My former apartment was haunted. The ghost, who seemed to be friendly, delighted in knocking container lids off the kitchen counter when no one was in the room. Sadly, I never documented the evidence because I didn’t have a night-vision camera handy.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Whether you're a full-fledged believer in the spiritual realm or a hardcore skeptic looking for some spooky fun, you can conduct your own paranormal investigations with just a few essential tools. “You don’t want to get lost in the gear,” says Jason Stroming, founder and lead investigator of the New York Paranormal Society. “Some people bring so much stuff to investigations that it looks like they’re about to launch the Space Shuttle.”
Here are seven expert-recommended devices to get you started.
1. Olympus Digital Voice Recorder; $32
On any ghost-hunting TV series—A Haunting, The Haunted, Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Asylum, or Ghost Adventures—the investigators will whip out a digital voice recorder to conduct an EVP session. That stands for “electronic voice phenomena,” but can encompass any mysterious sounds or voices from spirits in the vicinity. These handheld, battery-operated devices are an essential tool for any ghost enthusiast, Stroming says.
He recalls an EVP session at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Staten Island, New York: Just before midnight, during an otherwise uneventful investigation, Stroming and his crew heard the distinct creak of footsteps on the old wood floors. “We went to see if the security guard had come back in, but you can’t really get in to the front door without it making a lot of noise. We would have heard that,” he tells Mental Floss. At Snug Harbor a few months later, the crew had his digital recorder running when “the same thing happened—the footsteps. That to us was exciting, because it was the same time and the same activity,” Stroming says. “We all heard it.”
If you’re ready to capture your own EVPs, the Olympus VN-541PC recorder offers 4 gigabytes of storage and a one-touch record button.
Buy it: Amazon
2. Canon PowerShot; $249
Stroming approaches the paranormal from a more skeptical point of view. “We try to debunk things first and look for rational explanations,” he says, so a digital camera with a night vision function is a must-have. They’re essential for capturing everything from unexplained light anomalies and shadow figures to mysterious creaks, thuds, and footsteps. The pocket-sized Canon PowerShot SX620 digital camera takes still photos and 1080p HD video in low light. Basic camcorders will record movement and sound (and not disrupt electromagnetic fields like a smartphone can). Those adapted for ghost hunting, like the Cleveland Paranormal Supply Co.’s model ($189 on Amazon), record in night vision and let you switch easily from infrared (also known as thermal imaging) mode to full spectrum mode.
“We try to take a lot of photos,” Stroming adds. “You just never know what’s going to show up.”
Buy it: Amazon
3. K-II ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELD (EMF) DETECTOR; $60
Electricians use inexpensive EMF meters to locate sources of electromagnetic radiation from homes and offices (common culprits are older appliances and cell phones). Ghosts are also thought to emit EM radiation or disturb the existing magnetic fields in a room. Stroming’s team uses EMF meters primarily to debunk spectral sources of EM radiation. “We’ve had cases where people are sleeping right next to an old alarm clock, or they don’t realize that their fuse box is right below them and could be giving off huge electromagnetic fields. That can cause hallucinations or the feeling of being watched,” Stroming says. “We say, ‘Move the alarm clock for a week, call us back and let us know.’ They always say it stops.”
On the other hand, an anomalous EM field in the middle of a room with no obvious source merits further investigation. While Stroming prefers the basic K-II EMF Meter, the ghost-hunting supplier GhostStop suggests its Rook EMF Meter. This fancier version can block man-made frequencies and indicate EMF disturbances with light and sound alerts, says paranormal investigator Graham Ober, GhostStop’s customer service tech.
Buy it: Amazon
4. Etekcity Lasergrip INFRARED THERMOMETER; $16
A regular thermometer can measure the ambient temperature in a given environment. An infrared thermometer, commonly used by electricians and HVAC technicians, can take the temp of specific object with a laser. They’re handy for detecting cold spots in a potentially haunted area, which ghost investigators say can be signs of otherwise invisible entities.
Stroming uses an infrared thermometer to identify drafts around windows or air conditioning vents before an investigation begins, as well as for measuring thermal radiation during the session. When held about 14 inches in front of the object to be measured, the Etekcity Lasergrip 774
infrared thermometer can detect temps from a frigid -58°F to a broiling 716°F, although most paranormal entities seem to shift the room temp just a shade in either direction (3 degrees is the threshold for possible spectral activity, Ober tells Mental Floss).
Buy it: Amazon
5. Portable Home Security; $71
Any serious paranormal investigator will use motion sensors or vibration detectors to pick up movement in empty rooms. A basic portable home security system, with a couple of sensors and a receiver, is an inexpensive option. Just place the sensor on a table or shelf in an unoccupied room and carry the receiver with you. The receiver will emit an alarm or chime when motion is detected in the empty location, and you can then send in the unluckiest member of your ghost-hunting crew to check it out.
Vibration sensors (sometimes called geophones) work in a similar way. They can be set on the floor to detect phantom footsteps or other unexplained movement, and will light up when anomalies are sensed.
Buy it: Amazon
6. BINARY RESPONSE DEVICE
Binary response devices, or “yes/no boxes,” are another important tool. Investigators can ask suspected spirits simple questions and allegedly receive answers through the device—the theory being that spirits can harness the energy in the machine and use it to respond. Different replies are indicated with lights on either side of the gadget. GhostStop’s Flux Response Device features green and red lights to facilitate yes/no questions (green for yes, red for no) and to obtain answers to slightly more complex inquiries, such as “which corner of the room are you in?” (red for left, green for right). The steampunk-style Gyroscope Digital Talking Board from Paranologies has a yes/no/maybe function along with a full alphabet for longer words, much like a 21st-century Ouija Board ($17 on Amazon).
7. P-SB11 GHOST BOX; $130
A ghost box is a catch-all term for a device used to verbally communicate with spirits. Many of these gadgets continually scan radio frequencies, creating a din of white noise. “The idea is the spirit can use that white noise to communicate in some way, either verbally or through EVP sessions,” Ober says. Users can simply listen for disembodied voices, or yell questions into the void and hope for an answer from beyond.
There are numerous models on the market, from the popular P-SB7 Spirit Box (and the more advanced P-SB11) designed by Gary Galka of DAS to GhostStop’s Sbox, a similar device with added recording capability. “A lot of people are interested in recording the audio from the SB7,” Ober notes. “We’ve taken that technology a step forward, so you’re able to record that audio without having to have a second device present.”
One of Ghost Adventures’s fave devices is the Ovilus, designed by Bill Chappell of Digital Dowsing. Instead of scanning radio frequencies, the various Ovilus models generate words in response to environmental fluctuations or EMF anomalies, supposedly translating the spirit’s communications into English terms. Not everyone is sold on the device (“It’s like a high-tech Magic 8 Ball,” Stroming says), but Zak Bagans, lead investigator of the Ghost Adventures crew, is very fond of shouting rude questions at local spooks through it.
Buy it: Amazon
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