Introduction to Field Recording Equipment

For any serious recording trip of more than a couple of hours close to home, quite a range of equipment is needed beyond the obvious basics of microphone and recorder, and all of it needs to be carefully chosen.

Portable recorders have proliferated since digital took over from tape. From basic hand held devices costing around a hundred quid to high end multi-channel recorders costing thousands, the choice is enormous, and it's easy to make a mistake when selecting. For wild soundscape recordists, the biggest challenge is the huge difference between their requirements and those of the music gig and speech recordist for whom the equipment is primarily designed.

Choice of microphones is dictated by somewhat different criteria than for studio recording. High sensitivity, low self-noise, low susceptibility to damp and dust, physical robustness, all contribute to the requirements. Surprisingly, the precise frequency response of the microphone is rather less important, as it can largely be corrected for in post-production. But you can spend thousands of pounds on microphones that will in many cases perform no better for you in the field than alternatives costing hundreds, and which may indeed not be robust enough to stand up to field use.

A solid microphone stand is essential. The flimsy things used on stage at gigs are not suitable - they'll fall over on uneven ground and they wobble a lot. A light but strong photographic tripod is best.

Some recordists hold their microphones or sit right by them while recording, but I've found it's best to use a long cable both to make concealment easier and prevent handling noise, one's breathing or the odd rustle of clothing getting recorded. You'll need wind stoppers for your microphones, and the plain foam things that come with microphones are useless on their own. But they can be adapted cheaply to make them functional in up to maybe 10 mile per hour (4.5 meter per second) winds, depending on the microphone. For higher wind speeds more sophisticated protection is needed, the cost and complexity of which depends on the microphones you are using.

As well as keeping you warm and dry, your clothing has be quiet. Many materials rustle, and coarse weaves - particularly jeans - generate scratching noises when you move. Knitted woollen jumpers are fine, and an old-fashioned well worn tweed jacket is excellent. The best synthetic fabric is polyester fleece - it's well nigh silent. It also has the advantage of drying quickly if you're caught in the rain.

An outer rainproof coat and trousers - ideally made of micro porous material - are necessary equipment for any session of more than a couple of hours, but they are almost always noisy and can be expensive. You can't do much about the noise they make except by only wearing them when it's raining and by moving carefully. But before rushing off to the camping store and paying a small fortune, check out military surplus.

Clothing colours should be subdued, which is another reason not to buy camping gear. White, pale and "synthetic" colours are generally bad choices, as is any material with a shiny or highly reflective surface. Dull greens, dark browns, blue-greys and midnight blue are generally good, depending on the environment, but in my experience patchy "camouflage" can be expensive and less useful than it might seem.

You should always carry a lightweight bright coloured over-jacket - preferably yellow or orange - in case you get into trouble and need to be located. It doesn't have to be waterproof or warm. It just has to fit over your warm waterproofs and be clearly visible.