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Best Shovels, Brushes, Sample Bags & More for Rockhounding

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Rockhounding is a fantastic hobby for people of all ages. You get to experience the modern-day ecosystems firsthand while collecting clues about their past. Even as an amateur geologist, your discoveries can help advance the scientific fields of geology, biology, and history. However, to identify those discoveries, you need the right equipment.

In addition to the basic rockhounding tools, such as a hammer and chisel, rockhounds benefit from also having the following equipment:

  • Shovels
  • Brushes
  • Rock Screens
  • Sample Bags/Collection Jars
  • Record-Keeping Supplies

These extras help you to uncover geologic treasures you might have missed otherwise.

As with many hobbies, the more interested you become, the more it’s worth investing in tools and gear. Although rockhounding can be done for a very low cost and without equipment, once you get hooked, you’ll want to up your equipment inventory. Having a variety of gear will let you explore new places and unearth exciting finds.

If you are interested in checking out the best additional equipment for rockhounding you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).

Best Shovels, Brushes, Sample Bags & More for Rockhounding
Best Shovels, Brushes, Sample Bags & More for Rockhounding

Rockhounding is an activity that can be done around the world. You can adventure locally on the weekends or go forth on a global expedition. You may be fascinated by the construct of minerals, be lured in by semi-precious gemstones, or intrigued by organisms from history.

Wherever your interests lay, you probably have the basic tools of the trade:

  • Crack Hammer: used to break open rocks and to drive in a chisel
  • Hand Chisel: used to chip off rock
  • Geologist’s Pick: used to pry and leverage rocks

For the lowkey rockhound, these can be enough. You can certainly come across some goodies using the basics, but for the rockhound with their sights set on collecting the most impressive specimens, then it is worth investing in some additional equipment.

Pricing explanation: It is not allowed to show accurate prices for products from Amazon. That’s why I used this indication for products in this article:

  1. $ – cheap
  2. $$ – normal
  3. $$$ – expensive

Shovels

A shovel might seem like overkill at first, but it comes in so handy. It can be used to load sediment onto a rock screen, scratch away topsoil and organic debris, or dig down to the bedrock.

There are many types of shovels, and each is specialized for different kinds of work, and for handling different substrates. For rockhounds out in the field, the shovels that come in the handiest include:

  • Flat Shovel: The cutting edge is straight, making the shovel blade rectangular. It is best used for scooping up loose material such as sand and small rocks.
  • Scoop Shovel: The cutting edge is straight and wider than the shoulder, giving it a flared shape. It is best used for scooping fine rock, gravel, and sand.
  • Pointed Digger: The cutting edge is rounded but comes to a sharp point. It is best used to dig into compacted soil and hard sediment. The pointed tip lets you dig deeper and pry rocks out of the ground.
  • Rounded Digger: The cutting edge is rounded with a gentle point. It is best used for digging in loose soft soil and for scooping.
  • Hand Shovel: Like their larger counterparts, there is a lot of variety in hand shovels. Most of them have a blade that is six to eight inches long and can be flatter or extremely concave. The cutting edge can be pointed or rounded.

Although having a shovel can be quite useful, the downside is they are inconvenient to carry. Choosing a shovel is ultimately a personal preference.

What works for your rockhounding partner, for example, might not feel good in your hands. Ideally, you want a shovel that is lightweight or compact. If you decide to go for a longer handled shovel, you can always use it as a walking stick.

There is also a fine balance between choosing shovel weight and durability. If your shovel is too lightweight, you risk it bending or breaking. However, the more durable a shovel is, the heavier it will be. Here are several shovel recommendations that optimize both weight and strength for rockhounds:

  • Tabor Tools Straight Blade Shovel – Flat Shovel
    • Heavy-Duty
    • Non-Slip D-Grip
    • Tempered Steel Head with Rust-Resistant Coating
    • Fiberglass Handle
    • Lightweight
    • 43 Inches Total Length
    • 3.59 lbs.
    • Price: $$
  • AMES D-Grip Scoop – Scoop Shovel
    • Aluminum Alloy Blade
    • Rust Proof
    • Large D-Grip for Leverage
    • Ergonomic Non-Slip Grip
    • Hardwood Handle
    • 45 Inches Total Length
    • 3.52 lbs.
    • Requestable Manufacturer’s Warranty
    • Price: $$
  • Bond Mini D Handle Shovel – Rounded Digger
    • Efficient Design
    • Heat Treated Head for Durability
    • Comfortable Non-Slip Grip
    • Rust Resistant Coating
    • Fiberglass handle
    • Lightweight
    • 26.5 Inches Total Length
    • 1.89 lbs.
    • 5-Year Manufacturer Warranty
    • Price: $
  • AMES Mini D Handle Shovel – Pointed Digger
    • Wooden Handle
    • Tempered Steel Blade
    • Plastic Grip
    • Durable
    • 26 Inches Total Length
    • 1.65 lbs.
    • Price: $
  • Edward Tools Garden Trowel – Hand Shovel
    • Heavy-Duty
    • Carbon Steel
    • Depth Markers
    • Ergonomic Rubber Grip
    • Rust and Bend Proof
    • 9.4 oz
    • Lifetime Warranty
    • Price: $

Depending on your financial situation, it can be nice to purchase several shovels so you have one that will work wherever you go. You can leave them at home and only bring one or keep them in your car to switch as needed. While a rounded or pointed digger can be used for most substrates and tasks, it certainly is nice to pick and choose the best tool for the job.

Brushes

Just like shovels, there are many styles of brushes, and each one has a specific use. Keeping a variety of sizes and bristle types is helpful. There are three categories of brushes that work best for a rockhound:

  • Paintbrush: These come in different sizes and with varying bristles. They are great for general cleaning of specimens.
  • Whiskbroom: These typically have stiffer longer bristles. They are great for brushing away leaf litter or dirt on larger surfaces.
  • Toothbrush: The size and shape are usually the same, but you can get firmer or softer bristles. They are great for delicate work and for clearing material out of nooks and crannies.

Carrying a backpack with you during your expeditions will let you keep essentials: water, food, map, etc., as well as smaller tools. Brushes are lightweight, so bringing along a couple of kinds is feasible. Here are a few suggestions for brushes:

  • Pro Grade Brush Set – Paintbrush
    • 5 Different Brushes
    • Wooden Handle
    • Synthetic Medium Stiff Bristles
    • Durable
    • 8 oz Total Weight
    • Price: $
  • Rubbermaid Corn Whisk – Whiskbroom
    • Two Rows of Stitching for Durability
    • Made in the USA
    • Roughly 12 Inches in Length
    • 5.6 oz
    • Price: $
  • Hello Boo Toothbrush 8 Pack – Toothbrush
    • Nylon Bristles
    • Medium Firmness
    • Eco-Friendly – Bamboo Handle is Sustainably Made and Biodegradable
    • Ergonomic Handle
    • Smooth Double Polished Handle
    • Curved Bristles
    • Price: $$

When adding to your rockhounding gear, brushes are a must-have. Whether you are removing dirt from the side of a rock outcrop or meticulously cleaning off an impressive new specimen, you won’t regret having several types of brushes with you.

Rock Screens

While you might not need a screen for every field adventure, if you are going to a location where you will be shoveling sand or soil, it is worth having. The size of the mesh on your screen will impact what goes through and what gets caught. Knowing what the substrate is like at your intended destination is essential. If it is fine silt, you’ll need a smaller gauge mesh than for large grain sand.

You can use a grain-size chart to figure out what size mesh will allow the matrix to go through but will trap gems, crystals, other things of interest.

  • If you don’t want to think about the gauge of your mesh screen, a great option is to get a stacking set of sifting pans. The plans nest together with the largest gauge on top, and each level will capture things the size above let through.
  • You can also go for interchangeable sieves. This design is a single ring with multiple screens that can fit inside. If you start with one size and decide it’s not quite right, you can put in a bigger or smaller one instead.

You can find sifting pans in a variety of sizes and made from different materials. A few options to check out are:

  • SE 5-Piece Set– Stacking Set
    • 1/2″, 1/4″, 1/8”, 1/12”, 1/20”
    • Fits over 5-Gallon Bucket
    • Plastic Rim
    • Metal Screen
    • Rust Resistant
    • 13-1/4″ Pan Diameter (widest point)
    • 4.3 oz
    • Price: $$
  • Joshua Roth Limited 4-Piece Set – Interchangeable Sieves
    • .1”, .2”, .25”
    • 12” Diameter Frame
    • About 3” Deep
    • Stainless Steel
    • 1.21 lbs.
    • Price: $
  • Hanafubuki 3-Piece Set – Interchangeable Sieves
    • 1mm, 3mm, 5mm
    • 8-1/4” Stainless Steel Frame
    • Iron Mesh Sieves
    • 7.7 oz
    • Price: $

If you are feeling handy, you can opt to make your own rock screens. You can follow instructions for a wooden-framed one, like the one in BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, or you can make one out of a plastic bucket (Instructables has step-by-step instructions for that).

Whichever screen you choose, it is excellent for sifting smaller crystals out of sand and dirt.

Sample Bags

Once you find a superb specimen of gypsum or your first crinoid fossil, you want to keep it safe and intact. There is a wide variety of options for transferring your finds from the field to your home. Standard transportation gear includes:

  • Box – for sorting minerals and fossils
  • Collection Bag – a satchel for smaller or lightweight finds
  • Internal-Frame Backpack – for heavier loads
  • Newspaper – for wrapping up delicate discoveries

What you use to transport your findings will depend on what you’re looking for. If you go out intending only to bring back small crystals, you can bring a box or a small collection bag. If you plan on finding a large piece of petrified wood, then consider wearing a backpack to haul it home in.

For collection bags, it is ideal to have a zipper closure, so nothing falls out. A mesh bag is lightweight and lets you see what is inside. You can get a bag with a strap to wear, or strapless ones that can be placed in a backpack. A few suggestions for collection bags are:

  • Tenrai Zippered Bag
    • Polyester Mesh
    • Adjustable Strap
    • Zipper Opening
    • Comes as a 2-Pack
    • Dimensions: 15 x 11 x .79 Inches
    • 5.6 oz
    • Price: $$
  • COVAX Mesh Bag
    • Polyester
    • Adjustable Strap
    • Two Storage Compartments with Zipper Closure
    • Dimensions: 9.09 x 7.68 x 1.14 Inches
    • 4.23 oz
    • Price: $
  • New Gear Medical Mesh Bags
    • Durable Polyester
    • Zipper Closure
    • 3-Pack – Large: 14.7 x 9.8 Inches, Medium: 11.4 x 8.7 Inches, Small: 9 x 4.7 Inches
    • 4 oz total weight
    • Price: $$

If you want to keep your finds organized, either while in the field or when you get home, you can use a craft box with dividers. Some cases come with adjustable dividers, and others are fixed in place. A few ideas of organizing boxes are:

  • Outuxed Plastic Organizer
    • 2-Pack
    • Clear Hard Plastic
    • Adjustable Grid
    • Case Dimensions: 10.8 x 7 x 1.8 Inches
    • 1.35 lbs.
    • Price: $
  • Flower River 3-Tier Box
    • Clear Plastic
    • Tiers Can Snap Together or Be Removed
    • Adjustable Dividers
    • Durable
    • Carrying Handle
    • Full Container Size: 9.6 x 6.47 x 7.25 Inches
    • 1.05 lbs.
    • Price: $
  • Hipiwe Organizer
    • Hard-Shell Case is Water Resistant
    • Interior Mesh Pocket
    • 60 Individual Clear Jars with Screw-On Lids
    • Foam Lining with Space for Each Jar
    • Case Has Zipper Closure and Carry Handle
    • Case Dimensions: 12.6 x 8.7 x 2.7 Inches
    • Jar Dimensions: 1 x 1.9 Inches
    • 2.4 lbs.
    • Price: $$
  • ArtBin Project Box
    • Non-Compartmentalized Case with Gridded Lift Out Tray
    • Clear Plastic
    • Snap Closure and Carry Handle
    • Made in the USA
    • Box Dimensions: 9 x 5.75 x 5.5 Inches
    • 12.8 oz
    • Price: $

There are many boxes and organizers on the market, so you can find one that fits your collecting style.

Record-Keeping Supplies

Depending on your rockhounding style, you may want to keep detailed records of each gem, crystal, mineral, or fossil you find. If you bring a notebook into the field, you can record your findings right on the spot, including details such as:

  • Location – GPS Coordinates, Country, State, Park, etc.
  • Time of Day
  • Weather
  • Names of People with You
  • Environmental Notes

These notes will allow you to look back and remember each discovery. If you wait until later, those details can slip away. You can also bring tape to label your specimens directly; you can assign a letter or number to the specimen that correlates to an entry in your notebook.

Be sure to purchase quality supplies so that they last. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Rite in the Rain Kit
    • Weatherproof Spiral Bound Notebook
    • Weatherproof Pen
    • Fabric Carry Case with Zipper
    • Space for Four Writing Implements
    • Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.63 Inches
    • 8 oz
    • Price: $$$
  • Sakura Archival Pen
    • Black
    • pH Neutral Ink
    • 0.45 mm
    • Waterproof
    • Fadeproof
    • Price: $
  • Lineco Self Adhesive Linen Tape
    • Acid-Free
    • Strong Adhesive
    • Non-Yellowing
    • Roll Measures: 1.25 Inches by 35 Feet
    • 2.4 oz
    • Price: $

Note: Choosing a linen tape over plastic or synthetic material allows the tape to form fit to the texture of the specimen. Using acid-free products will prevent any corrosion or damage to delicate pieces.

TIP: You can find more additional pieces of equipment for rockhounding in the article below. I also wrote a complete guide on best hammers, picks, chisels, and bars for rockhounding. So don’t forget also to check this article out. I bet you find both these articles useful:


Recommended Dichroscopes, Hand Lens, and UV Lamps for Rockhounding


Recommended Rock Hammers, Picks, Chisels & Bars For Rockhounding


Safety Gear

Any outdoor activity comes with some type of risk, and with rockhounding, there are many:

  • Getting Lost
  • Running Out of Food or Water
  • Rock Tumble Injuries
  • Dehydration

TIP: Stay safe when you do rockhounding is the most important. I wrote a separate article about my picks on safety equipment for rockhounding, feel free to check it here:


Recommended Safety Equipment for Rockhounding: Stay Safe!


Final Thoughts: Remember the 10 Essentials

Even if you only plan to walk a short distance from your car, it is vital to be prepared. Just like hiking, it is vital to familiarize yourself with the environment you will be in and to bring the following ten essentials listed below:

  1. Navigation
  2. Headlamps
  3. Sun Protection
  4. First Aid
  5. Knife
  6. Fire
  7. Shelter
  8. Extra Food
  9. Extra Water
  10. Extra Clothes

Although you probably don’t use elastic bandages to find fossils, if you sprain your ankle clambering through a rock field, you will be thrilled to have it on hand.

If the sun unexpectedly comes out, your hat and sunscreen will keep you from turning into a rock lobster. When out in the field, having these ten essentials is just as critical as your hammer and chisel.

Along with your ten essentials, be sure to bring your common sense. The suspense of a new discovery can quickly go to our heads, making us susceptible to injury and silly mistakes. No matter where you are searching or what you hope to find, your noggin is a tool just as important as the others.

TIP: So you already own or know what additional equipment to buy for rockhounding, now it’s time to try to find some rocks or minerals. And that’s why I wrote these articles about the best places for rockhounding in different states in the US. Here they are:


Best places for rockhounding in the US