How to look after yourself in a war zone

Wednesday 5 September 2012, 17:24

Charles Miller Charles Miller edits the College of Journalism blog and produces documentaries for the BBC Money Programme. Twitter: @chblm

Vaughan Smith What do you need on a trip to a war zone as an embed?

Independent video journalist Vaughan Smith gives a complete run down of his kit as he prepares to join the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan in a new video from the Frontline Club, of which he’s founder.

Smith is most proud of a new addition to his luggage: “armoured pants” (above). “I like these,” he confides, “They protect your inner thigh and your equipment from being blown off.”

For all the cheery asides, it’s clear that Smith takes his preparations extremely seriously, and he knows why: “You don’t want to be spending your time in a dangerous place attending to the logistics… so you want it all to be there.”

Unlike some journalists, Smith has no time for good luck charms. He says he takes a mathematical approach to the odds of landing in trouble, finding out the casualty rate in the area he’s planning to visit. And he knows that “if you get blown up or shot there’s only a 10% chance you’ll lose your life".

His kit appears to cover every eventuality, but still has to be portable because “on an embed you will have to carry all your things for the odd half mile from place to place.” So think carefully about how many bags you put it in, he advises.

Here are my notes on the items he’s got in his bags, as detailed in his 25-minute video demo:

  • Camouflaged helmet
  • Flak jacket
  • Camouflaged rucksack for use on a day’s outing
  • Portable first aid kit
  • Five to six litres of water, accessible from rucksack through drinking tube
  • Laptop
  • Batteries
  • Protective dark glasses (with rims to stop dust getting in)
  • Battery-powered fan
  • Tripod and plate for camera
  • Tripod strap - substitute for tripod bag
  • JVC camera
  • Battery to keep with the camera, even when not planning to film
  • Microphone
  • Three hard discs to transfer footage to
  • Memory cards to film onto
  • USB-powered fan
  • USB-powered light
  • Lens wipes
  • Fog-buster for glasses
  • Pen
  • Masking tape to cover any lights on camera, for shooting at night
  • Spare socks
  • Phone charger
  • Phone
  • Memory card case
  • Flip cam as second camera
  • Button mic for second camera
  • iPhone as third camera
  • Black lockable plastic box to put other bags into in plane hold
  • Straps to hang smaller bags onto vehicles
  • Soft camera rest to use on ground instead of tripod
  • Main kit bag
  • Washbag
  • Athlete’s foot powder
  • Loo paper
  • Antibacterial gel
  • Two strengths of sun lotion
  • Eye wash
  • Diarrhoea treatment
  • Collapsible fabric shaving bowl
  • Shirts
  • Hard-wearing trousers
  • Lots of T-shirts
  • Anti-mosquito cream
  • Goggles
  • Imodium
  • Ankle support bandage
  • Breathing aid
  • Bandages
  • High-impact goggles against explosions
  • Night sight to film through with Flip cam
  • Blank DVDs to copy footage onto
  • Frontline Club books to give people
  • Copy of films he’s made to show people
  • Water carrier
  • Spare batteries
  • Sling for camera to free up hands
  • Chocolate
  • Multi-socket points and lead
  • Toolbox to fix camera
  • Sweat soaker (preferably with anti-mosquito protection)
  • Battery charger for camera
  • Masking tape
  • More spare batteries
  • Instant coffee “my treat”
  • Flip flops “to prevent verrucas in the showers”
  • Mosquito net
  • Bivvy bag to put sleeping bag into when sleeping outside
  • Knee pads “you’ve always on your knees, standing around, and it’s not good practice”
  • Roll mat to sleep on
  • Fold-up seat
  • Pillow
  • Blister tape
  • More spare socks
  • Tin flask
  • Cup.

Doesn't he take a toothbrush?  


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