Pedagogy in Action > Library > Field Labs > How to use Field Labs - Logistical Tips > Equipment Sources and Tips > Basic Equipment

Basic Equipment

  • Compasses - must have a dip needle and should have a bulls-eye level. These levels can be purchased inexpensively from a hardware supplier and glued to the case of plastic compasses. Consider requiring students to buy a compass as part of the course materials (cheaper than a textbook!), requiring them for geoscience majors, or presenting a compass to each geoscience major when he or she declares. Most geoscience teachers we know prefer to use plastic compasses for introductory classes and most work, reserving the department's stash of Brunton and other high-end compasses for surveying and other uses where precision of less than a degree or so is essential. We also prefer compasses marked off in 360 degrees rather than quadrant compasses.
  • Hand Lens - inexpensive 10x lenses work well for introductory classes. Students can be required to purchase one as part of the course materials. Lanyards that will hold a hand lens (along with an ID card, room key and other campus essentials) are available at most campus bookstores - or you can bring a ball of coarse twine to lab on the first day and have students make their own. Triplet lenses are useful for advanced students. (Photo on the Equipment List page)
  • Geoscientists with different kinds of hammers
  • Hammers, shovels and other implements - It is useful for departments or individual faculty teaching introductory geoscience to have a supply of rock hammers, picks, sledgehammers, shovels and other, similar field equipment. Individual preferences will differ as to whether the rock hammers should have pick ends or chisel ends. See safety considerations for safety suggestions about rock hammer use. A variety of shovels, including folding shovels and tiling spades (great for digging soil pits and other work with soils), will be useful. Buy ones that are sturdy. You'll need something strong to excavate through caliche, iron pan, or similar materials: a large pick works well for these purposes. (View more photos)

  • Tape measures - 50-meter and 30-meter tapes open-reel fiberglass tapes are useful for all kinds of field labs and indoor exercises (such as student demonstrations of the geologic time scale and the solar system). Fiberglass and other flexible materials are important for geoscience labs, so don't use metal and other stiffer materials. Although it's useful to have longer tapes (for projects such as measuring stream cross-section widths and hillslope angles), longer tapes get tangled more easily and are slightly more expensive to replace. We find that a combination of thirty-meter and fifty-meter tapes works well.
  • Sample bags and markers - Freezer strength Zip-loc type plastic bags and paper lunch bags work well for introductory classes. A variety of "marks-anywhere" markers are widely available.
  • Drawing pads and large colored markers - for field drawing and discussions. 20" by 30" newsprint drawing pads are widely available at art supply stores and catalogs.
  • Geology field notebook with lined and graph paper on facing pages
  • Field notebooks - It's very useful to require students to buy a small notebook that will only be used for field notes. Campus bookstores and retailers carry 6" x 9" spiral-bound notebooks that work well. Alternatively, you can require students to buy a bound field notebook as part of the course materials. Mining transit books have alternating pages of tables and graph paper (one by one) that are useful for collecting tabular data and making sketches, as well as writing. We find it unnecessary to use notebooks with special paper that is waterproof. The ordinary, run-of the mill paper in the bound field notebooks has survived dips in streams, Lake Superior and mud piles and come out quite well. Moreover, the orange- or yellow-bound field notebooks soon become an identity marker and a status symbol among geoscience students.

  • Ruler/protractors - We find a six inch transparent ruler, with English and metric scales and a built-in protractor useful for students to carry in the field. These are inexpensive, which is good, because they have a short half-life. To increase their longevity by making them more visible, have students put some colored dots or pieces of masking tape on parts of the ruler.
  • Graph Paper - For most introductory geoscience courses, we prefer to make copies of graph paper (perhaps from a book like "Making Graph Paper from Your Copier" - apparently out-of-print, so protect your copy carefully!) than to buy separate sheets or packages of graph paper. Graph paper can be downloaded from Mathematics Help Center: Graph Paper ( This site may be offline. ) or generated using their free software and printed.
  • Pencils and pens - Inexpensive, disposable mechanical pencils are very useful for all kinds of field and lab work. Either purchase a supply for a class or make each student responsible for buying their own pack. Depending on the activities you have planned, you may find it also useful to have a supply of colored pencils or have students buy a set for themselves.
  • Clipboards or map boards - Clipboards provide a rigid platform for maps and handouts in the field. Map boards serving similar purposes can be sawn from masonite sheets and the papers secured by rubber bands.
  • Acid bottles - Small plastic drop bottles can be filled with 10% HCl for testing rocks for carbonates.
  • First Aid and safety equipment (eye protection, hard hats, etc.) - see safety considerations for information.
  • A few more items and photos