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Top 5 things to bring on a paleontology or archaeology dig

How to pack like the pros

Be prepared when going "out in the field" during a paleontology or archaeology dig and make sure you have a few essentials with you. Pack these five necessities and you'll look like the pros.

1. The Right Backpack

Backpack for archaeology and paleontology digs

If you’re like me, you’ve got a wide array of backpacks from which to choose. There are backpacks for neighborhood jaunts. Backpacks for day hikes and a pack for longer backpacking trips. The best size and color of backpack to use out in the field is wholly a matter of opinion, but every backpack should have enough space to fit your day's necessities.

Your backpack should fit the following:

  • Water bottles

  • Tools

  • Layers

  • Food/snacks

  • Bandages

  • Phone/camera

Pro Tips:

  • Make sure your backpack is roomy to accommodate all of the above with some room to spare. Inevitably rockhounders and fossickers won't be able to resist the temptation of picking up a rock or five.

  • Make sure your pack is comfortable. There are times when you’ll be hiking in a mile, or prospecting for hours. It can be grueling and tiring and the last thing anyone wants is to have a backpack that digs into your shoulders or strains your back. A drawstring backpack just won’t cut it. Find something that will evenly distribute weight and that has a ventilated back.

2. Water with Electrolytes

Water bottles for archaeology and paleontology digs

Excavating and “working in the field” can be strenuous and tiring. It can defy logic, but even though you may not feel yourself sweating, water is still leaving your body. Drinking water is critical to staving off heat exhaustion and dehydration. And when you're out in the field and far away from medical services, heat stroke and dehydration can be deadly.

But the secret sauce that every archaeologist and paleontologist has on hand is a bottle or two of electrolytes. Electrolyte loss drains the body of important minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium. All these are necessary for our bodies to function properly. Electrolytes are included in drinks such as Gatorade. They also come in powder form in products such as Liquid I.V.

Pro Tips:

The bottom line is your backpack will be heavy at the beginning of the day, but it’s a weight you won’t regret.

3. Long Sleeves and Pants

Clothing for archaeology and paleontology digs

Many archaeology and paleontology field seasons are in the heat of summer. It can be brutally hot, insect-ridden and sometimes bone dry. It may seem counterintuitive to suggest wearing long sleeves and long pants while out working, but there is a method to the madness. Long sleeves and long pants keep your body protected from the sun and keep flies, mosquitos, and other critters from feasting on your skin.

Steer clear of heavy fabrics and dark colors and go for moisture-wicking and quick-dry clothing options. There are lots of brands to choose from, including some incredible clothing lines from Nike Dri-FIT, Colombia PFG, Mountain Hardware, Outdoor Research and REI. Some even have sun protection built in.

Pro Tips:

  • Just say no to jeans. They are too heavy for the heat and the dark fabric will absorb heat.

  • For the newbie, moisture-wicking workout clothes will do the trick nicely.

4. Comfort with Cushions

Knee pads for archaeology and paleontology digs

Working outside in the dirt means you’ll get dirty. It also means a lot of rocks (and maybe fossils too!). Archaeology and paleontology fieldwork require a lot of sitting and kneeling to get to the work at hand. And when sitting and kneeling are coupled with uneven surfaces, things can get uncomfortable. Bring along a kneeling pad or a set of knee pads. They will cushion you from unpleasant jabs, pebble and dirt.

Pro Tips:

  • A simple gardening pad will do the trick nicely for both kneeling and sitting. Just make sure it fits into your backpack!

  • Knee pads are great for (obviously) kneeling on the ground. They are not so great if you want to sit down on them.

5. Tip Your Hat

Hats for archaeology and paleontology digs

It’s smart to protect your head with a hat while working out in the sun. However, working out in the field is not the time to be stylish. It's also not the time to wear your favorite hat or cap. Go for protection above style.

Think about this: you'll be working with your eyes focused on the ground. Find a hat with a brim that goes all the way around. It will shade your face and also protect your neck from the sun's rays. Your favorite baseball cap may be perfect for game day, but it won't give you the protection you'll need and even worse-it may get ruined out in the field.

Pro Tip:

  • Ventilated hats with sun protection are the perfect solution. They'll keep your noggin protected and minimize sweat.

  • If your style is more cowboy, opt for a straw cowboy hat. You may look great in a felt hat but they're meant to keep your head warm, not cool.

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