Geological Field Camp Success Tips

Students preparing to depart for field camp occasionally asked me for advice on how to make the best of the opportunity. I present here a short list of issues to be aware of as you prepare for geologic field camp, that I hope will help make it an outstanding experience for you. This is based primarily on my personal experiences in the University of Texas at Austin's GEO660 but should apply to any standard geologic field camp.

Please feel free to provide feedback and suggestions based on your own experiences.

Before you depart:

  • Prepare psychologically: Field camp is no junket. It will consist of long hours of hard work. If you take the work seriously, the payoff will be the pleasure you get from:
    • Doing that work in beautiful, intellectually stimulating environments.
    • Sensing the depth of your geosciences knowledge expand.
    • Returning as a confident and competent field geologist.

  • Get in shape: Field camp will be physically rigorous. Concentrate on cardiovascular conditioning by using the stair-stepper apparatus, taking the stairs in tall buildings, and hiking over rough terrane.

  • Brush up skills: In field camp you will need to be able to do the following things more or less automatically:
    • Use a Brunton compass and understand the concepts of strike and dip
    • Read topographic maps
    • Identify common minerals in hand sample
    • Identify common sedimentary structures in outcrop
    • Construct 1:1 scale cross-sections
    • Plot data on stereonets.
    Practice prior to departure.

While you are there:

  • Take care of your body:
    • Get a full night's sleep every night.
    • Be sure to stay hydrated in the field by drinking about twice the amount of water you think you need.
    • Don't overindulge in alcohol on any evening when you will be in the field the next day. (Even a minor hangover is open invitation for serious dehydration and will destroy your effectiveness in the field.)

  • Don't be shy. You will be working with students from other institutions. These could be future colleagues and collaborators. Use the opportunity to form good personal relationships and learn about their home institutions.

  • Dress appropriately. A hat and good shoes are essential. In arid regions, a loose-fitting woven long-sleeved shirt (cotton is good) to wick perspiration away and keep the sun off is also essential. Some people avoid T-shirts as too tight fitting and hot.

  • Be safe. Be mindful of physical hazards including flash-floods, bears, and (especially) lightening; and proactively avoid them.

  • Cover ground. In the field, especially while mapping, the key to success is to maximize observations. The more data you have, the better informed your working hypotheses will be. To that end, move fast and far, recording strike and dip and rock type on every piece of exposed bedrock you encounter.

  • Observe subtle clues. Don't move so fast that you lose opportunities to make observations. For example, when mapping in regions of limited outcrop, don't completely ignore areas covered with soil. Identifiable bedrock may be exposed in features like the roots of fallen trees or anthills.

For the future:

  • Start your collections. Take a camera and exploit opportunities to assemble the nucleus of a fine teaching collection of images and, to the extent possible, interesting specimens. (Don't pack things you don't need. Leave room for pet rocks.)

  • Retain your field notes. You may use them later in research or teaching.

  • Have fun and work hard.

Best success!

John Merck