Cold Weather Clothing For Outdoor Photographers

Living in Washington state on and off for the last 20 years, I learned to not let weather stop me from doing the things I love. The secret is to dress in layers – so that you can add or remove clothes to adjust your comfort level as the temperatures rises or falls.

Your layers start with a pair of long underwear (top and bottom), then quick drying pants, followed by a waterproof rain shell (rain gear) – that covers your body. Good socks and sturdy, waterproof footwear completes the package. You should always bring reliable rain gear. Good hats, sunglasses and lightweight gloves are plus as well. Cotton jeans are not a great way to go – they stay wet forever.

Quick drying “Travel Pants” that zip off to make shorts is one of my travel secrets (Your favorite Levi’s are OK at home, but not my recommendation for the outdoor photographer – they don’t keep you warm when wet and take forever to dry!) My second secret is a down or synthetic vest- keeps the core warm with minimal weight and packing space.

PRO TIP: Be sure to bring either a small backpack or small dry bag to keep some extra clothes and rain gear in when you are out photographing for special conditions.

clothing

INSULATING LAYERS – KEEP THE WARM INSIDE

Average Outdoor Photo Clothing Packing List:

1. A couple pair of Breathable quick drying pants that zip off into shorts. (double duty.) Avoid jeans-not good when wet and never dry.

2. Adequate underwear and socks… (a fresh pair of socks and skivvies can sometimes brighten your whole day.)

3. full set tops and bottoms of breathable Long underwear (the new generation breathable is best – avoid cotton layers!)

4. 2nd, heavier pair of long underwear if you get cold easily.

5. Waterproof shoes (“duck boots” rubber bottom, leather upper) are excellent. For adventure trips, waterproof hiking shoe with good support is the way to go.

6. A few lightweight breathable or easy drying t-shirts.

7. A heavier weight “puffy jacket” or fleece jacket or similar that will layer with your rain gear.

8. A down (or synthetic) vest, which will keep your core warm without taking up too much space.

NOTE: Plan on having warmer clothes- perhaps an additional sweater or fleece layer for when the temperature drops.

HATS – BRING A COUPLE!

Bring a couple caps with you- a billed baseball cap and a stocking cap and (plus a rain hat, or make sure your rain gear has a hood!). A wide brim rain cap is an added bonus with the extra benefit of a little flair, but good rain gear has a hood so you’re fine without.

THE OUTER SHELL
KEEP THE WET OUT!
OUTER SHELL/RAIN GEAR:

This is a more in – depth topic, and you can spend literally as much as much money as you choose on this category, so just pick which of the categories describes you best and you’ll see an example. there are a myriad of websites and places to get this type of equipment, so by no means are any of my suggestions the only place to do that.

High-end breathable rain gear is important. Staying warm and dry is paramount! Go for the best rain gear you can reasonably afford- it’s an investment in a fun trip.

FOOTWEAR:

Start with simple outdoor boots or “Pac” boots or Extra Tuff rubber knee boots (the best) are great. Anything with a good solid sole, medium high ankles and repels water will work. If you are on a more athletic adventure then waterproof hiking shoes are a much better idea.

If you’re going someplace REALLY cold, continue reading my cold weather sidebar below.

COLD WINTER WEAR SIDEBAR

If you’re traveling to someplace where it gets really cold, you can use my basic guide to clothing but I’d consider some updates mentioned below.

Celestron Hand Warmer

Hand Warmers
The Celestron (Exotherm) hand warmers are reusable and do just as good a job (if not better) than the Grabber product I used to use.

These hand warmers also work in your boots to keep your feet warm. Bring a bunch of them and you’ll be able to stay in the field longer.

Outerwear
It’s important to dress in multiple layers with a waterproof outer layer. Gloves and head / face protection are a must, I always bring two layers of gloves, with multiple backup pairs.

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My secret weapon to keep warm and dry when photographing over the last year or two is the Patagonia R1 mid-layer hoody with a built in balaclava. This thing works! It is stretchy, warmth, fast wicking and has great breath-ability with thumb loops and even has a chest pocket that makes a nice place to keep a heat pack. The R1 will always be there when you need it and I think it’s a lot more comfortable than traditional face protection and balaclavas.

 

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Good warm quality waterproof boots are recommended, and I have been very happy with Muckboots. They were the first real pair of boots I could wear that didn’t hurt my feet and my feet have never been cold or wet since using Muckboots.

To go with the boots, I recommend boot socks. I use the Xtratuf 28500-BUM-100 Bama Sokket Insulating Removable Men’s Boot Liners.

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These are boot liner socks made out of an acrylic fiber/ cotton combination that insulates against the cold and keeps your feet dry. These wonders keep feet warm and dry down to -15 F without any heater packs.

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You will need two pairs of gloves for super cold weather photography. I wear one pair when not making pictures and switch to the PERSIST Winter Gloves when I need dexterity.

Find heavy ski gloves to use when not shooting. Sometimes I pair a lighter wool glove under the Persist gloves. I have tried heated gloves and used them for a couple of years but they are a pain to use and not good for photography.

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If you don’t use the Patagonia jacket I suggested, then you will need a balaclava if you really want to stay warm. I like the Ergodyne N-Ferno 6823 Winter Balaclava Ski Mask. It comes in a variety of colors and is affordable.

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If you want to make sure your legs are never cold or wet, get ahold of a company in Homer, AK called Nomar. (https://nomaralaska.com/) I have been using their products for years and their Dutch Harbor Pants are amazing. They are wind, water and snow resistant and I have six pairs of them. When I am photographing in cold/snowy climates these are must-have items.

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If you don’t go with the Patagonia jacket then take a look at Nomar’s Grizzly Jacket. I’ve had mine for 10 years and it still looks and works like new. I’ve traveled to Alaska a dozen times in one of these and never been cold.

CONCLUSION

The most important advice here is to dress in layers. Concentrate on good gloves, boots and hats and you’ll be comfortable.


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