I had the pleasure of going to Vancouver Island this August to collect some samples which I’ll be processing in the Paleomagnetism Lab at UMass this fall. I’ve got a lot to share from my trip, but let’s start at the beginning: preparing for field work. Below is a picture of all the gear I brought with me (not even including all my camping gear!). Let’s have a look at some of the tools a geologist brings along when they’re in the field:
- Magnetic susceptibility meter: Okay, this tool is pretty specific to the work I was doing– collecting rocks to look at their paleomagnetic remanence (essentially a compass needle frozen into the rock at the time that it formed). This tool essentially measures the presence of magnetic minerals in a rock (e.g. magnetite).
- Brunton compass: essentially a staple in the field of geology, some other types of compasses from Europe are also popular, but Bruntons remain the gold standard. I just bought my own Brunton this summer, but as you may have noticed, I brought 2 with me (one was borrowed from my department) because I like to have backup.
- Travel scale: not actually a standard field instrument, but this was very helpful to me when I was packing my checked bags full of rocks, and I would recommend it to any traveling geologist on a budget. This one goes up to 75 pounds but I managed to way overshoot that when I first packed all my samples into one bag.
- Rite-in-rain notebook: this is an essential because even if you’re doing field work in the desert, it WILL rain when you’re in the field, that’s just how it works. These notebooks are touted as a remarkable invention that allows you to take clear notes in all weather conditions, and the hype is TRUE. They are amazing. Keep in mind that pens and markers will stop working in the rain but a pencil won’t let you down.
- Knife: okay, this is also not really a “standard” field work item, but it is really handy to have when you’re out in the wild, even if you just use it to cut up your cheese for lunch.
- Map board: I made this plexiglass map board in grad school and I just love it. It protects your map from the elements and easily flips open for notes and markings. I didn’t actually need it for this trip since we were collecting samples more than mapping.
- Pencils: I usually prefer pen, but pencils are essential in the field because they will keep working in the rain (see item 4 for details)
- Sharpies: these are for marking samples with strike and dip marks and sample numbers, as well as for marking sample bags. Extras are a good idea since they don’t work once they get wet. Also your collaborators will probably need to borrow one at some point and you’ll feel so helpful and useful when you casually hand them one and say “Keep it, I have plenty!”
- Camera: hopefully you’re going to a beautiful place with beautiful people, and you’ll want some pictures! Even if that’s not true, you’ll need pictures of the rocks! Don’t forget to throw in a pencil or a sharpie for scale.
- Tool pouch: you can throw all your tools in your backpack, but you’ll save yourself a lot of time and hassle if you have one convenient place on your belt where you can access all your tools. I especially like this one because it has strong velcro so that you don’t have to unhook your belt to put it on/take it off.
- Chisel: specifically, a ROCK chisel (don’t go out in the field with a wood chisel!). This is essential to extracting your block samples. I also brought a screwdriver for tighter spaces that need some prying but the chisel does most of the heavy lifting.
- Hand lens: this little 10x magnifier is a staple of geology field work. You’d be surprised how much more you can see at 10x magnification… zoning in minerals, weathering rinds, mineral structure, tiny spiders walking across your sample…
- Sample bags: an absolute must if you’re collecting samples. I like to write numbers on the rocks and the bags just to be safe.
- Rock hammer: Last but definitely not least! I’ve had my Estwing since undergrad and it has been handy in the field as well as for casual repairs around the house. There’s nothing quite like the smell of Estwing steal sparking against a massive iron-rich basalt (“massive,” like many word, means something different in geology than it does in regular life). Anyway, this is a high-quality, well-balanced tool that is an essential for most geology field work.
There we have it! Now you’re ready to get out on that highway outcrop and collect some oriented samples! Please let me know if you have any questions or want to know more about anything!