One of the beautiful things about field herping is that it doesn’t require a bunch of new, fancy equipment to get started. In general, field herping gear is hiking and camping gear, so if you’re already a naturephile, you might find yourself outfitted with most of your herping gear.
Flashlight – I have an inordinate fondness for flashlights, I’ll admit, but a good chunk of the amphibians and reptiles in the world are best found under a starry night sky, which means we need some photo-assistance. Headlamps are essential because they allow you to keep your hands free to navigate hazards (dense forest, uneven ground, etc.), and catch/wrangle your finds. Handlights are nice too, especially if you need to ‘highlight’ something with a brighter beam that’s already appearing in your headlamp. Of course, you never want to get stuck out in the dark without a light, so it’s always a good idea to keep an extra light or two with you. I recommend Fenix lights far and away above anything else out there.
Boots (or other appropriate footwear) – A sturdy bit of footwear is a good idea – for most people that is going to be a good pair of boots, but remember that herps (especially amphibians) do enjoy a good soak now and again, so a good piece of aquatic footwear might be necessary. Water shoes, dive boots, or even hiking sandals may do – though some swamps, marshes and other wetlands are rife with biting bugs like the dreaded toebiter (Lethocerus sp. – google it and be terrified!) – so be aware if you go toes-out.
Of course, some folks choose just a good pair of flip-flops (yours truly, most of the time) – figure out what works for you while considering your foot health (and the possibility of venomous snakes).
Comfortable Clothing – Most hiking clothing is great for herping – just consider your activity. Quick-dry materials tend to be some of the best and most widely used, but if you’re getting into thick brush you might want a thicker cotton. There are a million options out there for every habitat! Also make sure you keep an eye on the weather and have some rain gear handy – wet can be synonymous with miserable during a cold rain!
GPS – GPS systems are great because they work where cellphones don’t. Don’t get lost on a herping trip with no way to find home!
Water – Sometimes “just a short hike” can become a longer ordeal – don’t forget to hydrate.
Camera – OK, so you don’t have to be a photographer to be a herper, but why wouldn’t you want to show off your cool finds to your friends? Plus, in the world of herping, ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ is a common (if annoying) refrain.
First Aid Kit – Injuries in the field are very rare, because herpers are usually aware of their surroundings, but there’s no sense in taking chances – be prepared and live to herp another day.
A fieldworthy notebook and pen – A notebook such as one of the Rite-in-the-Rain brand can be a big help – you’ll be amazed at how quick your memories from this-or-that field trip will get foggy, but a notebook will immortalize it forever, and let you find your old herping spots again. Use only pencil or a space pen with Rite-in-the-Rains, as normal pens will run if your notebook gets wet.
Snake Hook – Snake hooks are great for safely handling snakes or helping them cross a busy road, but they’re good for other jobs as well – they make a great impromptu hiking stick or weed-whacker!
Backpack – You’ll need someplace to store all your gear – choose wisely!
…Two things to leave at home
Not all field gear is equally useful, and these two items might not help you on your herping venture
Snakebite Kit – First off, venomous snakebites are extremely rare among field herpers – especially if you are not handling them – observe and enjoy from a safe distance, and chances are you’ll be fine. But primarily, snakebite kits just don’t work. If you’re bitten by a venomous snake, the best treatment is your car keys – drive to the nearest hospital and get professional medical attention immediately!
Bug Spray – OK, you might want to bring this if you’re in an area with mosquito-bourne dieseases, but bug spray can be a big problem for amphibians with their permeable skin. In short: it can poison them. If you’re going to be holding amphibians in a buggy area, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing that will cover your arms and legs from bug bites. If you need to wear bug spray, only observe your frog, toad, and salamander friends and don’t handle them.