(Note: Our reviewers field test everything that we feature, and we never get paid to endorse any product.)
Don't be fooled by the stylish design—the women's Muck Arctic Apres Lace boot ($200) can stand up to gnarly conditions. Our reviewer was impressed with how comfy the boots are directly out of the box, and the rugged sole's good grip on slick surfaces impressed. Fleece-lined and completely waterproof, they kept toes toasty in zero-degree weather while tracking Bohemian Waxwings on snow-covered mountain trails. On a warmer day, feet stayed dry without overheating on a bird walk around a slushy lakefront. Muck has an excellent new option for fellas, too: The Arctic Excursion ($139) is a versatile slip-on boot that can handle harsh conditions and is rated to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Our reviewers adored Fox River PrimaHike Crew socks ($16). Made in the USA from merino wool and Primaloft (a blend of merino wool and acrylic yarns that provide insulation and manage moisture), they offer excellent compression, cushioning, and wicking, keeping feet comfortable all day long.
Perhaps nothing detracts more from a day of birding than cold, wet feet. Rab Trek gaiters ($45) are lightweight, waterproof, and they stay put—ensuring that rain, snow, and muck don’t make their way into your shoes. Our reviewer appreciated how easy it was to put the gaiters on mid-walk when a park trail got goopy.
Gloves can be a bit of a conundrum for winter birding: Birders need to keep their hands warm, but handling binoculars and guides can prove tricky when your mitts are covered. Enter Swix Banner gloves ($36). Thinsulate insulation reduces bulk while providing a surprising amount of warmth for a midweight glove, which is available in men's and women's sizes. We found it easy to manipulate bins, and appreciated that the touchscreen compatability meant we didn't have to expose our hands to enter sightings in eBird.
Our reviewer reached for the windproof, water-resistent Patagonia Nano Puff Bivy pullover ($219) again and again, from wet, windy outings on the shores of Lake Michigan to birding in the snowy, cold Rockies. The materials of the light-yet-warm jacket hit all of the right notes for a conservationist: It's stuffed with most eco-friendly PrimaLoft insulation avilable and 55-percent post-consumer recycled content, and the shell is 100-percent recyled polyester. And it's great a great fit for a birder, with the kangaroo pouch the perfect size for a bird guide.
Smith’s Guide’s Choice sunglasses ($229) offer full coverage with ChromaPop polarized lenses that prevent color distortion, so picking out birds in the brush is a breeze. Another reason to shell out for these specs? Our reviewer says they're the most comfortable sunglasses he's ever worn with a hat: "They just disappear on your face."
When setting out into the cold, layering is a must. Trew Lightweight NuYarn merino bottoms ($86) are marvelously stretchy and light, and incredibly warm for their weight. Our reviewer liked the snug but not-too-tight fit, and also appreciated that the broad waistband didn't cut into skin. Available in men's and women's sizes.
With days so short in winter, having a light handy while out birding is a must. The Nite Ize Inova headlamp ($60) has multiple intensity settings, plus red and white light modes. What really sets it apart? Instead of employing a button to turn it on and off, like most headlamps, powering on the Inova requires a simple swipe with a finger. A handy feature that means the darn thing won’t accidentally get switched on in your bag and drain the battery, leaving you in the dark.
Under Armour's ColdGear Infrared Beenie ($28) is a fleece-lined light layer that provides warmth, cuts the wind, and is so, so soft. When our reviewer worked up a sweat hiking in the hills, it wicked away moisture while holding in heat. The beanie's slim design allows it to fit comfortably under the hood of a winter jacket in especially cold or nasty conditions.
Some of our favorite winter birding involves sitting at the kitchen table, watching finches, chickadees, and woodpeckers feasting at backyard feeders. Treat your feet indoors with Glerups' slipper shoe ($95). These cozy wool slippers are soft, itch-free, and sturdy enough to wear out on the deck or into the yard to refill the bird feeder. The 100-percent wool uppers are colored with dyes free of heavy metals and toxins, and Glerups says its calfskin soles are tanned using the “most modern and environmentally friendly methods,” with a final product that’s free of harsh chemicals such as Chromium-VI.
When the birds are absent from your backyard feeder, pick up acclaimed ornithologist and writer Bernd Heinrich's latest book, One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives ($28). Fom tracking Redpolls tunneling in snow to picking apart owl pellets, Heinrich weaves memoir and detailed observation of 17 species in and around his Maine home, offering readers a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the birds living near us.