Winter can be a hard time to enjoy the outdoors, especially when its as cold as it has been or wet. Certainly for us photographers the temptation to stay in and give up is hard to fight off at times.
If you have the right equipment however being outside can be less of a challenge and more enjoyable but for some of this kit it can cost a few pennies for the good gear but it makes all the difference and in some cases life saving.
So here are some of my recommendations of kit I own and use daily in order to keep me outside. The bonus is, they're not just for winter, they can keep going all year. So lets kick off with number 1 on the list. *Click on the images for links*
1. Sealskinz Dragoneye Gloves *****
A good pair of gloves is also helpful and personally I've not found any better for cost and what they offer. I have now been using SealSkinz for some 6 months now and the difference has been huge!
The gloves are waterproof, windproof, very warm, padded for protection and work with touchscreens. Although if you are buying these for their touchscreen abilities you might be some what dissapointted, they aren't the best for it.
I use the Olympus Pen-F and the buttons are small, I'm 6ft2 and so have big hands. If I can use these gloves on this small camera then you have no excuses.
Regarding cost, if you're lucky you can pick a pair of these up in the sales at just £25 but the usual price is £40. A must have and come highly recommended.
2. Peak Design Shell ****
For anyone who doesn't have a weathersealed camera or is conscious of their £1000+ camera getting wet or scratched then this is a must for you and is certainly helpful in cold weather and trying to avoid touching that metal camera.
The Shell is very cost effective and comes in various sizes. Starting at £30, a small cost that can save you hundreds from your camera being damaged. It is made to fit snug around your camera and the coating just lets water roll off. It can be a little awkward to have on whilst shooting but Peak Design recommend to use this just for travelling about.
From experience although a little awkward, once I found a good position for the Shell over the camera leaving the back open it was very easy to use and this Shell kept me shooting in mid-Wales last summer despite the rain. Another bonus to the Shell is its ability to pack away REALLY small, unlike other rain shells for cameras which can be large plastic sheeting that has no give.
3. A good rucksack ****
The ulimate debate! Speaking from a photographers point of view and an outdoors enthusiast, this is a long standing struggle!!!
You can spend hours, days even WEEKS, reviewing and looking over bags to suit your needs but no one bag is perfect. Personally I own several kinds but my always go to bag or rucksack has been with Vango. My main expedition rucksack (A 70 litre Vango Sherpa) has lasted me over 8+ years now and has been to Germany, Wales, Scotland, France and beyond. My everyday bag is the smaller 25 litre Vango Ventis. Both are extremely comfortable to wear and have great back support!
For a photographer, yes they don't offer the best access in and out or ability to get kit fast but everyone has individual needs, if you are like me and do a lot of hiking, expeditions etc and carry more than just camera kit, then these bags are perfect. Both have handy side pockets and D rings which are perfect for walking poles or a small tripod. The larger Sherpa bag can take a 055 Xpro3.
A good extra to buy with these bags is a small camera bag insert or a dry bag for extra protection. p.s. My internal camera bag I use for my Vango's is a Lowe Pro Adventura
4. Dry Bags, 5. Gators, 6. Waterproof socks
Three smaller items that can make a big difference.
Dry bags are great for lining your rucksack with a waterproof lining, the keep your kit organised and tidy. Take it from experience, when you're carrying 24kg rucksack up a mountain and you need something, these colour coded bags can make it so much easier to find the right kit at the moment. You can find a variety of branded dry bags and cost. These Vango bags are £17 for the three but you can buy Exped bags starting at £5 for a small 6 litre bag. Personally I stick to well known brands for warrenty and trust.
Gators, not always required but can be very helpful if you are in very muddy conditions or boggy land. They strap to your lower leg around your boot and keep your trousers and ankles dry and cut free from the undergrowth. I have a Trespass set and these were £15 but I have seen them as low as £5 in sales. They are great for winter or when the weather turns.
Waterproof socks! Yes you read correct. These are a god send! I have 6 pairs and counting, all from different brands but my most recent pair has been from SealSkinz. Price for a pair of socks start from £10 for a cheap pair right up to £40 which I've just paid.
However, these do last a very long time! So £55 over 2 years is a small investment. My waterproof socks were a blessing in Wales last summer when it rained for a week solid or if you are just looking for a good pair of warm socks for winter, they are very comfy.
7. Waterproof Jacket *****
8. Walking Boots **
It goes without saying you need a good jacket and pair of boots. Certainly in the UK where weather is unpredictable and at this time of year, very cold!
Now waterproof jackets aren't that stylish nor can they be that practical. Everything from 3-in-1 jackets, pac a mac and so on. Of course pac a mac is ideal as it rolls up to a small ball but they aren't the warmest jackets or are they the most reliable for climbing through the undergrowth or woodland. Hours later you'll find your jacket in tatters and unusable. (I have this same problem with my waterproof trousers...Useless)
Having got sick of these style of jackets weighing me down or getting ruined after a short use, I found the Trespass Rocco jacket. A super light weight, fleece lined jacket that was waterproof and windproof but rolled up to just slightly bigger than a pac a mac.
It was pretty much perfect and when I took the new jacket with me to Wales I quickly found it was the best purchase I had made! A week of solid rain and the jacket kept me warm and very dry, in fact too warm at points.
The shell design was ideal for the expedition and long hikes as its light weight. During winter another fleece is needed but it doesn't feel sluggish or heavy. The usual price is £75 for this jacket but on Trespass you can pick it up for a TINY £20. I'm currently looking at matching this jacket with a soft shell design for summer and climbing, stay tuned for more.
The boots, Karrimor D30 KSB Jaguar eVent Mens Walking Boots - £160
Most people will typically know Karrimor for being the cheap boots you buy in Sports Direct. Nothing wrong with this, I've used a pair of £30 boots for my DofE Bronze and Silver and lasted me a solid 6 years.
As I had seen they were realible I was happy to spend a lot more.
I put them through their paces in the Cambrian Mountains. A week of rain, bogs becaming pits of boot removing mud, more rain and very wet. Not cold though, thankfully.
The eVent structure of the boots kept my feet warm, now notice I didn't say dry!
Everything has a breaking point, now for a £160 RRP this boot should be waterproof, solid and well made. SHOULD being the key word, so when I stepped through the long grass on expedition to find my feet were quickly in a pool of water I was very annoyed! And how I managed to keep going 5 days I do not know. Perhaps the fact they were this expensive helped, a good snug fit and warm but thats as far as it goes. For an everyday boot for walking around the local park or woodland. They are perfect, very expensive for just this but anymore I wouldn't recommend these are all and I am looking for a new boot.
Current contenders are Berghaus Fellmaster GTX and Scarpa R-Evo Pro GTX.
Yes some of the items above can be expensive but spending the extra will mean they last longer. Buy cheap and they will fall apart sooner. That said, do be wary of some kit like what I suffered with my recent boots.