The beauty of birding is its ability to wow you both in the backcountry and your very own backyard. Whether you spot a rare species, watch a migratory flock or observe a native bird in the throes of its daily routine, you’ll instantly appreciate the awe and wonder of birding. This accessible and simple outdoor activity welcomes all ages and abilities.
If you’re into the idea of birding but don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. First, read our guide to Beginner Bird-Watching, then check off your bird-watching gear list with these birder favorites.
Binoculars are generally the biggest investment for birders, equipment-wise: They’re not always necessary, but they can help bring nature into view. This pair of simple, stylish water- and fogproof “bins” from Nocs Provisions are lightweight yet durable, with a rubber shell that keeps them protected from rough weather and accidental drops. They’re simple to use, and you can even hold your phone up to the eyepiece to snap a picture. Want to carry less weight on the trail? The monocular Nocs Provisions Zoom Tube 8 x 32 Monocular Telescope is great for outdoor minimalists. $95 ($75 for the Zoom Tube)
This ain’t your granny’s fanny. Cotopaxi designed this hip-looking hip pack to sit at your waist (or be worn crossbody) so your stuff stays within close reach. For shorter outings, this waist pack is perfect for holding snacks, a birding guide, extra bug repellent and your phone and wallet—keeping your hands free to focus your lenses on warblers or water fowl. (Longer days of bird-watching might require more gear: Read How to Choose Daypacks for more info.) $75
Spotting a new-to-you bird species can feel like hitting the lottery—at least for true bird nerds. Naturalist and wildlife photographer Stan Tekiela writes U.S. regional field guides that cover all the birding basics. This one is perfect for me, a Chicagoan who loves backyard birding. Bird guidebooks can fill you in on all the information you need to blossom as a birder—from feeders and food to species identification—no matter where you live or travel. (Fun fact: When you see a new kind of bird, that’s called a “lifer,” since you only get one chance to see it for the first time.) $16.95
More of the tech-savvy type? Well, lucky you, because bird ID-ing just got a whole lot easier. The Merlin Bird ID app, which was developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, uses sounds, photos and a questionnaire to help you identify the birds you see and hear. The app’s Sound ID feature listens to live bird calls to make suggestions about what species are singing, and has a birdsong library for 1,054 species. Or, snap or share a photo from your camera roll to figure out what your feathered friend is from a list of possible matches. Free
Sun in your eyes = unlikely bird sightings. The Sahara Guide Hat from REI Co-op is made with UPF 50+ nylon to shield your peepers from the sun and protect your skin from harmful UV rays. It’s waterproof, breathable and adjustable, with a toggle cord to help it stay put. Birding in a warm climate is no problem: The hat’s breathable mesh side panels help to keep your head cool too. $39.95
Nothing dampens your spirit like a gnarly sunburn after an amazing day of bird-watching. OK, maybe getting pooped on by a bird is worse, but you get what I mean. The lightweight Sahara Shade Hoodie from REI Co-op gives you full sun coverage but feels like a T-shirt. Protective UPF 50+ fabric blocks UV rays, the bluesign®-approved stretch knit material wicks away moisture and a crossover-style neck opening seals out the sun. Available in men’s and women’s. $49.95
Even an outdoor adventure as chill as birding calls for proper preparation. That includes bringing an extra layer (or two) in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. This super soft and cozy Cotopaxi fleece pullover is an ideal companion when it gets chilly on the trail. The Abrazo Half-Zip is made from 100% recycled polyester and has two handy pockets: a kangaroo pocket to keep hands warm and a zippered chest pocket to keep essentials close by. While some birders say bright colors scare away birds, others say they attract them closer. Whichever you agree with, you won’t regret snagging this fleece. Available in men’s and women’s. $120
Birders planning to head off the beaten path: These hiking pants are for you. Fjallraven has a reputation for designing quality technical gear, and doesn’t fall short with the Vidda Pro Ventilated Trousers. These 4-season pants will keep you dry in wet conditions, cool in the heat and protected from the elements thanks to waxed polyester-cotton blend fabric with zippered ventilation pockets throughout. $180
If birders had a uniform, the Moab 3 hiking shoes would be a firm requirement. These versatile, breathable and comfortable Merrell hiking boots have a devoted following with hikers who put their shoes through the paces. One customer-reviewer says the Moab keeps getting better, especially for wider feet: “Seriously the best wide hiking shoe/boot out there. Feels great out of the box.” The Moab 3 levels up with grippier Vibram® bottoms and a waterproof membrane that seals out water while letting moisture escape. Hiking on more dynamic, rocky or brushy trails? Consider the Moab 3 Mid Waterproof Hiking Shoe ($150), which provides more ankle support and protection from debris and abrasion. Available in men’s and women’s. $135
Worry about spotting birds, not scratching insect bites. This insect repellent from Sawyer comes in lotion form, is convenient to carry and easy to apply. It’s long-lasting, DEET-free, and repels chiggers and biting flies for up to 8 hours, and ticks and mosquitoes for up to 14 hours. Want to treat your clothes too? Use Sawyer Permethrin Pump Spray ($17.50) on fabrics before you head out. $9.95
Field notebooks are a popular piece of birding gear: They let you sketch species, draw maps, keep track of spottings and record data while you’re in the field—the sky’s the limit. The small journal from Rite in the Rain is weatherproof, meaning your ink won’t run if the pages get wet, and its small size fits right into a back pocket. It’s perfect for shorter field reports and reflections. According to the bird conservation nonprofit National Audubon Society, journaling can even make you a better birder. Who knew? $7.95
Snag a seat while you search the sky: Sitting still in one place can help you notice more birds more quickly than if you were to try to spot them while you’re mobile. The travel-friendly Trail Stool from REI Co-op clocks in at just 1 pound, 2 ounces and packs down small, with a shoulder strap for easy carrying. This tiny trail companion has rugged aluminum legs and can hold up to 200 pounds. While it’s not a necessity, this inexpensive stool will feel like a luxury item during longer birding sessions. $24.95
I love hiking with trekking poles for extra stability—and scaring away bears I might run into on the trail (mostly kidding). Birders who want better balance and relief on their knees should check out the Trailmade Print Trekking Poles from REI Co-op. These lightweight, aluminum poles are adored by people with a wide range of heights and hand sizes thanks to their comfortable EVA foam grips and simple adjustability. $79.95