Before I start this entry, let me report that the front focusing issues seems mostly resolved, at least for now.
Now on to new things. I went to my favorite fox location this morning, just before sunrise. We’ve had some recent snow, most of which has melted, but still lots of snow patches. And lots of ice on the trail. Lots of ice on the trail. So much ice that after one slide and one fall on my butt, I was having second thoughts about continuing the shoot. Nothing like carrying a bundle of expensive and fragile gear to make you paranoid about your footing.
Fortunately, I came well prepared. A quick trot back to the car and I found my instep crampons. For those of you not familiar, these are metal cleats that strap to the bottom of whatever shoe you’re wearing, and provide traction in all but the most technical applications. I trotted back down the trail, ignoring the icy patches that minutes before were so treacherous.
I carry enough gear in the back of my car that I could survive the next Ice Age. Remember the movie, The Day After Tomorrow? Child’s play. But all this got me thinking that nature photographers not only need specialized photography gear, but they can greatly benefit from some specialized outdoor gear too, particularly in winter. Since we’re outside early in the morning before the light and sometimes after dark, and in all sorts weather, some special tools can be invaluable. These are some of the tools and gear that I find helpful.
Headlamp – It’s hard enough to wrestle a big and heavy lens/camera up and on to a tripod without having to fumble in the dark at the same time. One tiny little mistake and thousands of dollars in delicate gear go crashing to the ground. Skip the flashlight and get a headlamp. Even the smallest LED headlamps shed enough light to make sure that Arca plate is securely seated in the clamp and to allow you to rifle through your gear bag in the dark. Skip the old-fashioned Xenon bulbs and heavy battery packs and try the new generation of LED lamps – they’re light and energy efficient.
Crampons – Nothing like an icy trail (or sidewalk) to induce paranoia in a photographer. The majority of crampons are too technical for most pursuits. Go for instep crampons that are designed to strap on any shoe or boot you wear.
An alternative is something like YakTrax that can provide a little extra traction.
For more technical routes, I’m very fond of my Grivel G10’s. They’re overkill for most applications, but when you need traction on icy trails, nothing else compares. I can move quickly over steep and icy terrain with little effort that way.
Snowshoes – For deep snow, or even icy trails, snowshoes are the ticket. I’ll usually bring both crampons and snowshoes in winter conditions if I’m going more than a half a mile from the trailhead. I start out with the G10s for packed, icy trails, and if the packed trail peters out, I’ll switch to the snowshoes. I’m fond of Crescent Moon snowshoes, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the offerings from the major manufacturers. gaiter
Trail Runners – This may be a controversial choice for many, but I prefer trail runners over boots for just about everything. I can travel more quickly and more comfortably in trail runners than in any boot. I use trail runners in the winter for snowshoeing, but there are some big caveats to this: in winter, there’s not much of a margin for error in bad weather conditions. In summer and fall I use light, breathable shoes with light wool socks. In winter & spring I use a Gore-Tex shoe sized to accommodate heavy wool socks, and I always carry spare socks plus a water proof/breathable sock just in case. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you’re not a winter weather neophyte.
I prefer New Balance shoes as they come in wide sizes. Don’t worry about brand; choose a shoe that fits properly.
Gaiters – With a low cut, trail runners can suck in a surprising amount of trail debris or snow. Use gaiters to keep the trail crap out of your shoe. In summer I use a shorty gaiter that’s very breathable. In winter, I usually still use a shorty gaiter, but now I switch to a stretchy soft shell material that’s water resistant and breathable. The drier I keep my socks, the warmer I keep my feet. The warmer I keep my feet, the longer I keep my toes.
Neck Gaiter – Same concept, just for your neck. Neck gaiters seal in the heat that would escape from your shirt and coat collar. With the buff Wear line, you can use it as a neck gaiter, hat, scarf, balaclava, among other things. I even use mine as a telephoto lens cover in snowy weather.
I’m sure other nature photographers have other ideas for gear – I’d be happy to exchange ideas. Here’s to safe, comfortable trips.