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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gadget Bag: Shells For Nature Photography


Outerwear to make your late-winter and early-spring treks comfortable

Labels: Gadget BagGear

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As we approach the transition from winter to spring, nature photographers’ thoughts turn to getting more time outdoors to take advantage of the changing weather patterns. When one day can feature blowing snow and the next can see temperatures in the 50s, there are some interesting photo opportunities, to say the least.

Keeping comfortable in these conditions is a challenge. Waterproof and breathable outer garments are mandatory, and because temperatures can vary wildly, thinking in layers—a shell, fleece sweater, wicking undergarment—makes more sense than wearing a heavy, insulated parka over a thin undergarment.


The North Face Mountain Light
At the Outdoor Retailer show in 2010, we saw some interesting shells and outerwear technology, which are now available in stores. Many of these innovative garments are ideal choices for photographers. But before we get into specific shells, let’s cover some basics on outerwear technology.

Waterproof/breathable is a term that you see everywhere these days, and it seems that everyone has a proprietary technology with a catchy name for theirs. Most waterproof/breathable shells consist of a membrane that’s laminated to the outer shell material. Back in the 20th century, a DuPont chemist struck out on his own to explore some of the benefits of an interesting molecule, and he discovered that by heating the material up and expanding it (stretching it), the material formed millions of tiny open cells. The cells were so small that water droplets couldn’t get through, but they were large enough to let water vapor pass. The scientist was Bill Gore, and the company he and his wife Genevieve founded, W.L. Gore & Associates, developed the Gore-Tex® membrane.

At the time, there were other waterproof/breathable technologies on the market, but none was anywhere near as effective as the Gore-Tex membrane.

Despite that breakthrough, it took years for garments incorporating Gore-Tex to become universally accepted. As the company discovered, its membrane technology was solid, but the designs of the garments that membrane went into were frequently flawed. Purchasers of those early garments reported failures, but in almost every case it was because of the jacket’s design, not the membrane that failed—poorly incorporated seams, inappropriate materials used in key parts of the garment and other issues led to consumers’ claims that their Gore-Tex jackets didn’t work.

W.L. Gore & Associates embarked on two major campaigns. One was to change the way the membrane could be used by requiring all designs to be approved by the company, and the other was to educate consumers and salespeople on how this revolutionary technology worked. The results of both campaigns were successful. Today, a Gore-Tex hang-tag on a jacket or boots is recognized as a stamp of approval.

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