Winter Photo Tips: Part 2 - Clothing

November 26, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Sunset_Clouds_Over_Longs_RMNP_2022_1Sunset_Clouds_Over_Longs_RMNP_2022_1A dramatic sky closes out a spring day above Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Now that your car is ready to go (See Winter Photo Tips: Part 1: Your Car) and you have the supplies you need stashed away in your vehicle for winter travel, let's take a look at what you should have on you to stay warm and safe. Winter seems to have finally arrived in Colorado — we had several days of snow this weekend and the temperatures will hover below freezing for much of the next week. Time to break out and update your winter essentials for staying warm.

First, let's start with outerwear. 

Winter outerwear can vary quite a bit depending on how much activity you are doing (ie., hiking, standing, sitting in a car) and how cold the temperatures will drop. You also need to consider how warm you run. Some people get cold easily while others, like me, feel more comfortable in cooler temperatures. 

For places like Yellowstone, Churchill and Alaska in winter, my list of gear includes the best of the best for cold weather. This includes consideration for wind and damp conditions.

My coat is a Lands End parka with hood edged with faux fur. The coat is long enough to cover my bum so when I sit, I stay dry and warm.

If I need a waterproof outer layer for my bottoms, I top the fleece-lined pants with an oversized pair of snow pants or oversized rain pants. 

If I need the extra warmth, I add a base layer. Currently I use the North Face fleece-lined leggings or try this option on Amazon. A silk base layer works well too.

Next, let's look at footwear. 

If your feet, and your head and extremities (I discuss that below), are cold, the rest of your body will feel cold too, no matter how heavy of a coat you are wearing. 

When I am in extreme winter locations, like Yellowstone, I go with Muck Boots Arctic. Some people I know like the Mukluks, a stylish winter boot worn by Inuit people of northern regions and made in Minnesota, but I cannot personally speak one way or another on them — they are really cute though. 

When exploring around Colorado, like on snowshoes or going out for local photo opportunities, I rely on my Lowa Renegade hiking boots. They are not the warmest boots for really cold days but if I am just in a car or out snowshoeing, they do the trick very well. Keep them conditioned so they stay waterproof and the snow doesn't dry out the leather. Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1Microspikes_RMNP_2022_1A view looking down tot he microspikes on the feet of a hiker while standing on ice in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

A good pair of Merino wool socks is essential inside of the boots. Just make sure they are not too thick because if the circulation is cut off or reduced in your feet, they will still be cold. My favorite brands are Darn Tough (can't beat that lifetime warranty; they run small so buy a size larger than normal if your foot size is a borderline sock size) and Smartwool (gotta love those Colorado companies!). 

Pro tip: Buy a foam kneeling pad, the type gardeners use, to stand on when out in the snow. It creates a layer between your feet and the snow, giving you an extra layer of insulation from the cold ground. They are super light so if you have the space in a suitcase, they travel well. And definitely leave one in your vehicle.

For clothing, there are so many options. These are the items I have found work very well for me and as a result, I have stuck with just a few items but have purchased multiples of each since they have proven time and again to be the best option to keep me warm – from summer mornings at high elevation to the coldest days of winter in Colorado, Wyoming and Alaska. 

Tops: I don't like to feel bulked up like Randy from A Christmas Story when going out in the cold. Thin base layers, like Capilene products from Patagonia, work well and don't create that bulky feel. I also really like the base layer from Eddie Bauer, which is soft on the inside and has held up well after multiple washings. I pair a base layer with a fleece top, typically the 1/4-zip Fleece Essentials from Amazon. (Who knew, right?) I have multiple colors, you can't beat the price and they too have worn well after multiple washings. Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4Snowshoes_IPW_2021_4A view looking down at a pair of feet in hiking boots and snowshoes standing on snow in Colorado.

Bottoms: Again, Eddie Bauer has done a fantastic job with making my favorite hiking pants into a winter version. The fleece-lined Guide Pro Pants are all I wear in the winter. I rarely need more than this, as the fleece is soft and warm and the outer layer drys quickly and seems stain resistant. 

And finally, the outer extremities, like head and hands, need to stay warm as they are most prone to frostbite and when hands, nose or feet (see footwear above) feel cold, you will start to feel miserable when outdoors. For my hands, I have struggled (and apparently a lot of other people have as well based on how many questions I receive about what gloves I use) to find just the right setup to keep them warm. So far, the best combination I have found is to wear a liner glove with a fleece flip-top mitten over the liner and then add a Hot Hand warmer between the two gloves. I have a couple of other gloves that I use on occasion but haven't felt like they were exactly what I wanted but they work very well in a pinch or extreme colds like in Yellowstone National Park and Churchill, Canada. 

- Liner glove: Sitka liner or The Heat Company liner
- Outer fleece glove: hunter glove
- Hot hands
- Other options: The Heat Company outer glove is definitely warm and has some unique features, like a zipped pocket for Hot Hands, but I find the zipper to be in the wrong location when flipped back and the zipper is not a quick option for popping the top when the action starts to happen and I need to quickly shoot the subject, preferring a glove with a magnet to hold the flip-top back. (Velcro is another option but can be noisy, which is not good when photographing wildlife.) They are also very pricey. There are also electric gloves; I have the Matkao heated gloves. These too are wonderful for keeping your hands warm (keep it on low setting for a nice constant warmth that doesn't drain the battery as quickly) but the batteries are a bit bulky and clunky around your wrist. 

Keeping your head warm is as simple as finding a warm wool hat. Remember that cotton easily gets wet and doesn't dry quickly. Fleece hats are great for temperatures that aren't quite as extreme. My favorite combination is a wool hat with a fleece lining. I can't stand an itchy hat on my forehead; the fleece lining seems to solve this scratchy issue. My favorite hats are those from Sherpa and Turtle Fur. 

And finally, a neck warmer is a must in your bag. If you really want to be stylish, go with a Qiviut neck warmer. Made out of muskox fur, which is considered to be the warmest wool on the planet, it is super soft, extremely light and supports local knitters in Alaska. For a more practical option, I go with a fleece-lined Buff. I keep one in each of my camera bags. They are quite versatile, being used not just for keeping the neck warm but pull it up to your nose, and it becomes a face mask. Pull it around the back of your head and it keeps your ears warm too. 

And don't forget the other cold-season essentials like lip balm (avoid balms with menthol and salicylic acid as they will actually dry out the lips) with soothing natural ingredients like beeswax and shea butter. I have a stick of Burt's Bees lip balm in each of my jackets. Sunscreen with a moisturizer is also an important item to keep with you in winter to protect and hydrate your skin. The sun reflecting off of the snow can be as bad or worse than the rays from the sun reflecting off of water in the summer and winter winds will quickly dry skin. And continue to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated will help prevent cracked hands and lips plus help with energy levels. 

NOTE: Links in this article may connect to affiliate partners where I may receive a portion of sales at no additional cost to you. This additional income helps me keep my business running and continue to provide helpful information for you.

Want to help even more? Buy me a coffee for those cold winter mornings.




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