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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

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Columbia Omni-Heat Squall
Of course, Gore-Tex wasn’t the only waterproof/breathable technology on the market. For years, there was a debate between the membrane technologies and the coated technologies. Although today, membrane technologies are by far the most common, there are still devotees to coated solutions.

In this article, we focus on shells that use a laminated membrane to create their waterproof/breathable qualities, so let’s talk about how the membrane works. We already mentioned the basics, that the membrane consists of tiny cells that are too small for water droplets but large enough for water vapor to get through. That’s the gist, but to be effective, you need to have one other key component, a driving force. The driving force is usually a combination of heat and humidity.

Your body heat and water vapor from sweat create a driving force when the weather is cold. That driving force pushes the water vapor out (from an area of higher concentration to lower concentration), and even if it’s raining, the driving force is sufficient to prevent water drops from coming in. The upshot is that these garments perform as well as they do through a combination of the membrane and your body’s ability to create a driving force to keep that membrane functioning properly.

Don’t Wear Gore-Tex
In The Rain Forest

If you travel to the tropics, you won’t see a lot of membrane-type waterproof/breathable garments for sale. That’s because in locations where the weather is hot and humid, the driving force we mentioned actually can force water into the garment. In places where the temperature exceeds body temp and there’s high humidity, you can expect to get wetter in such a garment.
We’ve talked about how W.L. Gore & Associates pioneered membrane technology, but today it’s far from the only maker. A number of companies have their own proprietary waterproof/breathable fabrics and membranes, and the technology continues to evolve and improve. Within the scope of a brief article, we can’t possibly cover all of the garments that are available. Instead, we want to give nature photographers a sense of what’s out there and what you might find most useful for your excursions at this dynamic time of year.

Columbia Omni-Heat Squall
Columbia has been active in developing new fabrics and laminates for its garments, and the Omni-Heat line is an excellent example that’s ideal for nature photographers. The Omni-Heat Squall is a shell that has a waterproof/breathable membrane, and lining the inside are tiny reflectors that Columbia says will help draw humidity away from your body as you’re moving (and thus sweating), which helps to keep you warm. The company claims an increase of up to 20% in heat retention. Since moisture is the enemy of heat (your body cools more than 25% faster when it’s wet), we can see how anything that pulls more moisture from the interior would keep you warmer. It’s certainly interesting technology, and the Squall jacket’s low profile keeps the bulk down, and on colder days it can be fitted with a Columbia interchange lining. Estimated Street Price: $250.

The North Face Mountain Light
This perennial favorite features two-layer Gore-Tex membrane construction in a rugged jacket that will withstand years of use. The North Face became famous for its technical wear, which has climbed mountains from the Alps to the Himalayas to the Rockies. While a photographer like Galen Rowell would have made good use of a highly technical shell built for high-level expeditions, most nature photographers find a model like the Mountain Light to be more in keeping with their needs and lifestyle. You can zip in a lining if the conditions warrant it, and the two-layer Gore-Tex membrane construction keeps you warm and dry in rain, snow and cold. Estimated Street Price: $299.

REI Taku
REI Taku
Retailing powerhouse REI has been building their own highly regarded garments for years under the REI brand. The Taku jacket has three-layer REI Element laminate construction—REI’s waterproof/breathable membrane technology—mated to a stretch fabric that’s comfortable and performs in all weather conditions. Designed for aerobic activity, the Taku is a good choice for a photographer who plans to be on the move a lot and isn’t going to have a need for bulky layers under the jacket. Estimated Street Price: $145 to $209 (depending on color and size).


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