Scientists’ Guide to Field Gear

Field work can be rough. Depending on where your research is located, field seasons may require months of planning, tons of gear, days of travel, and the possiblility that everything may go completely FUBAR at any point. The burden of a successful field season often falls on the shoulders of young graduate students, who may be designing and planning a major research project for the first time. We at Southern Fried Science would like to do a little to help make your field season just a bit easier.

Over the last ten years I’ve participated in 6 research cruises from the Gulf of Mexico to Papua New Guinea and ranging in duration from one day to three months. I’ve sampled my way through riparian forests, taken sediment cores by hand using SCUBA and PVC tubing, and tagged sea turtles on far flung and inaccessible beaches. On top of that, I’ve traveled to six continents and logged more than 2500 miles backpacking through the wilderness. Which is a very long way of saying I’ve accrued and worn through a substantial amount of gear.

In the last eight years, Amy has worked from the Arctic to the tropics on projects ranging from ethnography to forestry. She has traveled through some of the most rural regions of the United States and abroad, worked long hours in America’s National Parks, sailed across the Sargasso Sea, and hauled nets alongside fishermen in North Carolina. She has led backpacking, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing expeditions throughout the Northeast. So she knows what it means to have reliable gear.

Over the last three years, David has participated in dozens of day trips and several four week-long shark surveys. As a part of these research cruises, he’s interacted with over a thousand sharks. He has spent many summers teaching marine science classes underwater, logging hundreds of dives and leading over fifty. Collecting data, managing students, and releasing sharks back into the ocean safely requires patience, training, experience, and reliable gear.

Field seasons can be emotionally and logistically challenging. We will be reviewing not just the gear you need to get the job but also the luxuries, those little things that make getting there, doing your work, and getting home a bit more comfortable. In the beginning, we will only be reviewing gear that we have personally used and abused either in the course of scientific research or while traveling for extended periods. We will strive to focus on gear as it is relevant to the conduct of scientific research, so while you may see camping, traveling, or other outdoor type items listed here, it will always be in the context of how they will help you in the field.

We will rate each piece of equipment on four metrics: Utility (1 – 5) – how useful is it, does it fulfill an essential need that wouldn’t be otherwise fulfilled; Durability (1- 5) – how quickly does it wear out, is it well made; Comfort (1 – 5) – if clothing, does it fit well, if a tool, is it pleasant to use, if tech, is it intuitive; Price ($ – $$$$) – how much does it cost relative to a graduate student budget and similar products on the market.

Unless otherwise stated, all gear reviews will be unsolicited. We’re specifically targeting equipment we’ve personally brought into the field with us, or have used enough to have an idea, based on experience, of how well it would perform in the field. Each entry will also include a brief description of where and how the equipment was used. If you would like to submit your own gear review, please contact Andrew at southernfriedscientist at gmail dot com. After we get a few posted, we’ll do a gear review round-up.

~Southern Fried Scientist


  1. Michael Bok · January 5, 2011

    A pallet of Scotch whiskey:
    Utility: 5
    Durability: 1
    Comfort: 7
    Price: Screw it, lets put it on the grant. I’ll photoshop the receipts or something

    Ok, I’m all packed. I’ll fabricate everything else I need once we get there.

    • WhySharksMatter · January 6, 2011

      I wanna go on a research cruise with you, Mike.

    • Michael Bok · January 7, 2011

      I’ve actually never been on a cruise, though I would really like to some day. We just plop ourself on reef field stations for extended durations.

      Oh, if any of you cruisers ever come up with a Bathysquilloid mantis shrimp on a deep benthic trawl, preserve the eyes for me and you can have all the scotch you want.

    • Southern Fried Scientist · January 6, 2011

      The case of scotch recovered from the wreck of the Endurance last year proved to be quite durable.

    • Michael Bok · January 7, 2011

      Oh yeah, forgot about that. Well, looks like scotch gets a perfect score +2: The ultimate fieldwork companion.

  2. Matt H. · January 28, 2011

    Thanks for do this! As a tech I love seeing gear reviews. I read the cool tools blog all the time and got some good work materials from there. I keep thinking of making a science technician blog, but then get reminded I am a terrible writter.

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