I’m a vertebrate paleontologist, a geologist, and a geochemist. My research requires me to go out into the ‘wilds’ and study rocks and fossils in place, as well as collect rocks and fossils to bring back to the lab for further work. This process is called ‘field work.’
As I’m fixing to head out to the field in a little more than a week, I’ve started sorting through all my field gear, mostly to make sure I have everything, but also to fix what needs fixing, and get rid of any junk.
There’s a ton of equipment I might carry, depending upon my tasks for the day. Here, I’ll outline what I’ll always carry, no matter what I’m doing.
In this post, I’ll describe what I always carry. These are the basics that any student of geology or paleontology ought to purchase first.In later posts, I’ll describe the specialized equipment needed for more specific tasks.
First things first, you need a means to carry your gear. There are two typical choices, which may be used independently, or together.
1) A backpack
Where else will you put your lunch and all those rock samples you’re going to collect?
2) A field vest
Another convenient way to carry gear is in a multi-pocketed vest of sorts.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you *must* bring plenty of water. For the work I do, I ensure I have the capacity to carry at least a gallon. I never start the day with less than a liter (~ a quart).
My new pack has one of those awesome water bladders that holds more than a liter and has the tube with bite valve so I can drink all day. Definitely an improvement over the old water bottles, though I still carry those too.
If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Notes are important, so that people can follow in your footsteps if they want to continue your research when you’re not there.
5) Pens, pencils
Yeah. This is obvious. I keep mine in a little belt pouch that also holds…
6) Basic preparation tools and dilute hydrochloric acid
Wait. Did you just say acid? The hydrochloric acid (HCl) provides a quick and simple method to tell if a rock has carbonate in it or not. This matters if your research goal is to analyze carbonates on the mass spectrometer.
7) Scale bar and camera
I usually have a scale bar in my notebook and in my belt pouch. Because without a scale, photos can be pretty useless.
It’s best to have a dedicated camera for this task. Using the cell phone is tempting, but the quality of photos is generally pretty poor. Plus, you really want to save your cell battery for emergencies.
8) Hand lens(es)
Especially now, since my eyes have started getting bad, I need the hand lenses to help me see the little things that could matter a lot. You can find a 10X lens for less than $20.
9) Clipboard with maps
This is steadily becoming an optional thing, since maps are these days most often found on computers. Everyone has a field computer of some sort. So do I.
10) Field computer with GPS
This thing is getting old. Many of my colleagues are using iPads in the field. There are also fancy new GPSs that have cameras and maps built in.
11) A dedicated GPS
In the end, you must record (in your notebook) the latitude and longitude of the sites you visit. Yes, GPSs can store waypoints, but still write stuff down in your notebook. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.
12) Toilet paper
Yes. Don’t forget this. It’s good for toilet-y things, but also for wrapping specimens.
13) A hammer
I have many hammers. I always carry at least one, usually the one second from the right. I just got the one on the left however. I think it might become my favorite. Here’s a post about the merits of the different hammers.
14) A compass
This seems like a given, but for some of the work I do, I really don’t need the compass any more. I used to be that you needed a map and a compass to navigate, but with GPSs, this isn’t so important.
The compass is necessary for measuring the orientation of rocks, so I usually have it with me. But I don’t use it daily any more.
15) Sample bags
Because you never know when you’re going to find something you want to pick up and keep. I always have a few of different sizes jammed in my pockets.
This is another critical thing that needs to go into any field gear. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Bring something to eat!
17) First aid kit
It doesn’t need to be anything huge, but cuts and insect bites happen quite a lot. Bring something for headaches. Anything you need for allergies.
18) Cell phone
But shut it off to save the battery. This is for emergencies only. NO FIELD SELFIES!
20) Insect spray
21) Rain gear
At least a poncho.
22) Duct tape
Because you never know when you’re going to tear your pants. It happens. Trust me.