Fieldwork kit – what do you really need?

This week we’ve been taking the physical geography undergraduates out into the Peak District for their first taste of degree-level fieldwork. Often this is a bit of a comedy affair as many of the students either don’t yet own suitable kit or have forgotten to bring outdoor clothing to uni with them (I guess they prioritise outfits for clubbing!). This usually leads to a lot of cold, wet and uncomfortable-looking students. So I thought I’d do a quick kit list for any intrepid new geographers/ other field scientists considering their first forays into the great outdoors.

Why does good kit matter?

Good outdoor kit will really help you to enjoy your fieldwork, which will in turn mean you tend to collect more and better data because you’re not cutting corners to get back inside ASAP! Having the right equipment and clothing is also essential from a safety perspective and is something that you should consider as part of your fieldwork risk assessment.

In brief, your fieldwork kit needs to:

1.    Keep you comfortable. This could mean keeping you warm and dry or cool and sweat-free. Often you’ll need a combination of cooler and warmer clothing to cope with changeable weather and different activities (e.g. hiking in might be sweaty but standing still taking measurements could be cold). This is where having multiple layers is great because you can make adjustments.

2.    Protect you from the environment. I’m thinking adequate shoes to protect your feet, perhaps long sleeves to keep the sun off and maybe even specialist kit to keep you safe (e.g. crampons and ice axes for glacier travel).

3.    Allow you to carry what you need. This one is straight-forward: you need a decent bag for your scientific equipment and any samples you collect.

What is the right kit for fieldwork?

This really depends on where in the world you are carrying out your fieldwork and what it is that you’ll be doing. But I’d say the following items are essential for pretty much any fieldwork:

•    Strong, comfy and grippy shoes. Be they hiking trainers, leather boots, wellies or full-blown mountain boots. You need the right footwear because you will be on your feet a lot and poor shoe choices are the primary reason for unpleasant days in the field. Always break-in a new pair of boots BEFORE taking them into the field and make sure to wear suitable socks. Also be sure to bring some blister plasters, just in case.

•    A robust rucksack with a waist strap. Rucksacks really are the thing for fieldwork because they leave your hands free and allow you to carry fairly heavy weights comfortably. It is worth taking time to find a good one if you’re planning to do a lot of fieldwork – a comfortable fit will be really beneficial when you are wearing it for multiple days.

•    Food and drink. You will need this, fieldwork makes you hungry. Even if I’m just out for a couple of hours I’ll still take a bottle of water and a couple of cereal bars.

•    A basic first aid kit. Some pain killers, a few plasters, blister plasters, wet wipes and tissues are worthwhile and weigh very little. Tissues also double for dealing with runny noses (when it’s cold) and can be used as toilet paper. They are definitely essential!

•    Trousers that aren’t jeans. When it’s hot jeans are sweaty, when it’s cold they don’t provide much insulation and when it’s wet they get really heavy. Just don’t wear jeans – get some hiking trousers/ thick leggings/ shorts etc. It’s useful to have a lot of pockets and these should be considered when buying fieldwork trousers.

•    Notebook and pencils. You can’t write with pen on wet paper but a pencil will still work. Remember that you may only get one chance to visit your field site – so write everything down!

Apart from the above you will also need appropriate clothing, depending on the weather and the activities that you are doing. Have a think about what you may need, research the location online and ask people who have previously worked in that environment for advice.  Hopefully this has helped you to get yourself ready for fieldwork. Enjoy your time in the field!