Key Surveillance Tools Used by PIs

As a private investigator in Green Bay, WI, people are often surprised when I tell them what I do for a living. After they accept that I’m actually a PI, they ask me about the tools I carry with me, and the equipment I use when conducting surveillance. People are usually fascinated with the idea of watching complete strangers  through the glass of a set of binoculars, or through the lens of a video camera as they go about their daily activities. Yes, I tell them, surveillance can certainly be fun and exciting. But for the most part, conducting surveillance is tedious, boring and monotonous. I tell them that doing surveillance requires long hours of sitting (usually lying) in a hot or cold vehicle (winters in WI are brutal) during early mornings and late nights. Nevertheless, people still want to know more about what I do as a PI, as well as the equipment I carry with me.

So this is what I tell them...some of these items might surprise you (i.e. ziplock bags): 

Surveillance Vehicles

Ideal surveillance vehicle.

Ideal surveillance vehicle.

The most important item need for surveillance is a vehicle. The key to being a PI is the ability to blend into the environment where surveillance is being performed. I never want to attract attention; I always want to remain strikingly unremarkable. The color and type of the vehicle matters; I avoid flashy colors and stick with basic colors such as black, gray, or white. I commonly use a minivan or SUV that is not brand new; three to seven years old is ideal. A vehicle’s performance is also an important factor for me to consider. I always ensure that the vehicle has a good set of tires, a short turning radius (so that you can conduct quick U-turns), and good horsepower. I always have access to a variety of alternative vehicles so the subject does not recognize you. Use a car rental agency to switch into a wide range of vehicles quickly. And I always make sure to get auto insurance when I rent, just in case.


A power inverter is necessary to charge electronics -- like my laptop, cell phone, video camera, or anything else that uses a traditional household plug or USB charger. If my subject decides to leave his/her home or office and my laptop or cell phone is out of juice, I’ll run into trouble. And I always make sure to carry new AA, AAA, and 9-volt batteries for items that cannot be charged (like my audio recorder).


A “go” bag is kept in my vehicle at all times and contains personal items that I consider necessities in everyday life. What is in a “go” bag differs for each investigator. In my bag are toiletries such as toothpaste, toothbrush, electric shaver, shampoo, aspirin, face wash, boxers, socks, and Visine. Wigs, baseball caps, and a change of clothes (shirts, shoes, and pants) are also included. This comes in handy if I follow subjects into several different stores; they’ll catch on if I don’t change my look each time. Again, staying unremarkable is the key to successful surveillance.


Surveillance might go longer than expected, so I always have snacks and water in my vehicle. Dry snacks like trail mix or protein bars keep me full until surveillance ends and I can enjoy a meal.

Well, there you have it! With the information I provided, you now have some basic knowledge that will prepare you for a successful surveillance mission.

About the Author: Adam Quirk is a licensed private investigator and the Principal Owner of Stealth Advise,LLC in Green Bay, WI. Adam has over 15 years of experience conducting criminal and regulatory investigations for the federal government, as well as the private sector.


A GPS unit is useful for a few reasons. There’s no need to map out the route ahead of time, as we did with paper maps back in the day. But a GPS device helps me see what streets are ahead when following a subject, and can help anticipate dead end roads or unexpected intersections. In addition to a separate GPS device, I commonly use GPS apps on my cell phone for quicker access and ease of use.


Obviously, I need a high quality video camera and audio recorder to conduct proper surveillance. A laptop and cell phone with helpful PI applications is also essential. It is also useful to carry a backup video camera and audio recorder in case my primary camera breaks or stops working for any reason (which happens more frequently than I’d like). As you can imagine, all of these devices require power and memory, so I always remember to bring chargers, extra memory cards, and backup batteries!

Pen and Paper

This goes without saying, as a laptop is not a replacement for basic pens and paper. I maintain my notes and surveillance logs with good old fashioned pens and paper.


I’m a bit of a flashlight addict. I can never have too many, and I’m always buying more. But that’s OK because I always find myself needing them for writing down notes in the dark, or for searching outside at night, and in garbage cans or dumpsters (in public areas, of course). Any size flashlight will work; I even use a flashlight app on my phone every now and then.


Surveillance requires me to be able to see what is going off in far distances. There are various sizes and powers of binoculars, and each investigator prefers something different. I have a couple of sets, and I switch between them regularly.  Sunglasses are a must -- I don’t want the subject to recognize me!


Although most people pay with debit or credit cards nowadays, it’s important to make sure I carry at least $20.00 in cash with me at all times, as well as quarters for parking meters. In case my subject goes into a restaurant or bar (very common in WI), I want to be able to pay quickly when leaving the establishment.


I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to rest in a car comfortably. A blanket and pillows come in handy if surveillance lasts well into the night, which is often the case.


When nature calls during surveillance, I usually do not have the opportunity to use a restroom. You can use your imagination as to what I do with the suggested items.