John Miskelly
John Miskelly

Coldest winter in living memory.............

If this headline triggers a rush back indoors, then read on.

Many of us photographers are really interested in the latest camera gear and equipment, yet how many of us give as much thought to what we wear whilst out photographing the landscape? Yet, I would venture as far as saying that the clothing we wear is equally or possibly even more important than our camera equipment, as it's really important to stay warm, dry and comfortable over long days when the weather can often be cold and wet and generally miserable.

I spend a lot of time in the mountains or along our coastline whilst running landscape photography workshops in Ireland and I'm frequently surprised how unprepared many participants are when spending one or more days in the outdoors. I base all my clothing choices on the well tried and tested layering system. That is, it's better to have a number of lighter layers, which can be added to or removed depending on the temperature, rather than one or two very heavy layers. I personally use for my base layer, the one closest to my skin, merino wool. This natural material, from the Merino sheep, has an exceptionally fine fibre, which provides excellent insulation. It also has the characteristic of being resistant to retaining odours when you're sweating.

So far, this is all quite straightforward. That leads me to my top layer. For this, I tend to put on a soft shell on a day when I'm walking quite a lot and its not very cold. Then, if it starts to rain, I can add a waterproof layer, both jacket and trousers. Now there are many different waterproof and breathable fabrics out there. These range from little known and cheaper options, to the bigger brand names such as GoreTex and eVent. From many years experience, I find the brands have the financial resources to lead in research and continually develop their products to be the very best. In the wetter British climate, I personally prefer eVent over GoreTex, but it really comes down to personal preference and you won't go wrong with either product.

Crux Plasma Jacket

Now, if its cold and I'm standing around a lot, a common situation when running workshops or 'waiting for the light', the soft shell isn't usually warm enough. In such a case I add an insulating layer instead of the soft shell. This can be either down or an artificial option such as Thinsulate. Down has a better warmth to weight ratio, but loses insulation if it gets wet. The artificial options are a little heavier for the same warmth, but will hold your heat better if they get wet. I personally have both products and use them depending on whether its cold and dry or cold and wet. The one exception is my Crux Plasma jacket which is down filled but with a waterproof and breathable outer, which in this case is eVent. It's not cheap, but I use it a lot and find it an excellent jacket.

In terms of trousers, let me start by saying that jeans are the worst option. All cotton clothing, when wet, is a very poor insulator. This also means when you sweat, your cotton T shirt will make you feel cold. I recommend one of the trousers that are a quick dry fabric or even soft shell. I use a Schoeller fabric trouser that is both warm and keeps off a lighter rain showers. If they get wet, then they also dry quickly.

That leaves footwear as a key item of clothing. Now I've tried most forms of boot over the years and now have two which I use most often in winter. My most recent purchase is a pair of Wellington boots lined with neoprene with a vibram sole, which gives good grip. This is the same sole that is commonly found on many of the better quality hiking boots. These boots enable me to stand in streams or on the beach with the tide coming in over my feet. Ideal for many of my landscape shots. As well as keeping the water out, they are surprisingly warm. On the other hand, ordinary unlined willies tend to lead to cold feet, so be aware of this. If I'm walking in the mountains to a location, I will use my mountain boots, which are a pair of La Sportiva Trango Evo GTX, a high end but light boot that will accept crampons. However, a good pair of leather walking boots or high end fabric boots will be fine. Do avoid cheaper fabric boots as they tend to let in water and don't wear very well.

That leave hats, gloves and other accessories. As 50% of your body heat can be lost through your head, I recommend a good hat. Something like a wind stopper fleece hat or fleece lined waterproof hat are ideal. Even a merino wool hat is good, but it won't keep the rain off when it gets wet. In the case of gloves, I tend to get cold hands, so I'm really fussy about gloves. The big problem for us photographers is that we need to operate our cameras at the end of the day. If we remove gloves in cold and windy weather, our hands can cool down very quickly. As a result, I'm always looking for the 'perfect' pair of gloves. A bit like the search for the perfect camera bag, but that's an article for another day! I tend to like ski gloves as they are usually warm, the better ones have a waterproof membrane and they still allow a reasonable level of dexterity.

Being warm and dry while out for the days taking photographs means we can concentrate on actually taking great images, which is the main reason we go out in the first place. It also means we can stay out longer and not miss that great light at the end of the day. Oh, and don't forget, a flask of hot coffee always helps as well!

© John Miskelly