Primatologist’s Field Gear Guide For TBS

Written by: K. Ellis

Prior to each long field season, I send out an email to my research assistants covering the clothing items and gear that they will need for a successful trip to the Amazon. To save myself time looking for that email over and over again I decided to keep a modified version of it posted here. Keep in mind that this post is tailored specifically to our field site (the Tiputini Biodiversity Station), a remote field site in Amazonian Ecuador with some key amenities (i.e., laundry is done at least once a week and we generally have access to electricity for several hours each day).

Necessary Field Items

    • Day Pack. If you already have a day pack that you don’t mind getting covered in mold and monkey poop, bring that…We really only need our packs to carry our food, water and telemetry equipment. I currently use a 24 liter pack and that seems to fit everything well. I also prefer packs that are able to accommodate water bladders (e.g., camelback, platypus) so that I can drink whenever I want and don’t have to stop to grab my water bottle.
    • Water bladder or water bottles that can hold at least 2 liters of water (this seems to be the average amount of water people go through in a day when following the monkeys).
    • Rubber boots. These can be purchased in Ecuador if so desired, however, there are often boots of various sizes that we can loan from the station for field work.
      • In-soles (optional) if you tend to get achy feet.
    • Binoculars. Waterproof binoculars, with 8 to 10X magnification and 40 to 50 mm forward barrel diameter are preferred.

  • Watch with a Chronometer and Countdown-Repeat Timer. This will be used for data collection, and most people use the Timex Ironman or something similar. Remember to bring extra watch batteries (or an extra watch) if you intend to be at the field station for a long period of time.
  • Compass. Bring one if you have one, although we should have compasses available on site.
  • Headlamp and/or flashlight. I prefer headlamps for when in the field, but sometimes use a flashlight around camp. You should probably think about bringing two in case one fails.
  • Leatherman or Pocketknife
  • Rain Poncho
  • Nalgene or water bottle for days/nights in camp, several if you don’t plan on using a camelback in the field (see above).
  • Ziplocs/sealable plastic bags of various size to carry and keep personal items dry.

Medical Supplies & Hygiene 

We recommend that assistants carry a snakebite kit, alcohol swabs, band-aids, and an anaphylaxis kit if you are allergic to wasp, ant, or bee stings. I also carry Benadryl, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, Neosporin, and tweezers. To ease upset tummies, I usually bring down an anti-diuretic and/or some Pepto-Bismol.

Soap and all that goodness (shampoo, conditioner) we use to make ourselves feel cleanly is actually provided by the station. Since the H2O from our shower is running straight to the river, there is a strict biodegradable products only rule in effect. If you really want to bring your own products, please make sure they are organic/biodegradable.

For the Ladies…

Obviously, were going to have to deal with our monthly visit from Aunt Flo. Many a field researcher have sworn to the ease and effectiveness of menstrual cups, such as the Moon Cup or Diva Cup. Not only will using a menstrual cup cut down on the items you need to bring to the station, but it will also greatly reduce the amount of trash leaving the station. If the cup ain’t for you, then you will definitely need to bring the appropriate feminine hygiene products for the appropriate amount of time you’ll be at the station.


You will want to bring at least three pairs of field pants (4 is better) and enough shirts, underwear and socks to cover the maximum number of days between washings. Laundry is done at the field station every week, so you probably want at least seven sets of underwear, 4-6 shirts and 4-6 socks.

Here’s a suggested list:

  • 4 light weight long sleeved shirts (cheap button downs work great).
  • 3-4 pairs of pants, preferably with pockets on the sides (think cargo pants)
  • 4 t-shirts/undershirts
  • 4-6 pairs of quick-dry wool socks
  • 7-10 pairs of underwear, I would lean a little more towards 10 pairs since the machine has been eating our underwear lately
  • 3-4 bras for field work, 1-2 bras for days off
  • Bandannas or buffs for keeping hair in check and spiders and thorns out
  • Hat (optional) some people like to wear the floppy hats some like to wear baseball caps. I feel like they limit my visibility so I just stick with bandannas.
  • Mosquito headnet (optional)…on hot sticky days sweat bees come out in full force. They are relentless and if you don’t want to be driven to the point of tears (as I have), I would recommend bringing a mosquito headnet.

For around camp:

I would bring a pair of shorts and/or lightweight pants, another t-shirt or two, sandals or flip-flops of some sort, and a sweatshirt or fleece to keep warm. Some people prefer to wear shorts to dinner, but I am a mosquito magnet so I need to have my arms and legs covered. Also a bathing suit is a good idea as we sometimes go swimming in the river and tag along on group float trips.

Advice on purchasing clothing items you don’t already have:

Quick dry fabric is great for the field, but can be expensive…for those tight on a budget, don’t fret over spending a ton of money on fancy quick dry clothes…due to extreme humidity and overuse, most of our clothes rarely survive the entire field season. To save money, I typically pick up lightweight long sleeved shirts and cargo pants from a second hand store like Goodwill. If you really want quick dry items but still don’t want to spend a ton of money, then I would splurge fist on pants before shirts…sitting in wet pants all day is so much worse than a wet shirt…You can often find some pretty good deals on quick dry pants at the sales/clearance racks of sporting stores like REI.

Things that will keep you Sane

Fair warning: internet is not all that reliable and you will not be able to spend hours of your free time perusing Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. For entertainment you may have to rely on some rather antiquated hobbies like watching actual movies (not streaming them), taking pictures with a real camera (although iPhone 5s do take some pretty legit photos), and/or reading books (in this case technology is totally the way to go as you can cram thousands of books onto a kindle but only carry a few books on the plane to Ecuador). Also snacks are always, always, always a good idea…especially the sharing kind…

So possible items to brings are:

  • Laptop
  • Kindle/iPad
  • Hard Drive with movies/music
  • Books (although we do have a small collection at the station)
  • Chocolate and things of the salty variety (i.e., nuts and chips)

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