What I carry.

by Greg Neise on June 2, 2011

I often get asked what kind of gear I take in the field with me. The questions usually concern one small bit of technology…but I’ll get to that. It varies depending on the season, of course, but I have a standard kit that’s in the closet, ready to go when I get a text message that some rarity has popped up.

The “kit” itself is a backpack made by Timbuk2. In a previous life I worked at Erehwon Mountain Outfitter, and so have a great deal of experience with things like day packs. Most of them stink. They’re either poorly designed, poorly constructed or both. Plus, most of them are designed for hiking. Birding has a few special requirements that fit someplace between hiking and commuting.

Timbuk2 pack with a Delorme in the laptop slot.

The pack that I own is no longer made, but Timbuk2 has a newer version with a couple of improvements. The “Q” pack has a fully padded laptop/iPad compartment, which if you travel old-school, perfectly holds a Delorme Gazetteer. A roomy main compartment holds stuff that we’ll get to in a moment. The front packet is well organized to hold pens, notebook, wallet and gadgets. This pack also has a separate “brick pocket” for your laptop’s power supply. It’s all put together made of ballistic nylon with fully-taped seams (very important…they don’t come apart).

Inside goes my binoculars, of course. Buying bins is a very personal endeavor. Faces are different shapes and sizes, some people wear glasses and so on. People with big meaty hands like me might like big beefy bins. Folks with smaller frames might like smaller optics. I carry a pair of Leica Ultravid 10 X 50 binoculars. They’re big, heavy and super-duper bright and wonderful. I love them. But they might not be right for you.

My bigass bins.

The best advice I can offer is to call Eagle Optics. You may or may not have a store near you where you can try out various binoculars…if you do, go and play with them. Then, give EO a call. Their people will walk you through the choices and, most likely, get you in a better pair of bins than you thought you could afford (that’s what happened in my case, anyway…the “Hot Deals!” section is full of great stuff). But even if you know what you want, make the call and talk it out with one of their experts. You’ll be very glad you did.

Along with the bins are two cameras: a Panasonic Lumix and a Canon Powershot A590. I wrote about the Lumix here a few months ago. The Canon is used almost exclusively for digiscoping. I think that I’ll be replacing the Canon in the future with a camera that has a swing-out view-screen, but for about $100 it serves very well, delivering 22MB files (3,300 X 2,400 pixels @ 180 dpi).

iPod Nano, outfitted with a TravelSound speaker and loaded with Birdjam.

In the outer pocket I have my TravelSound MF5110 speaker attached to a 3rd generation iPod Nano. This combo is, as far as I’ve been able to find, the best iPod/speaker for calling birds there is. It’s about the size of a deck of playing cards, and has great sound quality for such a small device. I have mine loaded with Stokes East and West compilation of bird songs and BirdJam software to slice, dice and deliver it in a usable form. If you use an iPod in the field, you simply must have BirdJam. It removes the “voice of god” from the beginning of each species, arranges them into playlists alphabetically, by habitat and into useful groupings…such as warblers, sparrows, marsh birds and so on. Plus it adds a picture of each species. The Ipod and speaker have both been discontinued by their manufacturers, but you can still find them on Amazon. You can find them, plus others options on the forum. I may address all the recent broo-ha-ha about the ethics of using such a device in the field in a future post.

Scope: Kowa 883 Prominar. When I decided to “go all out” for a spotting scope I did a lot of research, and everything I read lead me to Kowa. One afternoon last fall at a hawk-watch there were a number of us with various scopes set up, including Swarovski 80 HD, Leica 62, Zeiss, Questar and a couple of other models of Kowa. We all trained our scope on the same object —a street sign that was 550 feet away. The object was to be able to discern the shape of the head on the bolts holding the sign to the post. Everyone took a look through each scope and the unanimous conclusion was the Kowa 883 was brighter and had better resolution at high magnification than the others (only through two of them could you actually tell that the bolts were hex head: the 883 and the Swarovski 80 HD). Your mileage may vary…but I love my Kowa scope.

Also in the bag goes a Goretex rain jacket, the Marmot Precip. This extremely lightweight shell is built like nails, a bit oversized (I can zip it up with my monster bins inside), is well vented and totally waterproof. It rolls up to about the size of a Polish with everything on it, and it’s not expensive.

Last, but most certainly not least is boots. Like bins, boots are a very personal purchase. I spent 6 years as a professional hiking and ski boot fitter and I can tell you that there is a reason that we had up to 30 different models of hiking boots in stock. Having said that, I’ll say this: don’t skimp on footwear. Good socks and boots…and a hat, are probably the easiest way to make your time outside as enjoyable as possible. I wear Asolo boots, and have since 1985. For my money they are simply the best, but there are other brands out there that are equally as good, such as Scarpa, Lowa and Vasque.

A couple of other small things: Patagonia windproof fingerless glovesSmartwool Hiking Socks. There, now you’re all set (but don’t forget the big Sibley!).

Please chime in below and tell us what gear and gadgets you like to carry with you out birding…we’re all ears.

Here’s links to some of the stuff I mention above:

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  • Nathan Swick

    I suppose I’d have to make a distinction between what I carry on me and what I carry in the car.  I, too, use a DeLorme book but mine stays exclusively in the car. 

    In the field I only carry bins, a camera (with a 400mm lens), a notebook and an iPhone, and occasionally a scope if needed.  But I also have a pair of Asolo boots that look the same now as when I bought them several years ago. I second their quality!

    • I tend to be in a lot of people’s cars when I’m birding, as I don’t have one of my own. My Delorme is all marked up and annotated…I keep notes in the margins, various colored highlights for different types of birding spots (yellow for a good route, pink for a specific location or bird on territory, feeder… etc.)I’d be lost without it.  😉

  • I carry my Nikon Monarch 8×42 ATBs, a Canon Rebel XS with a 300mm lens, and an iPod Touch which I use for a field guide, recording, and ipodscoping.

  • Nate Dias

    I use an Arcteryx Arro pack.  This is the best daypack ever made (surpassing a Black Diamond pack from years past).  It is supremely well-engineered, comfortable, and rainproof (with waterproof zippers).  My Swarovski scope fits into it – this helps traveling birders fit vital necessities into their carry-on luggae.  I only wish they came in camoflague patterns, rather than black.

    An honorable mention in birding packs is Camelbak’s  day pack (I forget the exact model).  It does come in camouflage but it is not waterproof or even very water resistant.

    I agree with Greg’s mention of Marmot jackets – though I use one (Liquid Steel) that is true Gore-Tex (performs better than their Precip material).  But I do use Marmot’s precip pants (full side zipper is a must).

    Greg’s comment on the hiking boots was also spot-on, though I favor Scarpas.

    * One area nobody has mentioned:  BUG SUITS.   These are mesh suits – sort of Mosquito netting formed into an anorak (and sometimes pants).  They are a survival necessity for doing shorebird census work in coastal South Carolina in from May to September.
    ‘Bug Tamer’  is one popular model, though it is a bit too hot for me to use much in the southern states.  The best bug protection suit ever made was the “Bug Suit” by Mirage Wear.  They recently stopped making Bug Suits, but as of recently, a few could still be found in online outlets.

    Another item that did not get mentioned:  snake boots.  I favor Danner Pronghorn GTX (Gore-Tex) snake boots, but rarely wear them any more.

    I also carry an iPod and a Garmin GPSMAP 76C.

  • Dr. Tuga


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