“Clothes Make the Rockhound”
you wear when out rockhounding is just as important as what you bring.
Rockhounding is like hiking, star gazing, bird watching, or geo caching as one
must be protected against the elements. Unlike those delightful past times and
hobbies, rockhounding means you may be in a single spot for hours at a time,
cracking rock, chipping rock, and dusting off specimens.
time we were rockhounding for garnets from an outcrop in Connecticut that was
on the private property of a Boy Scout Camp. We called the Boy Scout camp weeks
in advance to ask permission to rockhound there, and to find out what was the
protocol. This was on private property, so without permission, we would have
been illegally rockhounding, and at risk for a tangle with law enforcement. The
Boy Scout camp director was happy to oblige, and shared with us that no power
tools were allowed, and he asked for responsible rockhounding. We scheduled the
date in advance, found out whom we needed to call if questions came up, and we
began our preparations. We did not know where exactly the outcrop was, as the
directions were vague, the Boy Scout camp was not actively promoting
rockhounding or inviting rockhounds after all, but we knew it was at the camp’s
exterior, and near a railroad track. So while driving around the outer borders
of the camp we saw a break in the woods that lined the camp and saw railroad
tracks. We parked on the side of road, on the camp’s side, and got out our
packs and started to march to search for this outcrop. The directions led us to
believe the outcrop would be visible if we followed the railroad tracks. We
were ready for this walk, prepared in advance for the changing weather of the
spring, the emergence of bugs, and the hand tools required. We came to a
clearing in the brush and woods, thinking we were close, when before us we see a
number of discarded Listerine Mouthwash bottles lining the path, and then some
Popov Vodka bottles, and then some rubbing alcohol bottles, and then we arrive
at our destination,,,,,an old abandoned meth lab! There was the propane
tank connected to various drums and barrels, out in the middle of the woods! We
looked around, realized “yeah, this is a meth lab,” then we cursed, and then
proceeded to walk back to the car. Rockhounding is not easy. We drove a little
farther about another mile, and decided to search again. This time we saw the
outcrop from the car. Since it was spring, the trees were still somewhat bare.
We parked again on the side of the road, camp side, and with our packs marched
toward the outcrop. This outcrop was very, very hard, but we saw the orange
garnets on one of the exposed faces, so we were happy to have multiple chisels,
both styles of hammer, and some crow bars with us. The matrix surrounding rock
was so tough that we decided the best strategy was to chip away blocks of
stone, concentrated as highly as possible with garnets, and then we would work
on this stone back home.
we were hammering the chisels with our hammers, the noise emitted by both of us
was quite loud. Then, in addition to the noise we were creating, we heard the
popping of gunfire! We had read that this was a camp ground and firing range,
and while we were not targets, and we were not hanging out in the range, we
were in the vicinity of the noise. Prepared for this scenario, we had ear plugs
in our packs, and were able to rockhound despite the noise we were generating,
and that the gun fire was generating.
We did not recover garnets or
crystals in this scenario, but removed stone for later work. We hauled back as
many slabs as we could responsibly load into the back seat and trunk of the car
without destroying the car’s shocks.
a list of considerations when putting together your rockhounding ensemble:
- Prepare for rain with a parka. They are easy to
fold up and easy once folded up to store in your backpack. When cold outside, a
parka also offers a layer that can warm you up quickly.
- Boots! Expect a rocky, rough terrain. Boots made
for hiking, not just for walking, will be helpful as you find yourself balanced
at different possibly awkward angles chipping away at a stone. The boots are
protection against mud, snakes and other critters, and best bet for any
terrain. We have bought our boots at thrift stores and over eBay to save a few
bucks. Expect your boots to get quite dirty, and possibly needing to be
replaced each season, so feel free to purchase second hand, used boots,
expecting to wear them down quickly.
- There is a reason that jeans were standard
uniform for miners in California. They are hardy, big resistant, easy to wash
and dust off, and ideal for rockhounds. Jeans are the way to go, no matter the
temperature. You will find yourself sitting in a hole, or in a pile of dirt or
on the side of an outcrop. Stay comfortable and free from scratch or injury by
- We prefer long sleeved as additional protection
against mosquitoes and other bugs, and protection against the sun. Long sleeve
t-shirt, with a short sleeve t-shirt over it is fashionable, and smart
- “Diamond Tip” – The t-shirts, long sleeve shirts,
jeans, etc. that we recommend for rockhounding are going to get very dirty,
very quickly. The lifespan of a rockhound’s wardrobe is lessened with each
adventure. We prefer to shop for all these articles at the local thrift or
second hand store as a result. Clothes, especially shirts and jeans are
plentiful in nearly any size. If you need to discard a shirt or jeans
afterwards, better for your expenses, and more environmentally responsible for
it to have been a second hand article.
- Goggles, glasses, eyewear for everyone! When
hammering rocks, shards will fly. Goggles, protective glasses, Blu-blockers or
sunglasses are absolute requirements. Just like in shop class, please do not
begin cracking away at stone without wearing protective eyewear.
- “Diamond Tip” – Protective glasses are a good
option to buy in bulk. If you go on an adventure with a group, there will
likely be someone who does not have them. These are necessary for the safety
and responsibility of the entire rockhounding party. Please always wear
protective glasses or goggles and insist your rockhound buddies do as well.
- Hat, chapeau, or cap. Whatever you call your
headwear, it is a valuable asset your rockhounding uniform to help protect you
from the elements, the sun, keep your hair out of your eyes during this
activity that requires all your hand to eye coordination.
- Gloves are critical, whether they be industrial
gloves, or fabric or cloth gloves that are available from any hardware store,
or convenience and gas station store. Your hands will thank you, and your
manicurist will thank you.
- “Diamond Tip” – A cost effective glove are the
fabric and cloth gloves that are often found in the car supplies at a corner
store, or any drug store or convenience store. They are a low price point, and
you may want to have more than one pair to share with fellow rockhound.
- Ear plugs. This is a personal preference
depending on your sensitivity to noise. Banging on rocks throughout the day, or
using a jackhammer (extreme rockhounding), can be taxing to your hearing. Some
rockhounds are not impacted by the loud noise and do not need them, but other
rockhounds require ear plugs for comfort and precaution. Perhaps pack ear plugs
as they are small enough to take up next to no space in your pack.
- SPF! Shield yourself from the sun any day you
rockhound! You could be in the shade, you could also be in full sun, the entire
day. Protect your skin beforehand with SPF (this is good advice for every day),
and bring a small travel sunscreen for other rockhounds not as prepared as you
- A notebook and pen to help you record the
provenance of your finds and discoveries. Another chapter describes in detail
the importance of documenting your finds, and the additional value, sentimental
as well as financial and monetary of documentation. Your cell phone is a great
tool for this, but a small notepad and pen or pencil may be easier to use.
- Sometime a gem and mineral club can be granted
access to rockhound around a working mine. If you are a member of a club, and
your club has not explored this option, we suggest your leadership look into
the potential for a field trip to a rockhound among a working mine, which
requires their permission, guidance, and supervision. In those special
instance, special gear is often required and that includes a hard hat, and
boots with steel tips.
- A first aid kit is helpful for Band-Aids and
bandages since you are using tools, cracking rock and stone, and are out in the
elements, and susceptible to cuts and scratches. The first aid kit can
incorporate the sunscreen we recommend, and hopefully is not needed if you are
prepared, but a basic first aid kit is a good resource to have for any outdoors
- When you are rockhounding along an outcrop on
the side of a state or county road where rockhounding is permitted, consider a
fluorescent orange or yellow mesh vest for safety. Pennsylvania for instance is
a state where rockhounding is allowed (no rockhounding along federal or US
highways or freeways), and while we are as far as possible away from the road
itself, we wear orange and yellow mesh vests as a courtesy to cars driving by,
with drivers interested in what you are doing (a common occurrence). Some
public areas where rockhounding is allowed, are also areas where hunting is
allowed. For instance, where we hunt for geodes in Southern Indiana, private
property, acres off a private farm, backs up to a state forest in Indiana where
seasonal hunting is allowed. We also rockhound in Texas and in Georgia, on
private acres that also allow hunting. Wear a vest if you are rockhounding in
an area that you believe is also used for hunting.