Guiding in the arctic can be cold, wet business. That’s why I was really excited when I had the opportunity to test out some great foul-weather gear this summer while working aboard an expedition cruise ship in the high arctic. From keeping me warm and dry while driving a zodiac through snowstorms, to keeping my camera gear both safe and accessible on tundra hikes or while scouting for polar bears, the products I tested fit the bill in that harsh climate.
The 22L Lowepro Hatchback AW is designed to keep rain and snow off of your precious glass and electronics. The bag has a convenient but safe entry system that is guarded from the elements by your body, while the removable rain guard keeps the outside dry. I had enough room for my DSLR body and lens, plus extra room for another lens, a flash, and a few odds and ends. It has a top pocket that is perfect for a few hiking essentials like snacks, water, and a few small items of clothing, and (on town visits) I barely managed to squeeze my 13.3” Macbook Pro into the outside laptop sleeve. It would be the perfect size for a Macbook Air or laptop of similar size. The main drawback of the bag was a lack of outside straps: no room for a tripod, hiking poles, snowshoes, or any other extras that an adventuring photographer might want to bring along.
The Westcomb Apoc jacket is a lightweight shell that managed to keep snow, rain, and sea spray off of me even in rough days — and it fit inside the minimalist pocket of the Hatchback camera bag. The taped seams and weatherproof zippers inspired the same confidence as the Made in Canada label. The fit is easily adjustable with six different adjustment loops, mostly around the hood and the collar, the latter of which is lined with soft felt that prevents chafing while your head is swiveling to steer around chunks of ice. On warmer days and long hikes, the armpit zips were a lifesaver. The Napoleon breast pocket let me keep some essential items like bear flares close at hand, keeping the roomy waist pockets free. This jacket performed amazingly well in varied conditions, and continually delivered surprises in its functionality. The only downside is the persistent, distinct scent of cumin that seems to have come with the jacket, which made me crave tex-mex, a rare commodity in the Northwest Passage.
On colder days, I combined the Westcomb shell with the Ibex Woolies zip t-neck thermal layer and Darn Tough wool socks, which were a welcome comfort. The thermal layer is 100% merino wool, making it cozy, elastic, odour-resistant and not at all itchy. The quarter-length zipper gives you some wiggle room on warmth, which is lovely on a brisk day hike. As any hiker and every dad knows, a good pair of wool socks is like a hug for your feet. The Darn Tough cushion boot socks — merino, nylon and lycra — are a comfortable, versatile option, providing warmth on cold days and breathability on warmer days. Most importantly, after a summer of wearing them as much as possible, they stayed snug and comfortable.