From Bags to Binoculars: Essential Gear for Better Birding

Before you set out to spot a green-breasted mango or an ivory-billed woodpecker, you need the right equipment.

From Bags to Binoculars: Essential Gear for Better Birding

The rare green-breasted mango

Photo by Shutterstock

Adding bird watching to your hobbies can be an exciting pursuit—unless you’re poorly outfitted. Sitting (or standing) quietly for hours in a variety of environments and weather conditions while you’re hungry and squinting through bad binoculars is a recipe for disaster and a turnoff for any hobby.

Get outdoors with the right gear, and you might be surprised how long your patience holds out, especially when it means spending more hours or traveling more miles to see that spectacular rare bird. Important elements—durability, breathability, wind resistance, warmth, and comfort—will make your birding Big Year much more pleasurable.


Courtesy of Zeiss

1. Binoculars

AFAR’s Pick: Zeiss Conquest HD 10x42 Binoculars, $1,000,

The compact size and lightweight design of these binoculars make them easy to pack, and ergonomics ensure easy operation. The 345-foot field of view and HD-lens system gives sharp detail to help birders catch views without breaking the bank . . . too much.


Courtesy of OtterBox

2. Cooler

AFAR’s Pick: OtterBox Venture 25 Cooler, $230,

When you’re out in the field, having refreshment storage along is key. This durable cooler keeps your food fresh, and add-ons like a cutting board, cup holder, and dry storage tray make it optimal to include in your outdoor adventure.

3. Backpack

AFAR’s Pick: Filson Ripstop Nylon Backpack, $195,

This all-season field pack has the classic Filson look, but lightweight tear-resistant nylon makes it comfortable to carry around all day. While large enough to pack your essentials, it’s also stylish enough to bring along to the café later.

4. Base Layers

AFAR’s Pick: La Sportiva Tour Longsleeve, $48 (was $69),

A great base layer means you have the flexibility of more time in the outdoors. With flatlock seam construction, underarm gussets for ease of movement, anti-odor treatment, and a sustainable recycled fabric, this shirt lets you stay warm and dry for hours.

5. Bug-Proof Pants

AFAR’s Pick: ExOfficio BugsAway ViannaPants, $90,

Birds don’t always show up in the most welcoming environments, and these pants help keep the bugs away while you’re standing still. The cut provides airflow for warm days, and deep pockets help store gear you need to access quickly.

6. Packable Jacket

AFAR’s Pick: Arc’teryx Squamish Hoody, $159,

Light and compressible, this hooded windshell packs into its chest pocket when you don’t need it but provides effective shelter when the wind whips up. The breathable fabric lets moisture vapor easily escape, so you stay comfortable all day.

This article originally appeared online on November 2017; it was updated in May 2019, and again on March 29, 2022, to include current information.

>>Next: The Best Travel Jackets for Men and Women

Jill K. Robinson writes about travel and adventure for AFAR, National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Outside, Sierra, and more. She has won Lowell Thomas, Society of American Travel Writers, and American Society of Journalists and Authors awards for her work.
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