Wunderbird Gyrfalcon Hoodie and Kestrel T Shirt Review
Technical outdoor clothing designed for birdwatchers
Well… I’m not a birder. Or at least – I’m not a particularly good one. I would be a pretty terrible outdoor instructor/educator if I didn’t have SOME ornithological knowledge, and I can tell you the names of most of the feathered things that fly past when I’m out working in the mountains or forests.
So why in the name of all things avian am I reviewing birdwatching apparel?
Several times a week we get approached by outdoor gear manufacturers, retailers and other agencies with offers/requests to review clothing and equipment for them. We say ‘no thanks’ more often than you might expect, as it is only worth us spending the time to test, evaluate and report on something if it is likely to be of interest to our customers and the readers of this blog. Towards the end of the summer Wunderbird, a company specialising in technical outdoor clothing for birders got in touch offering a couple of their garments for review. I was hovering over the metaphorical ‘no thanks’ button as it’s probably a little outside of what Original Outdoors does – but then I took a closer look at how the clothing was designed, and what it does…. I was intrigued, and I had a sneaking suspicion that it would also be of interest to anybody who uses binoculars and handheld optics in difficult outdoor conditions.
The two Wunderbird items I have been trialling are the Gyrfalcon Hoodie and the Kestrel Short-Sleeve Tee. Both garments have some interesting design features, including slightly padded shoulder areas and zipped pouches on the chest and similar pouches on the front of the stomach area. The Kestrel is a technical base layer and the Gyrfalcon is more of a thermal mid-layer shirt.
The idea with this range of garments is to provide the user with technical outdoor-appropriate clothing that also supports (literally) the use of binoculars. The chest and stomach pouches both support the weight of binoculars when worn from a neck strap or chest harness (what some of our instructors call a ‘Binocular Bra‘) and stop them from bouncing around too much when walking over rough ground or uphill. The padded shoulders give some relief from tripods and similar long, heavy items being carried across the shoulder.
The overall manufacturing standards and fabric quality of both the Gyrfalcon and the Kestrel samples were good, and a little higher than the relatively inexpensive price tag would suggest.
The Wunderbird range is available in male and female sizing, and with minor colour differences.
The Gyrfalcon Hoodie
The Wunderbird Gyrfalcon Hoodie comes in three colour options (Navy Blue, Olive Green and Charcoal Gray) and sizes from small to XXL. My 50″ chest put me into the top end of the XXL bracket on the Wunderbird sizing chart, but I found that it had room to spare and at no point felt it to be restrictive.
The extra features of the hoodie include a hood (unsurprisingly) that includes a volume-and-angle adjuster for the peak, zipped chest pocket and a layered series of hand, storage and binocular pouches on the front of the stomach. There are also padded shoulders, but contoured and cut in a way that hides the extra bulk of the padding.
The fabric is soft to the touch and warm (I would guess that it’s equivalent to a midweight, 200gsm fleece) and doesn’t show any major signs of wear or pilling after a few weeks of fairly heavy use. The pocket materials are a fine mesh, and the sips are discreet and low-profile.
As the review samples arrived at the end of what has turned out to be an exceptionally warm summer I didn’t find that I had much requirement for a warm midlayer hoodie on most of my working days. By the time September rolled around however I had a good combination of training courses that either started in the small hours or ran overnight and lower temperatures. For these the Gyrfalcon Hoodie was brought into service and performed admirably. Over a base layer and under a waterproof shell layer it was good for lying on wet ground and vegetation for a few hours, and I also wore it as the outer layer on a few mountain trips and courses. Wunderbird do not make any claim as to the windproof properties of the Gyrfalcon, but I would be confident in using it in mildly windy mountain conditions without worrying about losing too much heat.
The binocular pouch works well – very well. I use various binoculars and handheld optics for some of the courses we run through Original Outdoors Professional and either put up with the bouncing and ‘slapping’ of them against my body when walking around, or tucked them away under a rucksack strap or under a jacket. Just having a small pocket to drop them into without having to readjust any straps or think too much about it felt ‘right’ and I immediately appreciated what the designer was aiming for. The option of two pouches also works, with different lengths of shoulder strap or just even different user positions – sitting versus standing/walking would put the chest pouch either in the way or exactly where you want it to be.
The padded shoulders take some of the bruising and impact out of carrying a heavy object over the shoulder but there is a small compromise here. They work well enough with rucsack straps too, or with heavier shoulder bags.
The Kestrel Short Sleeve Tee
This is one of two technical base layer shirts that Wunderbird currently offer, with the other being a long-sleeve variant called the Peregrine. It again comes in a limited range of colours (Blue/Grey, Olive Green and Sand) and features padded shoulders and chest/stomach pouches.
The Kestrel feels very much like most modern technical/active synthetic base layers. The fabric is thin, quick-drying and features slightly ventilated side panels. It reminds me a little of the modern military-issue base layers designed for use under body armour, and again the fabric is of good quality considering the reasonable price tag.
The shoulder padding is much the same as with the Gyrfalcon (thin enough to be worn under most clothing and JUST about thin enough to be worn with the Gyrfalcon) and the chest and stomach pouches are slightly simplified versions of the ones on the hoodie. There are no handwarmer pockets or extra storage – just the optics/binocular pouches.
I wore this as a technical base layer throughout September and for the most part I didn’t notice it as being something special or distracting, and the extra pockets only came into my mind when using them for the intended purpose.
As I said at the beginning of this review – I’m not necessarily a birder, but I am somebody who spends a good deal of time outdoors in ‘challenging’ conditions using handheld optics, such as binoculars. I also train professional ornithologists and ecologists in outdoor safety so I get to speak to them regularly. I have also used various front-of-body load carrying systems, from radio chest harness and admin pouches to semi-tactical chest rigs and similar – so hopefully my opinion on these garments is relevant.
The Wunderbird range solves a problem I had, but not one I had given much thought to. Heavy neck-slung items like cameras, binoculars and other optics can be a bit of a pain when moving over rough ground – they dangle and get in the way whenever you lean forward and they slap into your chest or stomach whenever your walking rhythm goes beyond a gentle stroll. However, if you stow them away in a rucksack then they are not ready to hand, and if you can’t readily access that item then there’s little point in carrying it.
In situations where wearing any kind of chest pouch/harness is inappropriate (either for purposes of not wanting to broadcast what you are up to, or not wanting to look like a complete idiot) then having the option to keep those optics close to hand and ready to use is welcome. Both of these shirts look a lot like any other outdoor clothing, and you would have to get pretty close to the wearer to notice the extra features.
The fabric choice is appropriate for the intended environment, and the pricing is reasonable for technical outdoor clothing (roughly £61.00 for the Gyrfalcon and £31.00 for the Kestrel at the time of writing). I also like the colour range – discreet and appropriate for fieldwork of all types without screaming ‘tactical’ or hinting at any type of camouflage.
Even when not using the shirts with binoculars I found the extra storage useful – the chest pouch is perfect for tucking a smartphone into, and other small and crucial items can be stowed in the pockets of the Gyrfalcon. By ‘small and crucial’ I of course mean snacks…
I do have a few minor criticisms or requests for future versions – maybe some thumb loops for the cuffs of the Gyrfalcon Hoodie to prevent the sleeves from riding up when worn under an outer layer? The stomach pouch on the hoodie is also JUST starting to show signs of sagging after some heavy use, but I suspect this has more to do with the way I am using it than the design itself.
There is also limited appeal in the Kestrel for photographers with DSLRs etc – the shoulder pads are certainly useful when carrying heavy tripods/monopods, but the Kestrel pouches are both a little too small for even a prime lens to tuck into. Spare batteries, cable releases/remotes and even filters might find a home in there though.
I can happily recommend both of these items as good technical outdoor clothing AND for anybody who spends time outdoors with binocular or other optics around their neck – I’m going to continue to use them and you’ll no doubt see them in use on one of our 2019 courses.