Choosing the right kit for the right for the right environment . . . with Robin Smith
This is the very first episode of the Hardest Kit on the Planet Podcast brought to you by Heinnie Haynes. In this podcast we try and extract as much knowledge and idea as possible from some of the hardest people and companies on the planet. Our aim for the podcast is to continually provide you with some great knowledge and information from a wide range of people and companies who are actually out there doing the business.
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In this very first episode I (Ben Roberts) talk to Robin Smith who is an adventure cameraman who has travelled all over the world in a huge range of environments. This requires him to take and use loads of different bits of kit. Some of which for everyday use, other bits have actually saved his life.
Here is how . . .
Who is Robin Smith?
Robin is a professional natural history and adventure cameraman. He got into this completely by accident. He started off in outdoor centres for a number of years an instructor. After a period he decided he wanted to try for a biology degree. Bearing in mind this is 10 years or so after he had originally left education. As part of the degree there was a filming element which is what started Robin down this particular path.
Robin has worked in locations all over the world for numerous documentaries. In these locations the camera crews or people have to set up days in advance of the presenters, and often leave long after. Robin has often spent 3-4 months in a single location shooting for a programme.
What sort of places has Robin been too? And how difficult has it been working in some of those environments?
Robin has been to about 60 different countries, of which he has found the jungle the hardest, because of factors like humidity, constant damp and high temperatures, and that most of the animals seem to want to eat people. It’s always hard as well to keep all the equipment dry and win working order.
On a personal note, Robin is a preferrer of the cold environments. He does love the wildlife of the jungle, but for him it’s much harder.
In cold environments there is nearly always a way you can get warmer, whereas in hot environments he finds that once you just hit a level, you cannot stay cool. The lack of things trying to eat you is also a bonus.
In terms of first aid, in the hot environments things get worse a lot quicker, and you have to be aware of even the smallest of cuts.
What sort of kit does Robin generally use then?
Starting with the jungle and hot environments. What kit do you need ,and how do you choose a particular item?
Protective kit for his camera is essential, this kit needs to protect from drops and journeys like on a Toyota Hilux which shakes up a camera like nothing else. They are fantastic vehicles for all over the world, but protecting against that is essential. Robin uses Pelicase’s which he uses all the time They are bomb-proof, waterproof and generally indestructible.
Always remember to take the right clothes for the environment. This includes footwear. The quickest way to ruin an adventure is to have cold, wet, and painful feet. You need shoes that are up to the job and comfortable. Find a manufacturer that fits with you and they’ll last a long time!
You need kit that drys quickly, but also keeps you insulated.
Now looking at colder environments . . .
The Toyota Hilux again is used in environments like this, but snow mobiles are also used often.
How is the kit different from hot weather environments then?
Robin highly recommends down clothing. This sort of clothing gives loads of warmth when dry, but if it gets wet it’s next to useless. In cold environments down is really the ultimate insulated material.
Robin also recommends Marino baselayers gear as it keeps him warm and doesn’t really smell too bad, especially if worn for a period of time. Robin recommends you consider how you layer and you consider what you’ll be doing as sweating in these really cold environments isn’t good.
Be flexible, be able to add and remove layers as necessary. This is the key to dealing with cold environments.
Transitioning this over to a more local environment such as generally in the UK.
Layering again is essential. Even though it’s not so extreme we get really unseasonably weather quite close together, and we do get random extremes. One layer can make a real difference. Some of these synthetic insulators are fantastic and fold down to as small as a coke can.
Now we’ve looked at the kit in terms of clothing, let’s now look at some of the equipment side of things
Some of the equipment is usually location based, but there are some things that Robin pretty much has on him at all times. . .
The Leatherman tool is just the ultimate. Robin doesn’t know a cameraman without one. Robin owns a Leatherman Charge after losing his Leatherman Wave, and says it’s the best purchase he’s ever made. He also combines that with the Leatherman Bit snap on tool kit. Really good returns and warranty policy with Leatherman too.
Robin did change up his pouch though to a Maxpedition Organiser, one that would hold all of his tools, and a penlight.
A decent torch is something Robin wouldn’t go far without. A Petzl Tika Headtorch is perfect. It’s light, compact an has a red filter option. Wildlife are a lot less sensitive to red light, also it’s helps maintain his night vision. Robin also uses a LED Lenser P7. He finds that it has a very balanced light source. It’s also really powerful and he’s used it as a spotting lamp. This is the item as well that local people often ask if they can have because the power of these LED lights compared to what they have is unparalleled.
A good knife is always a good thing to have as well. In the rainforest Robin needs something for building hides, chopping and survival. He has tried many bits of kit including a classic Kukri design, but recently Robin has been using a Ben Orford design Parang. Really hard carbon steel, holds and edge really well and it’s easy to re-profile some of the edges which makes it very versatile.
Robin remembers a time when this Parang actually probably saved his life. He was filing in Sierra Leone trying to film pigmy hippo’s. Through camera traps they knew where the Hippo’s were. Next step build a hide, one a little island in a river to try and get some live action shots. Everyone left Robin in this hide so that it was quiet and he could film some stuff overnight. Within minutes of the crew leaving the heavens opened. So much so that the river starting covering the island and entering the hide.
As the water continually rose, any paths previously cut or known had disappeared. Robin decided he had to find some high ground. He marked trees with his Kukri as he tried to find high ground. This is so he could find his way back for all the equipment, which was luckily stored in Peli Cases. Eventually he found a fallen tree, made a little shelter with a tarp and a made small fire. Stayed there for the next 18 hours until rescued. No hippo’s were filmed that get day.
Of all the places Robin has been and people Robin has met. Which animal and which people does he think are the hardest?
Starting with animals. Robin says he thinks some of the snakes, bears, tigers are pretty hard, but for him it has to be the Meerkat. This is because they aren’t much bigger than a squirrel, but have a pretty hard existence. He talks about how they eat scorpions and survive snake bites that would kill a human.
In terms of people. I think cold environments are probably the hardest to live in in the long term anyway. Robin was lucky enough to spend a time with Chukchi Eskimo Reindeer herders in the far Russian/Siberian east. They have to live off themselves either hunting whales or herding reindeer. It’s a really testing environment, and very isolated.
How you can find out more about Robin Smith