Saturday 14 July 2018

Product Review: Wunderbird Gyrfalcon

I was a little surprised, a few weeks ago, when Gil Gutlick contacted me to see if I would field test a new birding clothes line, Wunderbird. I was surprised because I don’t really go for the traditional birding look, so why me? I can’t stand camouflage, for starters, and multi-pocketed waist coats are right out! Most gear sold to birders is really made for hunters, photographers or even fishermen, and birders are just a marginal market. And this kind of style really isn’t my look! I much prefer birding in clothes that I am just as happy wearing to the pub with my mates, clothing that is comfortable, durable and to be honest, looks cool. Well, looks cool to me at least! My usual birding apparel is a Vans hoodie and jeans. Throw in a beanie and a snowboard jacket for when the weather turns, and you’ve kind of got my drift. So you can imagine my scepticism when asked to test a garment designed for birders…!

But there was a twist. Wunderbird is brand designed specifically for birders. Wunderbird is not aimed at hunters or fishermen and Gil has done lots of work in the field to figure out the nuances of what birders need in a clothes garment. I checked out the Wunderbird website and was delighted to find not a single camouflage item in sight! The design of the website and visuals of the clothing had a really urban feel, and their main outer garment, the Gyrfalcon (yes, cool, I know) was a hoodie! I simply had to give this a try…
The website, is simple to navigate and has a very useful size guide- even though I still managed to misjudge my own size! I put my order in and a few days later a package arrived, which I opened eagerly. Apart from the disappointing plastic packaging, my immediate impressions of the Gyrfalcon hoodie were of a high quality, highly technical garment, with a load of features I had simply never seen before. This looked good. The only slight drawback was the fact that the UK was undergoing its warmest summer in decades and giving the Gyrfalcon a true field test was going to be rather hot work!

The Gyrfalcon

The Wunderbird Gyrfalcon is a long-sleeved hoodie featuring two front pouches, the top one of which is zipped, quite shallow and located high on the chest. The lower is above waist height and has a velcro fastening for the outer pouch and then an inner hand pocket. The hood has two side toggles and a rear toggle all of which can enable the wearer to adjust the hood – helpful if windy. The best feature of the hood is the stiffened peak, which gives a clear view out when worn – important for birding right?! The shoulders are padded, aiming to reduce pressure on the neck and shoulders when carrying a scope and tripod, but these work just as well for easing the pressure of a shoulder-slung DSLR, camera bag or rucsac.

The Gyrfalcon, showing padding on shoulder. Note the tiny zipper in the middle of the pic.

The build quality of the Gyrfalcon is excellent, with high quality treble stitching. The material seems robust and probably wind proof and shower proof, though I need to test this in the appropriate weather conditions later in the year! The cuffs are long and narrow which means they will slot neatly into gloves if necessary.

The Gyrfalcon comes impregnated with an anti-mosquito coating, which I am sure would be a really helpful addition where these beasts are about. I will have to try it next time I am out looking for Nightjars!

So what's it like? The Gyrfalcon is comfortable, and has the feeling of a well-designed, high quality garment. The hood works well, and the adjustment toggles easy to use. The peak works well, not impeding the view at all. I usually wear a peaked baseball cap when birding, and the hoodie works well with it. The additional bonus of the hood is the protection it offers the neck from the ubiquitous binocular strap!

Prince of thieves.

I was a little sceptical about the front pouches designed to take the weight of the bins (binoculars). I tend to wear my bins strap short, and so the top pocket was the most suitable for me. I found it a little tricky to get my bins out quickly but with a bit of practise it became easier. The benefit was clear; it really does take the weight off your neck.

The most beneficial use is when you are walking between birding sites, or when there are few birds around, so the bins would sit comfortably in there. If you are using your bins regularly, you have the option simply to ignore the pouch allowing usual bins access. One drawback is that if you have smaller bins, 8x for instance, with shorter barrels, they would mostly disappear within the pouch making it trickier to extract them quickly. Mine are 10x Zeiss and quite long, so about half protruded from the pouch, making them easy to grab. The lower pouch gives the option for birders who prefer the 'low-slung' approach, whilst keeping the hand pockets free, which sit at the back. The garment has been built well, as when the bins are in their pouch, the garment doesn't pull forward.

Two details which may need thought are the fastenings on the pouches. The zip on the upper pouch is very tiny and I suspect could well break with frequent use. Also, this would be fiddly for people with bigger hands, and nigh on impossible when wearing gloves. The lower pouch, which I found useful for carrying my notebook and phonescoping adaptor has a short piece of velcro as a fastener. Again, it was a bit flimsy and could do with a rethink to make it more substantial.

The lower pouch and pocket.

The environmental credentials of a product is important to me and I would hope to most other birders too. I could not find much about this on the Wunderbird website or in the packaging. The label on the product states it was made in Vietnam and is 100% polyester. This suggests that it will not be breathable, so the wearer could get rather sweaty, particularly during exertion. Wearing it in a hot summer was not a fair test however! There are of course lots of benefits to polyester, such as durability and washability, but a range of pretty noxious chemicals are used in its production, and manufacture in the Far East comes with potential risks due to lower environmental standards and regulation (in some cases)– could we birders be reassured that there was no impact on the environment in the production of this garment?

Furthermore, the garment arrived wrapped in a plastic bag. Again, not the best packaging for an environmentally-minded birder and something I hope Wunderbird would seek to change as a priority.
The Gyrfalcon retails at about £60 which I would say is pretty good value. I tend to wear standard hoodies made by Vans etc, which cost about £45 and offer virtually none of the Gyrfalcon's benefits. For a few extra quid, this is definitely worth it and gives the impression it will last far longer too. I would even pay a little more to ensure the product is environmentally-friendly and comes with non-plastic packaging.

So, to sum up, the Wunderbird Gyrfalcon hoodie is a well thought-through technical product, unique in being aimed directly at the birder market.

It is comfortable to wear, straightforward to use and confers some real benefits to the birder. It will not suit everybody as it has an younger, urban feel, but for birders who want comfort, and practical solutions for many long days in the field this could be for you.

The price is definitely reasonable and offers good value for money.

I would encourage Wunderbird to improve upon some of the details of the product, especially the fastenings, review the environmental credentials of the product and make these explicit both on the website and the product itself (to enable birders to make a decision based on facts), and improve upon the packaging – please, no single-use plastic! If/when Wunderbird get these things right, I can forsee the Gyrfalcon being a more regular sighting here in Britain!

Check out the Gyrfalcon and other products here:

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