Winter Day Hikes, Getting Prepared and Staying Safe


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The Big Announcement

I’ve finally got plans lined up for the release of my newest adventure, that is, Latitude Photography School.

Right now you can go to the website, https://latitudephotographyschool.com and all that you’ll see is a sign up form. I’m busy working on my next course offerings and other tutorial items. I’ll also have an associated YouTube channel to go along with this new service.

The two courses I’m crafting have to do with beginning photography and an intermediate course on creativity in photography. With each course there will be associated assignments or projects. You’ll be able to post the assignment results in the private facebook group and you’ll get some feedback from myself and other students.

I will also have smaller items that are more tutorial based. Topics will cover everything from understanding the camera to being out in the field to doing things right in post-production.

It will take some time to produce all these items, but one thing I need to make sure you’re aware of, you’ll be able to purchase access to the courses individually as you want, or you can have a membership option and you can have access to the courses for as long as you’re a member.

So head on over to the site if you’re interested and sign up to be notified when the doors are open for business. 

I have closed the cart on my online print course as well for the time being but you can still purchase the shoot-n-print workshop in the Palouse in May or June, direct links are in the show notes.

Winter Day Hikes

I love backpacking, but there’s nothing like a good day hike either. You go out for the day and come back to a hopefully cozy bed to get a good night’s rest. If you’re traveling you may also be eating out in restaurants, or maybe cooking in your room or Airbnb. Either way, your experience is way less rugged than if you’re full-on backpacking.

I should insert here that the advice I’m giving is not intended to be thorough nor does it address all situations or skill levels. Please be aware of your own abilities and if you have a doubt about something, don’t do it.

I’ll be looking at ways to get properly prepared for such an outing. As you know, I’m heading to Unalaska Island in a couple weeks. I do have a podcast listener coming along so that’s certainly good. And that takes us to item number 1.

Hiking buddy

It’s always good to have a hiking buddy along if safety is in any way a concern. There’s so many times where I love going out alone and just being there in God’s big beautiful creation with just my cameras. But when I called up to the visitor’s office in Dutch Harbor and I got some information on the weather in mid December I knew it’d be best to have a hiking buddy. Not only to share costs with, but simply for safety. They also require registrations for hikers, so they know someone is out there, which is good, but there’s nothing like having someone with you when you’re out there on a trail, several miles from town and hundreds of miles out in the middle of the ocean. 

Notifications

Jared Yoder posted a great question in the Master Photography Podcast group about this idea of getting prepared for a day hike. And I’m glad he did. And then David Patton gave some very good advice right away. And one of those items was to be sure you tell someone where you’ll be going and when you plan to return. This is especially important if you head out of cell phone range. If they don’t hear from you they can at east give the local rescue and law enforcement authorities a heads up and maybe they’ll need to go out and search for you. The timeframe might be much longer if no one knows when to expect you back. So do let someone know of your plans.

Non-photography tools

I always carry a knife with me. It’s not a big knife, but I have one just the same. I have a Gerber that my brother gave me for being the best man at his wedding, I have a CRKT that someone left in a bathroom and after a search of who it might belong to I simply kept it, and then I have another that I purchased in Poland as a souvenir. I also have a leatherman that is invaluable when camping, but sometimes it comes with me hiking as well. 

I also always take a good waterbottle with me. It’s always good to have more than you think you’ll need. Especially when it’s cold, you don’t think you’ll need as much, but you do. You can always melt snow, but I say why bother when you can just have enough water for the day. I go for between 20–32 oz. for a few hours hike, but I also have a secondary bottle in the car that I guzzle just before heading out.

Water purifier. If you’re going to be out longer I say bring along a water purifier. It can provide good clean water for your whole party and you don’t have to carry as much with you. Of course it only works if you actually have a water source you can get water from.

Hand warmers. These little packets of warmth are perfect for keeping your water from freezing and your fingers too. I use them in my fold over mittens when I’m not shooting and when the weather is super cold. Sometimes I also put them in my boots but not usually, they’re more uncomfortable than they are worth. I’ve tried the flatter kind that adhere to your sock and those are OK, but really, good socks will do the trick better than anything. More on that in a bit.

Maps etc. It’s always good to have a map to study. I use the Alltrails app on my phone and that’s good, but with the pro account you can also print off maps. I’ve not actually done that yet, but I plan to in the near future. Not with my trip to Alaska, because there’s so few trails listed on the app, but with other areas here in the PNW I’ll be able to do that. Off-line maps are best because what would you do if your battery died on your phone? There’s nothing like studying the map before hand and really having the place sink in as much as possible. Before I went to Europe for three weeks with my father several years ago I bought several maps and just studies them over and over. When there I rarely referenced them but I always knew where I was and where things were in relation to other things. Absorbing maps is a good thing for sure.

Clothing – Footwear

You need good boots, there’s no other way around it. For winter boots I’ve used Sorel and Kamik brands. Both have been exceptionally good. Shop at reputable places like REI, Cabellas, Dicks Sporting Goods and others that I’m not thinking of at the moment. I’m sure you’ll find some on Amazon as well, but the point I want to drive home is the insulation rating and waterproofing. Winter boots are certainly different than hiking boots in size and overall function. I’ve got the Kamik Nation Plus Pac Boots. They’re a fine boot but they are listed as having a “200 gram Thinsulate liner.” But the Cabellas brand that’s 2x as much has 2,000 gram Thinsulate. Other brands have other insulations as well. The best thing I can recommend is going to the store and trying them on. Talk to the associate and see what works for you. I like mine because I also use SmartWool socks with them. The only time I really felt cold in these boots and socks like that was after a full day in Banff National Park in February. I’d sweated enough that finally, at the end of the day it didn’t matter what I did, I just needed to get out of those boots. Had I brought a fresh pair of socks I’m sure I’d have been fine. When I go to AK, I plan to bring fresh socks with me on the trail so I can swap them out as needed.

I also am trying out some Alpaca wool liners. I bought them at the homesteading life conference this summer in Missouri. I bought them from Alpacas of Troy. https://alpacasoftroy.com

I’ve only been out on one small hike with them to the proof will be in the pudding when I go to Alaska.

Clothing – Pants

If it’s not too cold I’ll just wear regular hiking pants. No cotton though please. Has to be a quick drying type of materials. I have some excellent hiking pants from Mountain Hardwear. I bought them on clearance from REI. They’re listed as a 30” waist and let me tell you, I’m NOT a 30” waist, that’s probably why they were on the clearance rack. But they fit perfectly. I just love them. But all too often in winter time those are way to thin. So I have some larger hiking pants that I’ll wear as an outer layer and use either a base layer underneath or I’ll just wear some flannel pants as insulation. If it’s a short jaunt I’ll go with the flannel pants, if it’s a longer time out I want the base layer protection against moisture buildup. The point here is layering is good. I’ve even been known to go with all three layers. However, that does get a bit uncomfortable if I need to sit down or whatnot. But when I kneel in the snow, no problem. I don’t even feel the cold on my knee. 

I’ll use snow pants when it’s downright frigid cold, like when I was in Banff last winter and the warmest it got was about 9 degrees F. Starting the day out at -26 or so requires more insulation and the bib overall style of snow pants does the job.

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Clothing – Upper body

I’ll go with recommending layering once again. When it’s ultimate cold I’ll go with four layers. A base layer, an insulation layer, an insulation coat such as my Eddie Bauer goose down jacket, and then an outer shell. I like a built in hat on my outer shell. It’s almost funny, when it gets super cold the outer shell tends to get rather crunchy. By going with an oversized coat I can also guarantee that wind won’t get up underneath it and I won’t get frozen out that way either. I’m not sold on any one brand per se, but I do recommend that you go with quality items. Even Wal-Mart may have some quality items from time to time. I could never spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece of gear like a jacket. My down coat cost about $50 and my outer shell was more than that, about $60 or so on sale. 

Head wear

I’d like to say I never take my hat off, but that’s just not the case. When it comes to winter photography I need to stay warm, but the head is the first thing that gets modified as it’s prime temp control. I have a really warm hat from REI, I totally forget the brand, but it’s so warm and light weight, I can easily forget I have it on except for my head and ears are warm. I like a hat that covers the ears as I hate ear muffs. I also have another hat that is rather warm but it also has an embedded light in the front part. Makes for a great setup when hiking at night. You can also use a head lamp which I always have in my backpack.

When I combine the insulation hat with the outer shell jacket it’s almost always going to keep you warm enough. But in times like when I was in Banff, I needed something extra. I needed a Balaclava. This is the type of device a bank robber would wear, but having it covering your head and neck is invaluable in keeping the chills out. When I use this I always have to be careful with my glasses, and I hate how the moisture always gathers around the mouth so I usually extend the hole and force it around my chin which stretches it out a bit. But it’s better than having the moisture condense right there.

Gloves

I wear three kinds of gloves, depending on the weather and the nature of my hike. I like a thin glove by Columbia that has touch sensitive pads for the touch screen on my camera for generally cold days. If it’s getting colder I’ll cover them with some thick wool mittens that fold over the finger tips. I’ll put a heat pack in the fingers area and I’ll be good when I’m not shooting. If I need to be a bit more active I’ll use standard skiing gloves by Serius. They’re not all that warm, but when you’re moving about the blood circulation keeps the fingers warm and functioning anyway. Only when you stop does it start to get cold. Either way, I’m prepared for anything with these glove options.

Other clothing related items.

I’m considering getting some ski goggles for my trip to Alaska. The wind is potentially going to get very blustery and having some goggles might be the best option to keep the eyes clear and functioning properly. I am also considering some gaiters. These are items that go around the top of your boot and extend up the leg a bit. The point here is to keep all the snow out of the boot top if at all possible. And a gaiter can really make that happen for you. My snow pants are oversized and essentially do the same job but having dedicated gaiters would still be better.

Micro spikes are another item that can work really well. They’re like snow chains for your boots. I have little diamond shaped grippers and getting some that are actual spikes are also on my list. They do a great job of gripping the slippery snow and ice and I recommend them if you’re doing anything even remotely risky. A couple years ago I got down to the base of Palouse Falls in the middle of the biggest freeze we’ve had in a long time. The journey down there is frightful at best and to me, impossible without some grippers on your boots. Though I did see others down there in standard tennis shoes which I though was just unnecessarily foolish.

Backpacks

For camera gear, backpacks specifically, I’m partial to ThinkTank Photo. Probably because I have an affiliate link with them. But they do make some serious bags. The best options right now for this type of photography is going to be the Backlight Elite 45 or the Backlight 36 or 26. I personally have the 26 model and find it suitable for what I need. However I also have the Urban access 15 which in overall design is superior to the Backlight 26, but only because it has two different compartments, plus the front pouch area. I like how the top of the bag is expandable and you could put a whole mess of stuff in there and you can still have a pretty good camera kit too. If your camera kit is larger (maybe I should say “standard”) then the Backlight 36L and the Elite 45 will be more to your liking. It comes in at about $400 US but it’s so versatile and huge. I just wish they had functionality and design of the Urban Access 15 in a MindShift styling and materials. 

LowePro also makes some great bags. For this type of shooting I’d recommend their Whistler line. I also really like their powder line but the photos they show on their site don’t cover how the gear fits in which is too bad. I have not personally tried either of these bags.

If you want something that’s styled just a bit differently, check out Langly bags. Their Alpha Globetrotter has two separate sections (something I like in a backpack) and their Multi-pack Globetrotter is massive. Might not be perfect for a winter’s hike, but it’s worth looking into.

Of course, there’s Shimoda Designs with their newly released Action X line of bags, built really well and very durable to boot. 

And finally Peak Design just updated their everyday backpack as well. So you should probably check that out too.

The things I really look for in a bag is flexibility of how the gear is stored, protection, size and materials. There’s many fine bags out there that I didn’t mention only because I think they’re using the “wrong” materials. I want something water proof and durable and flexible. A bag that’s too rigid doesn’t work for me.

Other camera thoughts

When it’s cold you want multiple batteries. Keeping them warm is also a must. I’ll stash them in my jacket pockets, inside the outer shell if possible, and swap them out as necessary. An item to keep water off can be a good thing, but it can also get in the way. I have a rain jacket and a much larger item (can’t recall the brand right now) for inclement weather, but really, a weather sealed camera is your best bet for sure. When I was at Palouse that winter and I was close to the falls, and the wind shifted, I got about 1/4 in of ice on my camera and lens. It was fine but I just put it away for the rest of the shoot. I didn’t want to risk damage when it was all frozen. By allowing it to simply melt off I was able to not have any issues at all.

You’ll probably want some spiked feet on your tripod. Gripping the snow is better than having it slide all over the place. Almost anything will do, just get something that’s not the rubber feet. 

Memory card wallets are another good thing to have when out in the cold. I have a very rugged wallet by Polar Pro. I couldn’t help but think it overkill until I thought of the rugged conditions I’ll be in. It’s not waterproof, but it’s super rugged and will protect the cards when not in use. I used to just let them float around in a little pocket in the bag but no longer. I either use the Pixel Pocket Rocket by Think Tank Photo or this option by Polar Pro. I also have a Defender Lens cap which is pretty sweet. 

First aid and other emergency kit

The size of my kit is generally proportional to the length I’m gone and the distance I’ll be away from civilization. One time when I went to South America I remember thinking I want a kit so good I can do minor surgery with it. That’s probably overkill, but when going out for the day you probably don’t need a suture kit and all sorts of different types of bandages. But maybe you do, just depends on where you’re going. I have various sizes and it’s hard to specifically recommend one over the other, I can only stress that it’s important and you should look through your options and consider your plans and see what makes sense for you.

Bear spray is also important if you’re going to a place like Yellowstone or some other place like that. Be sure you read the instructions and have it ready to go. The worst thing is to have it and not have it accessible when you need it.

Sunglasses are also important. Can’t forget those. In white out conditions like a snowy scene, there’s nothing like cutting out all that UV light. Your rods and cones will thank you!

Shooting tips

When I’m all dressed up like this I tend to absolutely rely on the live view shooting mode the camera offers. That keeps the camera on the tripod and I don’t have to breath on it all the time with it mashed up against my face. I like the bigger tripod as well since the legs will likely sink in the snow quite a bit, and it’s just easier to manage the bigger controls. I still try to challenge myself to get low, high, and find unique ways of viewing my subject. But I know if I’m not at least mostly warm and comfortable no matter what my subject is I’ll get cranky and lose interest in photographing it if I’m too cold for too long. Though there have certainly been times where I didn’t feel cold until I was done shooting and it was time to head back to the room, all of a sudden I get the chills and start hustling it back to the car!

Closing Remarks

Thank you so much for listening. I would love to have your feedback or questions, just simply email me at brent@latitudephotographypodcast.com and I’ll try to answer your question in a future episode.

Also, there’s a new benefit for listeners with lensrentals.com. Use my link in the show notes and the code “latitude15” for 15% off your next order. You can use the code without the link but if you use that link a few pennies are tossed my way and I thank you for your support.

So, that’s it for today, until next time, happy shooting!