or wool socks. NO COTTON! Cotton holds moisture against your skin and can be the cause of blisters and rubs on your feet. In cold weather cotton will not keep your feet warm once they are damp.
Tent, Bivvy, or Tarp (Necessity if work will have you stay overnight in the field): Find a shelter that you can carry on your back along with all of your other gear. A one person tent is adequate. It does not need to hold more than two people. Three-season tents work well; the average weight is six pounds. Whatever the shelter, make sure it’s adequate to keep you out of the rain, snow, or heavy winds. A footprint or tarp is great for added protection underneath the shelter. Read more about choosing tents here.
Comparable models to REI:
Sleeping Bag (Necessity if work will have you stay overnight in the field): Getting a good night’s rest is a crucial part of enjoying your time in the woods. The main thing to think about with sleeping bags is warmth and fit. If you tend to sleep warm, a 20 degree bag with the option of a liner should work for you. If you tend to sleep cold, go with a zero degree bag. Make sure you find a bag the fits your height. Too much room at the bottom leaves space for cold air and not enough room leaves you cramped. Down is very warm when it is dry but not when it gets wet. Synthetic materials will hold warmth even if they get wet, but they do not pack as small as down. Read more about choosing sleeping bags here.
Sleeping Pad (Necessity if work will have you stay overnight in the field): A pad acts as a mattress for both comfort and warmth (closed cell foam type or backpacking inflatable pads). Inflating sleeping pads are usually heavier and may puncture during the season. Foam sleeping pads are light and very durable but there is not as much cushion. While not a necessity, sleeping pads are a barrier between you and the chilly temperatures of the ground and most members use them.
Dry Bags & Stuff Sacks (Recommended): These bags help keep your items together in your backpack and are necessary for hanging your food at the camp site. Dry bags come in handy for the wet weather and also prevent food leaks from covering your clothes in your backpack. Lightweight dry bags are preferred for backpacking. You can also line a stuff sack with a heavy plastic bag. Regular stuff sacks help to organize your backpack and can make packing clothes and small items (toiletries) much easier. For 9 days in the field individuals tend to store food in a 30 liter dry bag.
Toiletries (Necessity, for in the field and life, in general): Everyone has different needs, be that brushing and flossing, maintaining personal hygiene, or answering nature’s call. You know you better than we do. Look for products that are biodegradable and non-toxic. Also, try to minimize the amount you’re carrying. A small bottle of hand sanitizier is a must.
Sandals/Camp shoes (Optional): It is nice to have something to change into at the end of the day to air out your feet and your boots. All sandals worn on hitch must have a heel strap. Flip-flops are not acceptable on MCC projects or in MCC camps.
Tupperware/eating utensils (Necessity if work will have you stay overnight in the field): Tupperware simplifies eating breakfast/dinner and makes packing lunches easy. It can also prevent your lunch from getting squished. Look for something you can fit more than just a sandwich into (approximately 6-8 inches x 6-8 inches x 2-4 inches). Sealed, leak proof containers are really great for storing leftovers. Bring a spoon/fork too.
Mug (Optional): Hot drinks in the morning/at night can make a world of difference in your day. The plastic variety is a fair bit lighter. Coffee press mugs are also popular if you need your caffeine in the morning.
Multitool/Knife (Optional): You always seem to need one when you didn’t bring one.
Headlamp (Recommended): Finding the latrine in the middle of the night can be difficult without the use of a light. Search the stores for one you like, they start as low as $10. Flashlights also work.
Compass (Optional): This is useful to have if you know how to use it. If you don’t know how, learn to use it by the time you arrive.
Journal (Optional): After a long day, it’s nice to have time to reflect on your way of life in the woods. Don’t underestimate how quickly the season will go and how nice it will be to have a living record of your experience.
Packable musical instruments (Optional): Need we say more?