Keeping Warm

Introduction

It’s winter at the moment; in the context of taking photos, this is a mixed blessing. On the positive side, the light tends to be cooler and more subdued, snow and frost are more likely to appear, and deciduous trees take on interesting shapes in the absence of foliage. Opposing this, however, is the weather: cold, wet, and liable to leave one indisposed.

If (like me), you want to take shots in a frigid environment, it’s perfectly possible to do so without contracting a terrible head cold. This week’s post is dedicated to discussing some of the things I do to keep warm when the weather’s against me.

Common Sense

Common sense is the easiest way to handle the weather. Choose clothes which insulate well, and reduce your exposure to the cold by covering as much skin as possible. If at all possible, use the camera from a sheltered area, such as under a tree or around bushes (especially evergreens), or in the lee of solid objects, like fences and buildings.

The bare minimum I will head out with in winter is thick socks, boots which cover my ankles, thick jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt and woollen jersey (which cover the waist of the jeans), and a coat or jacket that comes halfway down the thigh. I usually add gloves and a scarf, but I tend to get too hot walking in them (unless it’s horrifically cold); this is where hand warming pockets and a collar that turns up to cover the neck are useful. Overall, this basic outfit keeps me quite warm without restricting my movement.

Expect the Unexpected

Regardless of the forecast, I always make sure I’m prepared for things to get colder and wetter. Living in my bag are a pair of waterproof over-trousers; they are excellent insulators, and prevent my legs getting wet from puddle splashes, wind-blown rain, or dribbling from the hem of the jacket. If I have to wear a waterproof outer layer, I expect it to handle a minimum of 90 minutes of heavy precipitation without letting water pass through to the layers beneath; this gives me a decent window of opportunity to find shelter until the weather eases up.

If I’m likely to be out for an extended period (or at risk of being stranded), I carry an extra jersey, socks, t-shirt and jeans in a plastic bag inside my pack. The plastic bag is there to keep them dry should the pack leak. I will also put on a thermal base layer, making sure it’s as air tight as possible (i.e. thermal top tucked into thermal leggings, thermal leggings tucked into socks). In addition to the clothing, I will also be likely to pack food, water (maybe even a flask of tea), a first aid kit and a torch. Most importantly, though, I will leave details of where I’m going and when, what route (or likely route) I will be taking, and may even call someone at a set time to confirm that things haven’t gone pear shaped.

Some of this may seem unrelated to keeping warm, but it isn’t: food and water or a hot drink (energy and hydration, possibly even heat) to help maintain body temperature; first aid kit to cover minor injuries (reduce exposure to the cold); torch to find your way out in the dark or identify yourself to a search party (reduce exposure to the cold if lost or injured); and details of the trip (someone is more likely to realise you’re lost or injured if they know you’ve been out longer than you should have been).

Know Your Limits

When I was younger, I’d happily head out in nasty weather that wouldn’t let up. I’d unhappily have a cold and be bed-ridden for a few days as a result.

Since then, I’ve learnt to stick within my limits: if I’m impaired (e.g. with a cold or fatigue), or the weather is so extreme I would struggle to survive unless I wore so many layers I became immobile, I won’t go. The easiest way to stay out of bother is to avoid getting yourself into it.

Conclusion

Keeping warm is mostly common sense: dress to the conditions, and if the conditions are too extreme for you to handle, don’t go. At the same time, be prepared for conditions to change (as they often will rapidly in New Zealand): keep spare clothes in a waterproof liner, have enough food and water to keep you going, and most importantly, let someone know where they can find you should you fail to make it back when you thought you would.

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