Packing for a Birding Trip

Keep Your Gear Safe and Luggage Light With Proper Packing

Birding Luggage
How will you pack all your birding gear? (And don't forget your toothbrush!). Melissa Mayntz

Whether you are taking a dedicated birding tour or just hoping to do some birding on a family vacation, it can be tricky to pack all your birding gear to take along. Proper packing is essential, however, to keep your equipment safe and minimize luggage difficulties.

What You Need to Pack

In addition to the typical clothing, toiletries and relaxation essentials you may pack for any getaway, there are certain birding accessories you must fit in your luggage on a birding trip.

When you are packing for a birding trip, don't forget to include…

  • Field Guide
    A field guide is essential for any birding travel, and depending on the trip length of your trip and number of destinations, you may need several different guides. Choose guides you are comfortable using and that are a good size for field use, without being too bulky or overwhelming for your luggage. If you do not have a guide for your destination, you may want to save space in your bags and pick one up at a local bookstore once you arrive. Local shopping is a great way to help the birding economy as well as find the very best field guide for your new travel hotspot.
  • Optics
    Not only will you want to take along your favorite birding binoculars or trusty spotting scope, but you need to take along any critical accessories to use your optics most effectively. This may include a harness or carrying strap, cleaning tools, digiscoping adaptors or other tools that could come in handy.
  • Camera
    Not all birders are skilled photographers, but even less-than-professional photographs can be useful for identifying birds. This can be especially crucial when seeing unfamiliar birds or birding in foreign regions, and you won't want to forget your camera. Pack extra photo batteries, memory cards, cleaning tools or other camera accessories as well.
  • Field Bag
    Your field bag is essential to tote your gear no matter where you may be birding. If you use a large field bag it may be able to double as luggage, otherwise it will need to fit inside your other bags. A canvas or cloth bag will generally use less space and fold more compactly, and be sure to declutter your field bag before a birding trip so you do not bring along any unnecessary items.
  • Field Clothing
    The clothes you wear out birding are often significantly different than what you might wear while sightseeing, enjoying a fancy dinner, taking in a show or even just visiting family. You will want to bring along appropriate clothes for birding, taking into account the habitats you are likely to visit and the climate you will be birding in to choose the most comfortable apparel. Don't forget an appropriate birding hat and sturdy shoes as well.
  • Miscellaneous Supplies
    When you are out birding, you won't want to be without appropriate insect repellent and sunscreen depending on the location and climate conditions where you are visiting. A water bottle for staying hydrated, a poncho for sudden rainshowers or suitable snacks to keep up your birding energy may also be very welcome additions to your birding travel supplies.

    Packing Less

    With so much to pack to ensure good birding, it can be a challenge to fit everything in your luggage. This is especially true if your travel will involve flying, with smaller and smaller restrictions on airline luggage and higher and higher baggage fees. Packing less will help you save money and be more comfortable carrying all your gear. To minimize your birding-related packing…

    • Go Digital
      Instead of packing multiple field guides, birding journals and notebooks, consider using a tablet or smartphone instead. There are many excellent birding and bird watching apps available, including national and regional field guides. If you use technology instead of books and paper, you can save significant room in your luggage.
    • Do Double Duty
      Make wise choices for your birding gear to do as much double duty as possible. Nice quality field clothes, such as stylish cargo pants or capris, can also be worn for casual sightseeing days, and the shoes you wear in the birding field are also ideal for long walks around a new city. Your field bag may be able to double as an oversized travel purse or tote bag, eliminating one more thing from your luggage.
    • Purchase as Needed
      Instead of packing for every contingency, consider purchasing items after you've arrived at your destination to save on luggage space. Consumable goods such as sunscreen, insect repellent, batteries and trail snacks can all be purchased instead of packed. Depending on the conditions of your birding, you may discover you don't need as many of these supplies as you initially assumed.

    Keeping Your Gear Safe

    When luggage is lost or damaged, it can be devastating to also lose an expensive pair of binoculars, camera or a favorite field guide. There are easy ways to protect your gear, however, so it is safe from travel mishaps.

    • Pack as much of your equipment as possible in carryon or hand luggage, particularly expensive or delicate gear or anything that may not be easily replaced.
    • Use clothing to cushion your optics and pack them in the middle of luggage to minimize the risk of sudden drops or jarring.
    • Keep your field guide handy to study while en route to your destination, which will help you become familiar with the birds you hope to find on your trip.
    • Keep a separate list of serial numbers and identifying characteristics for expensive equipment. This will be vital if your gear is lost or stolen, and can help with recovery or reimbursement.
    • Invest in quality luggage that can withstand the rigors of frequent travel without warping or breaking. This includes suitable luggage locks as well as identification tags on each bag.

    Packing for any sort of travel can be a hassle, and adding birding gear to the preparations can be even more challenging. With thoughtful packing and careful choices, however, you can be well-prepared for birding travel without overwhelming your luggage or putting expensive equipment at risk from travel disasters.

    Photo – Birding Luggage © Melissa Mayntz