Our Gear
Urban explorers invariably like to post their gear list.  Whether we do it here for ego or altruism, read on if you're interested....

 Conventional flashlights
Between the two of us, Dani and I have about a dozen flashlights to pick and choose from on an expedition.  We even have two like the one at left, which puts out a good, strong beam, but its size and that "safety yellow" do not make it ideal for covert missions.

2,000,000 candlepower spotlight
Because they are fairly large and heavy, I was never really interested in one of these.  However, after exploring a tunnel where we wanted to make certain we could see far, far ahead, Dani convinced me we needed one.  Fortunately, this is rechargable either through your car's cigarette lighter or a wall jack at home, so we won't be wasting batteries here.  And, yes, ours is camo like the one in the picture.

 Head lamps
Dani found these at Wal-mart (bought a pair of them for me one xmas, as a matter of fact).  They have LEDs rather than or in addition to incandescent bulbs, so they last quite a while. 

Our Garrity model (top) is actually black (I found this pic on the web) and has 4 modes: 100%, 50%, 25%, and flashing light. 

The Rayovac model has 3 modes: two red LEDs (for night vision), one white LED, or the incandescent bulb.  I have no idea what the point of this is.  I think Dani just bought them because they looked cool.

Mini Mag-light
This is less conspicuous and cumbersome, so it is therefore ideal for sneaking away to check something out when you aren't on a major mission.  It is also handy when exploring, for example, abandonments where you wouldn't expect to need a light then suddenly find a previously unknown basement, as we did with both the Swift ruins and the Spaghetti Warehouse basement!

A key asset of this light is the ability to focus or broaden a beam.  This is great for getting the light wide enough to cover the width of a tunnel so I don't miss anything, then tight enough to concentrate on what's up ahead without putting an obscuring glare all over the walls.

Note: This pic was pulled from eBay; my flashlight is black for all the obvious reasons, and lacks the ring and fancy case.

If you are going to document your trip, a disposable camera might be the most sensible choice, but we try to go with a little more style.  Dani and I both have Fujifilm digicams.  They aren't too fancy, but they're a good value for the money, at least in my opinion.  However, it should be noted that I primarily aim to document our expeditions rather than taking more artistic photos.  Consider your objectives before investing.
Note: The majority of images on this site have been resampled to reduce the file sizes and resized (to 85% or less), in order to conserve space and facilitate access, so the actual quality of the images taken by these cameras are much better than is represented herein.

Canon Rebel XT (SLR).  This is a terrific camera.  I am by no means a photography expert, but the variable exposure times allow you to get some terrific shots in areas with very little light.  I won't go into a photography lesson here, but you can "paint" the room by panning a flashlight around the area in order to get the coverage you otherwise wouldn't with a single flash.

FujiFilm S300.  This is a mid-level camera, so it is a good compromise between quality and the risk of dropping an expensive piece of equipment onto wet, hard concrete.  The main thing is that the flash is far superior to either of the other Fujis on this page which is essential for getting good shots of large tunnels that would otherwise swallow up your light.  Also, it has an ~6x optical zoom, making it more useful in larger sites where you might want a close-up, especially if you don't want to hazard moving out in the open.  Finally, this model has additional settings for capturing exposures in the dark much better.

FujiFilm A205.  This one does the job adequately, but because the flash is somewhat weak, it isn't suited for exploring tunnels to the same extent as the S300.  Still, because it's relatively small and cheap, it's great to have with me when riding around town.

FujiFilm 1300.  This was my original camera.  It had previously survived a drop onto concrete from a moving bike and, on a separate occasion, being slammed against the wall of a concrete tunnel, and being in the rear-ended trunk of a car crash.  I had hoped never to have to have occasion to comment on whether or not it is water-resistant, but, sadly, it was killed in action. Dani had it in her pocket at the canal outside of Beaver tunnel when she accidentally slid down the side into chest-deep water.  I have since purchased another Fujifilm, the A205 bottom-of-the-line model (see above).

Digital Camera Binoculars
Another present from Dani.  These have up to 8x magnification with an integrated digital camera.  It takes 640x480 or 320x240 pictures or movies and has 16MB of memory.  Pretty neat!

Magellan SporTrak Pro GPS receiver

Here are just a few ways we use this device:

  • Where were we?  One of the hard parts about draining is that you can't figure out exactly where you have been once you come up, and, frankly, that's half the fun!
  • Eye in the Sky.  A GPS system allows easily access to aerial & satellite photos of the sites, rather than attempting to paint a picture strictly through ground-level photos and sketchy descriptions.
  • We've come a long way, baby!  I would like to be able to more accurately gauge distances rather than hoping I can drive back over a site and clock the mileage!
  • Location, location, location.  Instead of giving reams of directions on this website, you will notice that some galleries have coordinates posted for future explorers to look up the directions on map sites, GPS software, or their units themselves.
  • Geocaching.  And in addition to "conventional" UrbEx, Dani and I wanted to get into geocaching as well, given that the two ventures have a lot in common.

Garmin Nuvi
This is a much newer GPS, but it serves a different purpose.  It is pretty much like having Mapquest.com in a little box.  It knows where most places are (e.g., restaurants, gas stations, stores, amusement parks, etc.), and it will give you precise directions to anywhere you like, but the cheaper SporTrak (above) is much better suited for marking locations and finding places (especially waterways, which the Nuvi ignores).  Of course, this little toy doubles as an mp3 player, picture viewer, translation dictionary, etc., so it isn't like this is junk.

Other Gadgets
Alphasmart Dana
This is a cross between a PDA and a laptop.  I provide a more thorough description and review of its features on this page, but as far as its application to urban exploration, this thing has a lot of uses.  Typically, it stays in the car rather than coming on an actual expedition.  However, I use it to store a database of places I've been and my "to do" list of sites.  Unlike my GPS (either of them), I can quickly write or retrieve descriptions and directions to locations I have visited or want to visit.

 Walkie Talkies
Again, this might seem like overkill, but, honestly, this was a reasonable investment ($28) for safety's sake.  For example, a lot of the time Dani and I will spot something promising and one or the other of us will jump out the car and check it out.  Once we are out of sight of one another, these help us keep in touch, which is especially reassuring when we are in rough neighborhoods. 

Many of the locations we explore are frequented or even occupied by vagrants.  These allow me to call for help should the need ever arise.  Also, sometimes I travel on foot far enough away from the car to where it is worth it to request that Dani pick me up at another location entirely.  Given the alleged six mile(!) range of these units, this could come in handy should I ever come out of a tunnel on the other side of town (which, yes, actually happened once).

 Laser Tape
In case you haven't seen them on tv, these are distance measurement tools that allow you to merely shoot a laser across the span to take a measurement.  Appearances to the contrary, the reading is actually taken ultrasonically; the laser is only for reference.  The measurement can then be stored or recorded elsewhere. 

I got one because my descriptions of areas (heights of rooms, widths of passageways, lengths of corridors, etc.) are entirely too subjective, and photos are not adequate to convey scale in most confined spaces.  These devices top off at distances of 50 ft., but beyond that I guess the GPS could take over in some cases.

Also, the laser turned out to be handy for determining distances to the next turn.  Sometimes your flashlight can't make it that far, but the laser does.  Cool, huh?

Compass / Whistle / Thermometer / Magnifying Glass
This doesn't necessarily help you find your way, but it can provide you with some sense of orientation when you are underground.  For example, in one tunnel we explored, we found that we had turned more than 90 degrees over the course of the journey, even though we thought we were heading in a straight line throughout.  That helped us find one of the manholes leading to it once we were back on the surface.  WIthout the compass, we would have headed in the wrong direction entirely.

The whistle has never been required, but would be useful if we needed to frighten someone (e.g., in an attack by vagrants, Morlocks, C.H.U.D.s, etc.) or to establish position if we were separated. 

Thus far the thermometer (on back of unit) hasn't proven necessary (let alone accurate!), but it is sometimes interesting to note the difference in subterranean temperature, particularly just after a sharp change in weather when the below-ground has much more buffering against the latest hot or cold front.

 Manhole key
You walk by scores of manholes every day.  I figured I ought to have something available if I felt one was worth checking under.  The dollar bill is for reference (and it's the most expensive thing in the picture).  This is just a 2 ft. rebar rod.  I bent the larger part between the side of my house and the electrical meter pole (not the gas!) and did the smaller one with the hole in a manhole cover right in front of my house.

Other Gear
 UrbEx Box
After lugging our gear in a beat-up cardboard box for several months, I finally ran across the perfect solution in a sporting goods store. 

This is actually a gun case designed to hold up to four handguns (two on top, another two between the bottom layers of foam).  It is perfect to keep the electronics from getting scratched or damaged on the way to an expedition.  Things usually go in our pockets and/or a backpack when actually exploring.

Since we also use it for geocaching, the bottom layer typically stores lists of caches, a pencil, and prizes.

Note: If you're wondering where my camera is in this picture, then trying thinking outside the box.

Oh, the batteries I've gone through!  I finally swtiched over to rechargables and was pleasantly surprised to find that they actually last longer than conventional alkalines. 

Digital cameras just eat through AA batteries.  These last for maybe 150 or so shots with the flash (I've never really counted), but the camera requires a lot of current, so the batteries aren't completely "drained" by the point the camera can no longer use them.  In fact, I tried swapping a pair over to my Magellan GPS (above), and it turned out they were only half-way discharged!  Hence the shoebox full of "spent" batteries at right.

 Pepper Spray
As I've mentioned elsewhere, some of the neighborhoods we wander through aren't exactly the friendliest places.  We also encounter a lot of homeless people, especially near tunnels and in abandonments.  It's unfortunate that we have to assume the worst about strangers, but I would rather have some protection in these types of situations.

Conventional knee-high boots are available for $12 to $15 at Wal-mart or just about anywhere else.  I tend to keep a pair of boots in my car more or less all the time in case I have an opportunity to check a promising waterway.  I also have a pair of these (as does Dani) at my parents' house in Louisiana for when I visit them. 

Additionally, I picked up a pair of hip waders (left) for the occassional tunnel where the water gets deeper than a foot.  That is by far the exception, but I would rather stay dry than have to turn back on the rare instance where things get too deep.

I wasn't really looking for a rope, but Dani spotted this one in an Army surplus store and said we had to get it.  It turns out this was a useful piece of gear.  The thin yellow nylon rope I had used before cut into my hands.  This one is thicker and softer.  Also, because it is camouflaged, we can descend an incline (as with Beaver tunnel) and feel safe that we'll be able to get back up without anyone having noticed it and made off with our rope.

While we don't use bikes for most expeditions, there are some tunnels and other locations where bikes are better suited for getting to and/or around the site.  In several cases, they were great for quickly getting us through to the place we left off on a previous expedition. 

If you're worried about trashing your fancy bike, you can probably pick up one from a pawn shop for less than $50.

I go into more detail about the pros and cons of exploring on two wheels on this page.

Obviously, the GPS has its limitations.  After doing the Three-Way tunnel on bikes, we could only guess at how far we had traveled from the three points where we managed to record the coodinates.  Hopefully this will give us a better estimate in the future.

Coleman two-person inflatable raft
Seriously, I never thought we would have occasion to use this, but after exploring for long enough, a tunnel finally presented itself where we were forced to either move through water deeper than even waders could have handled or we could have swam it.  We chose the boat instead.  See more about that trip here.  I have since patched it following that mishap, and it has worked fine for the next several trips.

Pump and Collapsable Oars
Both are dirt cheap from Big Lots.  Unlike a bicycle pump, this one (below) puts out air both pushing and pulling!  It took less than two minutes to inflate this raft.  The oars (right) unscrew into three pieces which makes them great for fitting into a backpack if you have to crawl through a narrow space to get somewhere (like we did in this case).

As a safer, more reliable alternative to the inflatable raft, Dani and I have taken to canoeing instead, although we have the raft as back-up.

Inflatable kayak
This is a good compromise between a solid canoe and an inflatable raft.  It is almost as easy to transport as an inflatable raft, but it is very nearly as durable as a canoe with almost as much room to accommodate a small assortment of gear.  The inflatable portions are made of thick rubber, but there is also a layer of canvas-like material that surrounds the boat to protect it from punctures.  Very cool!

<--- That's famed Dallas explorer and rock 'n' roll legend Barry Kooda appropriately enough in his aquatic element.

Misc. items
Copyright 2004-2008 Alexplorer.
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