All other things equal, a protege will run you a little less than a vice. Internally they're virtually the same. Vice has nicer milling, few extra settings on the board. I'd take protege or vice over anything other gun in the price range.
If I'm out and about, I'll have on my Thinktank modular belt with various lens pouches and bag. If I'm having to trek somewhere to setup for a known location, I'll just have a camera backpack. The modular belt system is great if your having to stay on your feet and swap out a lens, while the backpacks are much easier to carry a large amount of gear over a longer distance.
Best place is going to be wherever the lightning is without the rain. Here is Oklahoma that's either right in front of a wall cloud that's about to hit the warm gulf air and expand or, if your really lucky, watching it pass you by without dropping buckets of water on you.
Tripod and a remote shutter release are my tools that I use for lightning. Lightning is VERY bright on a dark background. It's far enough away to use low aperture numbers with your focus point set to infinity. I findit useful to set my white balance to tungsten. lightning1 by Speks84, on Flickr
NiMH batteries have a lower nominal voltage than standard alkaline batteries (1.2v vs 1.5v). Up side to them is their ability to provide more current for longer periods of time. But loaders don't use much current. And those fast chargers you buy for them kills the batteries, which in turn makes you buy more rechargeable batteries. Their really isn't a good reason to use rechargeable batteries in the loader.