Fieldwork Lessons Learned Part Two: Gear, Tools, Packing, and Travel

September 1, 2021 | Lindsay Starke
A small selection of items included in a FieldKit team member's gear bag

A few weeks ago, our team came together with our community to compile tips and lessons learned in the course of deploying conservation technology in the field. As it turns out, we’ve learned quite a lot through the years! Today’s post covers what to pack for fieldwork, the tools you definitely should consider bringing with you, and general tips for traveling into the field.

Check out our first post in the series, covering tech development and project management.

Gear and Tools

  • Always have 1-3 spares of any key components.
  • Fully charge batteries and bring backups.
  • Bring tools that do not rely on reliable wall power (butane, batteries, etc.).
  • It always helps to have multipurpose tools like zip ties, duct tape, hose clamps, JB Weld, superglue, and similar materials appropriate for the type of hardware that you are deploying.
  • Always bring many more SD cards than you think you will need. Brightly colored cards (you can even paint them!) can make them much easier to find if dropped.
  • Bring tools that do more than one thing other than those that only have one use. It also helps that those tools have attachment points so they can be tied together or clipped on clothing/harnesses.
  • Personal locator beacons are critically important. You may not need it but it is absolutely critical when you do. Some even have simple messaging functionality. Carry a satellite phone or WiFi modem if it makes sense financially.
  • Solar charging always sounds like a great idea until you get into the field. The panel placement drives a lot of the deployment and tends to be stolen or brings attention to the location of your tech.
  • Bring an extra battery pack for your phone, not necessarily to use it as a phone, but to use it copiously as a camera, note taking advice, or for any critical apps.
  • Radios can be a huge help when in the field.
  • Bring a traditional compass that doesn’t require a battery to work. Bring a physical map as well if they are available. You can still use apps or electronics to do the same, but always have an analog backup.
  • Always remember to bring a flint, waterproof matches, and/or a Zippo to start fires as needed.
  • If possible, bring sensors/meters for the parameters that you’re measuring, so you can check performance of your unit in the field both before and after a deployment.
  • Dry bags are a great extra layer of security. Put your expensive gear in them.
  • A multimeter is essential. Learn how to use it before you go into the field.
  • Always have some backup way to communicate to team members in cases of emergency or troubleshooting.
  • Bring glue, something that works well for the materials you’re deploying for repairs or attachments as needed.
  • Depending on its legality where you’re working, bear spray can be a good idea for protection.
  • Write down the combo for cable locks in, like, 17 different places, minimum. (credit to @Carly_Batist)
  • Other gear to consider packing: a computer for coding, configuration tasks, and data review; a camera for documenting the trip, perhaps with interchangeable lenses; a screwdriver w/bits (slotted, Phillips, Robertson); wire nippers; heat shrink tubing and a lighter; butane soldering iron; self-vulcanizing rubber tape –way better than electrical tape; a tape measure; a pocket knife or multitool. Stay tuned for a future post with a full recommended gear listing!

Packing and Travel

  • Packing for expeditions is a bit of an art because you need to juggle the gear necessary for the trip against weight restrictions and taking stuff into the field. It also impacts how easy it is to work with things as they are unpacked and used when you actually get to the field.
  • It is helpful to have a packing system, where smaller packs get placed into larger enclosures, like Pelican cases.
  • It helps to have a tool bag, pack, or roll that tools can be organized in for use when installing the hardware. It should carry a subset of just the right tools to deploy your tech.
  • Make sure to pack a good first aid kit.
  • Traveler’s insurance and medevac policies are important.
  • Get first aid and CPR certified. One of the best things you can bring into the field is knowledge of wilderness first aid (and, of course, a field companion with similar skills if you become incapacitated). (credit to @JLKavanaugh)
  • An amateur radio license can be helpful in field situations.
  • Get any relevant travel vaccinations, and it helps to bring antimalarials, ciprofloxacin, acetaminophen/ibuprofen/etc., Pepto-Bismol or similar medication, insulin, EpiPens, inhalers, antacids, antihistamines, motion sickness medicine, cough drops, and anything else you might specifically need.
  • Bring iodine tablets or water filters for situations where you might not know the quality of the water.
  • Bring the insect repellent of your choice.
  • Sunscreen and other protective items (hats, sunglasses, gaiter, etc). Earplugs and hand sanitizer are also good.
  • If you have to hike a long way – extra socks and LOTS of moleskin, the savior of feet from blisters. (credit to @Carly_Batist)
  • If you are traveling with LiPo batteries, remember to carry them in a safety bag. Most airlines require that you hand carry them.
  • Bring a legit flashlight and headlamp. Make sure to have extra batteries for it.
  • When in the field, carry things that bring you peace of mind. And always carry calories and water. (credit to @JLKavanaugh)
  • No matter how routine the field work has become, it always starts the night before by checking charge on portable instrument batteries. Particularly if it is shared equipment. No one cares about the charge state of batteries after they are done with their work. (credit to @MattCFindley)

Do you have additional tips to add to the list? Share them with us @FieldKitOrg on Twitter and we’ll include them in our lessons learned!