I’ve led two Xtreme Team trips (Japan and Bulgaria) and was recently asked to compile a list of packing recommendations. Xtreme Team is a month-long cross-cultural trip for young adults (see the website). I was an Xcitem on both trips (responsible for the media aspect); also mentioned below is the Xpad (responsible mainly for the team’s journaling and preparing Xfiles; the team, from moment to moment, does not know what comes next. They are given hints through Xfiles).
I thought this list might be useful for others planning similar excursions (or Xcursions rather; yes, it seems cheesy, but on Xtreme team, we replace all instances of “ex” with “X”).
Here is the list (or, at least, the beginnings of a list) of Xcitem equipment for Xtreme Team:
- Good socks and shoes: Seriously, this is a month of standing on one’s feet all day and running from place to place over urban and rural terrain while carrying a pack of stuff. Do not skimp on shoes; additionally, if the trip involves hiking, take appropriate hiking boots. I recommend SmartWool socks; and, though they seem expensive at first, ECCO or Mephisto shoes. The “hiking” Birkenstocks are also good and eliminate the need for socks (I did the whole Bulgaria trip in Birks; except for the actual “hiking” where one should have boots to match the weight the pack, they were great).
- Camera grip: This is for the video camera (especially if the camera is a small “handycam” style set-up). It doesn’t add much weight to the kit and allows for smoother camera handling (and gives one more to hold on to in difficult shooting situations). I use a Mightywondercam Mini Rover Handgrip from Videosmith in Philadelphia.
- Redundant power adaptors: If the one battery charger you have for the video camera or computer conks out in the middle of Nowherestan, it can be a major inconvenience to find another. That said, it’s surprising what can be found at the local electronics and fabric sales shop in the back streets of Nowherestan’s smaller cities. Multiple chargers also speed the re-charging process; most consumer chargers can only hold one battery at a time. It’s a great inconvenience to set one’s alarm to wake in the middle of the night just to switch out batteries. On the same note, distribute the packing of batteries and chargers across several bags. In Bulgaria, the equipment case with both video camera chargers was delayed for several days by an airline error. Fortunately, I had the camera and three high-capacity batteries in my carry-on. I should have packed with a complete working kit in my carry-on and left the packing of spares in the checked luggage. In general, it’s a good idea to distribute everything in case of loss or theft. Make back-ups of pictures and data on disc and give them to the Xpad; the Xpad should also carry every other DV tape shot (i.e. number the tapes sequentially, the Xcitem carries even numbers, the Xpad carries odd). This way, if one set is lost or stolen, there will likely be some footage from major parts of the trip. (Make sure all electronics are autoswitching for worldwide usage.)
- Paper notebook: Moleskine is my pocket notebook of choice (of course, I’m a paper snob, but that’s beside the point). Space Pens are nice too (they write like a crappy ball point, but they write like a crappy ball point in all kinds of adverse conditions).
- Small headphones: I carried full size production headphones for location sound recording on prior trips, but found I rarely used them on location. It’s enough trouble to run-and gun everything else, let alone take the time to get out all the little bits and pieces of things. Plus, if one wears big headphones while taping in public, it just screams “pay attention to me! Look at me, I’m doing something out of the ordinary!” which is something to avoid as much as possible. Do take some sort of headphones, as it’s a good idea to regularly check the sound to make sure everything is getting to tape.
- A good microphone: I took a good handheld mic on prior trips; however, it was only used a few times. Instead, I’d recommend a decent shotgun mic for on-camera use. Most of the sound will be picked up while capturing video (unless we go minimalist and make an all podcast Xtreme Team [which, by the way, I think would be a great idea; but, that’s a different equipment list]). The RODE on-camera shotgun is a good, inexpensive mic and would mount on the camera bracket mentioned above. As a side note, most on-camera shotguns have “dead kitty” windscreens; most consumer camcorders do not show the entire frame in the viewfinder. Be sure to keep the dead kitty hair from creeping into the edge of the frame.
- Pack Towel: this is a chamois towel available from backpacking stores. It dries quickly, rolls up (put it in the bottom of the laptop bag as extra padding), and does not stink after multiple uses. This is counter to a cotton towel which takes two days to dry, wads up and fills half a backpack, reeks after two uses (especially since it hasn’t had time to dry properly). This should actually be standard issue for all team members.
- Pocket pack of tissues: For either end of one’s person.
- Full-body wet wipes: Also available from backpacker’s stores. On some Xposures, It may be several days between proper baths. It will be the middle of the summer. You will sweat a lot. A little moist wipe will be a great boon to personal hygiene and morale (not to mention the morale of those close to you).
- Antacid: For those, “Oh! I’m out on an adventure and I guess I’ll try that” lack of judgement moments.
- Sunglasses: to protect one’s eyes. Also, as an Xcitem, one’s eyes should constantly wander looking for shots. It’s a bit disconcerting to people if they can actually see your eyes wandering. However, in some cultures, direct eye contact during conversations is necessary decorum. Be sure to remove your glasses when meeting new people and in social settings.
- Card with emergency contact numbers (both in-country and back in the US) everyone should have this. Everyone should also have a pre-paid phone card for emergency use.
- Watch with alarm: The Xcitem will stay up later than the rest of the team and get up earlier. Better have a loud alarm.
- USB thumb drive: Good to have if you can’t find a wireless or ethernet connection for the laptop and it’s necessary to send weblog data from an internet café.
- A floppy drive (maybe): for the same reason as above; though most internet café computers have USB. Depends on where the team is going.
- Bluetooth mobile: Alternately you can send data through a mobile; in Bulgaria we had a one that communicated with our PowerBook. Granted, it was slow; but we were sending entries from the van way out in the country.
- Swiss Army Knife: With screwdriver (and, if you normally carry it in the camera bag, be sure to remove it before security in the airport—I’ve lost four in as many years).
- Screen Cleaner: These come in little packets as wet-wipes. Also good for cleaning lenses and other electronics.
- Microfiber cloth: for optics
- Small flashlight: I always carry a small Mag light if, for no other reason, you’ll be in a different place every night and may have to find the bathroom in a spooky civic-hall basement.
- Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap: Another camping store item. One can wash hair, body, teeth, clothing, just about anything with this stuff. In addition, written on the bottle are solutions to most world problems. It’s great stuff and consolidate several items into one; the “travel size” bottle lasts a couple weeks (a few drops will clean your whole body). May be a good idea to get the whole team travel bottles and replenish from a large bottle in the middle of the trip. (I’ve noticed many team members bring big unnecessary bottles of shampoo and sundries.)
- Vitamins: Again, it’s an intense month of constant movement. We usually eat fairly well, but you’ll eat something different every day, be in a different location every day. Anything that can be done to reduce the chance of illness is good. (May also want to pack melatonin to reduce jet-lag.)
- Sandals: Especially if your regular shoes are heavy or boots. It’s good to have something comfortable to wear around “camp” in the evening. If you are a hygiene stickler, also bring flip-flops for use in the shower.
- Less Clothing: Remember, you’ll have to carry everything. Cut everything down to a minimum and then some more. Buy lightweight technical clothing (wash and dry quickly). Get pants with cargo pockets (that zip shut for safety).
- Matches (Again, remember not to carry on plane.)
- Soft bags: to organise and protect equipment; the small Porta-Brace zip-up bags are especially good.
- Small Stuff Sack: For dirty clothing and etc.
- Cards explaining the purpose of Xtreme Team in the local language: These are good when the police want to know why a group of foreign young people are wandering around in the derelict church by the caves. They are also good to give out to interested parties who might want to follow along on the website or youth who may wish to get involved with future teams (should have web address and contact info).
- Nalgene Bottle: Just go to the outfitters and pick up everything except crampons (unless the team is going mountaineering).
- Jeweller’s screwdriver: Inevitably someone’s glasses are going to come apart and they will blindly come to you for help.
- Card with common phrases in the local language: It’s a cross-cultural team; you’ll want to know how to say “thank you”, “yes, I’ll take that fourth cup of Turkish coffee”, and etc.
- Cables to connect everything to everything else.
Additionally, Make the Xpad carry some of your gear if possible; since you’ll have all this media gear, it’s a good idea to have him or her carry the laptop. Hopefully he or she will also be fairly competent with a camera. It’s very difficult for one person to cover all the video and stills on a trip like this. If the Xpad can take care of stills it will free you to get better video coverage.
It’s difficult to make specific recommendations for camera equipment. On prior trips I took what would be considered “pro-sumer” gear. However, were I to do it over again, I would pack a lighter kit. If you take a consumer digital camera, make sure it has a short shutter lag time. There is nothing more frustrating than missing half your shots because you’re standing there with your finger on the shutter release, waiting for the camera to make the exposure.
The only “pro” gear I would take would be the shotgun mic and, perhaps, a small 12v camera light (of course, that means an additional battery and charger). We are, sometimes, in fairly dark situations where an additional light would be helpful. It would be interesting to see what we could do with a podcasting idea as that kit could be ultra-light. I have an HHB Mini-Disc recorder; but their new FlashMic would be ideal. Though the trip is all about Xtreme Xposures, a good portion of it is spent travelling and waiting around. These are not necessarily “video moments” but the conversations concerning Xposures would make great audio material.
An additional item: Though I would strongly discourage using it at a host’s home or when dining out with new friends, some people will not travel without a bottle of Tabasco Sauce. Though it is not something I usually take (preferring to “eat it like the locals), it can make unpalatable foods a bit more zesty.