What ships I actually need for exploration?

I like exploration, but as a new player I’m a bit confused.
I’ve got a Heron?, Merlin and Kestrel as well, all fitted as seen in guides.
But like 90% of signatures I find are either combat zones or Wormholes and in both of these I’m getting wrecked in minutes, if not seconds.
And, since they are like 95% of what I find exploration, it seems extremely time wasteful for me, while being the thing I enjoy the most in game.

So, the question is, what do I need to actually use “all of it” - should I focus on getting destroyers, cruisers and then explore, or go t2 frigates? Are there wormholes or combat zones I can do with T1 Frigs? I read about cloaks, but the prices on them are something I wouldn’t be able to afford.

Asking since “fly what you can afford” and I really can’t afford much for now.

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There’s going to be two parts to this answer. And almost invariably other people with have different opinions. This is mine.

Firstly, however, welcome to New Eden. It’s a famously steep learning curve, but the views are worth it!

What:
Of the ships you mention the Heron is the better exploration ship: bonuses to scanning and hacking. It’s a particularly nice explorer as it has a lot of mid-slots so can be fitted with both Relic and Data analysers and some scan boosting modules.
Don’t worry about weapons or tank - you can’t do enough damage and you can’t fit a shield defence worth toffee against a hunter. Fit for agility - you want to be able to go from nothing to “warp out” as quickly as possible. Don’t fight. Run. Run at the first tickle of “there’s someone here”. Use the Directional Scanner frequently - if you see something you don’t like then bug out. In a wormhole if you see anything then assume they are hunting you.
Go cheap because ships are expendable. Once you start to get the hang of exploration you’ll find you’ll make it pay more than enough to cover your losses. Yes, I use the T2 explorers - the likes of an Anathema - where I can fit cloaks I can warp with - but it’s still fitted for exploration and can’t handle a fight. It’s “explore and loot the relic and data sites quickly before getting the heck out of Dodge”.
For exploration a T1 Explorer, such as the Heron, is better than a destroyer or cruiser - but don’t pick fights! If you want to fight the NPCs then you will need a bigger and tougher ship.

Where:
Avoid Combat sites. They are designed for ships capable of taking a fight - and the ones you scan down tend to be a little harder than the general sites you see on the probe scanner. They can be interesting and lead to escalations if you want to fight, but they are Combat sites.

Wormholes. I prefer a nice quiet wormhole to mucking around in low-sec and dealing with gate camps.
These can be quite lucrative - again it is a case of picking what you are going to hack. Not all Relic and Data sites in Wormholes are unguarded. The Signal Cartel’s guide is a very good reference to naming and safety. Two other references I use a lot are the list of where wormholes go and the list of the individual system identifiers.
The other useful tip with wormholes is “wormhole systems accessed from systems near trade hubs tend to have a lot of traffic” so avoid them. Go somewhere away from Jita or Amarr - a good half dozen jumps at least - and then start wandering the holes. Keep pressing D-Scan and making sure there’s no one around. Bookmark the wormhole you came in through - this is your way home again!
In a wormhole the regular (“safe”) sites can be quite lucrative - a few million ISK is the typical haul. But remember, that’s not ISK in the bank until you get the stuff to market and sell it. If you are selling at Jita, remember that you will be scanned, evaluated and attacked if carrying a lot of valuable cargo. Piracy is a thing.

You may be pleasantly surprised.

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By choosing exploration, you will be able to afford much more soon.
Terak’s info is great, I second everything written there. So a Heron is a good choice, and for a Newbro a T1/Meta fit works fine. If you lose a Heron, ask your killer for tips, some might answer.
Keep an eye on your scanning skills.
As soon as you can spare 4m ISk, you should buy 8 Sister Core Scanner Probes, they do a very good job even in a T1 launcher.
And now: Happy hacking!

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Thanks you for excellent answer - now I understand that I just have to think a bit differently about exploration, as in it’s actually exploring and the fights is something I need to pick carefully, if at all.

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Depending on how you do exploration, a big part can simply be warping around systems looking for the right sites.

I haven’t explored in a while, but back when I did I used a non-combat fit T2 exploration frigate fit for scanning speed, warp speed and agility and hunted for relic sites in null sec Sansha space, which was where my corporation lived. The relic sites in that space occasionally contain intact armor plates, which paid well when sold on the market.

I didn’t have guns, didn’t even have a data analyzer so all I was looking for were relic sites. Scan all the sites in system until you see their names, then ignore the ones you aren’t looking for and continue scanning the right sites to 100%. Hack the cans, continue to the next site or if you ran out of sites, the next system. Often you go many systems without finding the right sites at all, but sometimes you find 6 of them in a single system, exploration is really random. Sometimes a single site pays very little, sometimes you get your ship’s value 10 times over.

I like the non-combat gameplay of scanning and watching all sorts of people in space while you travel around.

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In a 3 week old char I made 25m ISK an hour cruising and scanning in Low and Null in a Probe and an Imicus. I was really surprised.
OK, I know where to look, what systems to avoid and how to hack even with low skills, but I had never made this money in Highsec in that time even using a 20x more expensive ship with that skillset.

Use the Heron for exploration. It’s cheap and easily replaceble.

Don’t bother with guns or shields. Instead, fit a warp core stabilizer and stuff that lets you scan more effectively. You want to scan and move on as soon as possible.

What will keep you alive the most are simple survival skills. Never be stationary when scanning. Find a safe (away from any celestials) and hit the afterburner in a random directly at max speed before you start scanning. Set you overview to easily show when enemies approach (set colours, blinking etc).
Always D-scan. You D-scan should be spammed every 5 seconds or so. 98% to the ships in eve can be D-scanned. Lastly, dont warp to a relic or data site at 0. Try to warp in at 70km or so in case so someone is already on site.

Lastly, expect to die. That’s why you’re flying cheap ship. Always be ready to warp your capsule to safety when you’re just about to die.

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Advanced tip for Heron pilots in Null and WH space where there are Sabres:

Consider fitting a scram, web, and afterburner in the mids, alongside your relic scanner and a medium compact shield extender. These are your defensive tools when bubbled. This is the “defensive web” and “defensive scram” technique combined.

If you get bubbled:

  • Align to your emergency warp out bookmark with AB on
  • Apply overheated scram to the sabre. They now cannot use an MWD now to be faster.
  • Apply overheated web to the sabre. You should now be faster than a Sabre even if they have an AB and a web too
  • You are now travelling out of the bubble faster than the Sabre can catch you.

It’s not 100% foolproof but it’s better than just accepting a 100% loss.

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