Here’s the gear that helped me survive my first field assignment

Since I joined Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), I’ve been eager to do work in the field. It was one of the things my manager asked me during my interview, and something I was very excited about. Unfortunately, the pandemic happened, and all my travel plans were canceled.

Then typhoon Rai (local name Odette) happened, and I had to go the field so that we could work on communications materials. How timely that I had just completed my Field Comms training last December, and I’d gotten my COVID-19 booster as well. Despite the challenges we faced in January, and my incredible anxiety, I traveled by air, land and sea, and took as many photos and videos as I could.

It was an exhausting but enlightening trip, and I am so glad I was finally able to do field work. I have many thoughts on my first field assignment, but first I feel a need to list down all the things that helped me survive. After all, fortune favors the prepared!

Shoes

I am so grateful to my manager, Polly, who asked me, “Do you have hiking shoes?” After a typhoon like Odette, there’s a good chance that many places still have flooding, or rains continue to make the soil wet and soft. Landslides are common on such mountainous islands as Dinagat Island province, and given the damage, there was also a good possibility that there would be a lot of walking, some climbing, and so on.

I ordered waterproof hiking boots from Decathlon, and wow they were amazing. It felt like I had the warmth and protection of boots, but the comfort of rubber shoes. Despite an accident on my first day (I tripped on my shoelaces), I loved these shoes, which saw me climb over trees and hike slippery slopes.

Waterproof Jacket

I really don’t like using umbrellas. Even if your head stays dry, the rest of you still gets wet. Plus you need to hold it up, which is a hassle if you’re carrying a backpack, a DSLR camera and a tripod.

This is why I brought my Decathlon waterproof jacket. I love this jacket so much, and even better, I got on sale, in a beautiful color! I love how it has a zipper, Velcro closures, and button snaps, so it’s very easy to secure. The closures are not just on the front of the jacket, but also at the neck and the wrists. It has zippered pockets, an inside zippered pocket, mesh lining for the upper back, and a collar you can fold up to keep warm.

This jacket kept me warm and dry on the boat we used to travel from one island to another, water splashing at us from the sea. This jacket kept me warm and dry as I walked in the rain to board the plane for my flight home, and kept me cozy until we landed.

Belt bag

When you’re carrying a backpack, a a DSLR camera and a tripod, and you’re trudging up muddy slopes or trying to keep up with the team, you can’t really stop, put down your bag and rummage around for your phone or your alcohol spray. So for my essentials and valuables, like my wallet, some medicine, vaccination card, IDs and such, I use a belt bag.

I don’t really care if it looks tacky, or if my particular belt bag isn’t the most fashionable. It has two big compartments that fit everything I need, and that’s all that matters! When I’m carrying my backpack and my other gear, I wear it on my waist. When I’m not carrying anything else, like if we’re just going out for a meal and we can leave the rest of our stuff at the hotel, I sling it around my body.

It’s also useful if I want to hang something from my waist, and I don’t have belt loops. The strap is sturdy enough to hold a carabiner. Also, whether it’s around my waist or my torso, I won’t accidentally leave it behind.

Decathlon EVERYTHING

It’s a running joke between my and my brother that we’re addicted to Decathlon. We could spend hours (and far too much money) on the things we find there. Almost all my fitness gear is from Decathlon.

Several times during my trip, I realized that more than half of what I was wearing Decathlon: pants, socks, sports bra, shoes. I like wearing sports bras when traveling because underwire hurts, and I never know if I’m going to need to run or climb. I needed thick socks for support while wearing my hiking shoes.

One of my favorite things that I brought and used on this trip was my walking trousers. So comfortable, and the fabric is lightweight. Plus, sensible pockets and a drawstring waist!

Uniqlo tops

Before my brother and I got addicted to Decathlon, Uniqlo was our favorite shop for clothes. I’m pretty sure everyone has their favorite Uniqlo purchases, and I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who buys the same items in different colors.

While I was ready with five (or was it seven?) MSF shirts to use in the field, I also packed four Uniqlo tops that were lightweight and quick-dry.

I love Uniqlo bra tops for flights, because they’re very comfortable and I don’t have to worry about underwire. Paired with a scarf, they’re also pretty presentable!

Yeti tumbler

My family is obsessed with tumblers. For this trip, I made sure to bring my Yeti Rambler 18 oz (I don’t have a chug cap though). Oneal got it on sale from Lazada! Initially I was using it for water, but later on I ended up using it for coffee.

Life is Good backpack

I honestly cannot remember when I bought this backpack. Definitely I got it more than five years ago. It’s seen a lot of travel, many events and workshops and conferences. It’s carried different laptops and gadgets, tripods and accessories, clothes and other necessities. I love the many pockets and straps, and the little leather details.

It’s held up surprisingly well, considering all the use it gets. Some of the color has faded, but the only real damage is near the top, where some of the stitching is starting to unravel.

Little things

I’m sure all people have little things that make their travel a little more comfortable, a little less stressful.

I had a little alcohol spritzer from my friend Maia. It had a leather case and a hook, so it would hang from my belt bag or my backpack, and I could easily access it anytime. I had a eucalyptus and bergamot Human Nature comfort balm from my friend Judy. My brother gave me a little vial where I could keep emergency meds. I had about five or six carabiners that I used to secure my things or hang them from my bags or my person. I had a prescription for anxiety meds, in case I had a panic attack.

Candy. Crackers. Kamillosan throat spray.

All these things, while not exactly gear, came with me to keep me comfortable and calm, and helped me feel like I would be okay.

Inevitably there were things I forgot, and I already have a list of things I need to prepare for my next trip, whenever that may be. Still, I survived, and that’s more than enough.

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