Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Scope Out the Skies
One of the most important steps when planning a stargazing trip is scoping out your destination ahead of time. You'll want to make sure you select a location far from light pollution, with wide open skies and good visibility.
Remote wilderness areas, like national parks and secluded mountain ranges, offer some of the best night sky viewing opportunities. Places like Death Valley, Yellowstone, and the Colorado Plateau are prime spots for witnessing celestial events like meteor showers. Just be sure to check the forecast before you go - clouds and precipitation will obscure the stars.
For urban stargazing, seek out vantage points that limit artificial light interference. Look for high elevations and avoid being surrounded by tall buildings. Coastlines and beaches can also be great options if you face away from the glow of the city.
No matter where you choose to set up your stargazing camp, it helps to use an online light pollution map like DarkSiteFinder. This allows you to visualize the best areas for night sky observing based on artificial light levels. You can easily search locations all over the world to compare darkness ratings.
Another useful tool is a moon phase calendar. The brightness of a full moon can diminish the visibility of fainter stars and galaxies. Planning your stargazing during a new moon around the peak of a meteor shower or other celestial event will provide ideal dark sky conditions.
Reading local star party listings and astronomy club websites for your destination can also give you insights on locations where fellow stargazers have had success. These groups often hold public events at secluded observing sites with minimal light pollution.
What else is in this post?
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Scope Out the Skies
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Layer Up for Late Nights
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Pack a Picnic Under the Stars
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Bring a Star Map or App
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Don't Forget a Red Flashlight
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Have a Backup Battery or Power Bank
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Remember Your Camera and Tripod
- Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Get Comfy with a Portable Chair or Blanket
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Layer Up for Late Nights
When it comes to stargazing attire, the name of the game is layers. Nighttime temperatures can quickly plummet once the sun goes down, even if the daytime was pleasantly warm. You’ll want to be prepared with versatile clothing that allows you to comfortably withstand the chill of the night.
Start with a base layer made of moisture-wicking merino wool or synthetic material. This will keep you dry while regulating temperature. Merino wool base layers have the added benefit of being naturally odor resistant too. For your top, opt for a long sleeve crew neck that fully covers your arms. Leggings or thermal underwear make a great bottom base layer for retaining body heat.
Next up is your insulation layer. The goal here is to trap heat while still allowing flexibility of movement. A puffer jacket filled with down feathers or PrimaLoft synthetic insulation is ideal for retaining warmth without excess bulk. For bottoms, fleece lined pants are a cozy choice. You can also bring items like vests, hoodies, and full zip Sweaters to layer up as needed.
Now it’s time to consider your outer shell. This wind and waterproof layer protects the insulating garments underneath. Soft shell jackets made of stretchy wind resistant fabrics allow mobility while sealing out the elements. Waterproof yet breathable rain jackets are also popular for stargazing. Your outer pants should repel moisture too - weatherproof trekking pants work nicely here.
Be sure to protect your extremities as well. A warm beanie cap will prevent heat loss through your head. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves since fingers share heat. Grab some thick wool hiking socks and waterproof boots or trail shoes to keep feet toasty. A balaclava and hand/foot warmers are smart backups for especially cold nights.
An important thing to keep in mind is reducing noise from your clothing. Synthetic and wool fabrics are quieter than many jackets with fancy tech features. Swishy, crinkly rain jackets can be disruptive when you are trying to quietly observe the night sky. Opt for garments with minimal noise pollution.
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Pack a Picnic Under the Stars
Adding a picnic element can transform a simple stargazing session into a magical, memorable experience. Laying out a blanket and sharing a meal under the celestial spectacle overhead makes for an unforgettable night. Plus, you'll want nourishment to keep your energy up during those late night observation hours.
When organizing an astronomical picnic, focus on easy to eat finger foods that don't require cutlery. Sandwiches, cheese and crackers, vegetable crudites, hummus, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and other hearty snacks are perfect for stargazing fuel. Cluster foods together on a compartmentalized tray or bento box to avoid constantly rummaging around in the dark.
Bring a thermos of hot coffee, tea, or cocoa to help take the chill off. For colder nights, a small camp stove allows you to heat up quick meals like instant oatmeal or canned soup. Package soups and chili in an insulated bottle to retain warmth. Hot Hands hand warmers slipped into your mittens or pockets provide portable heat too.
Keep beverages and perishables chilled in an insulated cooler bag along with ice packs. Pack individually portioned yogurts, cheeses, or other items that don't require prep or cleanup. Dried and cured meats like salami and prosciutto also hold up well for astronomy picnics. Don't forget utensils and napkins.
Set the mood with flameless candles tucked into mason jars - just be sure to place them a safe distance from your observing spot. A citronella candle or mosquito coils can help deter pesky bugs. For a special occasion, pick up a celestial themed cake from your local bakery.
If you brought along a camera and tripod to photograph the night sky, capture some shots of your starlit picnic setup too. The blanket and candles glowing under the dazzling firmament above make an enchanting composition. You can even use a long exposure or light painting technique to creatively illuminate the food and drink.
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Bring a Star Map or App
Having a star map or astronomy app on hand is an invaluable resource for identifying celestial objects and navigating the night sky. With millions of stars overhead, it can be challenging to pick out constellations, individual stars, and deep space features without an aid.
A physical star map makes a great low-tech option for mapping the heavens on your stargazing adventure. These tools depict the visible cosmos for your exact date, time, and location. Sturdy laminated charts can withstand the elements outdoors. Choose a large, detailed map that labels constellations, bright stars, nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. Search for specialty astronomy retailers that allow you to customize star maps to your specifications.
For added convenience, a red-light flashlight or headlamp will allow you to read the map without compromising night vision. Connect the dots from the star chart up to the matching constellations and celestial objects up above. Having this visual reference keeps your stargazing focused and helps identify highlights.
Digital planetarium apps provide interactive maps of the sky that you can manipulate by date, time, and location. Celestron's SkyPortal and Star Walk 2 are popular choices providing detailed augmented reality and 3D views. You can hold up your phone and see labels overlaid on the actual sky identifying stars and deep space features.
Astronomy apps also give key information like celestial coordinates, brightness data, and background on the mythology or science of what you are viewing. This adds enriching context to your observations. Some apps sync with telescopes to provide views not visible with the naked eye.
While apps drain battery, SkySafari and Star Chart allow you to download sky maps for offline use. Carry an external charger to keep phones powered overnight. For large groups, consider packing a tablet with a bigger screen to be passed around.
Leave notifications muted to avoid disruptions while stargazing. Enable night vision red screen filters to preserve adapted vision. Know that phone screens need to be brighter than red flashlights to be readable, so limit use once eyes are fully adjusted to darkness.
Having maps or apps handy for reference allows you to more readily identify "star hop" targets and observe interesting celestial happenings like eclipses, meteor showers, ISS flyovers, conjunctions, moon phases, and other timely events. Apps can point you to where these sights will appear in the sky relative to stars and constellations.
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Don't Forget a Red Flashlight
When it comes to stargazing equipment, a red flashlight is one of the most vital items to pack. Unlike white light which scatters and inhibits night vision, red light with wavelengths between 610-780 nanometers is minimally disruptive to dark adapted eyes. Having a red flashlight on hand allows you to tend to camp tasks like finding food, checking maps, and navigating terrain while preserving your hard-earned night sight.
Choose a flashlight or headlamp that emits pure red light instead of one with changeable colored lenses. Lower intensity red headlamps work nicely for hands-free convenience. Make sure to pack spare batteries too. Cycling the light on briefly at its dimmest setting can help maintain adapted vision when you need to consult a star map or walk around. Just be sure to look away before turning it on to avoid the abrupt brightness.
Photographers often use red light to illuminate cameras and composes shots without sabotaging night vision. Red also creates atmospheric side lighting for unique stargazing photos. Hold the beam low to cast a moody glow across the landscape or illuminate foreground elements. Light paint the interior of tents or up nearby trees. Just be mindful not to shine it into other observers’ eyes.
A fun way to enhance the ambiance is packing glow in the dark star stickers to adhere to your gear. Charge them up with the red flashlight and they’ll emit a faint cosmic glow when the light is switched off. Affixing stickers to items like water bottles and phone cases makes them easy to locate in the dark. Kids also love sticking the removable vinyl stars all over themselves for an otherworldly effect as they gaze at actual stars above.
While highly convenient, overuse of red light can still hinder dark adaptation. Be disciplined in limiting its use and avoid shining it upward where reflected light enters your eyes. Use it judiciously for essential tasks only. Telescope operator Tony Berendsen recommends, “Only turn on red flashlights when absolutely necessary and place a piece of cardboard around the front so that no side light escapes."
Astrophotographer Ben Canales suggests remaining in complete darkness when possible and feeling your way around rather than defaulting to light. "Some people get nervous about the dark, but let your eyes adapt and get comfortable through exposure,” he says. “Realize that the night is not as frightening when we let ourselves acclimate without reaching for artificial illumination.”
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Have a Backup Battery or Power Bank
When embarking on a stargazing adventure, a backup battery or power bank is essential for keeping devices charged overnight. While minimizing use of electronics preserves night vision, you'll still want power for necessities like flashes, maps, cameras, and telescopes. With careful planning, backup batteries prevent losing juice at crucial moments.
According to landscape astrophotographer Ian Norman, having ample power is one of the most important elements for successful night sky photography. He recommends "having spare batteries for everything" and says redundancy is key should gear unexpectedly die. For timelapses, Norman utilizes an external battery grip for his camera and brings multiple charged batteries. This setup allows the camera to continue shooting unattended for hours.
For smartphone users, portable power banks offer insurance against draining your phone shooting photos or running astronomy apps. Anker's PowerCore power banks provide reliable power in compact packages. The PowerCore Slim 10,000 PD offers two charges for most phones, recharges quickly, and fits easily in your pocket. RavPower's USB-C Power Bank 30,000mAh can charge a phone seven times over and even charge laptops. Just be sure to protect lithium batteries from extreme cold.
Having backup power also comes in handy if using electric warming devices. Route portable chargers inside your clothing so body heat keeps them operating efficiently. Using a power bank allows you to recharge hand warmers to keep your extremities toasty all night long. You can also power small electric blankets, heating pads, and USB gloves.
When car camping under the stars, another option is using a portable power station to run small appliances and electronics. Jackery's Explorer 1000 can power mini coolers, electric blankets, fans, lights, and CPAP machines. For larger power needs, Goal Zero's Yeti 1500X provides solar recharging and enough capacity to operate mini fridges. With smart power management, a portable power station makes overnight astronomy sessions more comfortable.
No matter what gear you utilize, think through power needs ahead of time and pack adequate batteries and backups. Astrophotographer Amiee Stubbs warns, "My best advice is to not be that person whose battery dies right when the Milky Way comes out! Have a plan and be prepared with spares." For peace of mind, know how long your equipment runs on a single charge and pack extras. Protect batteries from temperature extremes that can degrade performance.
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Remember Your Camera and Tripod
A sturdy tripod paired with a quality camera makes capturing epic shots of the cosmos possible for novice astrophotographers and pros alike. While smartphone cameras have come a long way, DSLR and mirrorless cameras with manual settings provide the versatility needed to photograph the night sky in all its glory. Remember to pack this gear if you hope to document your stargazing adventure.
Landscape photographer Ian Norman considers a solid tripod the most essential element, saying, “I don't even attempt star photos without a good tripod.” A tripod prevents blurring caused by long exposure shaking. Look for one that extends tall enough for you to look through the viewfinder while standing. A ball head tripod allows you to tilt and swivel your camera into position.
Weight is also a key factor when selecting a backcountry-friendly travel tripod. Zomei’s lightweight carbon fiber tripod folds up compactly while providing stability for long exposures. A mini tripod like the JOBY GorillaPod offers ultra-portable support. Bring sandbags or a bungee system to weigh down tripod legs and prevent tipping in windy conditions.
When it comes to the camera itself, one with a full frame sensor will capture the most detail and light. Settings like ISO 1600-3200, 30-second exposures, and fast lenses in the f/2.8-4 range help take in sufficient light for night sky images. Consider a model with high dynamic range (HDR) to balance exposure between a bright moon and the Milky Way.
Sony’s A7 III and Canon’s 6D Mark II DSLR represent excellent astrophotography choices. Nikon’s Z6 II or the Fujifilm X-T4 mirrorless cameras also take fantastic long-exposure shots. While smartphone astrophotography has limits, Google’s Pixel 7 Pro produces impressive low light photos.
Remote shutter triggers allow you to capture exposures without introducing vibration by touching the camera. Intervalometers or interval timer apps enable unattended timelapse sessions. For deep space objects, an equatorial tracking mount moves the camera to follow the stars. Protect your gear against temperature extremes and condensation with insulating sleeves.
Don’t forget essential accessories like spare batteries, memory cards, lens wipes, and rain covers. Red flashlights allow you to operate gear without losing night vision. Photographer Joshua Snow captures spectacular 360 VR milky way scenes using the Insta360 One R twin edition. “It’s just so simple to get an instant tiny planet of the Milky Way with this camera,” he says.
Apps like Sky Guide, Photo Pills, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris aid in planning shots in relation to celestial objects. Gauge where the galactic core rises and learn when the moon or planets will enter the frame. Invest time in scouting and preparing gear beforehand to maximize productivity under the night sky.
Twinkle, Twinkle: 8 Essential Items to Pack for the Perfect Stargazing Getaway - Get Comfy with a Portable Chair or Blanket
After hours spent craning your neck skyward, having a comfy seat is vital for enjoyable stargazing. While collapsing into your sleeping bag sounds tempting, remaining upright in a portable chair will provide better celestial views all night long. Packing compact, cushy seating is essential for your comfort and stargazing success.
As landscape photography expert Tamara Lackey notes, "Getting pelted in the face by biting mosquitos or having your butt go numb from the cold, hard ground is not the most magical experience." Avoid a sore back and numb extremities by utilizing a lightweight, adjustable camping chair. REI's Flexlite chairs offer cushioned comfort at just over a pound. Coleman's ComfortSmart Deluxe Chair provides lumbar support, armrests, and side pockets for gear at just 6 pounds.
Another seating option popular with stargazers is a Crazy Creek-style camping chair. These flexible foam chairs fold up small but feel padded and cozy. Slip one in your backpack for sunset hikes to a viewpoint. Astrophotographer Benjamin Jordan says, "I love using my Helinox Chair One for both star gazing and shooting nightscapes. It gives me a place to sit and view the stars in comfort.”
If you have room to pack bulkier items, bring a roll up foam mattress for cushioning beneath your sleeping bag or a cot to elevate off cold ground. Air pads like the Exped Megamat 10 provide mattress-like comfort and insulation. Just know that crinkly moving around on these surfaces can disrupt fellow stargazers' experience.
To enhance an existing chair, use a seat cushion for added comfort and warmth. Therm-a-Seat makes portable cushions with a pocket for hand warmers. Sheepskin covers feel indulgently soft and insulating. Stadium seat pads offer waterproof padding that folds up compactly.
In addition to comfy portable seating, packing blankets creates cozy stargazing spots to spread out on the ground. Rumpl's puffy insulated original poncho liner maintains warmth like an old-school army blanket. For waterproof insulation, try an Oceas all-weather camping quilt backed with reflective aluminum. Woolly's Orion Constellation Blanket puts a night sky design under your feet.
Head to your stargazing destination early to claim the best observation spot before others arrive. Astrophotographer Mara Legrand suggests, "Pick your location in advance and get there early to 'set up camp' with your chair, blankets, etc." Scope out landscape features like giant boulders or gnarled trees to lean against or perch on the edge of while stargazing too.