Guide to Outdoor Seasonal Photo Wardrobe (Winter)

Roan-Mountain-20121228-5The final part (part 5) of a multi-part guide to technical outdoor clothing and clothing systems for photographing in the great outdoors! Make sure to read and refer to Part 1, Guide to Outdoor Seasonal Photo Wardrobe (Summer). I’m going to go in to less detail on things already covered and part one also has a key for common abbreviations. Time for the cold snowy winter! (or just about)

Heavyweight – Cold Winter (28°F-36°F)

Winter Wear - click the photo for a larger view
Winter Wear – click the photo for a larger view

This is what I wore just recently out to Roan Mountain at about 7:30-11:00 am at about 28 degrees Fahrenheit and it probably got in the upper 30s by the time I left. And its generally pretty windy up there too (about 5,800 ft on a mostly bald mountain top)

The key to cold weather is to get any sweat you generate sucked away from your body and layering so you can adjust your venting and temperature if needed depending on your activity. So let’s start with a good wicking baselayer.

Baselayer

My Gear: The above photo I have a Cap 3 1/4 zip on at the bottom all of that. (and Cap 3 bottoms on my legs under the outer shell)

Now we’re now into the long sleeve and heavier weights of baselayer. Weight depending on temp, time you’ll be out, personal preference. I like a 1/4 (or full) zip to cover my neck more if I’m going to be out in it for awhile.

Mid-layer/Insulation

My Gear: In this case I used the Patagonia R1 hoody AND an R2 fleece over that. I didn’t quite zip the R2 up all the way and started out with the hood down on the R1 but put it up later when it started getting windier. It’s a pretty comfy thing. (balaclava style hood that partially covers your face/chin/forehead)

Again, you want layers that will wick any perspiration away from your body and in this case, as an insulating layer, to trap warm air from your body. R1 has a grid fleece and R2 is a nice fluffy/soft fleece. Both breathe and wick really well. You could also use a down or synthetic stuffed jacket instead of the R2 or a shell with built in insulation would let you go with only the R1 possibly. (Nano puff, Nano Storm, Winter Sun Hoody, etc.) In-fact, lets just go to the outer shell now! Also see the new Nano-Air from Patagonia, though it seems they push it as an outer layer which in certain temps you could probably do (and dryish conditions).

Shell/Coat/Outer Layer

My Gear: I wore a Mixed Guide Hoody on this adventure. It’s part softshell stretchy, breathable “Guide” material and part waterproof breathable hardshell for more toughness and waterproofing where you need it. (if it’s precipitating) I can hopefully wear this most of the year with varying layers. It seems to be very water proof, though I haven’t had it in any big downpours for long periods of time. The water beads up on the softshell part like a champ and being part softshell, it should also breath better, thus venting moisture and keeping you from being too soggy at the end (if you are moving climbing a lot at least).

There are a lot of directions you can go with your coat/outer shell. You could do a hardshell which would be waterproof, with or without insulation or you could do a softshell that is only water resistant (but more breathable). They usually aren’t very insulated, but you might find one that is. (the old Patagonia Core Skin jacket would be an example or the current Northwall softshell, which is extremely expensive but is basically lined with an R2 fleece) A hood is probably going to be handy, especially if it’s windy or snowing. However, if I can manage, I prefer not to have a hood up so I can hear and see better, especially if you are looking for wildlife.

I’ve also considered using my Rain Shadow (which I’ve currently replaced with a Super Cell) which is my Spring/Summer rain jacket (hardshell with pit zips). It wouldn’t offer much insulation but still traps the heat from the other insulating layers and blocks wind and wet. If it worked okay, it would be one less shell you need for varying conditions.

Wolves have good insulation.
Wolves have good insulation.

Pants

My Gear: I had some Patagonia Super Guide pants for this outing. They have built in gators, all the pockets zip closed (and have a couple cargo pockets too which I find handy for photography), and are pretty water/wind proof, yet breathable if you work up a sweat hiking. They also have a nice stretch to them and are very tough/rugged. I find that my legs don’t generally need as much insulation as my upper body, but I did have Cap 3 bottoms on under the shell pants, but no real insulating/midlayer. I’ve also been known to wear some Rock Guide pants between the base and shell pants.

If you are going to be in kneeling in the snow or even just walking in it where it will touch your pant cuffs you’ll probably want some guide/ski pants with gators, that are wind and water resistant. If it’s just cold, you might just use heavy softshell pants. Never wear cotton or jeans especially if you may get wet. A baselayer would probably be very welcome in the colder temps.

Hat

My Gear: I started this hike with just the Speedway Beanie and was okay for awhile. But by the end of my hike I had the R1 hood up, with the beanie over that AND the shells hood on top keeping out the wind and that was pretty comfortable. I could probably have ditched the beanie and been fine though. (or maybe put down the outer hood instead of removing the beanie)

Some sort of warm beanie that covers your ears and/or a balaclava depending on the wind and temperature. A coat with a hood is also helpful. (see above in the shell section)

Gloves

My Gear: Polartec Power Stretch or wool glove liners under POW Gloves “Index Trigger Mitten”. You can probably see what they look like in the photo at the top of the article. They are like a mitten, but with the index finger separate! They have an nice grippy palm too so I can not drop the camera.

Gloves are the trickiest part for photographers, because we need to be fairly dexterous with our fingers to operate the camera. For the cold end you’ll probably want a “glove liner”/baselayer under your insulating glove. I suppose you could consider using hand warmer pouches if needed.

Another handy thing I’ve found is having a “leash” on your outer gloves (at least your right hand). If you find them too bulky to do a specific task, you can pull it off (leaving your liner on) and the glove will hang on your wrist while you do that thing and you don’t have to bother with sticking it in a pocket dropping it or whatever.

Boots

My Gear: I’ve not had good luck with many of the Patagonia shoes or boots (they all tend to hurt at least one foot for some reason) and they don’t have much in winter options (the Snow Drifter 7 Waterproof would be about the only really cold weather option), so I currently have some North Face Baltoro 400 insulated boots. They worked quite well. It’s the warmest my feet have been in these conditions! I am now trying some Solomon and Garamont insulated boots as the North Face ones were pretty warn when I got them.

If you’re going to be standing in the snow, you’ll probably want insulated boots. (and waterproof of course) Tall is better in my opinion (6-8″?). If you plan to layer socks you’ll probably want to get at minimum of a half size up from what your normally wear. But your best bet is to take the socks to a store and test them out before you buy them. You could consider using toe warmer pouches if needed.

On a previous snow hike some years ago, I about froze my toes in uninsulated boots. The Baltoro is supposed to be good down to -40F/C! In fact with only one pair of heavy socks, when I took these off, my socks were slightly damp. I’m not sure if it was sweat or some snow had gotten in somehow. I guess you don’t want to over insulate either or you end up with wet feet and getting cold anyway.

Socks

My Gear: I have a variety of winter hiking socks. On this occasion I wore only one pair of heavy Columbia Sports Wear wool blend socks and my toes were fine with the very insulated boots I wore. (maybe too warm? See boots above.)

Depending on how warm your boots are, you may want to layer socks. They make liner/baselayer socks or you can probably just wear a light hiking pair under a heavier winter pair just like gloves or outerwear.

Camera Gear

I almost forgot to mention your actual camera gear! Your camera gear may not function as expected at or below freezing unless you have some made to handle these temps. (Some of the Pentax SLRs are very good for this and probably the highest end Canon/Nikon stuff) Check your manual to see what the temperature rating is on it. My Canon 7D started hanging up and giving me an error last winter after I was out in freezing temps too long.

Tripods and ballheads will get very cold so don’t stick your tongue on one (:D) and carbon fiber gets brittle at very cold temperatures, so you might want to use a metal one for these temps even though they will be cold to hold/carry also. That’s what those foam bits are for around the legs. (besides padding) The metal may also contract so be aware of things on the tripod loosening up as well. Your breath may also cause freezing/stiffening up of the ball head movement if you generally put your face to the eyepiece to compose the shot. (it will also also frost over the back of your camera in the same situation)

Batteries

Keep your batteries in a warm pocket next to your body. You might consider a hand warmer to go in the pocket with your batteries. Cold batteries loose their charge pretty quickly, so bring as many as you have or maybe double the normal amount you carry depending on the time you’ll be out. Try not to use Live View too much as that really sucks them dry in the winter. (unless you are prepared for that and/or shoot video)

I think you get the idea

I think I’ll end here on my guides. By now you should get the idea that you need proper (non-cotton) layers if you want to go out in colder temps. If the temperature is below this range, you basically follow the same principles, but with more/thicker layers (to trap more heat) and expose as little skin to the air as possible when it gets super cold. (use balaclava type masks to cover facial skin)

Also, we don’t generally get much colder than that around here, so I can’t test out my gear below these temps and probably wouldn’t want to get out in it anyway. Hope you enjoyed these guides and found them useful!

(Update: 1/1/15) I only get a limited amount of cold and really weather to test this type of gear (the low end of this scale at least), so I’m always tweaking and trying new stuff year to year and update the guide when I change or discover new gear/cloths/tips.

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