Tools of the Trade
Ghost hunting is not a recent discipline but the technology has advanced significantly since the early days over one hundred years ago. Digital audio recorders, digital video cameras, night-vision technology, EMF detectors, Infrared thermometers and the Internet have dramatically increased the levels of ghost-hunting knowledge and awareness.
There is no universal piece of equipment or technique that works in every case. Ghost-hunting tools are only helpful to a ghost hunter who knows the proper use and limitations of each tool. Before using equipment in the field, a ghost hunter should practice and experiment with each instrument until they feel comfortable. Ghost hunters must allow themselves ample time to learn the different and sometimes complicated functions of a device. A delicate balance exists between ghost hunters and equipment. Never become solely dependent upon high-tech gadgets. A ghost hunter should know their limitations and only carry useful items.
Basic Necessary Equipment
Ghost hunters should always have the items listed in this section.
Personal Items: Photo ID and extra money. List of emergency contacts and a reliable cell phone with a fully charged battery.
Notebook and Pens/Pencils: To keep notes, write interviews, and document events.
Flashlights: It is not safe to walk blindly through dark locations that could hide potential dangers. Items constantly get dropped on ghost hunts and it is hard to find them in the dark without a flashlight.
Wristwatch: A watch can be used to record or monitor time. Cell phones can also be used.
First-Aid Kit: A well-stocked first-aid kit and an accurate emergency contact list (kept within easy access) is a necessity. The most common ghost-hunting injuries are bumped heads, splinters, headaches and minor cuts and scratches.
Glow Sticks and Rolls of Tape: Glow sticks are cheap, glow for several hours, and can be taped to objects to mark potential hazards.
Ghost hunters should carry at least one camera (still and/or video) and one audio-recording device to document paranormal activity. The core setup for a ghost hunt is a still camera, a video camera and a handheld audio recorder.
Digital Camera: The digital camera has become the camera of choice for a majority of ghost hunters. Digital cameras are superior to the old film-loaded cameras in many ways. Memory cards for digital cameras can hold thousands of high-quality photos, which can be seen immediately through the camera’s LCD display and uploaded to a laptop computer. Other helpful options include high zoom rates, lowlight settings and image stabilization.
Video Camera: Video cameras come in a variety of sizes, formats and prices. Many video cameras have useful built-in features such as nighttime infrared technology, which allows the video camera to record in extremely lowlight conditions. Lowlight features are useful but not a necessity for the video camera to be used on a ghost hunt.
Hunting Camera: Outdoor sportsmen use motion-detection cameras as a way of tracking animal movements. These cameras can be mounted in a secure position to photograph anything moving in front of the camera. The photographs are stored on the unitÕs hard drive. These cameras can also have night-vision features.
Tiny Wireless Spy Camera: Spy cameras are small undetectable cameras that can be hidden for the purpose of private observation. These cameras can be used to uncover hoaxes or frauds.
Digital Audio Recorder: Digital recorders have replaced analog tape recorders for a variety of reasons. Digital recorders offer hundreds of hours of record time and better features like voice activation and the ability to highlight useful sections of audio for instant playback. Handheld digital recorders are easy to carry and can connect directly to computer systems. Some digital recorders also act as music players and while this may not seem like a practical feature, it can be helpful during ghost hunts when a certain type of music is believed to stir up ghostly activity.
Cell Phones: Cell phones like the BlackBerry and iPhone are quickly becoming all-in-one ghost-hunting tools. These cell phones have audio and video recording features, photographic cameras, note pads, forms and applications that can become handy ghost-hunting aids.
Anomalous Detection Devices
These devices are not ghost-tracking devices. However, these devices can help ghost hunters illuminate man-made interference caused by electrical devices, natural interference caused by the earth’s own electromagnet fields and other strange anomaly that might occur. In the hands of a well-trained ghost hunter, these items can be extremely helpful.
Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Detectors: EMF detectors pick up electromagnetic fields over different frequencies. It is a theory that when ghosts are present, there is a disruption in the surrounding electromagnetic fields, which an EMF detector will signal. As a guideline, at least one person on a ghost-hunting team should have at least one EMF detector.
Infrared Thermal Scanner: Thermographic cameras detect radiation in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and produce colorful images of that radiation. Thermal or infrared energy is light that is not visible because its wavelength is too long to be detected by the human eye. It is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum perceived as heat. Everything with a temperature above absolute zero emits heat. Even cold objects, like ice cubes, emit infrared energy. The higher the object’s temperature, the greater the IR radiation emitted. Infrared cameras allow ghost hunters to see what human eyes cannot see and that is why these cameras are indispensable when ghost hunting. This technology is expensive and currently remains out of reach from the average ghost hunter.
Air Ion Counter: An air ion counter can be used in the detection of natural and artificial ions. Natural ions include those generated from the decay of radioactive minerals and radon gas; ions generated by fires, lightning, and evaporating water and ions associated with storm activity. Before a thunderstorm, positively charged ions increase dramatically. During a storm, negative ions increase. In haunted locations, the amount of positive and negative ions will fluctuate greatly from the normal reading.
Motion Detectors: Motion detectors can be mounted and aligned at a location to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic.
Digital Temperature Thermometer: A digital Infrared thermometer can instantly detect changes in room temperature. Digital thermometers are the best for this job because they provide instant readings with small margins of error – usually plus or minus one to three degrees. Digital thermometers are helpful in documenting the temperature throughout the ghost hunt. Some of these devices have other important options such as temperature alarms and memory storage.
Many of these items are easy to obtain and can fill a small case. The items in this section are listed as optional but that does not mean the objects should be overlooked. These items have significant value and can be helpful.
Radios and Cell Phones: Good communication is fundamental on ghost hunts. If team members are separating, the different groups must have a dependable way of communicating.
Spotlight: Spotlights help when it comes to setting up and taking down equipment. The spotlights can also be used to get a better view of the surrounding terrain. There are a variety of spotlights including powerful handheld models and spotlights that sit firmly on the ground with attached swivels to move the lights to different angles.
Geiger Counter: A Geiger counter is a technical and expensive piece of equipment that requires special training to operate correctly. It reads the amount of radiation on the ground, in the air or on an object. This device can identify abnormal radiation readings.
Compass: A compass is a good tool for navigation and it can also be used for picking up electromagnetic fields and disruptions – a poor man’s EMF detector. A compass will react to magnetic or electrical stimuli by spinning its needle randomly.
Label Gun, Labels or Blank Stickers: It can be important to label pieces of equipment for ownership purposes or to label items found at a ghost hunt.
Tape Measure (twenty-five to one hundred feet is recommended): There are times when a ghost hunter will need to take measurements – the dimension of a room, a ceiling height, the width of a doorway, the distances between objects, etc.
Box of Chalk: Use white or colored chalk to mark areas much like glow sticks. The benefit of the chalk is that it can also be used to write messages where acceptable.
Liquid Level Ruler (Carpenters Level or a Line Level): Ghost hunters can use a level to determine if locations are slanted or uneven.
Twist Ties or Bendable Clamps: These are good for organizational purposes, to keep messy wires in order.
White Ball of String (one hundred feet): String can be used to mark off areas and tie items together.
Talcum Powder and Cotton Balls: Ghost hunters can place cotton balls by windows and doorways and sprinkle talcum powder on the floor to determine movement by seeing footprints in the powder. These are old ghost-hunting methods that are still useful if no motion detectors and spy cameras are available.
Unpredictable equipment means equipment that does not work on a reliable enough basis to consider using on every ghost hunt, or equipment that is itself highly controversial.
Two equipment options that ghost hunters sometimes use are Dowsing Rods and Ouija boards. Serious scientific ghost hunters should not use either of these methods unless the purpose of the ghost hunt is to study the accuracy of these particular devices. The reason these tools are not used on scientific ghost hunts is because the validity of both tools is subject to questionable results. Science does not recognize either of these highly controversial tools. Even under optimal circumstances, Dowsing Rods and Ouija boards fail to produce consistent results. If a ghost hunter uses either device, the findings of the investigation will not be taken seriously.
Dowsing Rod: Dowsing rods are typically Y-shaped or L-shaped rods made up of wood or brass. Dowsing rods have been in use for thousands of years to find water, gems, minerals and metals hidden inside the earth. A typical dowsing method is fairly simple. A dowser lightly holds the dowsing rod in their hands and walks over an area where they wish to find an object. As the dowser crosses over the unseen object, the rods will cross each other to indicate a positive discovery. Both skeptics of dowsing and many dowsing supporters believe that the dowsing apparatus does not have special powers but merely amplifies small imperceptible movements of the hands arising from the expectations of the dowser. Dowsing is widely practiced despite a lack of credible evidence for its effectiveness.
Ouija Board: A Ouija board is a flat surface with printed letters, numbers and other symbols to which a planchette supposedly points to answering questions. Spiritualists believe Ouija boards can be used to make contact with ghosts or spirits. Ouija board critics believe that these boards can unlock more sinister doorways to demonic evils. Many Ouija-board practitioners claim to hear voices and see apparitions after using the board.
It is believed by skeptics that both dowsing and Ouija boards use the same concept called the ideomotor effect to achieve results. The ideomotor effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions without conscious awareness. Meaning simply that the dowser or Ouija board operator is unconsciously moving the dowsing rods or the Ouija planchette to answer their own questions.