Cold Weather Gear You Might Forget About

Cold Weather Gear You Might Forget About

Speaking for wildlife and landscape photographers, we all seem to be interested in the fast glass (especially if it's longer than 600mm or wider than 24mm), better battery life, more frames per second, higher resolution, and a weather-sealed robust body that can take a licking. But, when the weather turns cold, there's something we can't shoot without: gloves. 

I recently tested out two of Arc'teryx's glove offerings: the Venta Glove and the Alpha SL Glove.

To be clear, these gloves aren't made for photography. In fact, they're designed for alpine approach and general outdoor activity. That being said, when I saw them, I knew I had to try them. I use a lot of Arc'teryx gear for hiking, and they have always stood behind their product - replacing my pack straps after 18 years of use and a 15-year-old, partially delaminated jacket without a fuss.

Note: Arc'teryx did send me the gloves, but I did not promise a positive review. These are my own, honest experiences.

Where Am I Shooting and What Am I Doing?

I'm shooting here:

It's cold out there. On a warm day you get about 2 minutes before you can't feel your fingers or nose.

I'm just outside Churchill, Manitoba, in Canada's sub-Arctic. It's cold along the shores of the frigid Hudson Bay, only a matter of days before it freezes solid. That's right, it's cold enough to freeze a salt water bay that is 600 miles across, 900 feet deep, that offers a 15-foot tide. That kind of cold.

That's a fast exposure to freeze the Buggy, and still the snow is blurring into a windy, foggy mass.

I'm up there working with Frontiers North Adventures as an interpretive and photography guide. I need to be warm while I help my guests capture images of a lifetime. Cold fingers just won't do. Gusts typically reach 65 mph, meaning a wind chill of about -25 °F to -50 °F. 

Of course, we could shoot from inside the Tundra Buggy. It's certainly warm in there with my hot chocolate (maybe with Bailey's). But if you're serious about photography, you're going to go outside to take your images. From inside, you're going to get a heat shimmer where the warm Buggy air meets the cold outside air.

Bears are lazy. So a sleepy bear makes for a good comparison subject.

Take a look at two images taken moments apart, one from the warmth of the Tundra Buggy (even with the lens extended far outside the window) and one from the back deck of the Tundra Buggy. Even with the high resolution of the Canon R5, the heat shimmer makes photos taken from warmth unusable at the sizes the Canon R5 is meant to shoot at (that's 45 mega pixels BIG).

Left is shot inside with a tundra-ccino in hand, the right is outside on the deck.

Having a good pair of gloves is critical for getting sharp and clean photographs. 

Sure, I could wear my big lobster mitts, that'll surely keep me warm. But I'm not going to be able to operate my camera. I suppose I could get one of those cold weather cozies you see on the sidelines of a cold weather Super Bowl, but those guys are shooting in static conditions. The stadium lighting doesn't really change during cold evening games. Out with the bears, the sun is ducking behind clouds of varying thickness from moment to moment. I need to be able to see what I'm doing to be prepared for the changing weather and moving bears. Moreover, I have to be able to show my guests how to operate their cameras if they've hit a roadblock. Given that I could be asked to operate any of the major brands at a moment's notice, I have to be able to see and feel what I'm doing. 

The Venta

Arc'teryx touts the Venta as a lightweight, windproof, breathable, weather-resistant glove with proprietary GORE-TEX INFINIUM.

As I mentioned, it can be windy, windy enough that even the Arctic fox, with one of the thickest coats on earth, has to sometimes bed down to stay warm. The Venta does an excellent job of breaking the wind.

The touch sense on the Venta worked very well. I never felt the urge to pull them off to get a quicker response, even when I was frantically trying to change focus points when white bears moved around on white snow.

The Ventas were thin enough that I could put my larger mitts on between moments if I had to. More importantly, they allowed me enough dexterity to operate my camera functions and to even change a memory card when the bears started sparring, and I started spraying.

I also really liked the reinforced leather tab, which made pulling gloves on easy. These are robust gloves and will last multiple seasons, backed by Arc'teryx's practical product lifespan warranty.

The Venta were warm enough. In keeping warm versus flexibility, there's always a compromise: I could have much warmer gloves, but would have to give up dexterity. The Venta were better than anything I've brought to Churchill before. Warm enough to take the edge off the wind, but not so warm and bulky that I couldn't operate my camera. Besides, if I'm going to work in the Canadian sub-Arctic, I should be a little tough.

Alpha SL

Alpha is Arc'teryx's premium line, and the Alpha SLs are premium purpose-built alpine gloves. The Alpha SLs are very flexible and felt a bit warmer than the Venta. But, with that extra warmth comes a little more rigidity. 

The Alpha SLs worked well when I was handling my camera. The leather fingers and palm made it easy to hold on to and change my lenses. They also proved to be flexible enough to trip my shutter. However, in the end, they're a bit too bulky and lack effective touch sense, meaning they won't work on modern touch screen cameras. I found that the extra thickness of the luxury leather made turning my shutter speed dial a bit difficult and changing focus points very difficult. I love the tactile sense the leather gives, but for me at least, they'll make better driving gloves than camera gloves. 

How about any of our readers: do you have recommendations?

All product images from Arc'teryx, all other images from @letusgophoto.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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Vallerret gloves. Period!

I need full finger gloves that allow me flexibility. Can’t show off naked fingers with that kind of wind. ;)

completely agree ... fingerless gloves are useless, because the whole reason we wear gloves is to keep our fingers warm, NOT to keep our hands warm

There are several models: the Alta Arctic Mitt is NOT fingerless and some that are can be used in tandem with liners. Different options for different conditions. Of course I haven't used the gloves in your article, but they don't look warm, fingerless or not; do they have have a pocket to insert hand warmers or something else of the sort?

Good suggestion for those who like mitts. I just don't like pulling mitts on and off. I'm also often called upon to help out, whether that be grabbing at gangway ropes or holding a rifle, mitts don't also work for me.

They're actually much warmer than they look - being purpose built for alpine conditions, the material is second to none. No, no hand warmer pocket. Also a good suggestion, from my perspective, that can reduce dexterity by stretching the glove across the back of my hand.

This article brought back some great memories! I am fortunate to have travelled to Churchill to photograph the polar bears. I live in Winnipeg, so it's not as daunting as it is for others, however. I purchased a Frontiers North package and have to say they do treat you well.

One word of advice; if you're prone to motion sickness, be prepared to use whatever remedy you favor. The tundra buggies are on large float tires and the terrain is very roller coaster like. My stomach was a mess during the buggy ride.

It was darned cold, but being in Winnipeg, I do a lot of cold weather shooting. For my hands, I keep the pocket warmer packets for when my hands get cold. I do use a finger/fingerless glove but because I have the little hand warmers, it's never been a problem. -25C is the coldest that I've experienced while shooting. I lasted about 2 hours. :-)

It’s a GREAT place to visit. I love working there!!!! Thanks for the Frontiers North plug. Love it!!

Agreed, it can get COLD. The wind is what gets me!

While I was president of the Winnipeg South Photo Club, I had Jessica (I'll leave her last name out of it) as one of our guest speakers. She was part of the marketing team. That's all it took for me!

Well, I had to post a shot of the first bear to come our way. Note the scar on his nose...probably fighting with another big male:

Love it! Have you ever been by my IG feed to see some more bears?

Believe it or not, I don't participate on IG. :-)

I often wish I didn't!

eWool heated glove liners. i also have various heated apparel, and swear by them...jackets can be thinner and less bulky, and the active heating feels really good. Especially as I have extensive soft tissue damage from when a taxi ran a red light and hit me as I was crossing an intersection.

That sounds lousy, glad you found something that suits you and helps out!!!!