Friday, August 11, 2006


Uncle Rod, What Am I Supposed to Bring to a Star Party?

Glad you asked. The 2006 Fall Star Party Season will be here before we know it, and a lot of new star partiers are no doubt concerned/confused about exactly what and how much stuff they should pack. And I'm sure y'all are also tired of hearing me pick, pick, pick at Meade.

When I'm going to be at a star party over several days as opposed to a single evening at a club dark site, I bring the following in addition to the usual stuff (the "usual stuff" being scope, mount, eyepieces, dewshield, DewBuster, laptop, cameras, battery, red flashlight, star atlas, etc.).

—Sufficient, suitable clothes and all the personal hygene items needed for the length of your stay. The latter should also include things that are rarely furnished at a star party like towels and soap. You might want to bring a roll or two of TP, too.

—Desert storm type cover for the scope and line/tent stakes to stake down the tripod (I've seen all too many scopes crash to the ground after a sudden windgust, even East of the Mississip).

—Dining canopy (an EZ Up to be precise). If these are allowed on the field, they are a godsend. Even in fairly northern climes the sun can be brutal, even in the fall.

—Tent. I tend to eschew tents as I get older, but I will still sleep in one if there is no alternative; no accomodations onsite or nearby (my idea of "roughing it" is now the Holiday Inn Express in Chiefland, FL). If a tent it must be, err on the side of "too big" rather than "too small." You'll be much happier. I'd say "choose one that's easy to erect," but, luckily, most tents are pretty easy to set up these days.

—Sleeping bags. Even if there are cabins and bunks onsite, I bring a sleeping bag. Much easier than messing with sheets and blankets. Make sure the bag you bring is suited for the temperature conditions you will face. And don't forget pillows for your poor noggin.

—Ice chest and plenty of bottled water (and whatever other beverages you may require). Always have plenty of water available, and don't forget to drink some occasionally while observing. If you get dehydrated, you WILL get tired. For that reason and others, save the moonshine for dawn.

—Plenty of ice (unless it's available onsite).

—Binoculars. I rarely use 'em on a club dark site evening, but I always wind up using them at a star party. Usually a pair of nice Canon 12x35s for Dorothy and some humble Burgess 15x70s for me.

—Emergency eyepieces. I squirrel away a few "OK" oculars in the scope case just in case I ever forget the eyepiece case (is that too many "cases"?). Forget to bring any eyepieces and you'll be at the mercy of a vendor who will be only too glad to sell you a 25mm Kellner for fifty bucks.

—Snacks for latenight use. I favor jerky and chocolate these days. Take a break at mid evening, eat a little, drink a cup of coffee, and stretch your legs with a ramble around the field. Do this every hour or so and you'll be surprised how easy it is to keep goin' till dawn.

—Disposable cups.

—Trash bags.

—Paper towels.

—A tool set, to include small allen wrenches (and, certainly, a hammer).

—Tie wraps.

—Bungie cords.

—A plastic tarp or two. These always come in handy, and I like to set the scope up on a tarp. If I drop wee little things in the night they do not become lost in the grass. Bring some landscaping nails to stake down your tarp at its corners (tent stakes will stick up above the ground and you will be tripping over them all night long.

—Rope/line (remember what Sam Gamgee's ol' Gaffer said).

—Coleman stove and coffee maker. Even if meals are available onsite or close at hand offsite, I bring a modern electrically lighted two-burner Coleman. If nothing else, one of the Coleman Mr. Coffee style makers that fits over the stove means you can make a thermos or two of fresh coffee at sundown (unless you can shield it, you might not want to fire up the Coleman after dark...the burners put out a surprising amount of light).

—Camp/lawn chairs. I now favor the folding canvas chairs that go in bags. I do bring one lawn-style chaise lounge, as both my wife, Dorothy, and I like to use that with binocs.

—Entertainment stuff (for use when it's cloudy or during the day). Books/magazines, etc. I also usually bring some DVDs that can be played on the laptop.

—I usually bring a CD player/MP3 player to listen to while observing. Sometimes I use it; sometimes I don't. I don't usually listen to music early in the evening—I prefer to talk to my fellow observers, or just listen to the ambient field sounds. Late in the evening as the observing field thins out, however, listening to CDs seems to help me keep going.

—Batteries. Even if there is supposedly power on the field, I always bring plenty of 12v batteries (I now favor deep cycle marine/trolling motor batteries). Just in case, you want to be able to run your PC/scope all night on battery. Also, replacment batteries for flashlights, radios, etc.

—If you don't have a 12vdc cord for the laptop, pack a good inverter (I have one of the Black and Deckers they sell at WallyWorld, and it works well). Forget getting much time out of the laptop's onboard battery, especially if you're using a USB camera that needs power from the laptop!

—A good battery charger. I favor one of the heavy-duty computerized quick-charge jobs. They are surprisingly affordable.

—At least one white-light flashlight (or a red LED light that can be switched over to blue LEDs at the touch of a button). This will come in handy when you are off the field and walking back to the cabin.

—A long extension cord and a multi receptacle power strip or similar.

—If it's the end of the season, and I know I'll be staying in a drafty cabin, I bring a small, safe space heater.

—If we're moving into November and I think it's gonna be chilly, I bring some chemical handwarmer thingies in addition to coats, gloves, etc.

—If it is likely to be cold, dress in layers. Pay particular attention to your head and feet. Spreading a carpet square on the ground next to your scope will keep your footsies insulated from the cold, cold ground and will help a lot.

—Observing table. I usually use one of those folding camp tables, but a card table can also work.

—Some kind of shield/enclosure for the laptop (to keep dew off and further shield the screen (suitably red filtered) from other observers' eyes).

Do I bring this much stuff all the time? No. If I'm flying in to speak at a star party, I just bring myself and maybe a pair of binocs. For a day or twoer, maybe half this much stuff. For a multi day affair (e.g. the TSP), yes, all of it.

I will say that in recent times I've tended to reduce/minimize. A C8 on a GEM instead of a larger/fork mount scope. Small, disposable styrofoam ice chest, no stove and coffee maker if there's decent coffee on site or a Micky D's in range, etc., etc. You should have seen what some buddies of mine and I took to the 1997 TSP (we rented the largest Ryder truck available), only to be mostly rained out. But back then I was young(er) and foolish.

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Thanks Rod, this info. is very helpful.

Great blog.

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