Heading out of town for the eclipse weekend is a great way to make an exciting event even bigger. Even if you’re just planning drive across town, you’ll want to be prepared to turn the eclipse into an all-day event. Expect bad traffic, huge crowds, and a breathtaking cosmic show that will make it all worth it. Here’s an annotated eclipse weekend packing guide to make sure you can enjoy Monday, August 21 — before, during, and after the eclipse. (And here’s a short Printable Eclipse Checklist.) Not sure where to go? Check out the STL Today map of events and compare it to the Xavier Eclipse Map which gives more detailed information on if you’ll be in totality, and how long totality will last.
Eclipse Viewing Materials
The eclipse is a three-hour event (approximately 11:49AM to 2:44PM for St. Louis). During totality, expect to just gaze up in wonder. Before and after totality, though, you can experience the eclipse in other ways:
- Approved solar viewers/ eclipse glasses: Looking through them, you shouldn’t be able to see anything but the sun. Don’t have any? Don’t worry! During the brief period of totality, you won’t need them. During the 1.5 hours leading up to totality, there will be plenty of time to experiment with pinhole viewers or borrow your neighbor’s glasses.
- Binoculars: FOR TOTALITY ONLY. Totality will be only as bright as the full moon, so during that time it’s safe to look at the sun’s corona through binoculars or a telescope. Any other time it is NOT safe to use such material without specially-designed filters; eclipse glasses are not enough! If you want a gruesome view of just how dangerous it can be, check what happens to an eye “looking” at the sun through a telescope.
Pinhole viewer: When it comes to pinhole projections, the possibilities are endless. Cereal box viewers work well, but may be a bit clunky to carry if you have to walk a long way. If nothing else, bring a pair of index cards — one to poke a pinhole through, and one to use as a screen. You may want to bring a pen or toothpick so you can experiment with different sized pinholes when you get there. The bigger the hole, the farther away the screen should be.
- Colander: A strainer has a bunch of little holes, and can project a hundred pinhole images of the sun onto the sidewalk.
- Camera/tripod: If you have a good camera — or anything with an optical zoom — consult with experts on what filters you need to photograph the eclipse. As for cell phone cameras, just hold or tape eclipse glasses in front of the lens to take a few pics. There will also be other things to photograph, such as shadows, which will be getting sharper and sharper as we approach totality. Bring a tripod for some time lapse photography showing the dimming light. Don’t forget an extra memory card!
- White sheet: In addition to serving as a picnic blanket and a large screen for pinhole viewer projections, you can try to catch a view of “shadow bands”, the snake-like ripply shadows that may be spotted just before and after totality. (If you, like much of St. Louis, will be viewing from an area that is outside of totality, then this could be a great thing to look for, as you may get longer to see them!)
- Eclipse Apps and GPS info: The Solar Eclipse Timer App will tell you when to prepare for totality and when to put glasses back on, as well as when to look for other eclipse phenomena. If everything is working properly, it can use GPS to determine your location, but it may be best to look up the approximate longitude and latitude of your viewing spot ahead of time in case you need to enter it manually. The Exlopratorium’s Total Solar Eclipse2017 app will be live streaming the eclipse. Earlier that morning, it will be fun to watch the eclipse kick-off in Oregon via the app.
With crowds, you’lll probably want to start making your way to a viewing spot before the eclipse starts, then stay awhile after. You need to prepare to be out in the sun, in the middle of the day, in August, in Missouri, for over four hours!
- Water: Dehydration is a real downer. Don’t miss the eclipse because you’re stuck in a first-aid tent.
- Sunscreen: You’re more likely to come home from the eclipse with damaged skin than with damaged eyes.
- Sunglasses: NOT for viewing the sun. But very useful for viewing everything else when the sun is bright.
- Umbrella: Optional, but if you’re stationed in the middle of a sunny field in the middle of the day, a makeshift parasol could come in handy.
- Picnic blanket/chairs: Do you really want to be on your feet, neck kinked 63 degrees, for three hours?
- Entertainment: What would you bring for a day at the park, especially if you knew it might get too crowded run around? Books and playing cards are good options. If you have kiddos, considering bringing sidewalk chalk. Trace their shadow from the same spot every hour to see how it’s changed. Perhaps bring supplies to make a paper plate sundial or something from NASA’s Eclipse Activity Guide. As totality approaches, keep an ear out for the sounds of crickets and owls. Don’t forget your eclipse music playlist.
- Food/Beverages: SunChips, Starbursts, Moon Pies, Milky Ways, Capri Suns, Eclipse gum — a few novelty foods are a must. But again, you’ll be out a long time, and with crowds that big you don’t want to depend on others for food. PB&J supplies and fruit could be a good option. Keep in mind that the park you go to may be banning coolers and/or glass bottles.
- More water: For after the eclipse, when you spend another hour at the park to let the crowds die down. (See below.)
Crowd-Induced Apocalypse Supplies
Okay, maybe not the apocalypse, BUT: Ever go to a big event downtown, like the Fair St. Louis fireworks? Remember how traffic is horrible afterwards because everyone is leaving at the same time? Now imagine if that many people were crammed not into a major city, but into a tiny rural town. Now imagine that all the tiny rural towns along totality are crammed with that many people, and all of those towns feed onto the same set of interstates, and all have events ending at the same time. Not only will traffic be horrible (this traffic map predicts I-55 to be the worst) but with so many people in rural areas, there will be no way for cell phone towers to keep up with demand. Brace yourself for a day of huge crowds and no functioning smart phone.
Meetup Plan: Planning to meet up with friends or give your teens freedom to roam? Party like it’s 1999 and assume nobody will have a working cell phone. Make a plan of where you will meet and when — both before and after the eclipse. (“Call me when you’re here” won’t cut it.)
- Full tank of gas: Fill up before you leave St. Louis, and then top off again once you get to your destination. Small towns probably don’t have the infrastructure for that many tourists coming through, so gas stations could have long lines — or run out of gas. After the eclipse, when traffic is expected to be the worst, wait as long as you can to hit the highway, but still be prepared for stop-and-go traffic.
- Downloaded/printed out maps: You can still use your phone to help you navigate to a new space, if you remember to download the local area to your phone first. Even so, print out your maps and important contact info ahead of time.
- Road atlas: Okay, maybe it’s overkill. But if the weather forecast is bad before the eclipse, or there are traffic detours after, you want to able to make a new game plan fast.
- More food: After a day in the sun, you don’t want to try to find a restaurant that’s not full, but driving home might take awhile. Instead,consider bringing a cooler (to leave in the car) with more substantial food to eat that evening.
- Bottles of water: The other water was for the day in the park. This is the water you leave in the car, for the drive back.
- Handheld radio: Optional but useful for weather and traffic, without the use of 3G or WiFi.
A note on eclipse viewing with children: Plan for it being a long day, and pack enough that you don’t have to depend on anyone else for food or water. Use the bathroom before you head out, and plan for long port-o-potty lines. The day can be a beautiful opportunity to learn about shadows, the sun, the moon, and nature — just don’t expect the eclipse to hold their attention the entire three hours. As for babies and pets: Remember, the sun is no more dangerous during an eclipse; it’s just more tempting (for most of us). If your baby or pooch has managed to be outside before without staring at the sun, they will be just fine on eclipse day, too. (But remember the sunblock and water!)