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My Favorite New Piece of Hiking Gear Is Admittedly Very Nerdy

I didn't know I needed a monocular until I got one.

a blue monocular

I don't see a lot of people these days. It's largely because, due to the pandemic, I work from home, and that home happens to be a small modern cabin at the end of a dirt road in the hills of central Vermont. (For perspective, the closest Starbucks is 27 miles away, but the road to get there is steep and winding and closes from November to May; the alternative route is 35 miles.) The cabin has large picture windows, and I spend a lot of time looking out of them, mainly at the birds.

The forest here is full of birds. You can hear them all day long starting around 5 a.m., which is my new wake-up time because it's when they sing their loudest. I've even begun to be able to identify specific birds based on their song; for example, the hermit thrush, Vermont's state bird, whose tune David Sibley describes as "ethereal, fluting, without a clear rising or falling trend" in Sibley Birds East (a recent purchase).

hermit thrush eating berry
A hermit thrush.
Gary CarterGetty Images

I've never seen a hermit thrush, though. Not closely enough to identify, at least, which is why I was particularly enthused when Nocs Provisions sent me an early sample of its recently released Zoom Tube Monocular Telescope. If you don't know what a monocular is — I didn't — imagine a pair of binoculars cut in half, and you've got it.

Nocs furnished the Zoom Tube with 8x magnification power and a 32-millimeter objective lens. It's a gold standard of sorts for birders because it simultaneously offers impressive zoom and a wide enough field of view to lock in on what you're spying. It's also water-resistant, and I have to commend Nocs for making binoculars (and monoculars) desirably cool, primarily by adding a rugged textured grip in various colors.

Bu what I like best about the Zoom Tube, besides its name, is how compact it is. I used to keep it on the windowsill for the hopeful spotting of downy woodpeckers and northern cardinals, which is, admittedly, pretty nerdy. But now that trails have dried up and the peaks are ice-free, I've begun carrying it in my hiking backpack any time I venture into the woods. It fits in a water bottle pocket — hell, it fits in my shorts pocket — and amplifies the summit experience (by eight) by letting me zoom in on the little villages, jealousy-inducing homes, nearby mountains and potential swimming holes that dot the landscape.

What I'm trying to say is that we need to de-stigmatize bird watching, but more importantly, that whether you like birds or not, you'll like the Zoom Tube. It's one of those totally unnecessary gear accessories that brings a little bit of delight to whatever outdoor activity you pursue, just by giving you the superpower to see farther.

Price: $75


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