The Schmidt hammer is a useful tool applied by geomorphologists to measure rock strength in field conditions. The essence of field application is to obtain a sufficiently large dataset of individual rebound values, which yields a meaningful numerical value of mean strength. Although there is general agreement that a certain minimum sample size is required to proceed with the statistics, the choice of size (i.e. number of individual impacts) was usually intuitive and arbitrary. In this paper we show a simple statistical method, based on the two-sample Student's t-test, to objectively estimate the minimum number of rebound measurements. We present the results as (1) the ‘mean’ and ‘median’ solutions, each providing a single estimate value, and (2) the empirical probability distribution of such estimates based on many field samples. Schmidt hammer data for 14 lithologies, 13–81 samples for each, with each sample consisting of 40 individual readings, have been evaluated, assuming different significance levels. The principal recommendations are: (1) the recommended minimum sample size for weak and moderately strong rock is 25; (2) a sample size of 15 is sufficient for sandstones and shales; (3) strong and coarse rocks require 30 readings at a site; (4) the minimum sample size may be reduced by one-third if the context of research allows for higher significance level for test statistics. Interpretations based on less than 10 readings from a site should definitely be avoided. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.