A good rock hammer is any rockhound’s best friend in the field. It’s one tool that I’ll never leave home without if I’m planning on collecting specimens or doing some mapping. Choosing the right rock hammer can be a little confusing, so I’ll take the guesswork out of it for you here.
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I have used many different types of rock hammers, and the one I would recommend over all of them is the Estwing 22 oz Rock Pick (link to Amazon). This is a fantastic all-around tool from a trusted company in the industry. Mine has lasted me over 10 years and is still going strong. It’s a versatile tool that will accomplish just about anything a geologist could ask from a rock hammer. The grip is comfortable, it’s just the right length and weight, and it looks awesome!
If you go with the Estwing I recommend you’ll likely be perfectly happy with it, but there are plenty of good rock hammers out there – many of them with specialized uses. They aren’t particularly expensive, but they cost enough that you should make sure you get the right one. If you purchase the correct rock hammer you’ll hopefully never have to worry about this decision again, because it will probably last you a lifetime. There are a few questions you should answer for yourself to make sure you make the right decision.
Finding the Right Rock Hammer
What Will You Use it For?
This is probably the most important question to ask yourself when picking a rock hammer. If you’re going to field camp or just looking for a solid all-purpose rock hammer, go with the Estwing I suggested above.
The pick of the hammer is meant to be used for prying and wedging pieces of rock apart. The hammer is heavy enough that it will be able to break just about anything (within reason). I prefer the feel of the leather grip, and I think it looks a lot cooler than rubber grips.
If you’re worried about comfort and shock absorption then I would recommend the rubber gripped version of the same 22 oz Estwing hammer (link to Amazon). It is a little more pleasant to use, but I don’t think the difference is significant enough to make up for the drop-off in aesthetics.
If you know that the only thing you’ll be using your hammer for is bashing rocks and cracking them open then you’ll probably want to look at a crack hammer. This is essentially just a small sledgehammer built for that exact purpose. They are a little heavier than a typical rock hammer so they aren’t ideal for carrying around all the time, but they definitely have their uses. I would recommend the Estwing 3 Pound Sledge (link to Amazon) if you choose to go this route. It’s heavy enough to do some damage but not prohibitively large.
How Often Will You Use It?
Another angle to consider when choosing your rock hammer is how often you plan to use it. If you know that you’ll be using it regularly for years to come (or even frequently over a few week period such as field camp) then in my opinion it’s worth spending a little extra money. Rock hammers aren’t that expensive, so spending a few extra bucks is probably going to be worth it.
The flip side of the coin is that if you only plan on needing a rock hammer for very occasional trips to the field you can probably get away with a cheaper rock hammer. Just make sure that it’s a safe and trusted brand and that it’s a hammer designed for that purpose. Don’t go grabbing your dad’s claw hammer out of the garage thinking it will do the trick.
How Strong Are You?
A rock hammer is no good to you if you can’t use it! I am a pretty big guy so what works for me might not be best for a smallish woman.
There are lighter versions of the Estwing rock picks available. If you’re worried that the 22 ounce hammer is too heavy for you to safely use, I would definitely recommend the 13 oz version (link to Amazon).
Another option is a hammer with a longer handle. This 16″ long version of the Estwing 22 oz hammer (link to Amazon) provides quite a bit more leverage over the 12.5″ version. Keep in mind, though, that it takes some practice to develop accuracy. You might also find that it’s too long to easily pack away in a backpack.
- Estwing – They are the industry leader, no question. You can’t go wrong with any of their products and I would highly recommend them. Plus, everything of theirs is made in the USA.
- SE – Not nearly as well known as Estwing but they make decent products and tend to be a little more affordable.
- Valley Industries – Again, not as well known or well established as Estwing but they make similar products. Their 20 oz hammer is a little shorter with a softer rubber grip.
Rock Hammer Accessories
The handiest accessory I would recommend you get with any rock hammer is a sheath to allow you to carry it safely and conveniently on your belt.
I would recommend this nylon sheath for the 22 oz Estwing (link to Amazon). I have the leather version which I find to be a little too stiff for my liking. The nylon version is more pliable and convenient. More importantly, it allows you easy access to your rock hammer without having to take your backpack off and go rummaging around to find it. It also keeps you safe from the sharp pick. If you trip and fall over some rocks you definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of that point!
I can’t stress the importance of safety glasses enough when using a rock hammer! I covered this quite a bit in my article about proper rock hammer use. They are simply an absolute must. Shards of rock (and sometimes metal) go flying every time you use a rock hammer and they can do serious damage to your eyes.
You can get a pair of generic safety glasses at any home improvement store and it really doesn’t matter which ones you choose. If you’re looking for something stylish that you can comfortably wear all day I’d recommend these Uvex Safety Glasses from Honeywell (link to Amazon).