The Ten Essentials: What to Bring on an Earthwatch Expedition
About to head into the African savanna or the rainforests of Brazil? Chances are you’ve packed the basics: shirts, pants, underwear, socks. But we want to let you in on the inside scoop and suggest a few things you may not have thought of.
The right footwear makes for a happy coral reef researcher.
We compiled the expertise of our most well-traveled Earthwatchers, people who’ve trekked through South Africa to conserve leopards and monkeys or boated in Belize to save sharks. Here’s their list of the top ten essentials:
10. A small, anything-proof notebook. If you've already gone on an expedition, you've probably experienced the frustration of trying to record data on a piece of paper with the wind blowing or rain falling. A pocket notebook like those made by Rite in the Rain comes in handy in just those situations. You can even drop it in the water and not lose your notes—more than can be said for a laptop!
9. Headlamp. You never know when you'll need a hands-free light. A staffer who joined Safeguarding Whales and Dolphins of Costa Rica used her headlamp every night, even though the accommodations had ample electricity: "To walk to the dining hall for dinner, we needed headlamps so we could avoid stepping on wildlife. Frogs were everywhere!" You’ll also need a headlamp to read after lights out.
Overhead lights won’t cut it when you’re studying something as tiny as a microbat.
8. Games. We prepare you for constant activity before you leave for an Earthwatch Expedition, so you might be surprised by the amount of relaxation time you have in the evenings or on a rainy afternoon. A deck of cards or Travel Scrabble can provide a great bonding opportunity for everyone on the team.
7. Real bug relief. Yes, we know it’s a potentially toxic chemical, but our field scientists themselves often recommend bug spray with at least 40% DEET for expeditions in insect-rich locales. Because it’s impossible to conduct research that could protect the environment when every tiny fly in the Peruvian Amazon seems to be buzzing around your face. You might even want a hat equipped with mosquito netting.
With mosquito netting on your hat, you’re ready for the remotest corners of the Amazon.
6. A dry bag. One of our staffers swears by his dry bag, even when he's not on a water-based expedition. "The ones they make now are small and lightweight," he says. "I used mine for my phone and camera while hiking through a forest in the rain, and used it as my day pack on Shark Conservation in Belize to keep everything dry on the boat."
5. Small, foldable camp chair. One of these sling-like chairs—basically, two cushions attached with straps—can provide you with a comfortable seat anywhere in the world. "I was in South Africa watching baboons for hours," said one Earthwatcher, "and the whole time I was thinking how glad I was to have my Crazy Creek."
4. Serious sun protection. You probably know to bring sunscreen and hat. But how about a rash guard? On our tropical expeditions, like Swimming with Sea Turtles in the Bahamas, a lightweight, quick-drying shirt can literally save your skin. Said one volunteer: "My rash guard kept me from burning to a crisp, and it dried in no time at all."
3. A strap for your sunglasses. One of those items that takes up almost no room in a suitcase, but that, if you need it, could save your whole experience. Few things are less comfortable than squinting into the sun for a week because you’ve lost your sunglasses to the Pacifc Ocean while trying to get a better look at a whale.
2. The right footwear. Not just footwear you find comfortable in your everyday life, but footwear that's up for the specific challenges of an expedition. Will you be on a boat all day? You'll probably want water shoes that dry quickly. Hiking through the tropical jungle? Tall rubber boots are a must.
1. A light suitcase. All the gear in the world won’t help you if your bag is too heavy for an eight-seater plane with a 30-pound-per-person luggage limit. So pack wisely. You’ll be happier with lightweight clothing anyway—it dries quickly and keeps you cool. And put that toothbrush in your carry-on, because lost luggage will most likely not make it to the middle of Ikh Nart Reserve in Mongolia.
We hope this list helps you leave for your next expedition more confident and prepared. But we know there are probably lots of other great ideas out there: what did you bring on your expedition that you couldn’t have done without? Leave a comment below!