ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES FOR THE OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER


Leatherman_Sidekick_Xtar_B20_Pilot_II

While so many of us salivate at the latest, high-tech camera equipment, it's easy to overlook non-photographic accessories, such as a torch, multi-tool and footwear. I'm a wildlife and landscape photographer and as such, I often find myself in the middle of nowhere in total darkness. The terrain I work on is often muddy, rocky, uneven and prone to flooding. Natural hazards and pests may be present, especially during summer. Here is an overview of the essential accessories I use, with recommendations and commentary on quality standards. It is not definitive and alternative choices are possible, but I can only write about the equipment I've used.

Xtar B20 Pilot II torch: I often find myself finishing a shoot at sunset in the middle of remote forests. Not only that, I have to negotiate unlit, narrow country lanes on foot. I need a bright, reliable, waterproof torch, with a good throw and wide coverage. The torch has to fit into my pocket, but be powerful enough to guide me to safety. The Xtar B20 Pilot II is a professional LED torch, which offers 3 hours of battery life at the high setting (600 lumens). The 1000 lumens turbo mode lasts for 5 minutes, which is great if you need extra on-demand brightness. All torches dim as the battery voltage runs down, but this model stays very bright for 3 hours, before dropping off significantly. Similar torches by Fenix and Nitecore sell for around £80 and you have to purchase a lithium-ion battery and charger separately. I bought the Xtar B20 Pilot II kit, which included a 3100mAh battery and charger on promotion for £44.95 from Torch Direct. The torch is well made and uses good components, so the manufacturer didn't offer a low price at the expense of quality.

Leatherman Sidekick multi-tool: Sussex is a windy coastal county and macro photographers need some way of stabilising subjects, such as butterflies. I apply the sharp knife blade and saw on my Leatherman Sidekick to create sticks, which I use with clothes pegs to ensure resting butterflies remain absolutely still. The tool also has a pair of pliers, two screwdriver heads, a file, a bottle and can opener, but mysteriously omits scissors. Leatherman offers a 25 year guarantee as standard. If you can afford one of Leatherman's high end multi-tools, it may be worth the extra expense. I find it more economical to simply carry a pair of scissors for clipping away extraneous clutter.

Aigle Parcours 2 Vario Wellington Boots: When most people think of high quality Wellingtons, the name Hunter springs to mind. This was certainly the case 25 years ago, when the boots were made in Scotland. The manufacturer nearly went out of business, because their products lasted so long. Hunter wellies have received disappointing reviews for durability and leaks since the company was bought out. French made Aigle Parcours 2 Varios are popular with forestry and rural workers and you can expect to get 5 years minimum use from a pair. They are very comfortable and come with an adjustable leg width strap. I bought mine from Uttings for £99.99, but do shop around. The insulated 'ISO' version is more expensive, but your feet will overheat and sweat if worn outside of winter. A pair of insulated socks for winter increases versatility for all season use.

Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX boots: When my disappointing pair of Meindl Burma boots finally disintegrated, a landscape photographer recommended the Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX boots. These boots are issued as standard to all US Marines. I find them very comfortable, tough and waterproof. As of July 2016, I've only worn them for two months, but so far so good.

Rab Latok Alpine gaiters: I often find myself deer stalking in long, wet grass or brushing past ferns. Unfortunately, this causes rainwater to wick straight into my boots. A pair of waterproof, breathable gaiters is the answer. This model is adjusted by velcro and elasticated drawstring, making them comfortable and secure on my legs.

Jack Wolfskin Selenium Down Jacket: This hooded insulated jacket is windproof, breathable, water-repellent and has 700 fill power duck down. The well cut design is also stylish, making it suitable for wearing around town without looking like a wally. I live in southern England and winter mornings are in the -5°C — 3°C range. The windproof outer prevents lofted heat from escaping, whereas cheaper jackets without this feature tend to leak warmth more easily. If you live in colder climates, you will need a jacket with more down filling. In very cold conditions, I recommend a down jacket with a box baffle design, which eliminates seams with zero loft. Buy the smallest size that will fit you, as the down will loft better if it is near to your skin. As I wildlife photographer, I opted for steel grey to blend into my environment, but people working in snowy conditions will need a bright colour in case they need to be rescued. It is always best to obtain guidance online or in-store, to ensure your money is spent on the right insulated jacket for your activity levels, natural body warmth and climate. 

Jack Wolfskin Texapore Mountain Gloves: These waterproof, windproof insulated gloves have a high-end look and feel and should last a long time. They loft much better than high street gloves and keep my hands warm on frosty mornings. With a full price in the region of £70, they fall into the mid-priced range, but you have to spend a bit of money to obtain good performance. If you spend £5.99 on a pair of gloves, you'll get £5.99 of performance and durability.

Lowe Alpine Cyclone gloves: Brighton Pier in winter is a cold, windy location. If I photographed the starling murmurations without a pair of gloves, my hands would seize up in minutes. Lowe Alpine Cyclone gloves offer protection from the wind, good insulation, excellent grip and dexterity to alter camera settings.

Fulton windproof compact umbrella: I have yet to find a compact umbrella at a reasonable price point, which outperforms a £10 fibreglass golfing umbrella for strength and durability. Fulton compact windproof umbrellas will take 12 months of gales before failing. 

Lifeventure 750ml stainless steel water bottle: For a one-off purchase of £10, I can make long term savings on bottled mineral water, by filling this with refreshing water straight from my Brita filter jug. I prefer to strap it to the outside of my bag, in case of very expensive leaks. I'm sure it's a very secure bottle, but I want peace of mind!

Antihistamines: Absolutely essential if you are unlucky enough to suffer from hay fever. My hay fever began a few years ago, but only affects me in June. Save money by purchasing generic and preferably non-drowsy tablets on the lower shelves. I find steroidal nasal sprays effective and wide-brimmed aviator sunglasses also minmise eye irritation from airborne pollen.

Insect repellent: Pests such as Horse Flies, mosquitoes and deer ticks range from painfully inconvenient to downright dangerous. Lyme disease is an increasingly common, but avoidable illness. Since I work in an at risk occupation, I use tropical strength insect repellent to deter pests. It is essential to cover up bare skin and frequently check one's body during and after field trips.

Tick removal tool: I will be ordering one of these before the summer. Always read the instructions, as incorrect tick removal can lead to infection.

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