Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens

What’s in my (Field) Bag?

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Today’s post isn’t exactly death-related, but I wanted to take a sec and share what I carry with me into the field. If you are starting out in archaeology or are heading into your first field season in cultural resource management (CRM) or a field school, I hope this post can be a little helpful to you!

I’ve been doing fieldwork on and off since 2011, in Ireland, the Isle of Man, the UK, and Canada (BC, NL, and ON), and these items are things that I always like to have on me, and items that have stood the test of time being dragged around the mountains, overseas, corn fields, and most recently the blistering heat and random rain storms of Ontario! Lets dive in and take a look at what’s in my (field) bag!

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My field bag & gear I always carry! 

Going from left to right, lets take a look at the items I always carry with me into the field. All archaeologists have stories about their beloved field gear, and I thought it would be fun to share mine today (along with reviewing them for you all!).

  1. Gregory 38L Women’s Backpack: I got this bag in 2014 when I moved to Cranbrook, BC for my first job in commercial archaeology. This bag is a little larger than a usual daypack, but it has so many pockets that are perfect for fieldwork, and it comes with a built-in rain cover in its own pocket. I use the vertical front pocket to hold sunscreen, bug spray, pads, toilet paper, and other items that I need easy access to, but don’t want to get too dirty. The top pocket is great for keys, phones, etc., and the main pocket is top-loading, with side-zipper access as well, in case you need to access something in the bottom! This bag is holding up really well too, especially after being switched to a climbing bag for a few years, and despite needing a wash, I’ll be using it for a while to come!

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    My beloved Nalgene, OFF bug spray, and sunscreen. The essentials. 

  2. 1L Nalgene Bottle: This is my second identical Nalgene bottle, after the first one was lost to the forests of British Columbia. I recently broke the loop off the top, and keep dropping the lid in the dirt…that will get replaced at some point!
  3. Waterproof Bag: The small orange roll-top bag is waterproof, and holds a bottle of Benadryl, some hydrocortisone cream, afterbite, and sinutab. Basically, it’s a baby first aid kit, mostly to deal with the fact that I react horribly to all bug bites. More on that later!
  4. Tape Measure: You never know when you’ll need a tape measure.
  5. Wool Socks: It’s a basic rule of hiking that having an extra pair of socks with you is always a good idea. I personally feel the same goes for fieldwork, especially when your boots have been out for a few seasons and aren’t that waterproof anymore…you’ll definitely want another pair of wool socks at the end of the day to change into!
  6. Sunscreen & Bug Spray: The essentials! I currently like the Neutrogena UltraSheer sunscreen in 45 – 60 SPF. It’s pretty light and doesn’t clog your pores up as much as some brands. I have terrible skin and have gotten rashes from other brands, so I either need to get kid’s sensitive sunscreen or this stuff. For bug spray (100% always have this on me), I like the OFF Active. It isn’t as strong as the ‘outdoors’ line they do, but I swear that the scent of it (kind of perfumed?) and the ‘active’ aspect means that it doesn’t sweat off as fast, and keeps the mosquitoes and ticks away. Hot tip: Spray your socks if you’re in tick country (and then tuck your pants into your socks).

  7. WHS Trowel: My trowel is my favourite. I have a WHS trowel with a wood handle, it’s the standard in the UK. I got in when I was working at the University of Liverpool field school on the Isle of Man in 2012, and have been hauling it around with me ever since! It getting slightly worn on the left side, and I carved an hourglass on the side of the handle. I love the blade of this trowel because of how tough it is, it doesn’t bend at all if you have to pry out a rock!

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    My WHS Trowel

  8. Bug Jacket: Remember when I said I’m bad at bugs? I carry a bug jacket around with me at all times, just in case there are more than two mosquitoes, blackflies, or anything else biting/stinging. I’m very allergic, ok??
  9. First Aid Kit: This one is pretty self-explanatory. This one is in its own little waterproof bag, and I’ve had it for a few years now. It’s supposed to be good for 2 people for 1-2 days, which is perfect for fieldwork days when you need some light first aid. It’s also important to also take a first aid course, if you can!
  10. Clippers: It can’t hurt to have a set of clippers in your bag, in case you need to cut some roots. At my job right now, we also have machetes in our vans for larger roots. I’ve found it’s good to have pair on hand though, just in case.
  11. Reserve Water Bottle: 1L of water is not enough for a whole day of fieldwork! I carry this Platypus 2L water bottle in my backpack to refill my Nalgene bottle with during the day. 3L is usually enough to get me through the day!
  12. Waterproofs: I forgot to include my raincoat in this photo, but lets just pretend its included with the waterproof pants. I got these rain pants from MEC (their house brand) this season, and they replaced a similar pair also from MEC that I got in 2008. Yes, 2008. They held up so well! Along with bug stuff, I firmly believe that you should always have rain gear on hand in the field, especially if you are working a ways from your vehicle or shelter. You never know when a rogue storm is going to roll in and soak you (I’m looking at you, SW Ontario).
  13. Pack Towel: After my first ever week of commercial fieldwork in 2014, my coworker and I both decided that we needed microfibre pack towels in our bags at all times, just in case. This thing has come in handle for damp hands, mud, wiping of gear, etc., and it barely takes up any space!

Well, there you have it, the summary of most of the gear I carry around with me on a daily basis. Not pictured is my lunch, hard hat, high vis, safety glasses…etc., but these are the basics that I’ve come to rely on over the last bunch of years. I hope you found this post interesting and maybe even informative if you are new to the field! Happy excavations!

Author: Robyn Lacy

Archaeologist / Cultural Heritage / Burial Ground Restoration

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