So, not trying to be anyone’s mom here, but we do have a fair amount of outdoor and back-country experience, which we can hopefully translate into making it easier for you to select clothing items and prepare for your photographic adventure. The appropriate outdoor gear and clothing can make your time in the back-country enjoyable and fun, while the wrong selections can make for a long miserable day.
The paragraphs that follow, below, are not intended to be a shopping list, rather a checklist of sorts, that gets you thinking about what to pack and the effects of the environments that we might be visiting.
Secondary to the camera itself, likely one of the most important pieces of gear, you will bring with you, to an outdoor photography workshop / expedition, is good footwear. You can potentially log many miles trekking to photo locations, coupled with significant time on your feet, standing by your tripod. It’s funny how we take our feet for granted when everything is going well and not so funny how quickly things fall apart when foot problems crop up. So here are some thoughts on keeping your feet happy and how to do so:
A good pair of hiking boots is a thing bliss, a bad pair of hiking boots is a thing of blisters. Don’t fall victim to the riggers of trekking many miles in a pair of ill-fitting boots, you’ll thank us for this advice later. Proper fit and an appropriate break-in period for a pair of boots are critical considerations. The hiking boot industry, is loaded with brands, designs and varying technologies. What follows is a primer for those of you who are overwhelmed by the selection of boots at your local outdoor store or online retailer:
Types of Hiking Boots
There exists a large range of hiking boot solutions, targeting activities such as light hiking, hiking, backpacking and even more arduous pursuits. Consider your intended activity and exposure when selecting a specific type of hiking boot. It is not unusual, for those avid in the pursuit of multiple outdoor activities, to have more than one type of hiking boot in your footwear arsenal.
Hiking Shoes: Are typically low-cut around the ankle, with more flexible mid-soles, considered to be excellent for day hiking. It is not unusual to see ultra-light backpackers using either hiking shoes or trail-running shoes for their longer distance adventures. These are typically lightweight and easily broken-in, but are considered to lack the ankle support needed for rougher trails and / or heavier loads.
Hiking Boots: Are typically medium cut to high-cut around the ankles, with stiffer mid-soles, considered to be more suited to rougher trail conditions and medium loads. Targeted at the weekend or short-term backpacker, they usually require less break-in time and offer a reasonable amount of flexibility. While not designed with extended back-country trips in mind, nor heavier backpack loads, they do offer upgraded protection from rougher trails.
Backpacking Boots: Are typically high-cut around the ankles, often providing a full wrap of the ankle. Backpacking boots offer both significantly better support for the ankle, as well as protection against impacts to the ankle area. Coupled with typically stiff mid-soles, this style of boot is designed for carrying heavier backpack loads and extended hiking through the back-country. Targeted towards to serious backpacker, these boots are generally stiff all around at purchase time, require a much more careful fit and an extended break-in time.
Mountaineering Boots: Are typically all about ankle and mid-sole support, with stiff supporting and protective materials being utilized throughout their construction. Design to accommodate heavier than normal loads and potentially accept the application of crampons, these boots are designed for the serious mountain explorer and have capabilities for dealing with temperature concerns, ice and snow management and a high level of durability. Typically one of the more expensive boots available, they require cautious fit and serious break-in time.
Hiking Boots Features
Hiking Boot Uppers
The upper part of a hiking boot is designed to protect and support the foot with an all-around snug fit and in some cases to provide additional support and protection for the ankle. As you will see below a wide variety of materials are used in the creation of hiking boot uppers.
Full-grain leather uppers offer excellent durability, coupled with pretty serious abrasion resistance. More commonly used in heavier backpacking boots, a full-grain leather upper is typically stiffer, requiring an extended break-in period.
Split-grain leather is made by splitting away the rougher inner part of the cow-hide from the smoother, softer exterior. The exterior leather is then typically combined with nylon, or nylon-mesh, making a lighter, more breathable upper. Considered to be lighter and less expensive to make, these boots are generally less abrasion resistant when compared to full-grain leather designs.
Nubuck leather is a full-grain leather that has been buffed so that it resembles suede. Considered to be very durable and water resistant, boots made from this material will require ample break-in time before extended hikes.
Synthetic leather as well as polyesters and nylons are commonly found in boot construction. One of the benefits of these materials is that they are less rigid and generally require less break-in time. While their reduced drying times and breathability are considered pluses, they do tend to wear quicker than the previously mentioned choices.
Waterproof boots feature uppers typically constructed with waterproof membranes sandwiched between their inner and outer layers of material and can be beneficial in keeping feet warm and dry. In warmer climates the reduce capacity for the boot to breathe, due to the waterproof membrane, may encourage feet to sweat. Additionally waterproof boots may not be the best choices for situations where river crossings are going to guarantee water entrance at the top of the boot.
Boots designed for colder temperatures and / or mountaineering applications often involve the addition of insulation layers in their design as a way to combat colder temperatures and / or ice and snow contact for extended periods of time.
Hiking Boot Midsoles
A boot’s midsole is the structural heart of the footbed, providing cushion, insulation from shock and all around stiffness to the boot’s sole. While a stiffer boot may not sound like a good idea, the boot’s stiffness provides stability for the foot and by connection the ankle, as well as providing a platform that keeps your foot from fatiguing easily on uneven ground and trails. The most commonly used materials are found listed below.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate:
More commonly known as EVA (I’ll bet your glad you know that…) is frequently used in boot midsoles as it’s cushier, lighter and less expensive than its counterpart. The thickness of the EVA will be altered in areas requiring more or less support.
Generally considered to be firmer than EVA, Polyurethane is a firmer (therefore stiffer), more durable and more expensive midsole material. Polyurethane is usually found in heavier extended backpacking and mountaineering boots.
Hiking Boot Support Components
These 3–5mm thick inserts are sandwiched between a boot’s midsole and outsole to add load-bearing stiffness to the midsole. They vary in length; some cover the entire length of the midsole, while others only cover half.
These thin, semi-flexible inserts are positioned between the midsole and the outsole, and below the shank (if included). They protect feet from getting bruised by roots or uneven rocks.
Hiking Boot Outsoles
Rubber is used on all hiking boot outsoles. Additives such as carbon are sometimes added to backpacking or mountaineering boots to boost hardness. Hard outsoles increase durability but can feel slick if go you off trail.
Other outsole considerations:
Lugs are traction-giving bumps on the outsole. Deeper, thicker lugs are used on backpacking and mountaineering boots to improve grip. Widely spaced lugs offer good traction and shed mud more easily.
This refers to the clearly defined heel zone that is distinct from the forefoot and arch. It reduces your chance of sliding during steep descents.
Hiking Boot Rands:
Found on some waterproof/breathable boots, a rand is the wide rubber wrap encircling the boot (or sometimes just the toe area) where the upper meets the midsole. It offers extra defense against water penetration on wet, mucky trails. It also protects boot leather from rocks and abrasion.
Your boot type ultimately tells you what options you have in crampon binding systems. Boot and crampon compatibility is essential for performance and safety.
Have nylon webbing straps that secure the crampons to your boots. While these take longer to attach than other systems, the beauty of the strap-on style is that it can be attached to nearly any boot. For more flexible footwear, such as hiking shoes, hiking boots and backpacking boots, make sure the crampon’s center bar is compatible with the flex of your boot.
Feature a wire bail that holds the toe in place while a heel lever attaches the crampon to the heel of your boot. This is the easiest, most precise and fastest attachment system, however, it can only be used with specific boots. To use crampons with a step-in binding, boots need to have rigid soles and at least a 3/8 welt or groove on the heel and toe. Step-in crampons are typically compatible with heavy-duty mountaineering boots, but not lightweight mountaineering boots, hiking boots or backpacking boots.
Hybrid crampons are a blend of strap-on and step-in crampons. They feature a heel lever and toe strap, and they require a boot with a stiff sole plus a heel groove or welt to hold the heel lever. The toe strap, however, doesn’t need a welt to fit securely. Hybrid crampons go on very quickly and easily and are compatible with most lightweight mountaineering boots and some backpacking boots, but typically not with hiking boots.
Hiking Boot Fit Tips
Hiking boots should fit snug everywhere, tight nowhere and offer room to wiggle your toes. Try them on at the end of the day (after feet swell) and with the socks you plan to wear on the trail. Stroll through the store, up and down stairs or an inclined surface. If you detect a bump, seam or pinching in the forefoot, the boot’s not right.
Know your size. It’s best to have your foot measured on a Brannock device at REI. You can also measure your foot length (in inches or centimeters) and use the online sizing charts found on each REI.com boot page to find your boot size.
Try on boots at the end of the day. Your feet normally swell a bit during the day’s activities and will be at their largest then. This helps you avoid buying boots that are too small.
If you wear orthotics, bring them along. They impact the fit of a boot.
Wear appropriate socks. Familiar socks can help you more quickly assess the fit and feel of new footwear. However, try to make sure the thickness of the socks matches what you intend to wear on the trail.
Spend some time in the boots. Take a stroll through the store. Walk up and down stairs. Find an inclined surface and walk on it. If you detect an odd bump or seam, or a little pinching in the forefoot, the boot’s not right.
When shopping online, consider a brand you have worn before. Most boot companies tend to use a consistent foot model over time, so the fit is likely to be similar.
Consider aftermarket insoles (a.k.a. footbeds). Insoles come in models that can enhance comfort, support or fit—or all three. See our Expert Advice article, Insoles: How to Choose.
Just like boots, socks can make or break your foot comfort for the day and series sock issues can lead to blisters that can ruin more than one day. Sock technology has evolved over the last 10 or so years and we are now seeing socks that have thicker weaves in strategic areas to avoid pressure spots, anti-microbial treatments to avoid / eliminate foot oder and are generally more comfortable and last longer.
Things that we look for in a hiking sock:
Yes it’s true, a thicker sock means more padding and theoretically a longer day on your feet before fatigue starts to set in. Conversely the thickness of the sock can alter the fit of the boot. There is only so much space available within your boot and your foot plus a sock are competing for that value. Make sure that the socks you are bringing on a trip have been tried on before the trip and that you are satisfied that the combination of that sock and your foot are an appropriate fit for the boot being used.
We tend to favor socks that have variable thickness throughout the design of the sock. Thicker weaves in the toe, ankle and heel areas, with maybe a touch thinner area underneath the middle of the foot to promote your foot being able to
breathe. This additional padding also seems to luckily be right in the area of the most pressure and wear, so we find these socks last a little longer than their generic counterparts.
Hate to say it, but your feet sweat, I know, I know not yours; yes they really do. The best thing you can do for your foot and the rest of your body is to get that moisture away from your skin. Your foot is more comfortable when it’s dry, less likely to run and blister, less likely to get cold and less likely to be a location for heat loss for the rest of your body. Look for socks that offer the best wicking ability. Cotton socks are a definitely no, where wool and wool blends do the job quite nicely. A happy for is a warm, dry foot.
- Gobi Sock Liners
For people that have feet that tend to get cold easily and / or those folks that can’t deal with Wool touching there skin, a Gobi Sock liner is the way to go. These liners are typically ultralight, don’t have much thickness to them and go between the foot and a normal hiking sock. They offer protection from the itching and discomfort of wool, provided additional wicking benefit and tend to leave the foot much warmer than just a pair of hiking socks alone. Again, be careful that your foot, gobi and hiking socks all fit into your boot, but if they do this can be a good solution for some.
We wouldn’t categorize the recommendation below as a hard fast requirement for a workshop, but at the same time you want find any of our guides out in the field without a good pair of hiking pants, especially on longer days where moisture and / or cold are looming possibilities. If you are getting ready to consider some new hiking pants take a look at our thoughts below:
Technical hiking pants are an investment that pays itself back over and over again. There combination of comfort, ability to deal with moisture quickly and their adaptability to varying conditions are hard to beat. Lightweight, comfortable, wicking, venting, utilitarian and adjustable are all traits to look for in a hiking pant.
The material in technical hiking pants is typically lighter than a similarly styled pair of cargo pants. This material is generally more flexible than its counterparts while at the same time being more resistant to rips and tears (a serious concern and benefit when the trail gets rougher and less defined).
A lot of time the comfort in technical hiking pants not only comes from the fabric used, but construction can be a big factor in comfort as well. You’ll find that many of the leading hiking pants manufacturers implement gussets, stretch panels and reinforcements in joint and bend areas with a hiking pant. Your photography gets a lot better when you easily able to stretch, sit down, kneel and all those things we do to get in the right position for that perfect perspective.
Let’s face it, into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. We’re not sure why it always has to fall on us while we are out taking pictures, but it seems to work out that way. Hiking pants that facilitate wicking that moisture away from the skin and dry out quickly are worth their weight in gold. Anything that keeps you from staying wet while out in the field and drys quickly is worth being considered.
No this is not where we get to talk about others, sorry! Technical hiking pants usually have vent areas designed into them. These areas usually include a zipper to open up the vent and a corresponding mesh that protects the vented area. This is a great way to let off some body heat, without have to zip off part of the pant, or changed into something else. Venting, not only in hiking pants, but in general, is an ideal way to regulate body heat without having to remove layers and/ or items as your level of effort ebbs and flows throughout the day.
The notion here is more about minimalistic design rather than just design for design’s sake. What we are really talking about here, is a design that meets the requirements of the field, but doesn’t have to have lots of bells and whistles attached. Imaging you are hiking through brush, or some similarly constricted area, pants that don’t have a lot of loops, pockets and other features sticking out are less likely to snag and cause issues. Sleek and streamlined is the look that’s ideal here. You can apply that thought process to just about all outdoor clothing, but down here (below that waist) is where more of the incidental contact happens.
There are a couple of thoughts where adjustable comes to mind. First and foremost, for most of our guides, the notion is about being able to adapt quickly, while on the move, in the field. The number one feature that most of us look for is the ability to convert the pants into shorts very easily. Most of your major hiking pants manufacturers have at least one or two design that include zip off legs. As a feature this offers two benefits; one, simple conversion when temperature changes call for it and two, overall you have to carry less clothes with you in a trip. Two pairs of convertible pants equals four different clothing options on the trip.
Let’s start off in a simpler place and then work towards some things that we think you might want to consider. This does not mean you have to have one of the shirt types we recommend, plenty of people get by with what they already have and are comfortable with. We simply want to leave you well informed and then you can take it from there.
For the most part you will find our guides in their normal day to day shirts when they are out leading workshops. It’s what they are used, what they feel comfortable in and most of all, what they already own (likely more than just one). From time to time though, you will see our guides switching to a different shirt type and / or material when the conditions call for it.
There are numerous products out there to consider and we don’t want to do a rundown of them all. What we would like to do, below, is offer some generic thoughts.
- Long sleeve, collared hiking shirts (Summer / light weight)
These shirts are usually made specifically for hiking in the outdoors and any good outdoor store will have a variety to choose from. Look for some of the following attributes when select a shirt or two for yourself.
Today’s newer hiking shirts are using materials that wick moisture away from the body quickly, while at the same time promote faster evaporation. These are great shirts for hikes and / or photo shoots where you might be spending significant time in the sun. Some of the newest materials boast sunscreen capability and even anti-microbial treatments that reduce odor magically (your fellow workshop participants will love that feature!).
Our guides tend to look for some of the following, in how the shirt is made. Button up collars, that facilitate being able to protect the neck and back of the neck from the elements and direct sun. Torso to arm attachments that offer gussets for ease of mobility and potentially even some venting functionality to allow the shirt to
breatheeasier on hotter days. Lastly consider the cuff; how tight is it, can it easily be done and undone and lastly does the shirt offer some methods for not only rolling up the sleeve but securing it in place when rolled up.
- Short sleeve, collared hiking shirts (Summer / light weight)
Pretty much the same considerations as above, but with less focus on sleeve design and an obvious lack of concern over the cuff design.
- Long and Short sleeve, collared hiking shirts (Winter / heavy weight)
Believe it or not, most of the material and design concerns from above, translate pretty directly into cooler weather concerns. Wicking, venting and comfort are all critical in this category as well. The notable exception being, that typically heavier weight materials are being used and these materials are being selected on the basis of their potential heat retention. Flannel still is a leading contender in shirts designed for cooler weather and newer higher
loft materials (think thicker) are becoming more and more popular.
Generically speaking, when consider any outdoor shirt, especially when thinking about spending the day in the shirt, with potential layering on top of it and the potential of a camera backpack, selecting something that fits well and does its job is important. The agitation of having to take your backpack and coat off to continually adjust fit can be exasperating and take your mind off a composing images. A shirt that’s too small, can be equally limiting and frustrating.
Think of outerwear as strategically thought out layers and you’ll be on the right track. All of our guides have adopted this approach, as has most of the serious outdoors community and they can now happily adjust as the weather and conditions demand, without the need to carry tons of clothing into the field.
By and large, when the weather might possible go from normal to damp and / or cold, it’s best to have a number of layers that you can deploy as needed. In thinking through this layered approach, what you are wanting to accomplish is a system that can deal with wind, color and moisture independently or all at the same time. Let’s take a look at the layers in the system and the purpose of each one:
- Base Layer
This is the layer that is closest to the skin, or in this case your hiking shirt and / or pants. This layers job is to help regulate body temperature by wicking moisture (read, sweat) away from your body, but maintaining warmth at the same time.
The ability to keep dry helps you to maintain a cool body temperature in the Summer and avoid colder, hypothermic temperatures in the Winter. Anyone who has ever experienced a cotton based shirt under a coat that doesn’t breathe remembers the soggy, clammy feeling all too well, even though that moisture didn’t come from the weather, rather from your body.
For a base layer consider fabrics such as fleeces, wools, synthetics such as Polartec, Patagonia Capilene or for less active use silks. Avoid cottons and similar fabrics that don’t wick moisture well. Wicking is what you’re looking for and as a result, when you sweat that moisture is moved from your skin quicker and your core temperature is much better regulated.
Choose a base weight that’s appropriate for what the expected conditions are. Thinner base weights in the Summer and heavier base weights as the temperature and seasons start to change.
- Insulation Layer
This is the layer that’s responsible for retaining the heat that you generate and keeping it trapped close to your body. This desired effect is usually achieved by a combination of some light fill material and a combination of air space between the fill elements to
trapthe heat. Usually natural fibers such as wools and down (in particular goose down) are the insulators that are used. Wool offers continued protection even when wet, but not everyone likes that weight or feel of wool. Goose down is one to the best insulators being offered, but must be kept dry in order to be effective (that’s where the protection layer comes in).
Synthetics are effective as well and fabrics such as Polartec Fleece or Thermal Pro are offerings good insulation ratings with more resistance to moisture based failure in trapping heat. They tend to dry faster, are lightweight and breathable, with the one potential drawback being that they are more susceptible to being permeated by wind and not quite as warm as down.
Again the weight of this layer has a direct correlation with its warmth retention, so thinner weights are more appropriate in mild temperate settings and thicker insulation layers are called for when the temperatures drop lower.
- Protection Layer
This is the layer that keeps you and the elements apart from one another. Design with wind, rain and snow in mind, this layer is your
little bubbleto steal a phrase from one of our friends. A protection layer, or shell as it’s more commonly known, can range in price from higher dollar mountaineering jackets, to lower priced waterproof coats. Most allow for some method of venting moisture from within and provide some form of treatment that keeps rain and snow out.
A shell is an important tool in bad weather and its technical design can truly be appreciated when wind and precipitation are all happening at the same time. Its capabilities to deal with all these elements, can make a huge difference in keeping you warm and dry, while at the same time allowing your perspiration to escape. A delicate yet critical balance at times.
The technical concerns aside, which we will describe shortly, the fit of a shell is important. We know for some (we won’t be sexist here, not our style) a sleek, streamlined fit is the desired look, however when buying a shell, make sure there is ample room for your insulating layer and base layers, and at the same time fluid movement while you are hiking and / or taking pictures.
We typically place shells into one of the following three (3) categories:
- Waterproof / Breathable Shells:
These are typically the most functional and correspondingly, expensive shells available. Being best for wet, cool conditions and alpine based activities. These jackets offer laminated membranes such as Gore-Tex that offer breathability and wind / exterior moisture barriers all at the same time. Available as rain-gear in lighter weights and mountaineering gear in heavier more durable weights.
- Water-Resistant / Breathable Shells:
These are typically a little less functional than their counterpart mentioned above and of course correspondingly less expensive. Their construction typically does not involve the expensive membranes mentioned above, in favor of less expensive tightly woven fabrics, that may offer a lesser degree of water and wind protection to the wearer.
- Waterproof / Non-Breathable Shells:
These are typically even less functional than their two counterparts listed above and correspondingly are the least expensive choice of the three. They are typically constructed of coated nylons or polyesters and while they often provide good moisture and wind resistance, their coatings preclude the function of wicking moisture from the wearer. Not necessarily a good choice for days where ambient temperature and / or activity of the wearer is variable.
- Waterproof / Breathable Shells:
For those really cold days, you just can’t be a thermal layer underneath your regular outdoor clothing. This layer provides one additional method for keeping in heat and at the same well designed choices wick moisture outward from the body helping to maintain its regular temperature. Our guides tend to prefer thermal layers that are thin and stretchy and more or less conform to the shape of the body. This closer fit keeps the thermal layer from sagging and / or bunching up, leading to a more comfortable, day long wear experience.
Thermal layers that use technology like Patagonia Capilene, tend to be thinner overall and do a generally good job of wicking moisture. Our preference leans towards upper body thermals that have full length sleeves and a smaller v-neck, preferring to avoid a neck with a collar and / or turtle neck for comfort reasons. In lowers, we look again for snug fits, opting to go with brands that offer shorter legs, so that we don’t have to have the bulk of the thermal interfering with boot fit. It is not unusual to see thermal layer legs cut shorter for just this reason.