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Private Investigator Physical Gear

  • May 14, 2018
  • by Stephanie Irvine
  • Articles

When you work as a private investigator, you need to have the right equipment to do your job efficiently and effectively. When most people think of a private eye, they might immediately think of binoculars. And it’s not just a cliche — there are several pieces of equipment that you will need for a proper investigation to handle the unique challenges that being an investigator presents! While it is an absolute must to have a pair of binoculars that will allow you to successfully conduct surveillance, you will also need a few more tools as a private investigator. Keep reading to learn what you need to get the job done!

Private Investigator Physical Gear


This may seem obvious, but the vehicle you use when investigating is important. You need to have a reliable vehicle that is not loud, flashy or noticeable. Private investigators need a vehicle that blends in so that when you conduct surveillance you are not detected. You also don’t want a breakdown when you need to trail your target, so ensure that the vehicle you use for surveillance is properly maintained and up-to-date with preventative maintenance. Additionally, you will need a vehicle that can house your equipment, which is why many private investigators opt for vans or sedans with large trunks.


Because surveillance is such a large part of a private investigation, proper surveillance equipment is necessary for you to stay undercover while you gather evidence. As we mentioned, you will need a pair of quality binoculars. The size and magnifying capability is your choice, but it is important to invest in a quality pair that enables you to see the target of your investigation from a distance so that your cover is not blown. Night vision binoculars may help you keep track of your target if you’re surveilling them at night.

Camera & Video Recorder

You will also want to invest in a quality camera/video camera so that you are able to obtain clear images or video of your subject that you can later use as evidence. The camera you choose should have adequate zoom capability, much like binoculars, so that you can capture your target on film from a distance. There are different types of camera and/or video equipment that are suitable for surveillance; some cameras require you to manually focus the image while others offer autofocus, some offer both video and camera capability, and others might provide additional bells and whistles. Whichever you choose is ultimately what works better for you as a private investigator because it is important you are comfortable with the equipment.

Many private investigators also invest in tiny cameras that can be obscured from view by unsuspecting targets. These tiny cameras can be found built into or embedded in pens, key fobs, lapel pins, glasses and more.

Regardless of whether you are investigating a workers compensation case or investigating a cheating spouse, capturing images or video proof can be critical pieces of evidence for your clients when they go to court. However, remember that you have to collect information in accordance with the law, so it can be helpful to brush up on your state's video recording laws.

Audio Equipment & Trackers

Audio recording equipment could also allow you to gather helpful evidence — but before you hit record, ensure you are familiar with your state’s recording consent laws. Some states require dual consent, which would make it illegal for you to record a conversation without that person’s knowledge and acceptance. Bionic ears can also help you hear what’s going on from a distance. Some private investigators also take advantage of using GPS tracking devices, but this is another item that will require you to check your state’s laws before using.

Backup Power & GPS

Backup power sources for your phone, car battery, and imaging equipment are critical pieces of equipment while surveilling a target. Nothing could be worse than being ready to snap a damning photo and have your camera shut down because the battery ran out of power. Additionally, carrying good old-fashioned paper maps (that are current!) or stand-alone GPS units are important if you find yourself in unfamiliar territory with no cellular signal. Multiple-power source plugs, spare battery packs, and backup equipment could prove to be a lifesaver while out on the job.

Survivor Equipment

When you conduct surveillance on a target, prepare for the unexpected as the amount of time that you spend on the job can vary wildly. When you’re on a stakeout, you might have personal needs that require attendance. These items include but are not limited to water, snacks, toiletries, kleenex and even an overnight bag. It is also a good idea to have some cash available in case of emergencies. If you’re not prepared, you could find yourself ending the stakeout early and potentially missing your target.

Personal Protection

Personal safety is imperative when you are on the job. In the event that a hostile target confronts you, you may want to invest in carrying self-defense items. While many private investigators carry weapons, others feel comfortable with less deadly forms of protection, such as pepper spray. If you choose to carry a firearm, be sure you are properly licensed and do so in accordance with your state’s laws.

Conversely, investigators should not just carry active self-defense items, but also invest in protective gear. Depending on the case’s severity, bulletproof vests/body armor and knowledge of ballistic safety tips can help prepare yourself for a questionable situation.

Notepad & Pen

A notepad and pen are not new and exciting gear for private investigators, but they are crucial to a thorough investigation. While it would be ideal to remember every action of those you are surveilling, details will fall through the crack. Record every action and keep busy by taking notes on paper. Furthermore, those minute details may not seem important at the moment, but they may later prove interesting and help support a claim. Taking comprehensive notes will assist in your final report and will help keep various investigations’ evidence separate.

A grid notebook will be an investigator’s best choice as it allows for organization and clear diagrams. Drawing diagrams of the location that you are surveilling will help illustrate the scene and be crucial should your findings be used in a court of law.

Everyday Gear

Alongside a notepad and pen, everyday gear such as a book or laptop may not interest investigators like a fancy new camera, but objects that help you assimilate into the surrounding population are essential. Give yourself a reason to be at a location as an individual sitting in a car at the same spot for several hours looks suspicious. Reading a book or a map, or eating lunch will demonstrate that your presence is not malicious.

If you choose to surveil from another viewpoint such as a park bench or a coffee shop, pay attention to what others are doing in that same space. Laptops are popular choices for coffee shops or even restaurants.

Successful investigators know that objects that help them blend in are just as important as quality cameras.

Happy Investigating!

While this list includes some of the most common items private investigators need, it is not meant as fully exhaustive. Don’t forget that you will also need basic business items to keep your operation running smoothly, online databases, and patience and persistence, but unfortunately, the last two items you can’t buy.

Did your gear make the list? Let us know your favorite items in the comments and if we missed anything!

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