Transsiberian Part 2 - Gear

10-03-2015

Packing for a long trip across several countries is a daunting task. You need to be able to carry everything, yet have enough clothes and gear to get through, with enough space left for all the souvenirs and gadgets from Shenzen. This trip also has a few interesting activities lined up that require us to take special equipment. Broadly, there are three categories; electronics, clothing and miscellaneous. Lets start with clothes.

Russia, is cold! Even at this time of year where things are beginning to warm up, places like Irkutsk and St Petersburg can reach temperatures of minus 20 degrees C over night. During the day, temperatures are somewhat warmer, hovering around zero. As the Norwegians say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. Our last trip to Norway taught us the importance of this. One problem with both places is that homes and public places are overheated therefore layers you can quickly remove are important.

When combating the cold, one factor I overlooked in Norway were boots. Despite having good gloves, salopettes and a decent jacket, I neglected snow boots and that was the first place the cold set in. This time, I've got for proper insulated boots with natural fiber socks. These tend not to make your feet sweat as much as man-made fibers, keeping your feet warmer and dryer. To top it all off, I have a classic Russian officer hat because why not (it marks me out as a proper tourist). Coat is a combination of waterproof ski jacket and a down jacket, with thermal trousers. Should be enough I'm hoping!

Technology wise, there are a few things we'll be getting up to. Photography is a big part of that, including astrophotography, normal photography and some slit-scanning on the train. Starting with the astrophotography, I've got a Velbon Portable Tripod, a Vixen Polarie with a Velbon ball head and my trusty Nikon D90. I'm packing a 1.4f manual lens and an 11-16 Tokina lens which should be enough for most needs. Debating taking my little, automatic, 35mm as well, just in case. For slit-scanning I've managed to get a small, Canon A3000IS running CHDK. This allows me to get a little more functionality out of the device. With a suction cup mount, I can record out of the train window. Job done.

Laptop wise, I've actually gone for a second hand Thinkpad X220. I decided this was the right box for the job. Tough, small, cheap and with all the right ports. Im actually running windows 8 on it, so I can get access to Nikon Camera Control for taking astrophotography shots. Security wise, the great firewall of China and indeed, Soviet Russia have both been trying to stop OpenVPN connections out of their respective countries. Needless to say, this is not great policy. Thankfully, there are reports that Obfsproxy can help mitigate this. It goes without saying that Bitlocker is also turned on! In all likelihood, I'll be wiping this machine when I get back. As it can deal with WebGL I can write a little code if I get bored on the train.

Phones are perhaps the biggest risk and we've had no end of trouble getting my old iPhone 3G back up to speed. We've settled on my old iPhone purely for Offmaps - an excellent mapping program. In addition, the iPhone can record GPS for us which is an advantage. The second phone is Samsung Galaxy. No GPS but good enough for Google Translate. in addition, there is some basic map functionality and with a pay-and-go sim, calls can be made in an emergency. Finally, we have a third phone that is really dumb and old. Nothing smart on it; just a sim. Longer battery life and very little in the way of security concerns.

The classic book is War and Peace apparently, though I doubt anyone could read the whole thing on the non-stop train. Instead, I have my trusty Kindle loaded with some books by Ray Kurzweil loaded on to it, so that should work out fine. Most of our guidebooks are in PDF form which saves space. Of course, this means power but kindles and other e-readers are great for that sort of thing. Space is at a premium and power is available. Speaking of power, I have an Anker astro battery pack to take with me. It's still smaller than a book and has enough heft to power my laptop.

Finally, there are other smaller things one needs to take. Apparently a gas meter key is essential for the trains as it opens toilets and kitchen areas (I say kitchen, its just a water heater) if they've been locked by a naughty attendant. Torches - one head torch, one wind up and one red light are very handy. A pair of slippers or sandals is also recommended as you don't want to be in your boots for an entire 24 or 48 hours on a train. A money belt for your passport and a set of photocopies of said passport is also recommended. If anyone asks, you can give these away whilst keeping the original on you. It's not uncommon for a seemingly looking official to ask you for your passport and then keep hold of it till you pay up. At least with copies you can be polite and compliant to a certain extent.

Some things are fairly obvious like a good hat and bag. Sunglasses are perhaps less obvious but snow can be quite bright, and it its snowing or raining heavily, its always good to have some form of eye protection. Concerning health, vitamin C and tasty t-bags can make all the difference on long flights and trips. The usual paracaetomol, ibuprofen and such can be very useful. Tissues are essential. Basically, think festival camping and you won't go far wrong. We have our trusty handpresso with plenty of coffeeshots at the ready in order to keep us in good coffee. Water bottles, bowl and spork are very good ideas given that the trains have variable dining cars but all have samovars - big water boilers - so having a bowl you can put instant noodles in, is not a bad idea.

There are a myriad of other things I'm sure. Bin bags, printouts of accommodation confirmations, signs that say "I don't eat meat" in 4 different languages; stuff like that. But in the end, reading the guidebooks and being aware of your own security and the fact you'll be traveling a long way should see you right.