Winter presents excellent birding opportunities in that many species only inhabit our area during the colder months. Many songbirds, waterfowl and birds of prey including the ever popular Snowy Owl can be found if you are willing to get out and brave the elements. Staying warm and being comfortable are the keys to enjoying winter birding. I quite prefer winter birding to summer birding because not only are there many interesting species to observe, but it is easier to dress for the cold than the heat. Let’s face it, you can only remove so many clothes.
Today’s clothing technology makes staying warm and comfortable quite easy. Garments are made warmer and thinner than they were in the past which will make your time in the outdoors more enjoyable. I like to start with a good base layer and my preference here is Underarmour Cold Gear. Cold Gear is a long john style shirt and pants that fit tight to your body. It is available in various weights for a range of temperatures and provides excellent warmth and wicks moisture away from your body. Keeping the moisture off your skin is very important because nothing cools you down faster than sweat evaporation. In extremely cold temperatures I will wear a flannel shirt over my Underarmour base layer but quite often find that the mid weight base layer shirt is more than adequate. Next I like to put on a fleece lined pair of cargo pants. The fleece lining provides added warmth and the many pockets are great for carrying small items. Avoid nylon ski pants as this material is too noisy when walking and will startle many birds. For my jacket I like the Mark’s Work Warehouse T Max hoodies. These jackets are extremely warm, made of a quiet material and are available in models that repel water which makes them great in wet snow.
Footwear is probably the most important piece of clothing. If your feet get cold and wet, then the rest of you will get cold and your day will not be very enjoyable. I always buy boots designed for hunting as I find them the best for warmth, comfort, and being waterproof. I like a boot with at least 1000 grams of Thinsulate insulation to guarantee my feet stay warm. Look for a fairly aggressive tread to provide better grip in packed snow and icy conditions. Mossy Oak and Rocky are excellent manufacturers of winter boots.
Gloves can be one of the trickiest items to purchase. I have had countless pairs of gloves that claim to be warm but just don’t cut it when out in the field. My personal recommendation is Manzella with 40 grams of Thinsulate. These gloves are the warmest I have ever owned not to mention waterproof and very thin. I can easily operate the tiny buttons and switches on my camera and lens without having to remove these gloves.
Last but not least don’t forget to cover your head. How many times have you heard in your life that you loose 90% of your body heat through your head? Whether or not this fact or percentage is accurate who knows? I do know this, cold ears will ruin your day in a hurry. I like a toque style hat with a lining that wicks away moisture. It is quite easy to work up a sweat while winter hiking and again sweat evaporation will cool you off incredibly fast. Underarmour makes a great selection of lined toques and winter hats.
I would like to mention that I recommend all of these products based solely on my personal experience and satisfaction using them. None of these companies have compensated me to endorse them. I spend a lot of time outdoors photographing wildlife and have wasted a lot of money on winter attire that claims to be warm. All of these items keep me warm and allow me to stay outdoors for hours on the coldest days. I think that if you give some of these items a try you won’t be disappointed and your time outdoors will be more enjoyable.