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Spring Safety

Spring is every bit as unpredictable as other seasons. Check out these tips and products for shooting at this time of year.
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Warm weather and sunshine are natural draws for outdoor photographers, and spring is a welcome change after a long cold winter. It’s a season for shaking off the cold and getting outside again, especially with nicer weather and spring flowers pushing up through the ground. Spring also brings a few safety concerns—rushing water, hypothermia and even avalanches and bear encounters all should be considered possibilities. We’ll share some tips on how to stay safe this spring and recommend some great products that will let you take advantage of the warm weather while protecting yourself and your gear.

Grabber Hand Warmers

Rushing Water
As the days begin to get longer and warmer, the winter snowpack starts to melt off. This makes for dramatic photos of rushing water and river rapids, but be wary of undercut banks that could give way while you’re lining up a shot. Also, as the day goes on, the meltwater increases with more sunshine. This means that the small stream you crossed in the morning might be a raging river in the afternoon.

If you’re going to be crossing streams, you might want to include a pair of gaiters in your kit. Gaiters can help keep the water and mud out of boots and keep you dry throughout the day. The Outdoor Research Cascadia Gaiters are lightweight and waterproof ($59 estimated street price,

Columbia Thunderstorm II Pant

Be wary around spring ice on lakes, especially where water may be running underneath it. Using trekking poles adds stability on muddy trails and stream crossings. The Black Diamond Trail Compact trekking poles offer great stability and are light to boot ($89 estimated street price, Pair them with snow baskets if there’s lingering spring snow in your area.

If you’re photographing in mountainous terrain, lingering winter snow will be affected by the sun and rain, and cornice fall is a very real hazard. Always check your local avalanche bulletin service when venturing into terrain with avalanche hazards and follow these basic rules: 1) Know how to recognize areas of possible danger; 2) Travel with a friend; and 3) Always carry safety gear. A general avalanche kit includes an avalanche beacon, a shovel and a probe. The Backcountry Access Tracker DTS and Tracker 2 beacons are engineered and built in Boulder, Colo. ($289, $335 estimated street price, www.backcountryaccess,com). They’re simple, effective and easy to use. Avalanche probes are another essential piece of gear and are used to zero in on buried victims once they’ve been located by beacon. Backcountry Access makes a variety of probes, from the practical and affordable Spot 203 ($45 estimated street price) to the superlight carbonfiber Carbon 260 ($79 estimated street price). Taking an avalanche awareness course is a good idea before you go out.

Another concern is the potential for falling rock and ice. To avoid being hit, be careful and aware while shooting in the mid- to late afternoon, and especially around steep south-facing slopes that often have more exposure to the warming sun.

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Black Diamond Trail Compact Trekking Poles

Hypothermia can occur when your core body temperature drops as little as 2º F. Spring is a prime season for hypothermia because many people don’t pack the necessary layers to stay warm when temperatures suddenly dip. Also, we lose heat 25 times faster when we’re wet, which can quickly turn a mild spring day into a hypothermic situation. A good pair of waterproof, breathable shell pants like The North Face Venture Side Zip Pant ($89 estimated street price, and the Columbia Thunderstorm II Pant ($42 estimated street price, can keep you dry in spring. The Mountain Hardwear Epic Jacket ($120 estimated street price, or the Columbia Hail Tech Jacket ($90 estimated street price, are both great choices for your upper body.

Technically, there are three stages of hypothermia: mild, moderate and severe. The symptoms of shivering (or mild to moderate) hypothermia are controlled or uncontrolled shivering, lethargy and the “umblings”—stumbling, mumbling and fumbling—all signs of decreasing dexterity. Non-shivering hypothermia is a much more serious case and should be treated as a medical emergency and calls for immediate professional medical attention.

Treatment for companions with mild hypothermia, first and foremost, is to keep them shivering! Shivering is the body’s mechanism to warm itself up and it’s a great ally in the fight against hypothermia. You also can gently apply heat externally by using air-activated chemical hand warmers such as the Grabber brand variety pack ($19 estimated street price, or a fuel-powered warmer such as the Zippo Hand Warmer ($19 estimated street price, Most importantly, get out of the cold weather and into a warm vehicle or building.

Bear Encounters
Bears typically hibernate throughout the winter; however, warming weather and new vegetation are sure signs that the bears are coming back. During springtime there will be a higher concentration of bears in low-lying areas, increasing the odds of an encounter with an unsuspecting photographer. One way to respond to bear encounters in the wild properly is to avoid them. Consider storing your food in a bear-resistant canister such as the BearVault BV500 canister ($71 estimated street price, Available in a variety of sizes, canisters are ultrastrong containers that keep your food out of reach of a hungry bear and even are mandatory for overnight stays in some places like Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. No matter how long you’re planning to be in the field, always check with your local park organization for any bear notices in the area that you’re preparing to visit.