Photo: Camilla Cerea/National Audubon Society

Gear Advice

The Audubon Guide To Birding Gear

Treat your birding fever with new apparel, hardware, and gadgets.

Feeling inspired by Noah Strycker’s epic year-long quest to spot 5,000 species of birds? If you’re thinking about stretching your own wings—traveling farther, climbing higher, getting up a bit earlier to see the birds at dawn—you’ll want to dial up your birding gear to include more than just binoculars and a fleece jacket. Whether you plan on taking a Strycker-esque trip to the rainforest or just a peanut butter-fueled, daylong hike, here’s the gear you need to venture off the sidewalk and into the hinterland.

(To find the best pair of binocluars in your price range, visit our Audubon binocular shopping guide.) 

Mud boots

Muck Pursuit Stealth

As comfy as a running shoe, and lighter than you’d expect; plus it’s waterproof almost all the way up to your knees. If you need traction while wading through mud, creeks, or bogs to find that reclusive American Bittern, this is what you want on your feet. (www.muckbootcompany.com; $205)

Lightweight hiking boots

Keen Targhee II

This modern version of a mid-high hiker is light, but can still take a beating. It’s fully waterproof, with an aggressive sole and great toe protection—yet it avoids looking clunky. Every foot is different, but Keens fit me better than any brand. (www.keenfootwear.com; $125)

Socks

Farm to Feet

Tough as nails, warm and toasty, and 100 percent American-made—these merino wool socks have a compression band around the middle arch for added support and a close fit. It’s all you can ask from a humble pair of socks. (www.farmtofeet.com; $15-$30)

Base layers

Patagonia Capilene

All four Capilene weights are now treated with Polygiene, a recycled silver-salt application that kills odors. Save some water and wear multiple times between washings. And the decent price tage makes it even more economical, considering it just got a price cut. (www.patagonia.com; $35-$99)

Pants

Sitka Grinder

With stretch-weave polyester and a DWR (durable water repellant) finish, these pants will get you through dewy fields and light drizzles. They’re also extremely comfortable for all-day wear. Low-profile seams and concealed thigh pockets won’t catch on brush and prickers. Pricey, but I can still take my 8-year-old pair of heavily-used Sitkas out to dinner. (www.sitkagear.com; $190)

Long-sleeve shirt

Mountain Khakis Equatorial

Made of thinly woven yet durable polyester, this piece serves its duty as a stand-alone sun shirt (ultraviolet protection rating of 45). Or give it some insulation oomph with a base layer. It’s stylish without being too buttoned up, practical without being gnarly, and look—there’s a handy sunglass chamois built into the pocket. (www.mountainkhakis.com; $90)

Rain shell

Mountain Hardwear Plasmic

I don’t like wearing a rain shell unless the weather calls for it, so packability is paramount. This sleek, super-light shell will slip into the pocket of any daypack, thanks to low-profile water-resistant zippers and a sleek silhouette. Unlike many packable shells, the inner lining keeps the plastic from hitting your skin when you’re wearing short sleeves. (www.mountainhardwear.com; $140)

Insulation jacket

Eddie Bauer MicroTherm StormDown

Next-generation down is all the rage, and with DownTek’s 800-fill down shell—also treated with DWR—the warmest material on the planet just got even more weather-proof. The stretch fleece panels on the shoulders and sleeves give it a second-skin feel. The MicroTherm hits a sweet spot between high tech and afforable. (www.eddiebauer.com; $150)

Daypack

Drycase Basin

There are tons of great daypacks out there, but very few waterproof models. That’s why this one is a must-buy. With 20 liters of storage, it’s large enough for a spare jacket, lunch, and a small spotting scope; plus you can set it down in a puddle without getting your sandwich wet. (www.drycase.com; $100)

Hiking stick

Mountainsmith Trekker FX Monopod

This telescoping walking stick/trekking pole hybrid has springy, anti-shock components that help smooth over rocky trails. It comes with both a rubber boot and a carbide tip for use in a wide range of trail conditions, and a camera thread mount sturdy enough for a lightweight DSLR. (www.mountainsmith.com; $30)

GPS

A two-part answer. For hikes in the “frontcountry”—parks and public forests, private lands, places you can conquer in a day or so—a smartphone app that taps into your phone’s GPS is exactly what you need. Trimble Outdoors Navigator offers an efficient one. (www.trimbleoutdoors.com; available for free, or as a “Pro” version, which allows you to save maps on your device and access them without Wifi or data access, for $4.99)

If you’re headed to the greater beyond, spring for a dedicated handheld GPS that won’t sap your phone’s battery and has stronger connectivity. The Garmin Oregon 600 is sleek, light, bright, fast, and easy to use. (www.garmin.com; $400)

Pocketknife

Swiss Army Forester One Hand

It’s the same familiar multi-tool with screwdrivers, corkscrew, bottle/can opener, and reamer, but with an added thumbhole that allows you to open the blade with one hand. There’s also a small saw for REMOVING annoying brush, and a dual-density ergonomic handle that makes it so that this isn’t just your father’s Swiss Army knife. (www.victorinox.com; $75)

Insect repellant

Thermacell Repellent Camp Lantern

While battling mosquitoes, these devices are nothing short of miraculous. A small butane coil heats a disposable pad infused with allethrin, a synthetic mimic of the insect-repelling compound found in chrysanthemum leaves. It’s so powerful that I could sit shirtless in a swamp—if I wanted to. The device is handy as a lantern too: It’s perfect for a picnic table, tailgate, or long glassing sessions for shorebirds. (www.thermacell.com; $60)

Flashlight

Streamlight Double Clutch USB

I’m a big fan of headlamps, and also a big fan of options. The Double Clutch scores by having both spot and flood modes in high and low beams. The light uses standard-issue alkaline or lithium AAAs, and includes a rechargeable battery pack and USB cord. Another reason to give it a glowing review. (www.streamlight.com; $75)

Space blanket

Original Space Brand Emergency Blanket

There are plenty of knockoffs when it comes to space blankets, but the Original is still number one. It packs down to the size of a deck of cards, reflects body heat, fends off heavy rain, and is tough enough to use as a makeshift shelter. (www.grabberworld.com; $5.50)

Phone charger

Celestron Elements PowerTank GO

Celestron took a shot at portable smartphone chargers and came up with this keeper. The 7800 mAh battery is beefy enough to fully charge two standard smartphones or resuscitate a tablet. It charges via USB cable, and is housed in a rugged shell with a nice LED light. And it comes at a very nice price. (www.celestron.com; $50)

Water bottle

Klean Kanteen Vacuum Insulated 20-ounce

This BPA-free bottle—stainless steel inside and out—can handle hot coffee today and cold lemonade tomorrow. Get the combo top that has both a loop cap for carabineers and a “Café Cap” for travel mugging. The company’s lifetime warranty will kick in, should disaster ever strike. (www.kleankanteen.com; $30)

Weatherproof notebook

Field Notes Expedition Edition

Printed on tear-resistant, waterproof paper, these 48-page notepads are indispensable. They can handle soaked pockets, wet hands, rain splatters, and impromptu snorkeling trips. One tip: Before going out in the field, experiment with different pens, pencils, and quills to see which ones work on the plastic, non-porous paper. Many rollerball pens will smudge. (www.fieldnotesbrand.com; $10)