There are a lot of urban explorers who find a place they want to visit, do some basic research, and go. They might bring a camcorder, some flashlights lying around their house, and maybe even some water. I remember once we came across a group of three who were exploring a facility riddled with black mold, asbestos, and other random particles flying through the air. The dust was thick enough that you could see it swirling all around, and could clearly see millions of particles being kicked up with every step taken. This group had no masks of any kind – which was bad enough – but to top it off; one of them had severe asthma, and was choking on all the dust in the air. I gave them some dust masks and told them where they could buy a pack.
Exploration isn’t without its risks; there are plenty of things out there that can hurt you. Things like sharp and/or rusted metal, asbestos, broken glass, needles, substance abusers, and even animals can severely hurt you now or in the future. Because of these risks, we take lots of equipment in order to protect us while we explore. Below is a list of gear that we take on our trips, with a paragraph or two explaining what each item is and why we bring it.
Exploring is pretty fun, but being able to look back on what you saw in a trip – or sharing that trip with the world – is great as well. We use GoPros for their outstanding build quality and specifications, with negligible weight and bulk. All of our GoPros are head-mounted, so viewers can see exactly what we’re looking at from our point of view.
The Hero 4 Black is the pinnacle of GoPro’s action camera line. Since we’re recording at 60FPS on this GoPro, we’ve turned on Low-Light Mode, which will reduce the FPS in low-light situations to capture more light. This allows us to record at 60FPS where it counts, with the camera automatically reducing its frame rate when it’s dark.
The Hero 4 Black has a ridiculously short battery life (around 1 hour of record time), so you need a ton of batteries if you want to explore for longer periods of time. Wasabi makes pretty good batteries and a neat dual-battery charger for a pretty good price, so we have a ton of their products.
This is the only 128GB MicroSDXC card that the Hero 4 Black supports (from GoPro’s website). At 2.7k@60, it will hold around 4.5 hours for footage, which is enough for an entire day of shooting.
This is our backup camera. It’s nothing special, recording at 1/4th the quality of the Hero 4 Black, but it’s nice to get other perspectives when exploring. We use a Sandisk Ultra 32GB MicroSDHC card with this setup, which allows us to capture around 4.75 hours of footage at 1080p@30.
This is what we use to mount our GoPros, which allows us to capture point-of-view shots.
Canon Rebel T3i/600D (Links to most recent model)
The Canon T3i is an entry level DSLR from Canon. It is the main camera that takes a majority of the pictures that are pictured on the site. The T3i contains a 18.0 megapixel sensor and can capture video at 1080p@30fps and 720p@60fps. The kit EF-S 18-55mm lens is the primary lens used due to it being able to capture images as seen from the human eye, but when needed, the 55-250mm IS is available for telephoto images. Though it is not the newest from Canons Rebel series, it gets the job done. The most recent model is the Canon Rebel T6i.
Being able to see where you’re going is pretty nice most of the time, but it’s absolutely essential while exploring. That being said, don’t skimp out on flashlights. We use Maglite products exclusively, simply because they’re amazingly well-built, and work really well in any environment.
This is our primary flashlight, which we have used for all of our exploration trips. It’s big and bulky, but is extremely bright, really durable, and has an outstanding battery life. I’ve used the same set of batteries in a flashlight for around six different trips, and only replaced them because the flashlight started to become noticeable dim (although not unusable). For the price, this can’t be beat. Amazon sells a pack of D-cell batteries for pretty cheap, you should always carry spare batteries for your flashlights while exploring.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
PPE is what keeps you safe in environments hostile to humans. You don’t want to breathe in foul air riddled with asbestos, and you don’t want to touch things that have been molding for decades with your bare hands. Obviously, don’t skimp out on PPE either. Your personal safety is far more important than the temporary joy obtained through exploration.
Nitrile gloves are preferable to latex gloves for exploration because of nitrile’s chemical and puncture resistance. They’re dark-colored (ours are dark blue) so you can tell when they’ve been punctured. Obviously, replace your gloves if they’ve been compromised while exploring.
This is our primary mask for exploration. We wear the large-sized mask, and these do an amazing job at blocking out particles from the air. A good rule of thumb for masks is that you shouldn’t be able to smell your surroundings. If you do, you either don’t have a good seal, or the mask isn’t blocking out small particles and gasses.
After a few hours of wearing these masks, you might get a headache or feel lightheaded. This is from lack of oxygen, as you’re getting less oxygen while wearing this mask than you would normally. As such, running or doing anything strenuous for an extended period of time while wearing these is not advised. For us, we start showing these symptoms after around 3-4 hours of wearing these masks, but are completely fine after removing them and breathing fresh air for a few minutes.
These are cheap shop masks we carry around for people who come exploring with us, or for people we find while exploring who don’t have any PPE. They don’t work extremely well, but are far better than nothing and are only a few dollars for a pack of 50. You’ll be able to smell everything around you while wearing these, although as stated, it’s better than nothing.
If you cut yourself on rusted metal, or have any kind of external injury while exploring, you want to be able to clean and bandage yourself immediately to prevent infection. While small cuts and scrapes may not be a big deal in everyday life, you never know what kinds of bacteria or viruses you’ll encounter while exploring, so a first-aid kit is absolutely essential. All of us at TUH have had basic first-aid and CPR training, so we’re prepared to handle basic injuries while exploring.
We don’t actually use this particular kit, but really, any first-aid kit will do. This has everything you’ll need to handle basic injuries while exploring, is reasonably cheap, and fits in a compact container, and that’s really all you need. Make sure you’re familiar with the contents of your first-aid kit so you can effectively treat someone quickly when the time comes.
This is entirely optional. You’re probably never going to need a trauma kit while exploring, as this is used to handle heavy external bleeding (like if someone got shot or had their arm ripped off). That being said, it’s lightweight and small, so carrying it around won’t hurt. I would highly recommend getting first-aid training before trying to deploy this in any situation.
This isn’t a first-aid item, but is still essential, especially while wearing masks. STAY HYDRATED.
Everything covered so far has been somewhat important to exploration, and should be used by all explorers. The following section includes nonessential equipment that we’ve used in our trips.
This is useful when travelling in big groups. Large groups are less mobile than smaller ones, and in constrained environments, you’ll often want to split up while exploring. To enable communication between the groups, a designated person within each group will carry a radio. This is useful for letting other groups know where you are, where you’re going, or if there’s something interesting to check out. We operate on FRS frequencies, and don’t go far enough to require anything high than .5W of transmit power (maximum supported by FRS). Sometimes other people in the area will be transmitting on the same frequency (we don’t use the privacy code feature), so we’ll switch frequencies to get off of their channel. Be familiar with laws in your area if you’re going to use a radio.
Sometimes, you need to get from Point A to someplace other than Point A. Normally, you’d walk, run, jump, or climb to said other point, but sometimes it’s out of your reach. This is where a grappling hook setup comes in. We’ve never deployed this while exploring, but it’s something that we leave in the car just in case, as you never know when you’ll need it. Not required for exploring in the slightest, but that’s why it’s in the miscellaneous section.