Even though we ARE Nikon lovers,we are NOT affiliated with Nikon Corp. in any way.

 As a Platinum or Gold member you can have your best work being showcased at Nikonians at high resolution to make it look great under an easy to remember Internet address with contact possibility.
 There is no limit to the number of images you can store in your portfolio, but we recommend that you include your very best work only. Your portfolio cover image is also included on the Nikonians homepage, gallery homepage and on the portfolio index page.   >>> Learn how to set up your own portfolio

X

Sign up Login
Home Forums Articles Galleries Members Galleries Master Your Vision Galleries 5Contest Categories 5Winners Galleries 5ANPAT Galleries 5 The Winners Editor's Choice Portfolios Recent Photos Search Contest Info Help News Newsletter Join us Renew membership About us Retrieve password Contact us Contests Vouchers Wiki Apps THE NIKONIAN™ For the press Fundraising Search Help!
More5

How-to's Accessories Reviews Travel Stories

Dressing for photography in the cold

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: photography, cold, winter, travel, weather, wear, dressing, layers, boots, gloves, jackets, polartec, arcrsquoterix, cabelarsquos, columbia, marmot, north, face, patagonia, rei, salomon, 66, fjall, raven, haglof, napapijri, blackhawk, oakley, nike, lowa, vasque, hatch, mecanix, simms

THE LEARNING PATH

It was 2001 when my partner Bo and I decided to meet in person for the first time and with a few Nikonians members in a photography target-rich location. With the help of long-time Internet friends -some of them beta testers of nikonians.org- who knew the area very well, we chose the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a week in September.

The weather was not that cold then, but for those of us coming from warmer areas it felt very cold in the mornings and nights, only moderately warm at noon. How to dress for such weather was not even a consideration of any concern at that time. We just disposed of the jackets at noon and kept on shooting with a Merino wool sweater or a light fleece jacket until the late afternoon.

image1

Sunrise. Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

 

The event was so cordial and satisfying in every way that we decided to make it a Nikonians tradition, the field event of the year from then on, the “ANPAT”, Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip. We now have both an ANPAT in the Spring and the traditional ANPAT in the Fall. 

Again, with the help of another Nikonians member, beta tester and great friend, in the fall of 2002 we ventured into Moab, Arches and the rim of the Grand Canyon in Utah, with an optional extension to Arizona for Monument Valley.  This time the cold in the early morning and at night was a bit harsher. My partner Bo, used to the winters of Sweden and Germany had no major issues, however, if it not had been for the gift of a pair of Columbia jackets with a light fleece lining presented to us by our dear friends, I would have been freezing and not at all comfortable, shivering in the cold at sunrises and sunsets. 

image2

Bo Stahlbrandt (bgs) and J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) at Moab, Utah

 

In 2003, another great friend and extraordinary photographer organized the 3rd ANPAT, in the Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, Canada. Excited by the opportunity to be once again shooting in the company of Nikonians, I –as more than a few others in that trip- completely forgot that the park is “a little further north” from anywhere we have been before and therefore a bit further on the nippy side; more so when with iced drizzle and wind. A very serious weather under estimate.

Image3

Nikonians at Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba, Canada

 

Acknowledging ignorance I then swore I would never feel that cold again and started the study of how to stay warm, very seriously, as applied to photography in the field.

THE REQUIREMENTS

As a skier I’ve learned that whatever you wear for the cold needs to fulfill three separate functions:

  1. Manage MoistureThe First Layer. Your own perspiration should not become your enemy when keeping you wet inside your footwear, or underneath your clothing. This means that fabrics that absorb moisture should be avoided (like the cotton of my Woodstock T-Shirt). Fabrics that do not retain perspiration but wik moisture away from your body should be preferred when talking about your next-to-skin garments, including undies.
  2. Manage InsulationThe Second Layer. You need to be able to keep warm, with the heat not been dissipated away from your body and dehydrating you.
  3. Manage WeatherThe Third Layer. This outer or shell layer should allow you to be ready to encounter and successfully deal with wind, rain, ice and snow.

All three layers need also to have the following characteristics:

  1. Manage Freedom of Movement – You need to be able to move without constraints. Able to run if necessary. Nothing overly tight that could cut down your blood circulation or reduce mobility. Nothing overly loose that can allow wind to get to your body.
  2. Manage Weather Changes – If the climate changes during the day, shedding one layer will give you the flexibility to keep warm but only as much as needed.
  3. Work well within a temperature range – Garments for any of the above layers are now graded for three ranges: Light, Medium, Heavy (also called Expedition or Artic). It is usually best to use three layers of the same grade.
  4. Give you the best value for your money – You can achieve the comfort needed to enjoy your trip by applying the same principles from head to toes. Dressing in layers is a proven method and it doesn’t need to cost a small fortune.

Note that the range to choose will need to take into account the level of activity you expect (the amount of heat you will develop on your own) and the temperature range your body is accustomed. For example, to go skiing I wear Light grade layers because of the intense body activity. For photographing in the cold, only walking short distances, I need to use Medium grade layers. To shoot in Minnesota, Canada or Alaska I will choose Heavy grade because my body is used to function at well-above freezing temperatures.

Image4

The purpose is to keep warm while taking images like this.

Click for an enlargement

 

 

For the First Layer, the industry uses three major types of treated fabrics for the first layer:

  1. Synthetic fibers. These are the least expensive and yet darn effective. The main con is that they tend to keep odors, so you need to have enough sets to change daily and/or wash.
  2. Natural fibers, silk. These are in the middle price range, not always as effective as the synthetic. Usually selected for high activity level.
  3. Animal fibers, mainly Merino Wool. Probably the most effective, especially for underwear, feet liners and socks, but the most expensive.

For the Second Layer, I have not found anything better yet and more cost effective than synthetic fleece, specifically the original Polartec® fleece, more so in the military grade 200 and 300.

For the Third Layer, it gets a bit more complicated and one can be easily confused.

Two are really the main choices (discard leather and fur):

  1. Down. Down offers many advantages, like compressibility for packing, but it can’t get wet. Even with treated fabrics. Works better as a second layer.
  2. Synthetics. Synthetics can be water-resistant or breathable water-proof. The second is the most effective as you can face rain, ice, and snow with them. Not the least expensive but you will use it forever, more so when abrasion-resistant. I have one medium weight that has lasted me for more than a decade.

BEST KNOWN BRANDS FOR LAYERS WEAR

In North America, in alphabetic order: Arc’terix, Cabela’s, Columbia, Marmot, North Face, Patagonia, Polartec, REI, and Salomon.
In Europe I’ve seen the 66° North from Iceland; the Fjall Raven and the Haglöf from Sweden; the Italian Napapijri (Finnish word for Arctic Circle); and many others in France, Germany and the UK, all having adopted the layers principle and synthetic fabrics.

FOOTGEAR

Special Forces guys like to wear Asolo and Salomon Boots, both with Gore-Tex. If you have been thinking on getting new light boots I can recommend the Salomon Quest 4D GTX lightweight boots, insulated, waterproof, breathable, very comfortable and with excellent ankle support. The best I've ever had, following the recommendation of a Seal Team 6 member.  Aside from Asolo and Salomon, other good brands of good hiking boots include Blackhawk, Oakley, Nike, Lowa and Vasque. 

image6

HANDWEAR

Except for extreme cold, it is recommended you use light gloves that can be worn when shooting, allowing for full dexterity. This helps to avoid losing one in the field. We have found that the Hatch Specialist all-weather gloves work very well, as used by SWAT teams. Other good brands for the task are Blackhawk and Mecanix Wear, as used by Navy Seals. (Mecanix is not to be confused with Mecanics). Some Nikonians recommend Simms fold-over Mitts as a good alternative if you prefer a mitt with fingers.

image7

Click for an enlargement

 

FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS
 

  • Still cold with three layers? Add another one.
  • Cold in the face? Use a hydrating cream and a balaclava or a shemagh.
  • Don’t be shy about it.
  • Don’t forget your head. Most of the body heat is lost through the head.
  • Merino wool or synthetic fibers beanie or a felt hat should help. Wear at least a Nikonians cap if an ushanka is too much.
  • Drink a lot of water. You can also dehydrate in the cold.
  • If you are waiting for sunrise, don’t just stand or sit still. Move! That generates heat to keep you warm.

And of course…….

Have a great time!


 

 

(13 Votes )

Originally written on January 18, 2016

Last updated on April 30, 2016

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza Garcia, Mexico
Admin, 42728 posts

14 comments

Michael P. Majewski (MPMPhoto) on January 11, 2017

Thanks for the information on cold weather gear Ramon. I would like to add, being from Buffalo, NY I tend to shoot a lot of outdoor sports in cold, sometimes snowy weather. One tip I would like to pass along - I wear Grease Monkey Gorilla grip gloves underneath my finger-less gloves and keep hand warmers two-way taped and tucked inside the finger cover of my outer gloves. While the gorilla grip does not provide much protection for your hands in extremely cold weather, they do allow a good grip and that important touch feel on your camera buttons. In between shooting, i flip the finger cover down and help warm up my finger tips with the hand warmers conveniently tucked away in the finger covers. Carrying extra sets of hand warmers always helps, especially on those cold and/or wet shooting days!

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 23, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

(Edited by jrp Saturday, 23 January 2016 ) Bruce. I also have another pair of Salomon boots for colder weather, the Nytro GTX model, lined with fleece. An efficient delight ;-) My partner Bo uses bicycle gloves without finger tips. I suffer looking at his purple fingers, but he is used to that extreme cold. I bought oversized skier gloves to wear on top of the Mecanix insulated when it gets really cold. The combination works very well, but most of the time the Mecanix alone will work for me, without the others on top.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on January 22, 2016

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian.

Ramon, You are right about the soles on smooth wet surfaces, have never tried them on ice. But on hard rocky terrain and typical soil they grip very well.

Bruce Stenman (Montereyman) on January 22, 2016

Agree about the Solomon boots. First pair I have not had to add an insert for arch support. If hands and feet are cold it is usually an indication that the body's trunk is not warm enough and so to protect vital organs it reduces circulation first to the extremities and eventually to the brain. I get by in sub-freezing temperatures with full finger bicycling gloves with adequate insulation for my core and legs and so I am not taking the gloves off and putting them back on again while shooting. I find them warmer than the fingerless mittens.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 22, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Have a great trip, Robert

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 22, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Ernesto, Yes. obozfootwear products are very good, just the soles a bit slippery on ice. Watch out.

Robert Wightman (robwig) on January 21, 2016

Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Thanks for the great information Ramon. My wife and I are heading for Yellowstone in a week, this article helps with the packing list.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on January 20, 2016

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian.

Great information Ramon. I've been using Oboz hiking shoes over the last year and I am really happy with them. They are a small company out of Bozeman, Montana with one simple principle - "True To The Trail". Check them out at: http://obozfootwear.com

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 20, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Geoff, yes. Helly Hansen from Norway. I remember seeing one very nice parka at a Nordstrom store in Denver, Colorado. Yes, pricey, (~$400 USD) but not outrageously and looked very nice and well made. I may look for one of those again ;-)

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 20, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

Thank you, John. Have a great trip.

Geoff Baylis (GBaylis) on January 20, 2016

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his generous and continuous sharing of his high level skills with the Nikonians community Writer Ribbon awarded for his contributions to the Nikonians Articles. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his win at the Best of Nikonians 2107 Annual Photo Contest

Thanks for that really good summary - and for the tip about the boots, which I need to get this year. Although I use a mix of manufacturers for my cold/wet weather gear, both are founded upon kit from Helly Hansen; a Scandinavian make that are pricey but incredibly well designed and just a pleasure to wear. They make a lot of sailing and mountaineering clothing for extreme conditions which need to perform well but be very light. Geoff

John D. Roach (jdroach) on January 19, 2016

Fellow Ribbon awarded. John exhibits true Nikonian spirit by frequently posting images and requesting comments and critique, which he graciously accepts. He is an inspiration to all of us through constant improvement in his own work, keen observations and excellent commentary on images posted by others. Donor Ribbon. Awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017

Good article. Having been up around Lake Superior and Door County in Wisconsin in Winter as well as Alaska, I have learned a few tricks. Your article helps to re-inforce and offers some good points to keep in mind. In fact, I am going on a winter photo tour in Door County to photography lake ice and shoreline in early February. Thanks for the reminders.

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp) on January 19, 2016

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

David, Thank you for taking the time to comment. Yes, extreme cold is another beast. Northern Minnesota is quite the case. I have a very good friend in the heart of it. Snowmobile boots, insulated long underwear, insulated bib overalls, a heavy hooded parka, a neoprene balaclava and heavier gloves are a must in there.

David Hatton (dthatton) on January 18, 2016

Nice article on the basics of cold weather gear, Ramon. I would note that "cold" is relative and that there are many areas in the US and Canada that will require much more protection than is listed above. This is particularly true for footwear. The Solomon’s listed are great for milder weather, but would not keep your feet warm for more than 20 minutes in northern Minnesota. Having spent extended periods of time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area near the Canadian border in January, I recommend Sorrell boots with removable felt liners to absorb perspiration. Even these will eventually get cold if you are standing without movement in temperatures below zero. The other huge necessity is a full face neoprene face mask to deal with severe wind chill. David

G