Cold, winter clothing review (for photographic use)

(This is not a review with camouflage or movement noise reduction in mind, purely warmth).

I’m out in wintry Japan at the moment and it’s been colder here than I can remember experiencing in a long time (my last experience of this weather was most likely when I was 9). I am certainly hoping to take more frequent trips to such cold climes and so I did a bit of shopping beforehand. Not many reviews speak about how these products withstand the cold when standing still for photography so I thought I’d review them here for anyone who is looking to spend dollah:

–       Rab Neutrino Endurance down jacket. This was my biggest investment. I had been looking at reviews online for weeks, and this coat always came out extremely positive. I’ve owned rab gear before and I’ve been so impressed with its performance, so the brand definitely drew me in. I wasn’t sure about down vs. synthetic as I didn’t know how snowy and wet it would get on my trips, but rab have a hydrophobic down (meaning it is water tolerant, not completely resistant). It is ridiculously light, and packs down so small you’d hardly believe it did what it promised. But when I tried it on in the shop I didn’t need any more convincing – such a snug fit and that weight, I bought it on the spot. It’s performance? I stood still with my camera in the wind and the snow yesterday for several hours – not only did I not feel the wind (only near my eyes – the hood is very effective and the zip comes up to your nose), but the down didn’t get wet at all and I stayed completely warm wearing nothing but a baselayer underneath. Comparatively I also have a Mountain Equipment down jacket (I think it’s lightline model) with me and it’s probably just as warm and far less bulky.
Verdict: I would highly recommend this jacket to anyone looking for a warm down jacket. Is it possible to be in love with clothing?
I’ve only tried the Mountain Equipment at -18C standing still, not yet the Rab though. Other bonus of the Rab – very easy to source its down and its high ethical standards.

–       Mountain Equipment Primaloft Lightline sallopetes. These were given to me by work and I did no research on these at all. But performance-wise they are fabulous. Have had them in windy, snow and -18 and worked like a charm. I’ve been wearing them with just a thin base layer. The ones I’m wearing are new, but somehow I seem to be finding a lot of white fluff from them somehow. Not 100% sure where it’s coming from.
One MASSIVE flaw, however, is the zip. There is no way to secure it at the top or prevent it from easily unzipping which has led me to walk around constantly with an open fly. The buttons are also fairly flaky and in a sitting down laughing moment I managed to make my crotch explode. Plus beware because once you have the straps on over your shoulders you have to completely undress to use the loo, there’s no easy unhooking mechanism.
Verdict: warm and comfy but bad zip makes this one I wouldn’t buy myself.

–       Sorel boots (Tofino solid) and Seeland boots. This an important piece of kit for me because my toes easily get cold. I took my Sorel boots out with me for casual wear. They are good and extremely comfortable, keep your feet warm in milder winters (-3 to -5) provided your feet are fairly active. Standing still outside in -10 definitely got to my feet and I wouldn’t wear them again in those conditions. The bottom of the boot is solidly waterproof but the side fabric isn’t, which also isn’t the greatest in the snow. I have seen many other people wear a different model of sorel boot that is waterproof all the way up and they seem to not be cold, so I’m not sure if it’s the fact that the sides aren’t solid enough or the rubber is too thin on the bottom.
Verdict: fashionable, comfortable but not to be relied on solely in heavy snow and very cold temperatures.

My seeland boots look like platform shoes and are bulky and unattractive. These too were given to me by work.
Major flaw: shoe laces. If you’re wearing bad-ass winter gloves fumbling with shoe laces is the last thing you want to do. Plus if it’s cold out they can get frozen fairly solid if wet. The thick rubber sole probably makes them warmer than my Sorels but I’ve still spent most days out with foot warmers in the boots along with merino socks.
Verdict: wouldn’t buy them myself but do the job.

–       Base layers. I heard raving reviews about icebreaker base layers but what put off by the cost. That and the wide range of products which aren’t very well explained on their website. In my experience, the name or recommend wear isn’t what’s important but the thickness of the merino: 160, 200, 260 and 320. For easy quick picking, ignore all else. The thicker the merino, the warmer the base layer. The 260 range is their best selling, but is hardly ever on sale in the UK, so I bought a top (think it was the bodyfit range) with 200g of merino. I have worn it every day for almost 2 weeks now, granted I shower every day, and it still doesn’t smell (so my colleagues tell me). I’m going to see if I can make it last. Warmth-wise it’s brilliant, all I need is that and my down jacket on a daily basis. If it’s colder I’ll wear an extra layer under the jacket but so far I’ve only ended up being too hot. I also bought some Mountain Hardware merino baselayer bottoms, which are only 80% merino. They’ve worked like a charm and do the job but 2 weeks in and they haven’t held their shape as well, along with feeling a bit more flimsy.
Verdict: you get what you pay for in my limited experience.

Other important things – hat. Not necessary to have the warmest hat because I spend most of my time with my hood up. Although the Rab jacket comes up to your nose I’d still have a snood with you. I have a flimsy summer buff which works, but if you get a fleece-lined one even better. Gloves – I have thin polartec gloves with fingers as a base layer to thicker gloves. You definitely need thicker gloves but I like the flexibility of a thin layer with full movement in your fingers. Socks – I’m currently using merino socks, and again 2 pairs down, 14 days in, still no smell in either of them.

And for your own sake, bring as many pocket and foot warmers as you can carry. Because they are a lifesaver.

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