We know that trying to decide what to bring can be a challenging pre-chase question, so tour leader Brian has created his Top 10 List of "Must Bring" items to help you get started in gear selection and packing for your storm chasing adventure in Tornado Alley.
10. Convertible Zip-Off Pants.
Storm chasing is all about extremes and during your vacation we’ll experience a common Tornado Alley boundary called a Dryline that will have hot, muggy and moist air to the east of the boundary and cooler, dry air to the west. Convertible zip-off pants have pant legs that zip-off and convert easily into shorts. Be sure to purchase these pants so that they are just a little bit loose as that will make the long rides that storm chasing requires much more comfortable. You can find these pants from prices starting around $20 and running up into the $100 range, I recommend Columbia (women may like LL Bean) brand which you can find online with major retailers for about $40.
When we think of severe weather we typically don’t think about the harmful effects caused by the sun’s UV rays. However, did you know that clouds do not filter out UV rays and this “invisible sunlight” can cause unexpected sunburn and damage skin cells? I’m not an expert on sunscreens and everyone pretty much already has their favorite brand anyway so I’ll just say – Don’t leave the sunscreen lotion at home!
08. Lightweight Wind Jacket.
We have experienced some very cool temperatures in the past while storm chasing, especially at night when we’re chasing in the early season, or in the high plains. But, for the most part you should be just fine with nothing more than just a lightweight jacket that can break the wind from getting to your skin. We try to not stand in any downpours, but these lightweight sports-style jackets can also make you a little more comfortable in a light rain. You may also wish to find one that has a few pockets on the inside of the jacket so you can hide small electronic items such as your phone or PDA.
07. Sandals and Tennis Shoes.
Be sure to leave enough room when you pack to have enough room for an extra pair of shoes. I strongly recommend bringing a pair of sandals along for any potentially really warm days. If you do, you’ll want a sturdy pair with straps that go around the top of your feet (no flip-flops, they just won’t stay on well if we’re getting in and out of the vehicles a lot). Again, outdoor outfitters such as Cabellas or REI offer several great options.
06. Soft Luggage.
With 8 persons in a van (including your tour guides) luggage space is limited, and we ask all guest to only bring 1 piece of luggage for your clothing so that we have enough room in the back for everyone’s belongings. You should pack for 6 full days and if you bring the recommended items above then packing should be pretty easy. If you’re booking multiple tours, or an extended 10-day tour then don’t worry – most of the hotels that we do business with offer on-site coin operated laundry facilities where you can refresh your clothes. Besides the 1-piece luggage, you may also bring a smaller “carry-on” sized bag that can be stored under your seat for electronic and personal items.
05. PDA, iPhone, or BlackBerry.
With today’s mobile computer hand-held platforms available, we recommend that you do not bring a laptop computer if you don’t need it. Most travellers in the past have rarely used their laptops and they end up being stored in the back with all the bags where they can be subjected to more abuse than you may want them to go through. So, if it’s really not a critical need to bring item you may want to leave the notebook computer at home and bring a well suited PDA for surfing the web, or access to email while you’re travelling. We can’t recommend a network carrier, but search the web for carriers and look at their coverage maps to find one that you’re comfortable with. A lot of carriers also have a pre-paid plans for short-term usage if you’re travelling from overseas. Also overseas customers may want to pick-up a pre-paid phone card from a USA retailer for making outbound landline calls from their hotel room.
04. Polarized Sunglasses.
Polarized lenses have been a must have item of outdoor travellers for years and are especially common amongst sport fisherman. However, they are extremely useful while storm chasing as well – since we’re commonly studying the clouds polarized lenses will cut out most of the UV rays to allow a much clearer look at storm structure and other cloud features. In fact, there are literally some tornadoes that can become wrapped up in a “rain curtain”, a feature created by the rear-flank downdraft of a supercell, and sometimes these tornadoes can only be seen through the use of polarized lenses. Of course, sometimes the rain curtain can be so heavy that you can’t see the tornado at all. For those who already wear glasses (like I do) you can find several great clip-on models available from major retailers. In any event, there is a good reason why we put these at #4 on the list – so don’t chase without them!
03. Camera Equipment.
I’m most commonly asked about which camera, or camcorder people should bring and I don’t have any recommendations on specific brands and/or model numbers. I will say however that you should bring whatever you’re most comfortable using. If you’re not technically inclined in the shutterbug world, a small point-and-shoot camera will be perfectly fine for getting great photos that you can show to your friends and family. If you’re wanting to expand your outdoor photography skills then you couldn’t ask for a better tour – from the amazing scenic possibilities found throughout Tornado Alley to the storms themselves – you’ll want to bring a wide angle lens with the highest aperture you can afford, I generally recommend at least a f/2.8 lens – because you’ll want to get as much light into the camera as possible under a darkened storm base. Just about any camcorder works fine as well. You may also want to bring a lightweight, but sturdy tripod to keep your shots still or experience the amazing possibilities of lightning photography!
02. Power Strip - Surge Protector and Batteries.
You probably didn’t expect this to be so close to the top of the list but it’s often the most “I should of brought a” item said by our tour customers. And, these are items that no storm chaser ever sets off on the road without. Our vehicles are powered by automotive batteries and we have a ton of high-tech gadgetry on-board and we need every last volt and amp of power generated for our equipment’s usage – so there are no “charge up” options in the vehicles, thus you’ll need to refresh your batteries at night from the hotel. The problem is that most hotel rooms only have one outlet that isn’t currently in-use by the room’s television and other items (usually located near the sink basin for a hair dryer). So please bring a power-strip that will allow you to charge all your batteries up from one outlet! Especially if you have a cell phone or PDA, camera batteries and other multiple items that need to be charged up regularly. And, it’s generally a good idea to bring extra batteries – especially for your cameras! There is nothing worse than to play with your camera all day long and run down your only battery only to get to a great looking supercell that evening and not being able to photograph it! We’ve been there ourselves and it really hurts! So please, don’t forget to bring your power accessories.
01. Sense of Adventure.
Okay, this one is a given we know – but please don’t leave it at home.