Packing List for Observing Mini-Expeditions

These are my recommendations for having a successful mini-expedition to the mountains or desert to observe the night sky for one or two nights.  

Note:  I am a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member so I carry items that are specific to CERT that may not be necessary in your case.  However, the items in my CERT backpack are great for general emergency use if necessary.

What I keep in my 4Runner:

Front of vehicle
  • Multi tool
  • Flashlight
  • Ham Radio
  • Chargers
  • Water bottles
    Middle of vehicle
    • Tow strap
    • Power converter
    • Bungee cords
    • Water bottles
      Rear of vehicle
      • Snow chains
      • Ratchet tie downs
      • Shovel
      • Black cat heater
      • Propane canisters
      • Titanium cook set
      • Engine oil
      • Antifreeze

        CERT backpack
        • Safety helmet
        • Headlamp
        • Safety vest
        • Safety goggles
        • Safety mask
        • Leather work gloves
        • Non-latex gloves
        • Triage tape
        • Duct tape
        • Masking tape
        • Hammer
        • Pry bar
        • Vice grips
        • Utility knife
        • Scissors
        • First aid kit
        • Emergency blankets
        • Whistle
        • Compass
        • Extra carabiners

          Clothing to pack

          Observing the night sky means a lot of prolonged standing at night, in potentially cold and windy weather.  You need to pack clothing that range from light layers for desert heat, all the way down to heavy winter clothing for the middle of the night.

          Day Wear (primarily for desert)
          • Hiking pants with zipper pockets
          • Long sleeve shirt (prevents sunburn)
          • Any hat for sun protection
          Night Wear
          • Smart Wool bottoms
          • Smart Wool long sleeve top
          • Smart Wool neck gaiter - can pull up over nose for face protection in wind
          • Smart Wool hiking socks
          • Winter parka
          • Gloves or mittens
          • Mad Bomber rabbit fur hat - full protections for head, neck and ears
          • Warm boots are essential.  If your feet get cold in the middle of the night you won't enjoy the night sky.  During the day you can wear lighter shoes, but at night make sure you have sturdy and warm hiking boots.

          Although it might seem odd, the best thing to do is to sleep in your underwear.  This is because your body heat will warm up your sleeping bag.  If you wear pajamas, your body heat will heat up the inside of your pajamas and not your sleeping bag.

          You can climb into your sleeping bag and get down to your underwear, then keep your pants and socks in your sleeping bag overnight to keep them warm when you wake up and put them on.  I learned this from the Army, and it simply works.  


          In the mountains or in the desert you may be faced with high winds.  I highly recommend a low profile tent that will reduce the risk of blowing over, being damaged, or nearly impossible to set up.

          My own personal tent is a Hilleberg Nammatj 2.  This is an expedition-grade tent, but you don't necessarily need something this expensive.

          The main thing to consider for a tent is that it has a low profile.  Tall tents that you can stand up in are nice, but can be challenging to set up in large open areas where we like to watch the stars.

          Many tents don't come with proper tent stakes so you may need to buy a set.  You need tent stakes that look like large metal spikes or nails.  The cheap plastic tent stakes that many tents come with will not work in most terrain other than soft dirt/grass like at traditional campgrounds.

          Sleeping Bag

          Any sleeping bag is probably okay, but you want something that is rated for 0 - 20 F because the mountains and deserts can get very cold at night.  If it's not rated this low, just pack a few extra blankets to keep warm.


          When we observe the night sky we never use white light because it will damage your night vision.  We only use red light.  There are many different red flashlights on the market, and even dedicated astronomy flightlights.  You want to have a regular white flashlight for emergency use, or when no observing is taking place, and can simply use a filter such as a brown paper bag cut-out and rubber band to dim your flashlight if necessary.

          Topics coming soon

          First Aid