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Created: May 20, 2009
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bridging science
and parascience

An investigator is only as good as his tools, and objective evidence of transient phenomena can only be collected with recording devices. Even subjective evidence ("experienced" rather than witnessed) needs to be recorded to have any investigative value because human memory is notoriously unreliable. Most of the tools listed here are of general use to all fields of paranormal investigation.

For the pruposes of this website, "Basic Equipment" are those tools which record what your senses identify while you are at the scene of an investigation. "Intermediate" tools extend your ability to sense your surroundings by detecting known forces and energies which your normal senses do not perceive. "Advanced" equipment dips into theory, are only (potentially) useful in specific fields, or only appropriate under a narrow range of circumstances.

All equipment should be kept together, whether or not you expect to be needing it for the particular claim you are investigating, and should be devoted to use for investigation only.

Tools are listed by "value" in the text section, most vital equipment appearing first. The links to the left list the tools alphabetically.


Basic Equipment


The Investigator

This seems like a given, but often isn't. The investigator himself is a recording device (through memory), although a remarkably unreliable one. The biggest problems are related to the relative nature of a person's receptors (senses) and a horribly modifiable record system - human memory is lousy. It can change almost diametrically in response to outside influences without the recorder (the investigator) even being aware of the changes. Further, all of an investigator's senses are only as accurate as his or her experience - they can (and should) be trained up on an ongoing basis. If there is one thing to remember, however, it's this: an investigator should show up at the site in the best condition possible - well-rested, aware, and drug and alcohol free. On your off-time, we advise any activities which might enhance or extend your sensitivity to any or all of your traditional five senses, particularly sight and hearing. Also, we recommend any books or other literature which may help you develop your deductive reasoning skills or increase your knowledge with regard to your ability to analyze and reveal possible mundane sources of alleged phenomena. Work on your "objectivity," and developing journalism skills is also highly recommended!

Notebooks

Notebook

For any researcher or investigator of anything, a notebook is an absolute "must." If you don't have at least one (on you, at all times!), you are far more likely to be a "tourist" than an investigator. It can be anything from a stack of index cards to a full size, seven section, spiral bound, high school type of notebook, but having one is mandatory. If you feel you were never very good at taking notes, your first priority should be to develop that skill. Any search engine will provide a list of links to sites that can give you outstanding hints and help with note-taking and journalistic interviewing techniques. A pen or pencil is an obvious adjunct to a notebook, and there are many notebooks available that include a slot or pocket in which to keep a writing instrument on a permanent basis. If you also keep a journal (as per the recommendation under the Paradigm Shifts section of the Universal Skills page), you may find it convenient to have the two be of the same approximate size - small enough to fit in a pocket - and keep them together.


Library Card

It's rarely on anyone else's list of tools, but it's another "must have." There is such a vast amount of material already published regarding all aspects of paranormal phenomena, anyone can conduct a very thorough review of any class of phenomena with nothing but a notebook and library access. Once inside the library, learn to make efficient use of its catalogue system, its information desk, and the Interlibrary Loan System. Every aspect of any investigation can only be enhanced by someone who makes good use of a library. This is all a part of research, so check the Research Skills page too!


Watch / Stopwatch

An obvious but often overlooked pair of tools. Prices and quality vary, but precision is limited in the field anyhow. However, the ability to log specific times instead of approximate or relative time is very important, as well as noting event durations. Also, it is very easy now to find sports' watches that perform both functions. Be careful when using self-luminous watches (with faces that "glow"), as they may appear peculiar when recording them with IR or other equipment. Also, practice using a stopwatch before using it on investigations, enough so that its operation becomes instinctive and you can literally start it without looking at it. Sometimes things happen very fast, and you should be able to operate this piece of equipment effectively with no notice and under zero light conditions.

Stopwatch & Measuring Tape

Measuring Tape

Another overlooked obvious need. Measured numbers mean more than approximation. Understanding this simple fact is the vital separation between being a witness and being an investigator. Again, the level of precision needed is limited in the field, but a measuring tape should be wide enough to be easily readable in a photograph. A 16' tape is enough to get most room dimensions without shifting the zero point too many times. This tool's priority level is rated very high for the simple reason that many of us already own one, so there should be no difficulty in including it in an investigation equipment bag.


Sound Recorder

Audio recorders are absolutely necessary to record objective evidence of anomalous (or any other) sounds. Under the right conditions any physical object can produce sound, and skilled analysis of a sound's wave pattern can result in very convincing "proof." For investigative purposes, devices that record in stereo are recommended because it adds a level of spatial information to its recordings. The use of a microphone is also recommended with all analog equipment, and with digital equipment that is hand-carried.

Some people also like to use audio recorders for taking notes - which is certainly acceptable - but there are advantages and disadvantages:

Pros:

  •   Hands free operation.
  •   Accuracy - it's very hard to misquote a recording.
Audio Recorders & Flashlights

Cons:

  •   Difficulties with annotating. Investigators often make observations during interviews that shouldn't be made out loud (noting questionable statements, etc.).
  •   Immediacy - you can "flip back" and review your notes on paper much faster and easier than with an audio recording.

The best solution is to take written notes and supplement them with an audio recording. Recorders come in several varieties - digital tape, digital memory, analog, etc. - and, for most applications, a digital recorder that records directly into an internal memory is the most convenient. Further, you can usually review an audio file in situ and then immediately start recording again after without accidentally overwriting anything.


Flashlight

"Torches," for all those speaking English outside the States. We are primarily visual creatures, and light is required to improve memory, spacial relationships, and even as a primary safety issue. A spare, along with a spare set of batteries for both, is also recommended. There are also available IR flashlights, which allow an investigator to supplement otherwise weak sources found on most hand portable IR video equipment.


Still Camera

Photography is the most accessible form of collecting visual evidence available. Many people already own a camera - or at least have easy access to one - and in our extremely visual culture ("seeing is believing") photographs can be very swaying to the general public. However, photos have a limited value as objective evidence. Because they only capture a "slice of time" they are susceptible to capturing optical illusions, and they are far too easy to fake. This is especially true with regard to digital photography. What was once considered "proof" is now only slightly more valuable as evidence than first-hand accounts. Still, photos are an excellent support to good note-taking, and clarify physically that which a witness / investigator has tried to describe.

Cameras & Supplies

At least one 35mm camera is highly recommended, along with at least one digital camera. Film is an analog capture of a scene and can reproduce it better than digital (higher resolution). Both have their own distinct benefits, and at least one of each should be present at an investigation.

An additional note: there are a couple inexpensive 3d 35mm cameras on the market. A set of photos from a 3d camera saves depth information directly onto film, and would be a priceless aid to legitimizing the existence of such contentious objects as orbs, unidentified flying objects, et al. Since the cameras expose single frames of film from multiple perspectives (up to four) simultaneously, they go through film proportionally faster than standard cameras. There are also kits available to convert pairs of digital cameras into a 3d pair, but we have yet to test these.


Video Camera

Although extremely valuable for their ability to collect evidence, equipment of reasonable quality can also be expensive. This is the only reason they're listed after still cameras. Use of both still and video equipment together in an investigation is highly recommended. Video cameras capture changing relative positions while still photography captures the details for analysis. The combination is very powerful. Resolution capabilities are vital, as is capture speed constancy - but also affect prices dramatically, from less than $200 to more than $50,000 for hand-portable equipment. However, at least one video camera should be present at any investigation. Better video cameras also record sound at a similar (or, depending on budget, better) quality level as audio recorders. Avoid using still cameras with video capabilities. The video they capture is of extremely poor resolution, and an investigator would be better served by the camera's high resolution still photographs. But, as a last resort, and as long as there is another still camera on the scene, make do with what you have. And do review the Infrared part of Intermediate Tools before buying video equipment!


Test Tubes

This may seem like a nonsensical thing to include on this list to those investigating alleged hauntings, but even for them the possible value of a few test tubes on-hand during an investigation could be enormous. For those investigating other phenomena (such as cryptids, etc.), test tubes are a "must have" item - but still should be carried by anyone investigating anything. There are cases in which collectible physical evidence can be recovered, even with regard to hauntings. Without something on-hand with which to collect, isolate, and store that evidence, its value as evidence drops dramatically. They're inexpensive, and you can keep them out of the way until and unless you need them. Along with test tubes, a few plastic bags, and rubber gloves or tweezers (or even salad tongs) could prove absolutely priceless! For most investigators, the odds of needing them are extremely small, but for the rare individual who encounters a collectible physical sample, the value of having these things on hand is beyond estimation.

Thermometer & Lasers

Thermometer

Thermometers provide a quantitative value for what your skin is already telling you. However, the ability to write a specific temperature value in your notes is certainly better than simple subjective values such as "hot," "cold," or "colder than...". Infrared (IR) thermometers have very limited investigative value - less than even a mercury or spring thermometer. IR thermometers only detect surface temperatures of solid objects, and analog thermometers (such as traditional mercury instruments) are slow to respond. Recommended are digital thermometers which instantaneously take values at their sensor tips.


Laser

Any small pointing laser will work for most cases, and they are very useful in identifying angles of reflection. This is important in order to verify anomalous lights and shadows aren't just reflective abberations.


Binoculars

"Field Glasses." Usefulness varies with situation and class of phenomena being investigated. But when they're helpful, they are very helpful. Ghost-hunters may believe they'll never have a need for a pair, but there are definitely circumstances (outdoor investigations, close-up viewing of upper floor windows, etc.) in which they're invaluable. Although some aspects of binoculars can be duplicated by the zoom features of video and still cameras, they do not provide the investigator with stereoscopic vision - the ability to see in 3d.


Candles / Incense

Candles and incense are a method of recording drafts visually. People often feel cold spots in older buildings, but their source is very difficult to determine. By lighting a candle or incense, you can see (and record) air movements and follow them back to the source in an easily reproducible manner.

The advantage to using candles is that you can buy them unscented. One of the harder to determine phenomena are unusual smells, and unscented candles add very little to the environment. The disadvantage is that candles can be a high risk item; an open flame can be dangerous in old or untidy structures. Dust can ignite readily. Incense is much less likely to cause a fire (but still may!), but I have yet to find an incense (or any other smoke-generating item) which doesn't contaminate the environment with its aroma. In either case, strong cautions must accompany their use - you have to take extreme caution in using the tool, and you may have to rule out a whole range of possible observable effects.