Outfitting Yourself for Cold-Weather Photography
By Charles Glatzer
For taking photos in frigid winter weather, layering is the way to go. The key to maintaining and regulating core temperature is wearing moisture-wicking base and mid-layer garments with a wind- and water-proof outer shell.
Today’s high-tech materials offer a plethora of lightweight, highly compressible materials such as Polar Fleece, Primaloft, Polarguard, WindPro and Coreloft to meet your thermal requirements. Waterproof shell fabrics from GORE-TEX, Epic and Event offer breathability and wind resistance while keeping you dry.
Editor’s Note: For more great advice on winter photography, don’t miss Charles Glatzer’s “14 Pro Tips for Conquering the Cold” also in this month’s newsletter.
Wicking undergarments like power dry, silk, or merino wool are the way to go, and having zippers, snap tops or buttons at the neck is, in my opinion, a must for venting and maintaining comfort while under exertion. Note: do not wear cotton shirts with or without wicking garments, as it will totally defeat the purpose. Cotton is known as the “death fabric,” because it stays wet, zapping valuable energy and dropping your core temperature.
Polar fleece, down or a synthetic jacket and pants are recommended. Again, breathability and wicking properties are key to regulating your temperature. If you plan on hiking with a pack, down would not be my first choice, as you will get wet from perspiration and stay wet. I prefer my mid-layer to have a hood.
Outer Shell Layer
A good, breathable waterproof shell jacket and pants from GORE-TEX, Epic, PreCip, HyVent, etc., is one of the most important pieces of clothing you can own. Get the jacket one size bigger than you normally wear so that you can layer clothing underneath. A built-in companion hood is also vital.
In extremely cold conditions, a prime goose-down parka with high loft (800) is your best option. An attached hood is imperative, preferably one that extends beyond your face with a removable fur or synthetic ruff for dissipating wind. Many top-brand cold-weather summit parkas do not come with a hood ruff, but if you are planning to spend time in Arctic-like conditions I would seriously consider adding a ruff to your parka. I suggest you make the ruff removable with a wire inside so that it will hold its shape when used. I had what many consider the ultimate cold-weather parka (Canada Goose Snow Mantra), which worked extremely well but was bulky and heavy, making it difficult to transport to locations with luggage and weight restrictions. I have since gone to a Mountain Hardware Absolute Zero Parka, which is highly compressible and lightweight, features welded waterproof construction, and is insanely warm.
Wearing mitten shell gloves with liners is a big plus in cold temperatures. The ultimate cold-weather photographic gloves, in my opinion, are TheHeatCompany.us Layer Gloves. Great emphasis has been incorporated into the functional details. The system is incredibly versatile, as the mitten can be used fully closed, providing the ultimate in warmth, or opened with the liner glove fully or partially exposed to allow for full freedom of movement and dexterity. Thumb and index fingers that feature silver fabric enable the use of your LCD camera and touch screens.
Sorel XT, Baffin Impact or Steger Mukluks (my favorite) boots are recommended. For wet landings in cold temperatures I use Arctic Pro Muck boots. Wool socks made by reputable manufacturers such as Patagonia or Smart Wool will wick moisture away from your feet, keeping them warmer as a result. Silk sock liners add additional comfort. Placing The Heat Company chemical toe/foot warmers inside gloves and boots will extend your comfort time in extremely cold conditions, especially when remaining in one position for long periods. Rechargeable USB lithium battery hand warmers, which warm quickly and work very well, are available on Amazon.
Outdoor Research and Black Rock make ultra-lightweight goose-down beanies and hoods that are extremely warm. OR also makes a very warm Aerogel beanie. Balaclavas are a must for keeping your face from getting frostbitten in extreme cold.
Goggles are very effective for protecting your eyes and face in extremely cold temperatures and wind. You should note, however, that it’s very difficult to see the full image through your camera’s viewfinder when wearing goggles, and few of them fit or work well if you wear glasses.
To prevent snow blindness in bright, sunlit snow conditions, polarized or transition eyeglasses are a must.
This is very useful to prevent your glasses from fogging up due to the moisture from your breath when using a face covering.
I hope these tips will be helpful. Please feel free to contact us for specific clothing or gear product recommendations.
Charles Glatzer’s Clothing and Gear Links
Gloves: The Heat Company US
Socks: Smart wool
Stuff Sacks for Gear: Sea to Summit
Sleeping Pads: Exped sleeping mats