Over the years I have bought, used, tried, thrown away, and loved a variety of apparel. I wanted to do a post highlighting the most essential and useful items I’ve found as a field archaeologist. I’m going to start from the head down, and want to preface this list by saying that I have not received any financial or promotional goods from the companies or brands that I talk about below. I finally have my system down pat and wanted to share the love with all of y’all 🙂
The Field Hat
Whether you’re working on an excavation or walking a transect line, a good field hat is essential to keep from frying in the sun. I usually carry three types of hats in my backpack, a baseball cap, a wide brim hat, and a beanie. Why three you ask? The baseball cap is good for when you’re walking through dense vegetation because it doesn’t get snagged on quite as much, and is nice on windy or cold days because you can throw a beanie or hood over it. I prefer the mesh back trucker hats because I feel like it provides more ventilation on super hot days. I’d recommend a brand, but I’m not too picky on trucker hats. The one I’m currently wearing I got for free during winter clinicals. Thanks Solomon 🙂
The wide brim hat is good for those scorching hot days when you want as much protection from the sun as possible. As much as I wanted to rock a cowboy hat in the field (which people do by the way and it’s totally awesome), I wanted something I could cram into my backpack and not worry about. I didn’t want a cheesy Indiana Jones leather hat, and I LOATHE floppy fishing hats. It comes down to personal preference, but I picked something similar to this, which I found at REI. You can click on the photo to browse their hat selection.
The beanie is more of a seasonal item in my backpack. Once it starts to get cold, it becomes a permanent fixture and is worth its weight in gold. I’ve found that the perfect field beanie is one that fits a little snug. Translation: not the slouchy gangster kind used for skiing or snowboarding. Also, you don’t want one with a pom pom. On super cold days when you’ve got your beanie on and need a little extra warmth, pulling a hood up provides loads of warmth. If your beanie is too roomy, once your hood is up it’ll just slide all over your head, cover your eyes, and be a huge pain in the ass. Same reasoning goes for the pom pom, the hood doesn’t go over the pom and you’ll look and feel like a cone head. Trust me, I’ve been there. Neff makes the perfect beanies for me. Click the photo below to browse their stock.
The Summer Field Shirt
The perfect summer field shirt is a long sleeve quick dry button up. Wanna know why? The quick dry material is so light and airy that you’ll feel amazing no matter how hot it is. Most of these types of shirts have fancy ventilation flaps that let air circulate to help cool you off. They also have loads of pockets for you to stuff pens, pencils, compasses, etc. into. They come in short sleeve, but I’d recommend going with the long sleeve. I know it sounds crazy but I always feel less hot with long sleeves, maybe because it’s a layer between me and the sun. Plus if you’re walking through dense vegetation its nice to have something covering your arms so you don’t get scratched. But if you’re wanting a tan or are completely roasting, you can always roll them up.
You can purchase quick dry shirts at almost any sporting or outdoor store. I have to warn you that these shirts are a bit expensive ($40-$65), but are totally worth their weight in gold. I found that sometimes I can buy a child size XL or XXL at REI for a lot less than a regular womens size of the same shirt. Another hack is to visit your local outlet mall and find treasures. We have a Columbia outlet store in Park City and I got three discount shirts for the same price as what I would’ve paid for one shirt at REI. Score!
The Winter Field Shirt
I’ll sum this one up with one word: layering. Layering is the key when dressing for winter fieldwork. It’s always cold as hell in the mornings, but once you get working you’ll get hot and want to layer down. Depending on how cold it is I usually throw on a base thermal layer, you can find these at any Walmart or Target. Then I put a flannel button up on over that. Flannels are good because they are usually made with a little bit thicker material and they still have the handy pockets for putting stuff in. Since flannels are all the rage right now you can probably find them at any clothing retailer. It’s not a fashion show for me so I usually go to the local thrift shop and hit up the mens section. They have loads of sizes and each shirt costs less than $10.
After the flannel I usually throw on an insulated zip up hoodie. I got a Sherpa lined one from Walmart in the mens section that works great! I’m not a cross dresser or anything, they just never have a good selection for women. Well they do, but it’s usually some awful color and covered with stupid decals or rhinestones. To top it all off I add on some sort of water/wind proof layer, depending on the weather. You don’t want to skimp price-wise on this last layer, when cold or wet weather is in full effect and you’ve got a quality item keeping you dry and warm, you’ll thank me. REI has a great selection of rain and cold weather jackets, as I’m sure any outdoor or sporting retailer would.
And I’ll throw in this little nugget just because. ALWAYS always always carry a rain jacket with you in your backpack! I’ve been caught in my fair share of surprise rainstorms and gotten soaked. Which isn’t fun when it’s cold and you’re 2 hours from the truck. You never know when the weather is going to change so just keep one with you to always be prepared. Since I started carrying mine (a Marmot women’s rain jacket which is A-Mazing!), it’s saved my ass more times than I can count.
The Field Pants
You always want pants in the field. Absolutely under no circumstances are shorts a good idea. Ever. Pants are essential because they provide a layer between you and the elements. You are less likely to get scratched, bitten, or sunburned with a pair of long pants on. With that said, people all have a preference on their perfect type of field pants. I usually go for jeans because I like how thick and durable they are. I can walk through sagebrush or greasewood and not feel a thing, whereas someone in quick dry pants is likely going to get poked and scratched through the thin material. Plus I’ve seen my fair share of blow outs in quick dry pants. Not sure what a blow out is? Picture someone bending over and the main butt seam just exploding. I have duct taped way too many pairs of quick dry pants for other people to ever buy a pair of my own. Not worth it.
I usually find my field jeans at discount stores like TJ Maxx, Ross or Marshalls. No need to spend a lot of money on them since they are going to get trashed anway. I can usually find a pair for less than $25, and I don’t feel bad about replacing them after a field season since they were so inexpensive. When shopping for field jeans be sure to avoid skinny jeans like the plague. You want to find a style that is wide enough to go over your boots, that way bits of vegetation and dirt can’t get into your shoes. Another way to go is the cargo pant, which is amazing simply for the fact that you can cram all sorts of crap into their pockets. The cheapest cargo pants I’ve ever found were at those Army Navy supply stores. Pretty sure they were less than $30. I started out as a cargo pant wearer, but have slowly evolved into a jeans only gal. To each his own.
The Field Socks
You can’t go wrong with a good pair of hiking socks. In fact, I never wear anything but fancy hiking socks with my boots. They make summer and winter socks, but the goal is the same. Summer socks are more thin and allow breathability, and usually have some sort of sweat or moisture wicking capability, while winter socks are heavier and warmer and have the same moisture wicking capabilities so your feet don’t roast in your boots. Honestly, the cushioning is better, everything is just better with fancy hiking socks. I have about 10 pair of these and I use them ALL the time. Slightly pricey at $15 a pair, they are worth it in the long run. Click the photo if you wanna know more.
The Field Boots
You’ll probably spend most of your money on the perfect pair of field boots. And rightly so, since you’ll be walking in them everyday at work. Over the years I have found specific attributes that make the perfect field boot, ready for this?
- Over the ankle height. You want a boot that will provide you with good ankle support because at some point you’re going to step on a rock or a piece of vegetation and roll your ankle and swear like a motherfu*#er. But at least with some good ankle support you wont need first aid or lose out on a day of work
- All leather material. Trust me. Mesh boots seem like a good idea at the store but when you’re in the field they’re not. Cheat grass, sticks, and dirt will all find their way through the mesh to make your life miserable. Plus, if you’re working after a recent rainstorm the water will seep through the mesh and completely soak your fancy hiking socks. Stick with leather. Its durable and you don’t have to deal with any of the aforementioned unnecessary crap. Plus, most boot leather is treated with waterproof Gore-Tex so you can walk through a shallow creek if you’re feeling spicy.
- Rubber toe cap. The rubber toe cap is KEY! It will prevent the toes and tops of your boots from getting thrashed by whatever you’re walking through. I’ve bought boots without it and they barely last a season before the leather at the toes is all scuffed and beat up.
With that said, I am going to push my favorite boots on you. They are seriously the best and have all of my necessary attributes. They are the Vasque St. Elias GTS Hiking Boots. They run about $190 but are totally worth it! I’ve had my current pair for three years and am still going strong. If you’re looking for a discount on boots I’d suggest checking with your company to see if they have a Pro deal with any manufacturers, if not you can always go directly to the manufacturers website (e.g., Vasque, Danner, Asolo) and see if they have a Pro form you can fill out. Because hey, if archaeologists aren’t professional boot wearers I don’t know is. Click on the photo if you want to see more specs on my favorite boot.
Well that’s it. This post is either going to help a bunch of people or is just going to be me ranting about my OCD preferences haha. Hope its the former. If you have some some good tips or suggestions of your own I’d love to hear about it. Comment below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.