Using and protecting flora books/field guides in the field?

I was recently thinking about buying The Kew Plant Glossary… someone had recommended it to me and I think it would be a worthy investment for the future. Which got me thinking about field guides or flora books in general. I’ve always thought about carrying around a local flora book while I’m out in the field… oftentimes the keys/descriptions work best when you have the plant in question in front of you.

However, I am somewhat concerned about how they will stand up to the outdoors. Particularly if it gets wet. I want to ask, how do y’all use books in the field? Do you just take it as a given risk? Are there ways to mitigate possible damage with waterproof covers or something? Do people even carry dense flora books around in the field? I mean, even local floras can be quite thick :joy:
I do want to include ebooks in this conversation as well: is running out of power a problem, and are they in general any better/worse/pricier than traditional paper?

it looks like you’re just out of the range of the Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas, but you still might find it useful to download an electronic copy (free) to a mobile device:

i think it’s great having an electronic text like this so that you can easily search for specific terms and don’t have to carry around 1600 pages. if you’re working on specific taxa, or if you just want specific things from the appendix, you can also print out specific pages to take with you if you prefer hardcopy.

i don’t, but i’ve seen a guy carry around a copy of Correll & Johnson’s Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas and use it to identify plants in the field. he didn’t have any protection for the book, and it was a sunny day. i encountered him on the relatively short Sundew Trail at Big Thicket. so he wouldn’t have had to carry it around for too many miles.

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Simple and cheap: put your guide in a ziplock bag so that it stays dry even if your backpack gets humid.


I don’t bring plant books into the field. I just take photos and sometimes samples and ID when I get home. I do bring bird field guides because they are good for refreshing my memory on field marks that I need to look for. I’m not usually able to get photos of birds and seems like often when I try to record audio they stop singing or another louder bird (usually a Carolina Wren) starts singing.

My mom used to bring plant books into the field. Once she set down her copy of Wild Flowers of The Big Thicket by Geyata Ajilvsgi and accidentally left it behind (at Watson Rare Plant Preserve). We soon realized and went back for it but it was gone. Someone else saw it and took it for themselves. I’m not sure if that was when and why she stopped bringing books into the field, but might be.


I like to read (skim?) through any new field guide once so that exposes me to what’s possibly out there and I’m hopefully able to retain a little bit of it. After that, carrying it in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag seems to work pretty well! For light-weight hiking, I still like to just leave the guide at home and figure it out through photos and knowing where to reference, since I’ve looked at the guide ahead of time.

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Birder here, I don’t like bringing fieldguides into the field because I’ve seen people get more engrossed in the guide (app users, I’m glaring at you) rather the bird they’re trying to ID (wup, it flew away). But when I used to actually bring it, I’d stick it in my pants behind my back held by my belt. But I agree with what others have said: photos and notes to ID later.

Some guides have waterproof pages (national geographic used to) and it might be worth seeing if you can find one that does.

Any e-book for the field is really only as good as the device that it runs on. If you have a device that is otherwise field ready (good contrast, protective case) or that you are using for observing already (lots of people use iPhones, etc), then having the ebook on it could be a good addition that doesn’t mean you are really adding any more bulk to your field kit. Easy to refer to if you need it, not a burden if you don’t.

At home, I prefer non ebook guides just so I can stop looking at screens. But ebooks do allow for searching, which can be quite useful.


That was exactly the book I was thinking of when I wrote this :grin: I’ve used the free online one for a while now, and it’s been very useful. It’s perfectly fine to print out pages? I’ve been worried about copyright, although in this case the online version is already free access to the public.

for personal use, i don’t see why it would be problematic to print out pages from an electronic text or to copy pages from a physical book.

i think there could be potential problems only if you go beyond personal use.


I recommend you invest/devise a cover solution.

A guide I respect very much carries a copy of the bird guide for Ecuador from Robin Restall/Juan Freile in a custom made condura “case” that zippers closed for protection, (I bet you could find something similar for the dimensions of your text(s). search for a “journal cover” or the like

That book costs about $65 usd in country, and she works in a very humid climate, where it is often intermittently raining at least once a day, last time she let me use it, it was in pretty decent shape considering that she works about 3-5 days in the field a week in some pretty wet conditions.

I think both digital guides and actual books both have their place. Always keep in mind that any app is prone to errors and bugs, also if you only carry one device, and battery usage is a something I would be concerned about, depending on how deep your are going into the field, I’d always advise to keep a charged phone in case of emergencies.

One advantage to carrying a physical copy of the text for me, is that I’m often out of range of a cell tower or anything accurately obtain an update or to load a location specific set of information in certain apps.
Thankfully things like eBird will maintain a track of my location via GPS, but if there’s something I need to fetch with data, that’s not an option.

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I often take a Flora out into the field, as do most members of my local botany group, north Scotland, so a risk of rain, but rarely humid. My flora has a plastic cover and I’ll usually be carrying a rucksack with a waterproof cover the flora can get put into if it rains. Some of the groups floras are well-worn, dog-eared and have bits of plants hanging out, but are years old and still usable, despite being taken outside frequently.


Sadly, these field guides can’t be considered something that can wear out and be replaced. Sometimes they can go out of print and all that’s left are these well-loved field guides so it makes a lot of sense to protect them! Especially true for local/regional guides.

I don’t usually take field guides into the field with me (or maybe they stay in my backpack), but I thought I’d offer a tip on a somewhat useful treatment of guides and journals to make them stronger and more weather-resistant outdoors:
Over the years, I have used a variety of field journals for taking notes on a hike. They are variously soft-bound or card-bound, and a few are cloth-bound. Since none of these are moisture resistant, I have taken the time and used strips of clear 2" packing tape to completely encase the covers of such journals, spine and all. With care, I overlap the strips of tape a fraction of an inch and make sure they are applied smoothly with no bubbles or wrinkles. This basically seals the covers of the journal and makes it water- and sweat-resistant, and gives it a little more structural reinforcement. For years, I have also used micro-point permanent ink pens for writing all my notes (message me if you’d like a commercial brand name).
Now I wouldn’t try to paddle a canoe with my field journals, but they are protected in the field from modest moisture, light rain, etc., and are pretty sturdy. A couple of times, when I’ve absent-mindedly drove off and left them on the hood or bumper of my car, they have survived being run over by cars and trucks! And of course, my writing never smears. (It may not be legible, but it doesn’t smear.)
In theory, you could apply the clear-tape treatment to just about any field guide or flora. My “Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas” is so treated.


I’m lucky enough that I have two editions of my favorite field guide by now. The newer edition sits well-protected on a shelf above my computer desk as a reference book. The older edition, now somewhat disposable, gets dragged out on hikes and subjected to all sorts of abuse. It looks pretty warped and worn by now with some field notes scribbled in here and there.

I have done that also with really old field guides where the cover would otherwise wear away.

A bigger problem, I find, is that eventually the glue breaks somewhere in the middle, and you have to be careful opening it to that part if you don’t want pages falling out.

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