Field Tools for the Rockhound
Appropriate tools will make your rockhounding trips easier and safer. You will not, however, need all the tools we list! Pick the ones you need for your particular expedition.
Collecting Tools (marking tools with bright or fluorescent paint helps keep you from losing them)
- Crack hammer (2, 3, or 4 lb): This is for breaking medium-sized rocks and for driving your chisels. Go with the largest hammer you can comfortably handle.
- Crowbar or pry bar: A basic tool every rockhound should have. 22" pry bars are good basic tools, although 30" and larger are needed for really heavy work.
- Hand chisels, wide-ended or pointed: Another basic tool, and you should have a good-quality set of them. Carbide-tipped ones will make your work easier, although they are quite expensive.
- Geologist's pick (hammer/pick): A standard tool used for prying (not hitting rocks unless you want only a small chip) and as a handy guide to scale in photographs! Some manufacturers, such as Estwing, also offer geologist's hammer/chisels, as well as belt sheaths for both tools.
- Sledge hammer (12 to 16 lb) or Mason's hammer (6 to 8 lb): For breaking big rocks. Again, go with the largest you can comfortably handle (and haul). The sledge hammer often is more effective if you cut the handle off at 18".
- Pocket tools: These are used to extract specimens from deep pockets, and will go a long way toward saving your hands. Some possibilities are a commercial pocket tool, an 18" screwdriver, an ice pick, or a modified garden claw.
- Paintbrush/whiskbroom/toothbrush: These are used to clean specimens, to help you evaluate them.
- Tools for fine work: Possibilities are spatulas, surgical knife, palette knife, sieve, dental picks, geologist's trim hammer.
- Other tools: Hoe pick, bricklayer's (splitting) hammer, shovel, trowel.
Transportation of Specimens
- Field bag or internal-frame backpack: To carry all your stuff! If you anticipate carrying a very heavy load, a properly adjusted internal-frame backpack will make your life easier. (Some rockhounds use a large-wheeled handcart or the like when collecting in areas where the terrain is not too rough.)
- Newspaper or other wrapping paper: Dumping all your specimens in together is a good way to damage them. Wrap each separately to protect them. Don't use newspaper for fluorescent specimens unless you wrap them in plastic first, as fluorescent dyes can sometimes rub off on your prizes.
- Collecting bags: Used with wrapping paper to protect fragile crystal groups.
- Tubes, boxes, etc. for fragile specimens.
- Bucket: Can be used inside your pack or field bag to protect the fabric from tools, as well as to carry the specimens you don't have room for in your pack on the way home.
- Safety goggles: Hitting rocks creates high-velocity chips. Protect your eyes!
- Heavy gloves: To shield your hands from nicks and scrapes.
- Hard hat: This is a necessity on any rockhounding trip where overhanging or falling rocks are a possibility.
- Polarized sunglasses: These will both protect your eyes from bright sunlight and help you identify specimens by blocking glare.
- Sturdy walking shoes: Collecting areas generally have rough footing. Ankle support, lug soles, and steel toes are recommended.
- Sun hat: If a hard hat is not needed, protecting your eyes and skin from the sun is still a good idea.
- Drinking water, lunch, first aid kit, snake bite kit, sunscreen, etc.
- Field guides: Bring the appropriate field guide for the specimens you are hunting (crystals, fossils, general rocks and minerals, etc.).
- 10x loupe or magnifying glass: A good quality lens is an important aid, particularly for identifying small crystals and fossils.
- Magnet: Meteorites and iron-bearing rocks such as magnetite will attract a small, handheld magnet such as a refrigerator magnet. (A metal detector can be a good investment for a serious collector of eteorites -- or of gold or other metals, for that matter!)
- Vinegar: A few drops of vinegar on your specimen will form bubbles if carbonate is present.
- Streak plate: The color left when a rock is rubbed on a streak plate can help you distinguish between similar-appearing minerals. An unglazed porcelain tile (such as the back of a bathroom tile) can be substituted for a standard streak plate.
- Moh's hardness scale with test items: You can use a regular Moh's hardness kit, or you can use an informal approach. For example, window glass is Moh's 5½ and a steel file is 6½.
- UV lamp (short-wave and/or long-wave) and viewing bag: These are used for identifying fluorescent minerals. A black plastic sheet can be used in lieu of the viewing bag. For more information on this, see UV Light and Fluorescent Minerals.
Navigation & Record-Keeping
- Notebook and pen or pencil: You should keep a record of where each specimen was found, along with any other relevant details.
- Bearing compass and altimeter: Noting an altitude reading and a bearing course on a good landmark can make it easy to find your prime collecting site on future trips. They also are handy when you must bushwhack a trail in rough country with the aid of a topographic map.
- GPS: An alternative to compass and altimeter, although the cheaper units are not as accurate as we might wish!
- Maps and/or guidebook: Guidebooks for your state will list a number of collecting sites, along with what can be found there and directions for reaching each site. Topographic maps can help you find your way, particularly in rough territory.
- Permission to collect: Always get permission to collect on private land!
- Camera: Record site locations and celebrate your trophy specimens.
- Adhesive tape: Use this for labeling specimens.