Nine different techniques were used to record the initial change in the physical and hydrological properties of a freshly tilled soil surface following successive cycles of wetting and drying. The study was made in the field on a sandy clay loam soil ploughed and harrowed and then exposed to three simulated rainfall events of 76 mm/h for 15 minutes. Although the degradation of the soil surface increased with each successive rainfall, the most significant changes were observed after the first rainfall. Qualitative observations of clod size distribution and crust development provide a good indication of the early stages of soil surface degradation. Complementary physical data were quickly obtained using a hand held shear vane. These techniques are simple and robust enough that they can be used in on-farm research programmes, where resources, both human and technical are at a premium. Tension infiltrometry provided hydrological information that complemented the physical information provided by the above techniques, but is not as simple.