Friday 5: Wardrobe Essentials for Field Work

I love working in the field!  Being outdoors watching insects do their normal things in their normal places is an incredibly pleasant experience for me.  I can literally spend hours sitting in one spot just watching the world around me or sloshing through some stream looking for/sampling bugs.  However, for maximum field work comfort, you have to dress the part.  Today I am going to share my wardrobe essentials for a variety of field situations.   Bet you never expected the world of high fashion and entomology to come together in a single blog post, did you?  :)

Working in Clean Water

Working in water means you’re going to get wet, even if you don’t intend to.  If I’m going to be working somewhere I can park near the water (i.e., I don’t have to go traipsing through the desert) and I am not going to be covered in pollutants and/or cow urine while I’m there, this is what I most like to wear:

Me sampling in Sabino Canyon

Me sampling in Sabino Canyon.

Cotton shorts/capris or nylon board shorts dry quickly.  I like wearing tank tops in the field, but I also like to keep the sun off my skin, so I wear a cotton or SPF fabric shirt too.  The wide-brimmed, floppy hat and polarized sunglasses are a must for keeping the sun off your face and out of your eyes.  On my feet: Keen water sandals (great for when I’m kicking rocks like in the image above) or my fabulous Crocs trail sandals.  They don’t make the latter anymore, which is sad: they float marvelously if they get yanked off your feet, they stick to slippery rocks like nothing else, and you can’t tell they’re Crocs by looking at them!  Love my Crocs…

Working in Cold Water

I am reasonably hardy when it comes to climbing into cold streams with exposed skin.  But climbing into a sub-alpine stream in early April is an entirely different kind of cold.  Then you need something like this:

me at Three Forks

Me, about to climb into a very cold stream on a very cold day. Photo by Dennis Suhre.

Waders might not keep you much warmer, but they keep you dry and that makes a huge difference in cold water!  I look like the abominable snowman in this photo, but it was a very cold day (high of something like 35 degrees), we were over 9500 feet, and it kept drizzling this awful freezing rain. I wasn’t about to get in that stream without two layers of socks, long pants, long underwear, and waders!  I probably would have lost a few toes to frostbite otherwise.

Working in Polluted Water

Working in nasty water means you want to keep the water off your skin, so waders are essential:

water sampling

Me recording data during a sampling trip to an EDW. Photo by Dave Walker.

However, waders and the desert don’t mix at all.  You’ve just got to wear shorts under waders or you’re going to get heat stroke.  Thin fabrics that dry easily are the best choice because you are going to sweat, a lot.  I usually top this combo off with my standard tank/long-sleeved shirt combo and some sort of ridiculous looking wide-brimmed hat.  I own a lot of those things…

Working On Grasslands

I wish I were the kind of person who could go wandering through the gorgeous grasslands of southern Arizona and northern Mexico in shorts like everyone else I know, but I can’t.  No, I’m allergic to grasses and I come home with welts, hives, and rashes all over my legs if I wear shorts.  I usually have to wear something like this instead:

me at Los Fresnos

Me at Los Fresnos, Mexico.

Long cotton pants keep me as cool as possible.  I usually wear my high top hiking boots in grasslands, just to minimize grass-on-skin contact.  I also have to wear long-sleeved shirts that are actually buttoned up, to keep the grasses off my arms.  I thought this shirt was brown when I bought it, but it only looked that way under the horrible yellow light bulbs at the rummage sale.  So, I made it even uglier by drawing an enormous hellgrammite on the back.  I kind of love my flaming pink hellgrammite shirt.  Entomologist chic!  And, no one ever loses me in the field.  :)

Working in the Desert

Working in the desert is its own special kind of experience.  When I did the BioBlitz at Saguaro National Park last fall, I stupidly thought that I could get away with wearing sandals.  I had spines in my feet for days!  Normally, when I’m not being a total idiot, I wear something like this:

Me burying sampler

My desert attire, because I have to wander through a bunch of desert to get to this aquatic spot!

Canvas pants or jeans are great for keeping your legs cactus spine free, and you can maneuver through dense brush without getting all scratched up.  They don’t dry quickly, but sometimes it’s better to save your legs at the expense of staying wet a few hours.  Hard core, heavy leather boots protect your feet from cacti, rocks, and rattlesnakes.  Then there’s my standard tank, over-shirt (in my bag because it’s cloudy), hat, and sunglasses.  The shirt in the pack has a big aquatic beetle I screenprinted on the back.  More ento chic!

Okay, so I lied about the high fashion part at the beginning.  Instead, I treated you to 5 glorious pictures of me looking rather scuzzy.  (Muah ha ha ha ha!)  But I’m not trying to look fashionable in the field.  I’m trying to stay comfortable and safe.  I also rip my clothes all the time, wear holes in them, drip acids and other chemicals on them, stain them, and otherwise beat the hell out of them, so I don’t like to spend more than $10 on anything I wear in the field apart from my shoes.  But, my field wardrobe keeps the sun and grasses off my skin, dry quickly when needed, and I don’t have to worry about coming home a bloody mess because I had an up close and personal encounter with a cactus.  My field clothes get the job done, and in the end, that is all that really matters.


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