Gonna be a biggun this one!
Now and then I get an email asking about the kit I use and that got me thinking that I should write some blog posts to point people towards.
I thought for my first one, instead of camera kit, I would talk about the outdoor clothing I like to use when out shooting landscapes. For me the clothing I wear in the great outdoors is as important as having the right camera kit. Don’t wear the right thing and you’re not going to be comfortable. If you’re not comfortable you can’t concentrate properly and you’re not likely to hang around for the ‘right’ light. In the winter this is even more important as conditions are usually less than ideal.
For me I want stuff that not only keeps me warm, dry and lets me hide from the elements, but that also keeps me cool and dry when I’m walking into an area I’m going to shoot. Staying cool keeps you warm! I prefer kit with an ‘athletic’ fit over ‘relaxed’ fit as I just find baggy clothing annoying. Closer fitting clothes tend to work better anyway as they can do their job easier. Oh and I want bright colors if I can get em. Black is so boring.
So what do I personally prefer?
Arc’teryx Phase AR base layers (Zip Neck Top & Tights)
For a while I never bothered with ‘technical’ base layers, I always just wore a cotton tee under everything. The problem with that is a cotton tee just soaks up sweat when you’re moving, then when you stop you get cold quickly because of the damp fabric. So on the recommendations of a few people I picked up the Phase AR top and tights.
As I already have some Arc’teryx kit so I knew the quality was going to be high. Surprisingly they were pretty cheap as well, not something you usually associate with Arc’teryx. Performance is spot on. I’ve worn the top a fair bit over the last few winter months and stayed cool and dry when on the move, nice and warm when I’ve stopped. The tights, while only making it out on the colder days, have performed just as well, nice and warm but not making me bake.
The choice of the Zip neck over the Crew neck top was to get some extra protection for my neck. I get some bad pains if it gets to cold, so the higher collar helps a lot with that.
The only quibble I have is with the tights. They have a seam that goes over the front of my knee which can become uncomfortable. It means I have to hike the leg up a bit to get around it. Would be nice if it was smooth.
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
I’ve had this jacket for like three years now and it’s something I reach for pretty much all year round. It is easily the best piece of kit I’ve bought over the last few years. So what makes it so good?
Well first up they use a really tightly woven nylon fabric to make most of the jacket. When you first feel it you think it’s not up to much, but in reality it is super tough. I’ve rubbed it against rock, brick walls, scaffolding, trees, members of the public and I reckon it still looks like it did the day I bought the jacket. It’s near enough windproof as well, which is handy, and as it doesn’t use a membrane its highly breathable.
The fit on the jacket is spot on, close but not skin tight. It’s helped by having Powerstretch panels on the side, basically a fleece with a smooth outer side. These have bags of stretch and give some handy venting. They definitely aren’t wind resistant at all though, it just whistles through if you’re standing side on to a strong wind.
Out and about I reckon it’s warmer than a fleece of the same weight. Helped by the windproof fabric but also because the synthetic insulation works really well. All combined you get a really light jacket, about a good 100+ grams lighter than a fleece and light windproof combo. Even more if you compare it to a fleece and Windstopper jacket. Its packs really small as well, easily half the space a fleece takes up.
Of course as good as something is, there is always something you want to change. I’d add some adjusters to the hood, maybe a little peak, just to increase the protection from the elements, but in reality its not like the hood is awful.
*UPDATE* I like the jacket so much I bought a second ’cause it was on sale, this time lichen yellow.
Rab Microlight Down Jacket
While the Atom is great in the cold, there are times some extra warmth would be nice. Last year I looked at down jackets to help with this but wasn’t sure it was worth getting one. When these Rab’s came up at half price though I thought ‘sod it’ and got one to try.
I’ve been really happy with my decision, you get a really nice instant feeling of warmth when you put one of these on. It definitely seems like I could stay out in really cold temps with this over the Atom.
The build of the jacket is good. Fit wise it’s a little tight round my chest for the medium, but not restrictive. The cut is a little short, I’d prefer maybe one extra baffle on the bottom. While I usually go for hooded jackets, I’ve found that with this I can have it done up and have a nice tight warm seal round my troublesome neck and just use the hood of the Atom.
The pockets aren’t lined like the Atom, so not super warm, but behind the down so you do get some insulation. They have a good size so I can stuff a good few things in. While it packs down well into its chest pocket, I actually prefer to stuff it into it’s sleeve. It actually packs down a little smaller than the Atom this way.
I’d like to see a draw cord on the hem and lined pockets but overall its a nice jacket. If I was to buy another I’d probably go for the Mountain Hardwear Nitrous as it has these things, but it’s not cheap.
Montane Superfly eVent Waterproof
I picked the Montane up on half price sale. It has a good fit, is a decent weight, pleanty of adjustments and is bright orange, so a winner in all my categories for jackets.
The Montane is made from eVent which is a really breathable, waterproof fabric. There though is the biggest problem with this jacket, as it’s so breathable it ends up dumping heat out quite quickly. You end up feeling a little chilly without the right layer on under it. So in hindsight I should have probably got a jacket made from Gore-Tex Pro Shell.
In use the jacket does exactly what it’s supposed to and at 470g, it’s pretty light. Any issues I have with it other than the fabric are just visual really, I just prefer the look of jackets with waterproof zips instead of the front storm flap.
Softshell Pants – Arc’teryx Gamma SK and Columbia Headwall
Basically both of these are made from some highly weather resistant stretch material. The Gamma’s look to be a little tougher but there isn’t much in it.
While they do a good job of keeping the elements at bay, after a few hours you do start to notice the wind cutting in a bit. The tights help with that.
Both of them fit me fine, 34 regular. The Gamma’s have a higher waist but also a baggier cut being ski pants. I probably should have got the AR versions which are the same material but a more active cut. The Headwall’s could do with bigger pockets and maybe one more leg pocket, at £25 though they were a total steal.
Sealskinz waterproof socks
I love these things, have like three different versions, and I never go out without them on. Nearly every trip out lately I’ve ended up with my feet submerged in water. With normal socks I’d have ice blocks, but with the Sealskinz I they might get a little chilly initially but out of the water they warm up nice and quickly.
The merino wool lining is nice and soft, never had any blisters, the fit though can be a little iffy. My knee highs keep falling down even though they are a little tight round my actual foot.
They just work though so are worth the little bit of faf. Just be careful not to dry them out on the radiator though! I’ve killed a pair quite quickly doing this.
You can never have too many hats. I have three. One thick wool beanie with a little peak on it, a simple acrylic mix one in a nice bright green and a nice little fleecy Powerstretch one in yellow. They all do a good job of keeping my bonce warm. The Powerstretch one fits in a pocket without taking up much space. If it gets a bit cold I throw the green one over the yellow one. Simples.
Inov-8 Roclite 295
Personally I don’t like walking in boots, I find them too restrictive, heavy feeling and the stiff soles are a bit uncomfortable for me. What I go for then are these light, flexible trail shoes from Inov-8.
They have a really aggressive sticky rubber sole made out of a series of squared knobs. That works great on soft ground, but I have to admit they get a little squirmy on hard ground and rock. Catch a knob funny on a rock and your foot goes west! I find the flexible sole and tacky rubber very confidence inspiring though, you can feel everything so you know exactly what your foot is doing, so even with the squirm I never feel out of my depth.
As they have a thin mesh upper they might not seem the best winter choice, but combined with the Sealskinz I’ve never had a problem with overly cold feet even in snow. It does help speed up the drying of them so when your back to in the car, whack the heater up to full and your feet are nice and toasty again.
If Inov-8 made a version with slightly shorter, broader blocks, they would have real winner.