Winter photography is about waiting and patience. Frankly, not unlike any other photography I conduct.
Surviving Winter Photography
Execution of the perfect image in one's mind eye is a labor of love. But standing around in extreme cold temperatures changes the dynamic of "enjoying" the photo shoot. Comfort is certainly associated with enjoyment; but isn't always an element we experience being outdoors communing with nature. Some of the time just witnessing amazing winter scenes is enough to compensate for bone-chilling temperatures. Some of the time. That said, I have a condition called foot and finger icicle-itis! Yea, I'm not alone. You know who you are. It's those of us who have been accused of not having much, if any, blood circulation in our extremities. I suspect there are times I could have put my hands and feet in a refrigerator to warm them up! I apparently inherited this condition from my Dad. I have vivid childhood memories of my Mom yelling at my Dad to keep his feet away from her. I accept this condition, but know I must be prepared to endure extreme cold temperatures - anything under 45 degrees.
Obviously, for those of us cold-challenged, appropriate gear and clothing is essential. So, here comes a short outdoor gear review. To combat foot and hand icicle-itis, I've tried many gloves. My glove drawer is the premier living human history of winter gloves. So, as of this particular day in history, my go to choice for the best possible hand protection from the cold is Heat 3 Smart Gloves from The Heat Company. This Austrian company specializes in creating gloves that can stand up the harshest conditions and even keep my digits from turning to ice. I've found this mitten type of glove is generally the best design to keep fingers warm. Like any good practice to keep warm, layering is always recommended. Thus, for maximum protection, one should consider wearing thin underliner gloves. Heat Gloves include liners that are either integrated into their outer shell gloves or as a separate item. The outer shell is constructed from some goats who donated their skin and the insulation is Primaloft Gold. Of the many cool features of these gloves is the ability to zip them open to expose one's fingers. Of course that sounds counterintuitive, but is essential for the brief moments where dexterity is needed. If using a liner, at least one's bare fingers are not exposed. For me, there are camera buttons and other functions that can best be activated by using a finger(s). Additionally, my camera has the option of using a touchscreen. Yep, The Heat Company has ya covered as they provide tactile pads on the fingers of their liner gloves that allows the use on touchscreens. That is a very nice feature so not to have one's skin exposed to the elements! That said, during extremely cold situations, the liners only go so far in protecting one's fingers. The best scenario is never poking one's digits outside the mitten. Although I haven't yet experimented with this idea, using a pencil eraser to manipulate one's camera buttons may have merit. For really truly cold conditions, The Heat Company offers yet another layer of protection, a Polar Hood, that can slip over the outer shell mitten. So far, I haven't needed that level of protection, but I can see the benefit if one not moving around much or needs protection from wind. Ice fishing comes to mind. Another thoughtful addition to the liner and the outer shell glove is a pocket to insert a chemical heat warmer. Oh yes! Count me in as a big fan of these magical chemical packets. They are made with environmentally safe and nontoxic ingredients: iron, water, cellulose, vermiculite, activated carbon, and salt. When exposed to air, the iron and carbon react to create a lovely heat. Depending on the brand, they can last up to 10 hours. I buy them by the box because, well, they work.
Another option for cold hands is using one of those geeky USB rechargeable hand warmers. And, yes, of course I have one as it was a very thoughtful Christmas gift from Amanda's sister. I guess the word is getting around; Ken's fingers and toes need assistance in the cold. Another electronic option is the battery powered heated gloves. I could see those being a possible option for me in the future, but from the current choices I've researched, I am concerned about battery longevity. The gloves themselves are typically not as robust with insulation since they are designed for heat generation from a battery. For those who may not need the ultimate and rather expensive cold weather gloves, there are many other options available including, ski gloves. Now if you want that cool woodsman or woodswoman look, consider Chopper gloves. Yes, of course I have a pair of these as well (a gift from a special Minnesotan). Again layering is the key, so these gloves are constructed with an outershell of buckskin, elkskin, cowhide or some other critter that donated their skin. Typically, the inner layer is tried and true, wool. I've already had a chance to use them in some near zero weather and can vouch for their effectiveness for short trips.
Ok, time to talk about feet. Yea, standing on ice or snow is a problem; particularly if one is not moving around much. Getting the right winter boot can do wonders, keeping your feet warm, dry, and comfortable and keeping you upright and safe on slippery surfaces. Thus, the challenge on selecting the right cold weather boot is many fold: a boot that is comfortable, has extreme cold weather insulation; has decent traction; doesn't weigh a ton; is waterproof; and comes in cool colors. Of course, I could have added in price, however, money shouldn't be a consideration if one spends a lot of time recreating in the backcountry. Nothing ruins a winter excursion faster than frostbite toes. The decision on the best winter boot is really dependent on one's planned activities; how cold is it going to be; how much hiking is planned; and how long one may be sedentary; or are ya just going down to the corner store for milk and cookies. With a fair amount of research, I had selected the Keen Durand Polar. I have had casual Keen shoes in the past and have found them to focus on comfort. So, I was surprised and glad they offered a winter boot. For my needs, this boot gets it right. It is quite versatile as it balances comfort, weight, waterproofness, traction, and warm; even when waking several miles. And it comes in a cool color, black. I should emphasize comfort as it fits extremely well. I also should deemphasize traction. I'm not sure any boot is great on ice anyway, but it is decent on snow. Boot traction is not the most compelling issue for me, since for most of my backcountry winter excursions, I'm either on snowshoes or using traction devices, such as the Yaktrax Traction System. If I know I will be sitting or standing around a lot, my icicle-itis feet will need supplemental heat, even with the Keen boots. So, yep, I use chemical feet warmers. One has a choice of just toe warmers or a complete insole warmer. Magic through chemistry!
If traversing in the backcountry in the winter, it obviously is important to take all the precautions necessary, not just to enjoy the outing and be safe, but to consider emergency situations. One has to ask whether you could survive a night or two in the elements. Even with the gear I use, I suspect my icicle-itis would get the best of my feet and fingers. But at least I would like to survive the ordeal to "tell the story." Besides the typical good practices of telling others where you are going and bringing an emergency survival kit, one the best options we now have at our disposal is an emergency beacon and/or a satellite communicator. Of course, more techy stuff! A satellite communicator can potentially save one's life; so I believe it will be worthwhile to devote an entire discussion in an upcoming article. Stay tuned!