You don’t need a ton of gear to start watching wildlife, but it’s nice not to be cold when photographing birds or mammals. It is a good idea to buy a few specialized pieces that will better protect you from the elements than standard gear.
These are the four clothing items I recommend.
This softshell jacket is on Amazon.com. Please don’t make the mistake I did and wear a coat that rustles at the wrong time, scaring the ocelot away. Softshell jackets use a material that makes them quiet.
The softshell jacket that I recommend for photography is the Columbia Ascender softshell. It’s perfect for photographers! This jacket is very warm, even in relatively heavy wind. It is also water-resistant and walking through a downpour recently, and I didn’t get wet. There are more expensive softshell jackets out there, but I haven’t used one of those yet as I am happy with the Columbia.
It has all the features I need from a jacket. Both pockets have zips, so I know I will not lose my keys when out. The coat is very warm due to the drawcord at the hem and the cuffs, which are elasticated.
If you are a wildlife photographer or want to go out and take some photos, you should get a softshell jacket. When I first started looking for wildlife, I did not have one, and for a while, it was OK. I thought it would be fine until I made the mistake that changed my mind. I was lying there watching a family of Ocelots, and as I moved, the material on my coat rustled, and they fled into the night. Even though there were only two other people there, I have never been more embarrassed.
Please don’t try to save money and skip on the softshell jacket. One day you can send me a photo of an ocelot family.
- COMFORT STRETCH: Crafted from 100% polyester that offers comfort stretch, this comfortable softshell makes for versatile wear — from the trail to the office.
- WATER RESISTANT: don't worry if it starts to drizzle or the wind picks up. The water-and-wind-resistant jacket has you covered.
- CLASSIC FIT: This softshell is made with a regular fit cut, for a classic design that you don't have to think twice about.
- HANDY FEATURES: Thoughtful touches include an abrasion resistant chin guard, zippered chest and hand pockets, adjustable cuffs, and an adjustable hem.
- BUILT TO LAST: Columbia’s attention to detail is what sets our apparel apart. Specifying only the highest quality materials, expert stitching, and craftsmanship. This is a long-lasting garment you will enjoy for seasons to come.
The North Face Venture 2 raincoat on Amazon.com– There is nothing more essential than a good raincoat. Raincoats can pack up into such small pouches that there is no need to get wet again.
An essential raincoat is a requirement for wildlife spotting and photography. It keeps you dry and out longer without feeling drenched and miserable.
Everyone has a preference regarding their style, color, and make, but for me, you can’t beat the North Face Venture 2 jacket.
North Face jackets have an excellent reputation, and rightly so. They give great protection against the rain and even snow. They are warm, well made, and have great zips with double zipper pulls. They can also be packed into one of the pockets, making them great for carrying around in a backpack.
They can last for a long time as well. You can renew the waterproof coating, but just hanging it out to dry after use will also extend its life.
They also come in both male and female versions.
- RAINY ADVENTURES. Constructed with a waterproof, breathable, and seam-sealed DryVent 2.5L fabric, the Venture 2 is a classic year-round rain jacket designed to withstand backcountry storms and is styled for everyday use.
- PREMIUM FABRIC. Made from 100% recycled materials with DryVent performance tech and coated with a Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) Finish, this waterproof, windproof and breathable jacket delivers cozy comfort for casual nights or adventure days.
- STANDARD FIT. With a flattering shape and ample mobility, this jacket is perfect for easy wear or layering up. Whether for a casual look in town or active days in the wilderness, you'll experience freedom of movement through the shoulders and chest.
- OUTDOOR VERSATILITY. Never Stop Exploring with thoughtful features that help you go further — this jacket creates a compact storage pouch by packing into its own hand pocket or keep your hands warm and items safe in those same secure-zip hand pockets.
- EXPLORATION WITHOUT COMPROMISE. Easily find our most sustainable products with this badge. To qualify, apparel, equipment and accessories must be made with 75% or greater recycled, regenerative and/or responsibly sourced renewable materials by weight.
The North Face Bedford thick down jacket on Amazon.com – When you need to get that shot in the snow, this coat is what you need.
My North Face Bedford parka is my favorite coat and my go-to as soon as it gets a little colder. North Face is a well-known brand, and rightly so. They give a full lifetime warranty against defects in materials and quality, so you know you are getting a quality piece of gear. I have worn parkas since going to school as a child. This coat is so comfortable I don’t want to take it off when I come in.
It has great big pockets to fit an iPad, a spare camera, and side pockets to put your hands in when cold. I like that the hood is detachable as this helps with taking photos, and the fur can be taken off.
I have never been cold in this coat, and I have been in some freezing temperatures. The coat is filled with down, which is great for keeping you warm.
- 550-FILL GOOSE DOWN is tested for loftiness and moisture resistance for maximum warmth and comfort
- WATERPROOF & BREATHABLE HyVent 2L two-layer protection
- Stretch fleece on cuffs keep heat in
- Chest pockets with snap closure and internal zippered security pocket
The Markhof winter gloves on Amazon.com. Made for photographers’ needs, these keep your hands warm and allow you to take great shots.
Vallerret has been designing and making winter photography gloves for five years, and they are the best. The gloves I recommend have flip finger caps so you can use your camera. These are essential for keeping your hands warm while allowing you to take the photos you love.
These gloves are hot as the liner is 100% merino wool. Different models have different warmth ratings, and these are designed for mid-winter. These have been designed with slightly less insulation to minimize bulk, but they have other arctic winter designs.
One little warning. Please don’t do what I did and put them in the washing machine. Merino wool is not suited for machines, as I found out. As a result, and due to their quality, I did go and buy another pair of the same gloves.
- 100% MERINO WOOL INNER and THINSULATE: Designed to keep you warm in Deep Winter Conditions with a merino wool inner and an additional layer of Thinsulate Insulation. Nature’s best weapon against the cold, Merino wool ensures a fitted and warm glove optimized for handling your photography gear. Now even warmer with a thin layer of high performing insulation
- FLIPTECH FINGER CAPS WITH MAGNETS: You’re ready to shoot in seconds. Just flip the finger cap and enjoy full access to your dials without exposing unnecessary skin to the cold.
- ERGONOMIC, DURABLE & WATER RESISTANT: DWR suede and twill with a laminated membrane, provides excellent weather protection. An ergonomic glove fit with a flexible jersey cuff keeps your wrist toasty warm, and able to slip on and off with ease.
- NON-SLIP GRIP: Our sticky grip featuring a print of the Devils bridge Germany, keeps you in control of your gear whilst removing the need to take off your gloves to change your lenses or apply filters
- PHOTOGRAPHY SPECS: Quickly access a spare SD-Card or store a hand warmer with a built in pocket and YKK zip, includes a tripkey installed. A microfiber lens wipe sits on the back of the glove for that emergency clean.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.