What's in my bag? Field + Office Gear

Some of my favorite gadgets and gear that I use when doing research and design work. 


Audio recorder: Zoom H4n

I first started with the Zoom H1n for around $100. It had the same killer mics that I needed for conducting field work on the exhumation of mass graves in Spain that involved recording outside in noisy conditions and often with multiple speakers and background noise that included picks, shovels, and the occasional bulldozer. When the H1n simply gave up on me after a couple of years, I knew I was ready to invest in a more professional Zoom. The H4n is as simple to use as it's younger sis, but records a cleaner, more professional sound with its 4 channels. Here's a full review from the professionals at Transom.

Field work notebook: Apica

I enjoy writing field notes on these little notebooks from Japan because the pages are smooth and make for quick jottings. The pages are thick enough that if you needed to write on both sides--even with an inky pen--it would still be legible. The pages are lightly lined and each corner has a space for the date and a number--both of which come in handy when you're needing to quickly catalogue a day's worth of fieldnotes.

Professional laptop bag: Fossil Emma

It took me a long time to find the grown-up-upgrade of my NorthFace Isabella backpack. I needed a bag with a protected laptop sleeve and also with a space to discretely stuff a water bottle and a lunch. My older version had an accessible external pocket to slip a small wallet, but tight enough that it would be impossible for someone to try to steal when I was out in the field. When needing to have both hands for field work, I loop the strap through and across the handles so I can wear the handbag as a backpack. 

Field work backpack: North Face Isabella

My original Isabella from my first trip to Spain in 2002 is no longer available, and I hope this upgrade is the same quality. Back in 2002, you had to travel all the way to Beverly Hills to buy a North Face backpack. It's rugged enough for the field, and also has an insert to keep your laptop still. I also needed to have a pack that I could easily grab my water bottle, sunglasses, notebook, and pen at a moment's notice. My Isabella had been to 3 continents and on several field work assignments when her bottom finally gave out in 2013. Because my backpack was under their lifetime warranty, I shipped her up to their Alameda shop and in no time, they had put in a new bottom and the pack has been as good as new when I returned to documenting exhumations in Spain and again in South Africa for the years to come.

Ergonomic wireless mouse: Evoluent

If you suffer from back, neck, and hand pain at the computer, I can't recommend this mouse enough. And if you're like me and have shattered your right elbow, broke your scapula, and snapped your collar bone in two, there is no better mouse for you. I spend about 8-10 hours a day working and having fun on my MacBook and recently had my hands ache so bad that I would have to use my left hand to point and click. This mouse is a bit on the pricey side, but coupled with an additional desktop connected to my laptop, it's been worth every penny on my hands and neck.

Pens: BIC four-color 

These multi-colored pens come in red, blue, black, and green and make for quick switches. In one go, you can jot down field notes based on your observations (black ink) then switch to writing down memos (green ink) and then go back and underline key ideas and quotes (red ink). Simple and cheap, these pens also make for fun drawing and doodling on the go without having to carry extra pens.