This will be a 5 part guide to technical outdoor clothing and clothing systems for photographing in the great outdoors and maybe some theory behind them too. I generally wear Patagonia, but I will try and talk generally so this should apply to any good outdoor clothing but will also talk about Patagonia specifically because that’s what I know the best and tend to ware most.
Note: this is based on East Tennessee seasons, so adjust to your local climate/seasonal pattern. I did put temperatures with each season, but you’ll have to make the jump to the full story to see them. They made the titles too long otherwise. 🙂
Since it’s Summer now, I guess that’s where we’ll start, but first, some abbreviations I might use:
- SS = Short Sleeve
- LS = Long Sleeve
- Cap = Capilene (Patagoina’s proprietary polyester baselayer material)
- poly = polyester
- wool=probably merino wool
- DWR=Durable Water Repellant
- pit zips=zippers up the sides into the arm pits to vent and regulate heat and/or moisture
Lightweight Hot Summer (75°F-100°F+)
Baselayer Shirt (probably the only layer in this case)
My Gear: Patagonia Capilene 1 or 2 shirts, short or long sleeve or lightweight short sleeve nylon or polyester blend button ups or vented back or rolled up long sleeves. Also look for flat seams and seamless or seams that are “rolled forward” on the shoulders to avoid irritation from wearing a pack over them.
These “baselayer” type shirts are usually polyester, wool, or a wool blend. They are thin, light, breathable, quick drying, and meant to wick the sweat away so it will evaporate more quickly. Some may have spandex mixed in for extra stretch. Cotton, while it breaths fairly well when dry, does not dry fast AT ALL, so is not recommended as it will just get sweaty and heavy. I’m not certain, but I’d say once saturated, it probably doesn’t breath as well as when it’s dry either.
Polyester can tend to smell fairly quickly if it doesn’t have an antimicrobial treatment on/in it of some sort. (Patagonia Capilene has it infused in the fabric some how and works pretty well) Wool has natural anti-odor properties, so won’t stink for very long periods of time (days/weeks) and regulates heat well too. It may dry slightly slower than polyester though and weighs a bit more, especially in weights designed for colder temps. Patagonia also makes a Merino wool/polyester blend for the best of both worlds. (or so they say) I generally go with the polyester, but I have some wool and wool blend also. So far I’ve found the “Merino 1” (lightest wool blend) a bit prone to getting holes, though I’m not sure if they were from me or I just didn’t notice them when I got the shirt) I need more testing to determine that.
You may note that I mentioned long sleeves. That is probably for the cooler end of this spectrum, but is good if you don’t want to wear much sunscreen. You still stay fairly cool because of the properties of these fabrics. (probably not as good as SS but I don’t like being sticky with sun screen if I don’t have to be)
Capilene 1 vs Capilene 2
Cap 1 is supposed to be Patagonia’s lightest and coolest baselayer, however Cap 2 is right up there in coolness in my opinion because it’s a much looser weave and breaths better. I think it clings to sweaty skin less too. Cap 2 is sort of rough feeling to the skin though, but I will wear either. (Update: 12/16/13) I haven’t tried it yet, but the latest version of Cap 2 looks like it may be smoother in texture.
My Gear: Various light weight, quick drying nylon or nylon blends made by Patagonia, REI, and Columbia. Water/stain resistance and breathability are pluses.
I guess some people wear shorts and crew height socks. I prefer to wear long pants no matter the temperature. (when hiking at least) They protect from sun, twigs, bugs, etc. and as long as they are lightweight, shouldn’t get you overly hot. There is also the convertible pant option with zip off legs below the knees if you want the option of shorts with out changing pants. Again, probably avoid cotton for anything you wear, especially if you might get wet. It’s nice and tough, but you’ll be wet and uncomfortable all day.
For photography, (and just in generally really) I also like cargo pants (semi-big pockets on the legs) so I can stow things like filters or rain covers or batteries or whatever in easily accessible places outside my backpack or belt pack. I like the pockets big enough for at least a 77mm filter case or so. (about 3-3/4″ to 4″ wide minimum id say) Most are bigger than this if they are actually “cargo” pants. Some pants have leg pockets (or one leg pocket like the Patagonia Rock Guides) that aren’t gusseted or anything, but is still big enough for the aforementioned filter case.
My Gear: I’ve got a Columbia Sportswear (I think it’s a Omni-Shade Bora Bora Booney Hat) right now. It’s a bit overly large looking, but it does a good job keeping the sun off my face, neck, and ears. It’s somewhat water repellent, is vented all around the crown, and is floppy so I can get my camera up to my face and/or fold it up and stick it in a pocket/pack if I don’t want to wear it. It also has an adjustable neck strap if the wind blows it back or I just want to hang it around my neck.
Depending on the weather and if you are in shade/woods or direct sun you may choose something else. A fairly wide brim light/breathable hat like the one above is good for direct sun and light rain showers (though you may like some cool rain on your head if it’s hot). If I’ll be in the woods I may just wear a ball cap. Hats will also keep bugs and brush out of your hair in the woods. A hat can also be a good thing to put bug repellent on.
Packed for Rain
My Gear: Houdini or Rain Shadow (now a Super Cell. Check out Part 2 for my thoughts on the Torrentshell I tried out the other day)
The Houdini is a super lightweight “wind jacket” with DWR on it. It has a hood and the entire jacket packs into the chest pocket which stuffs down to about the size of a grape fruit and has a loop for a carabiner. It is good with light or short rain showers, but will soak through eventually (known as a softshell) and heavy rain drops mostly go right through it. The Rain Shadow on the other hand is completely waterproof (known as a hard shell) but does not breath as well, but is still very light for a hardshell. It has pit zips to vent heat and excess moisture being it may be hot and humid. (and end up wet from the sweat inside, though it should breath to some degree) It folds down to a fairly small size, but does not stuff into itself. (Addition: Also check out the Torrentshell and Super Cell for light waterproof hardshells)
You could go shell-less and just get wet, but depending on the weather you could end up cold as well, so it’s probably good to have at least the lightest of rain shells on hand.
NOTE: You’ll also want something to keep your gear dry! (Some sort of pack cover if you use a backpack that doesn’t come with one or have one built in, a rain cover for your camera and lens, a hiking towel in your pack, etc)
My Gear: A pair of Salomon Wings Sky GTX are pretty much my main boots. They are super lightweight, have a GORE-TEX lining, and have good ankle support. I also have some Merrell Chameleon 3 Mids which are pretty good too.
(Update: 12/16/13) I have some Asolo boots that I mostly hike in now, but still go back to the Solomon’s sometimes. (they are cooler but have less traction) And I sold the Merrells. I’ve also been using Superfeet, Copper DMP insoles, on the Asolos.
I don’t have a whole lot of advice on boots, but good hiking boots that you like and you can walk and stand in for hours are a must. They should probably be waterproof with something like a GORE-TEX, waterproof, breathable lining or spray them down with some waterproofer to repel the wet grass, mud, water, etc. you may hike though. I prefer a tread that’s fairly grippy and/or deep. If you know you are going to have to wade through water (in the warm weather) you might want to have a non waterproof boot/shoe that will dry quickly.
Pet Peeve: Hiking sandals and anything open enough to let rocks, dirt, sticks, glass, snakes, bugs, etc. in and under your foot. To each their own I guess. I don’t want to risk any injury to my feet.
My Gear: I have a variety of hiking socks, mostly Patagonia merino wool blend and SmartWool of the crew or 3/4 crew height. Light or Mid-weight “hiking socks” for these conditions.
Similar to a baselayer for your feet, but with some cushion on the balls and heals. You want something that will be fairly cool and again, wick the moisture out and evaporate it so you don’t get blisters from your skin being wet. There are actually thin “liner” socks that are exactly like a baselayer for feet, but that’s generally for cold temperatures.
I prefer the crew height so they will keep bugs and what not off my legs hopefully (another good place to spray bug spray)
Well, there’s my hot summer clothing guide. Hope you liked it. I don’t know if I should go ahead and post other seasons (like one a week or so) or as they get here. I was going to do Fall next but I think I may throw Spring in there as Spring/Late Summer-Fall. I was going to do it after Winter, but it kind if fits two change of seasons.