Buldir Island – Remote Field Camp Preparation

So, I will start from the beginning, going a little bit in depth in terms of the gear that I brought with me.

I love gear lists because not only do I find other peoples’ lists interesting, considering their own thought processes during prep, but incredibly useful in terms of considering what I might like/need to bring.

After applying, being interviewed, and finding out I was chosen to go on the expedition, I had a month and a half to get everything ready and in order.  I put a lot of thought into packing. It was really important to bring the right stuff because out there, there would be no supplementing gear if I needed more. I would only have what I brought with me, for two whole months in harsh conditions, and so I knew I would be better off (over) prepared.

Never having been to the Aleutians, and living in southern California, it was difficult to envision the precise gear I would need. I knew, however, that the short summer season climate there is consistently rainy, windy, cold, humid, and overcast, with temperatures ranging down into at least the 30s at night. I knew I would have to bring plenty of warm and waterproof clothes. Luckily, I still had a lot of my gear from Antarctica in good shape – in addition to all my camping/outdoors gear. Still, there were certain things I would need to get.

Another small thing to consider was the fact that there would be only hand-washing, and that due to the precipitation levels, I would need to be able to put that off as much as possible. Luckily, I have plenty of wool layers – a property of wool is that it does not harbor the bacteria that make for bad body odor smells – a truly wonderful property that was very much appreciated on Buldir.



  1. Ski Jacket – outermost layer that was primarily used while observing birds from the blind, to keep warm while sitting motionless for hours.
  2. Rain Jackets x 3
    1. Patagonia Triolet – this was a new purchase, and I justified an expensive GoreTex jacket knowing that it would serve me well far beyond Buldir. These are breathable, waterproof jackets you buy for life.
    2. Old TNF rain jacket – used for field work, I got this jacket irreparably filthy while wearing it daily for field work. It got covered in guano, paint, and mud, but performed great!
    3. Marmot Precip rain jacket – back up in case the others didn’t perform or were destroyed or ripped irreparably. I didn’t actually ever need to use it, but it was wise to bring along just in case.

      soaked outer layers on the hike to Spike Camp

      soaked outer layers on the hike to Spike Camp

  3. Ski Pants x 2
    1. Marmot GoreTex pants – I found these for a great deal and thought they would come in handy on the island. They were too nice to wear during field work, but they were a good pair to have for other activities. Durable, waterproof, breathable.
    2. Roxy ski pants – never used them and really didn’t need to bring them.
  4. Waterproof Pants Shell
    1. Patagonia Rain Shadow pants – these were awesome. I ended up using these on a daily basis and they were really great. Only a few rips after days spent rubbing up and scooting down and climbing over rough granite boulders on the talus (thanks, RipStop!).
    2. Sierra Designs Microlight pants – a super thin, lightweight packable waterproof layer. I would never wear these while working (they would rip on the granite in a heartbeat), but they were useful around camp on wet days.

our propane heater was indispensable for pretty much the entire first cold, wet, windy month

our propane heater was running for pretty much the entire first cold month

  1. Down Puffy
    1. Marmot Jena down jacket – 800-fill down jacket that kept me toasty around camp and in the blind.
  2. Fleeces
    1. Mountain Hardwear fleece with Windstopper – I took this to Antarctica and it served me really well again on the Aleutians. This layer was crucial on days that the wind would cut right through wool and fleece layers.
    2. TNF fleece – one of my nicer fleeces, this long-in-the-torso-and-sleeves was really great to have to change in to after work and be warm (and relatively clean) around camp.
    3. Old TNF fleece – an old black fleece I had from years before, and somewhat ratty, perfect for field work layers.
  3. Vests
    1. REI fleece vest + Windstopper – larger fit, worked great and kept me warm. I actually was ALWAYS wearing either this vest or the other one I brought. A crucial layer, and I am glad I brought the two of them.
    2. TNF 100 fleece – a thin fleece vest that is a closer fit, helped keep my core warmer.

      Cold mist enshrouding us

      Cold mist enshrouding the island most of the time

  4. Long Underwear – I wore long underwear 100% of the time.
    1. Icebreaker 200 wool long underwear – my favorite pair, the wool ones you can just wear over and over and over. I really put them to the test here…and I can happily confirm (again) that Merino wool really is all its cracked up to be in terms of wearability + comfort.
    2. Patagonia Expedition-weight long underwear – also awesome…these I wore on rotation with the Icebreaker wool and they kept me the warmest.
    3. Patagonia Capilene 4 – old capilenes I had from waaaay back. Still was glad to have on rotation with the others.
    4. Patagonia fleece-lined Capilene – another pair of oldies, but goodies.
  5. Pants
    1. Camp pants x2 – Prana yoga pants that were a real treat to change in to after work, and a pair of fleece-lined REI brand cloth pants that were nice and toasty.
    2. Field work – Colombia makes my favorite pants, they just fit me the best. I have several different styles and they are all awesome. I brought 4 pairs with me to Buldir.
  6. Shorts
    1. Recommended by the Canadians. Was it a joke? Haha! Maybe. I NEVER wore these. But I guess if you were Canadian…you would.

      Early summer and of course, you still have snow

      Early summer snow

  7. Long-sleeve shirts
    1. Heavyweight wool x2, Midweight blends x2, Lightweight wool x2 – this amount worked well for me. I used the heavyweights earlier in the season when it was much colder, and phased those out for mid- and light-weight as it warmed up a little (and as I acclimated).
    2. REI brand fleece-lined long sleeve shirt – a shirt I got for Antarctica four years ago, this REI-brand shirt is something I have never been able to find to purchase again. It fits great, is super warm, and performs well.
  8. Short-sleeve shirts – just as my next-to-skin layer
    1. lightest-weight wool tank tops x2
    2. lightweight wool T-shirt
  9. Hats x 3 – this was a good number. One had a Windstopper layer in it, and I wore this in the blind. I also brought along two Buff Headwear wraps and they were very versatile to use in the field…but you could easily make your own fabric tubes instead of dishing out $24 for one.
more chilliness

impending chill

  1. Gloves x 3 – a lightweight fleece pair, ski gloves (for the blind), and windproof layer that was somewhat waterproof which was great for climbing around on the talus. Also great for fieldwork were fingerless fleece gloves which we bought in Anchorage for a few dollars from a fishing outfitter.
  2. Socks x 8 – SmartWool Mountaineering socks were great early in the season (brought three pairs of these), and an assortment of other wool socks. I brought the same amount of underwear to last me until laundry. SmartWool and ExOfficio undies are great.
  3. Footwear
    1. Asolo Stynger boots – love these! Served me well, are comfortable, relatively light, good grip, and kept me from twisting my ankles on the cobblestone beach we would hike to and from the study site. WATERPROOF which I also reinforced with waterproofing spray once before and once while on the island. I wore these with a SmartFeet purple insert because I have narrow feet with high arches, and they make all the difference after weeks of nonstop hiking.
    2. Backup boots – lighter-weight hiking boots just in case my main ones failed, and to wear on shorter hikes.
    3. MuckBoots Original (Unisex) Muckmaster boots – these are a hybrid galosh/hiking boot. It was a choice between these and the infamous XtraTuffs. After reading reviews I went with MuckBoots and I’m glad I did. These are thicker (warmer) and a little hardier…and better looking.
    4. Camp slippers – I went with slide-in warm Columbia slippers and they were great! I waterproofed the top quilted layer which worked well. Others wore Crocs or Birkenstocks.
    5. Sandals – these were mostly for the R/V Tiglax, as it is required to have inside the boat (outdoor shoes not allowed).
    6. Flip-flops – for shits and giggles. I did not wear them at all on the island, but they did come in handy in the R/V Tiglax’s shower and in the shared showers in the bunkhouse on Adak (my FIRST shower on solid ground after two months without!!!)

      but the birds don't care!

      but the seabirds don’t care!

  4. Gaiters
    1. Essential for keeping water from getting in between your rain pants and boots. I had the longer shin-length ones and wore them (over my waterproof pants shell) to the field daily. Outdoor Research brand. Also great for keeping bird ticks out.
  5. Medical Kit – I brought two versions of a medical kit. One “complete” one, and one to carry around in my day pack. We were also required to take the National Outdoor Leadership School’s 18-hour Wilderness First Aid class, which I did through REI Outdoor School.
    1. Stomach meds:
      1. loperamide – anti-diarheeal
      2. bismuth salicylate (like Pepto-Bismol)
      3. calcium carbonate – antacid
      4. simethicone – anti-gas
    2. Motion Sickness – very important since we spent so much time on an ocean-going vessel getting out to Buldir. Can also can help with nausea, and can be used for dimenhydrinate’s side effect as a sleep aid.
      1. dimenhydrinate (Dramamine)
      2. meclizine (non-drowsy Bonine)
      3. Transderm Scop – prescription-level strength
    3. Antihistamines – diphenhydramine and loratidine
    4. Pain management – a variety because they work in different ways – pack in with collected silicon packets to absorb moisture (rice works too) so they don’t turn into a paste in wet climates
      1. aspirin
      2. acetaminophen
      3. ibuprofen
      4. a small amount of prescription painkiller if your doc will prescribe it, just in case of serious injury
    5. AZO for managing uro-genital pain (which could be serious and constitute an evacuable emergency)
    6. Prescription antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin
    7. Antibiotic ointment (like Neosporin) – beware of any antibiotic allergies in your group
    8. Hydrocortisone ointment
    9. Antifungal cream
    10.  SAM splint
    11. 60 cc syringe for wound cleaning
    12. Small magnifying glass
    13. Tweezers
    14. Burn/rash ointment specific to plants – for the cow parsnip threat
    15. Gauze and dressings (nonadherent) of various sizes
    16. small scissors
    17. Bandaids
    18. Occlusive (waterproof + breathable) wound dressing
    19. Moleskin – to treat blisters
    20. Roll of athletic tape, 1″ – great for lots of things
    21. Vet wrap
    22. Glucose tablets or gel
    23. Temporary dental filling
    24. Throat lozenges
    25. Cold sore ointment
    26. Oral thermometer
    27. Nitrile gloves
  6. Hygiene Kit
    1. Sunscreen
    2. Deodorant
    3. Toothbrush + toothpaste + floss
    4. Dry shampoo (powder)
    5. Shampoo and conditioner for the few times we washed our hair (in buckets, in the cold!)
    6. Body wash
    7. Wet wipes – plenty for “bathing”
    8. Small mirror
    9. Shave kit (for when we re-emerged back into civilization at the end of the summer)

      geared up, prepared, and happy in the field :)

      geared up, prepared, and happy in the field 🙂

Other gear I brought onto the island:

  • GoalZero Nomad 20 Solar Panel – since there were only two solar panels (one for FWS and one for MUN crew) it was nice to be able to charge some of my items. Only problem? Buldir is very much overcast most of the time, and so charging took a long time. On the flip side, it stayed light enough for charging until around 9-10 pm.
  • GoalZero Sherpa 50 Battery – this thing is awesome. It got a lot of use when we bought it for our Nepal trip, and then again here on Buldir. I could charge it up off one of the solar panels when they weren’t being used, and then hold that charge for whenever I really needed it. Of course, the only things that I really needed to charge were my iPhone (served as my Kindle + camera + alarm clock) which was, of course, in eternal airplane mode and so lasted me about three days at a time; my laptop (once in a while to review pics or pre-type a satellite email); and my emergency satellite transponder.
  • Delorme InReach – good story on this one. I bought this $300 device because its something that is relatively new on the recreational outdoors market, and fit right into my needs. It is a satellite-enabled device that essentially lets you send out short text messages via Iridium satellites. It’s like the SPOT but better (much better reviews regarding functionality, satellite reading, flexibility of plans, and company ethics). This device really proved itself when we had a M8.0 earthquake and were out of touch with FWS headquarters in Adak. I was able to text Ethan in California, and my family in North Carolina, about what had just happened and that we were okay, and to get in touch with FWS in Adak and let them know that Kat and I were okay but that we didn’t have contact with the others on the island (they were over on the Spike Camp side). Basically, because of this, US Fish and Wildlife Service Alaska is going to buy these specifically for remote field camps! Pretty cool.
view o camp on the day of the M8.0 earthquake, when we got a tsunami warning

view of camp immediately following the M8.0 earthquake, when we got a tsunami warning and headed to high ground

  • Personal Laptop – this was recommended to bring for entertainment, and really it wasn’t completely necessary for my uses, but my laptop is so small that it didn’t really matter. If it had a better battery life I probably would have used it more – to edit pictures and such – but it kind of sucked to worry about charging up so often that I only pulled it out a few times to look at old pics, and pre-type up some emails to family and friends. Everyone was sure to keep their laptops and electronics in separate waterproof bags to keep them out of the humidity and moisture when not in use.
  • Camera – brought a Canon 50D and 100-400 mm lens, macro lens, and wide-angle lens. Also a small tripod, remote trigger.
  • Hand-cranked radio – I was hoping that some weird Russian stations would come through but I didn’t get any results the few times I tried.
  • Black Diamond Revolt Headlamp – rechargeable through cord, strong beam
  • Folding knife, 3.5 inch blade – an outdoor essential
  • Paracord – came in handy like when my shoestrings broke on my boots for the first time in my life
  • Art supplies – I really wanted to practice drawing more, so I brought quite a few art supplies
    • The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds
    • Improve Your Drawing in 30 Days book  – left on the island
    • Multimedia sketch pad
    • Watercolor paper
    • Windsor & Newton watercolor tray set
    • Prismacolor colored pencils
    • Various paintbrushes
    • Graphite pencils, tortillons, erasers, small ruler, pens
  • SNACKS – since I have issues with maintaining stable blood sugar levels, regular healthy snacks are vital for me to have enough energy and strength to work in the field. Knowing what food items were going to be on the island, I knew that I had to bring my own food to supplement the basic Clif and granola bars (and endless chocolate bars which are not an option for me), as well as the rather unhealthy island pantry. Even though this made for a HEAVY bag (not to mention significant out-of-pocket expense), it was super important for me. So I brought:
    •  Whey protein powder – added to oatmeal in the morning
    • Raw almonds
    • Freeze-dried fruits (blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cherries, mango, apple, pear)
    • Freeze-dried veggies (kale, sweet potato, broccoli, veggie mix – beans, corn, carrot, celery, red pepper)
    • Almond butter individual sachets (Justin’s brand)
    • Powdered miso soup
    • Dried salamis (a great outdoors staple)
    • Plantain chips
    • Various “premium” bars: Bobo’s oatmeal bars, WholeFood bars, Chia bars
    • Personal supply of coffee (was supposed to be supplied by FWS but wasn’t! Good thing we didn’t have any coffee fiends on the island this year) and various teas (and I wish I had brought even more teas!)
    • CocoHydro (powdered coconut water)
    • Energy drink additions (Mio, NuNu)
    • Clif gel shots (great for quickly raising blood sugar and energy)
    • Chocolate-covered espresso beans (enlightening treat)
    • Guilty treats (which I never eat normally but enjoyed at the beginning of the season…but then quickly lost taste for as our fresh foods disappeared): Cooler Ranch Doritos and Dr. Pepper soda – these were pre-ordered with FWS which can handle a few “special requests” as they order food for the entire season.

      our fresh food supply for the season

      our fresh food supply for the season

    • REGARDING the food order. The overall nutritional value of the food on-island was certainly lacking, and I wasn’t the only one to notice it. If it were up to me, and I was ordering food for a remote field camp that would have no fresh food for months…I would get lots of dried veggies and fruits to supplement and improve all the processed and canned food. Order less candy (we barely even ate half of it all). Order more brown and wild rice instead of white rice, barley, quinoa, and whole-grain pastas and breads. If weight is an issue, bring a large variety of dried beans. We had canned beans which were heavy to transport, and carry from shore to camp, and took up a lot of space. We ran out of chick peas, the best, most versatile bean, SO QUICKLY 😦  and were left with cans of kidney beans which no one really enjoyed. All of these foods keep just as well and are so much more nutrient-dense – you definitely want to keep people healthy and satiated in a field camp that is so remote and rugged! Also for variety, I’d order more ethnic ingredients: tahini, sriracha, hoisin sauce, chili paste, rice wine vinegar, various curries. Also! Have things for canning and preserving the veggies and fruits brought on island at the beginning, once they start going bad there could be a pickling or jamming party.

Part of the fun in remote expeditions is the logistical component of considering conditions, hazards, and thinking creatively about how to counter them to make for the best, most comfortable conditions for the human component – this ensures health and happiness which in turn makes for a safer, more productive, and enjoyable experience overall. 🙂


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