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Road Trip Starts in Six Days: Gear

I'm always fascinated by the process of selecting gear for various expeditions - the trade-offs of proven technology vs new technology, weight vs usability, battery life vs bulk, etc.  I enjoy reading people's gear lists and their justifications for various bits, so here is my electronics gear list for my upcoming road trip and ski trip (I may post a followup with my non-electronic gear later in the week):

The Premise:

Ten days driving across the northern states of the US avoiding motels and massive highways (after initial stop to hang with the family).  Then five days in Salt Lake City skiing with friends, followed by a quick blitz back to DC in hopefully less than four days.

Support Electronics:

#1, Motorola Droid - Of course I need a phone for emergencies, but the Droid will also act as my tether to the technology of civilization.  E-mail, facebook updates, blog posts, etc. all at the touch of a finger, as well as navigation and research (the most important bit).  When I go on trips like this I tend to not plan much ahead, but instead spend an hour or so each evening researching and deciding where to go the next day - the Droid provides the perfect platform for this (at least while I'm in the US!).

#2, Dell Mini 10 - With the 6-cell battery and XP this thing has lasted for over eight hours of continuous light usage for me, while being light, small, and easy to type on.  I've just installed Windows 7 and updated everything on somewhat of a whim, hopefully it will last as long and still work.  I primarily use this for offloading and sorting photos, geotagging, entertainment, and route management - as well as (most importantly) a power hub for all my rechargeable gadgets.

#3, SPOT Satellite Messenger - Once I start my trip, I will activate this and the tracking widget on my blog.  This provides real time position updates via satellite and allows simple route history later.  Check this link to see an example of how it can be used post-trip to review and share the route.

#4, Black & Decker PI100AB - A small, cable-free 100watt DC to AC inverter with a single plug and a USB jack.  This provides on-the-go charging for my Mini 10 and Droid while driving, meaning less time spent in gas stations or campground ranger stations charging my electronics.  One clear advantage to road tripping with a car rather than a motorcycle!

#5, Locosys BGT-31 GPS Datalogger - This little guy is the backbone of my route tracking and photo/video geotagging.  A small lightweight GPS that logs all of my position and movement data constantly (usually set to every 3s on long trips to make processing easier), it also can provide waypoint navigation when necessary - handy for finding my way back to a hotel or a base camp.

A/V Gear:

#1, Lumix FS10 Camera - Of all the digital cameras I've owned this is surprisingly one of the best for traveling.  I paid $90 for it six months ago and it quickly replaced my $500 "high end" compacts for everyday shooting - the intelligent auto mode just plain works and turns out surprising gorgeous photos with no effort.  More time spent capturing memories and less time spent tweaking settings is a good thing.  On top of this, it uses two AA batteries instead of a proprietary rechargeable, so I never have to worry about the battery running low - though amazingly two lithium AA's lasted for nearly three weeks and 3,000+ photos in South America last fall.  It's a little bulky by today's standards but still fits perfectly in a pocket and starts up quick.

#2, Canon A590is Camera - This is my "backup" travel camera.  Much bulkier than the Lumix and photo quality isn't as good, however it's also very cheap and runs on AA's.  Bonus: With hacked firmware (CHDK) this camera supports custom scripts which allows me to take ultra long exposure and time-lapse.  Most of the time you see me post a time-lapse video it was taken with this thing.

#3, ContourHD 720p Bullet Cam - Small, ultralight 720p video with an ultra wide-angle lens that takes surprisingly good video?  Done.  Starting on the Mototaxi Junket I have switched to this thing for all my video and I love it.  It's not perfect - low light is crap, high contrast sun/shadow is crap, and audio is crap...  but the ability to take inconvenient perspective shots (stuff it in my jacket on a tripod) or subtle quick video is impossible to beat.  The biggest downside is that my Mini 10 doesn't have a fast enough processor to actually play the video, so I have to downsample in order to review (time intensive).

#4, SLIK Sprint Mini GM Tripod - Short of paying many hundreds of dollars for a carbon fiber tripod, this tripod is the absolute best ultra portable tripod out there IMO.  It is very lightweight and compact, yet it unfolds into a nearly full size tripod with an extremely effective ball mount and incredibly good stability.  I have used this for over a year and it is absolutely amazing - whether doing thousands of miles on a motorcycle or stuff in a small pack for kickball, it has taken a beating and still feels and works like it did out of the box.

#5, Gorillapod Original - There are times when the SLIK is actually too big - maybe I just want to stuff something in my pocket on a quick jaunt or I want to strap a camera down somewhere weird.  For these situations I either use a rock for balance or bust out the little original Gorillapod tripod thingie.  It's actually quite handy, but gets far more use stabilizing the bullet cam than it does a digital camera.

In Summary:

Every device here either charges via USB or runs off AA's aside from the netbook (which has a very small adapter that works up to 240v) and has fantastic battery life (aside from the Droid, heh).  And aside from the Droid, it's all been proven to hold up to extreme cold, excessive vibration, backpacking, light rain, etc.

It's all small and fairly lightweight - in total it's less than five pounds of gear and can all fit inside a teeny backpack.  And yet in summary they provide nearly complete coverage of my technical needs, allowing me to not only enjoy adventures fully but to record and share these adventures with you.


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