Friday, May 16, 2014

Equipment Essentals for Field Geology

Many geologists chose the field because they enjoy being outdoors in quiet places (like the roadcut along I-70 west of Denver?), but day after day - or week after week - spent climbing limestone cliffs and bushwhacking through forests means that your favorite geologist is going to need some gear. That's beyond the essential tools of the trade, but I'll get there, too.

What to Wear: Let's Start at the Ground

Field geologists don't spend their days sitting around: they spend most days on their feet, often nowhere near a trail. Solid hiking boots are an absolute essential: sneakers just won't cut it. Choose boots that go over the ankle for the extra support and have tough, deep-lug soles for the added traction. This is one item to splurge on if possible, because your hiking boots will be a long-term commitment and they absolutely must be comfortable.

It doesn't hurt to have two pair for different environments (most pros have at least two). A pair of ventilated synthetic boots are great for dry climates and warm summer days, but waterproof or treatable leather boots are a godsend when the slogging gets moist.

Wear Fresh Socks Every Day

Don't forget to take clean socks to go inside those boots. Look for quality designs that have cushioned soles and reinforced toe and heel. You'll especially appreciate those modern wicking fabrics in damp climates or when the weather turns hot and humid.

Protection from the Elements

The wise field geologist carries a raincoat or poncho for when the heavens open up. A poncho is ideal for intermittent rain events in dry climate since it's light-weight, packs small and still cover both the body and the equipment. Wetter climates call for a different approach, such as a rain jacket or rain suit that can be worn all day. Look for a design that breathes and has ventilation features such as "pit zips," or you may end up drenched in perspiration.

Keep the summer sun from frying your brain with a hat, not to mention that in a couple of decades your dermatologist will thank you. Gimme caps may be cool, but look for a hat that will shade more than your eyebrows. A full brim will shade your neck and reduce sunburn on the earlobes. A bandanna is another essential item of clothing, with more uses than you can shake a stick at. You can wrap a damp bandanna around your neck for a quick respite from the heat, lift pots off your camp stove, or wear it like an outlaw to keep dust out of your mouth and nose when it's windy. A more expensive but even more versatile version of the bandanna is the stretchy Original Buff, which can be worn more than a dozen ways (but doesn't work well as a hotpad).

This Goes Without Saying: Get a Daypack to Hold Everything

The second place to splurge is a daypack. Except for what goes on your belt, around your neck and in your pockets, your daypack has to hold everything you carry. That includes not just lunch and water, but rain gear, extra clothing, and - most important - field samples. Carrying around rocks means a lot of weight, so a daypack must be both sturdy and comfortable. Outside pockets for a field notebook (or tablet), maps, Sharpies, and other gear are an essential, but be certain to choose one that has a big pocket for samples instead of being divided into small compartments for books, etc.

Profession-Related Gear

A geologist must have a rock hammer: if someone claims he's a geologist but can't produce a rock hammer, doubt him. The gold standard for rock hammers (sometimes called "rock picks") is a 22-ounce Estwing Leather Grip Rock Hammer. You could get the Estwing model with the blue rubber handle, of course, but everybody on your next field trip will give you funny looks, as if you were carrying a Stanley claw hammer! These are tough babies: In forty years, I've only seen one lose any of those leather discs. They're also designed for their job, all the way down to the white discs in the handle set six inches apart to help determine scale.

You'll also need something to hold that hammer. You could get an ordinary carpenter's hammer holster, but mot of them won't hold a hammer securely when you're hanging upside-down off a cliff or slithering backwards through a cave. Instead, go with the real thing: a Gfeller Casemakers Rock Hammer Holster, designed to hang that Estwing hammer from your belt, with a snap closure to keep it in the holder at any angle.

The Compass

They may be bulky, complicated, and huge by the standards of backpackers, but a Brunton Pocket Transit is indispensable to a field geologist. The classic compass is essential for most field work, and for a last shave (or dab of mascara) before a Saturday night run to the local C&W bar. And don't forget a Leather Case so you don't have to go fishing around in your backpack at every field station.


You'll need a hand lens. You can get up-close and personal with a 10X or 20X doublet or triplet, one of which is found in every field geologist's pocket. Quality optics and a sturdy metal case that folds closed are absolutely essential, along with a way to hang it from a shoelace or lanyard around your neck.

Though it isn't a comprehensive list of what should be in your daypack, you won't go wrong filling one pocket with useful goodies like a Swiss Army knife (duh), a waterproof field notebook, Sharpies for marking samples, and flagging tape for finding your way home. Now, all you need is a field project!

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