I’ve been using Snugpak clothing, sleeping bags, tents, luggage and the Ventile Antarctica smock for 12 years full-time now on my frequent long-term social documentary photography projects worldwide. When venturing repeatedly into the unknown for the first time and without much in the way of luggage or equipment I need to be able to rely on what little gear I carry with me. So using Snugpak always gives me the instant surety that I have exactly what I need to depend on and which always allows me to complete every demanding task at hand. Snugpak instills a permanent feeling of confidence in my well being and safety for any situation. For example, on my latest project, I had to fly in a 2 seat Piper Super Cub single propeller light aircraft out into a very remote area in the Alaska bush to document a family of 3 who are completely isolated and only ever see other people once every 11 months, whose nearest neighbour is 75miles away.
I flew sitting behind the pilot and wore 2ndSkinz Coolmax thermal longjohns under Snugpak Salopettes along with the Sleeka jacket and Ventile Antarctica smock. I knew that this tried and tested combination, which I have been wearing for years would be comfortable, light, maneuverable and warm for the extreme arctic windchill which is exaggerated at altitude and speed. Soon into our flight, we encountered snow and a mile of visibility which is the legal minimum allowed to fly in and the temperature dropped instantly. Never once did I feel cold and even when I opened the aircraft window to get better aerial photos I had no concerns that I would be uncomfortable. This then allows me to fully concentrate on taking photographs because I am feeling good.
Good clothing is the absolute most important aspect of any extreme project, even more so than having a good camera with which to document the story. Without Snugpak my health would immediately suffer and productivity would take a hit. Maintaining optimum health is the prerequisite and prevention is better than cure so I must never allow myself to get ill and using all of Snugpak’s clothing keeps my body and mind stable. I used to get nervous before starting projects but since I have been wearing Snugpak, it is indeed like a second skin to me, I always feel confident and secure because I know I have the kit I can trust and that always ensures success.
Indoors, when it is forty below freezing outside, even with two burning wood stoves the double glazed windows iced up on the inside so I’d put on the Sleeka jacket and stay toasty warm. The Sleeka is so comfortable it is like wearing a very light duvet. Often I’d sleep in it as it is that easy to forget you are wearing a jacket. I’d arrived with just the Snugpak Kitmonster and a small camera bag and most of my kit was Snugpak gear. I opened out the Snugpak Softie Elite 2 sleeping bag like a blanket and slept underneath it every night but it was the clothing that came into its own when I ventured outside. The second night I was into the project I left the log cabin by myself and walked across a frozen lake, where the ice is 5 feet thick, to the far side at 2 am to photograph the Northern Lights. I wore the 2nd Skinz longjohns, Salopettes and Sleeka jacket, leaving the Ventile behind as I wasn’t far from ‘home’.
It was -29C outside and I never once felt cold. This meant I was able to concentrate on getting the shots I needed and keep an eye out behind me into the dark woods for packs of wolves who would be my greatest threat. I wore a 44 revolver for protection and the Sleeka’s sleek profile meant that I could still fasten the holster’s belt around the outside of the jacket which allowed me faster access to it rather than have to open the jacket and then draw the gun. Wearing Snugpak gear allowed me not only to take the photos I needed but also to take time out to pause and soak in the atmosphere of the place without feeling as though I had to rush indoors to warm up. Ultimately the Snugpak gear afforded me all the time I required and that is the most important ingredient for a taking a good image.
I particularly like the Salopettes because they zip up tightly around the bottom of my Baffin snow boots which stops snow from entering the boots. Having this barrier from the cold outside air temperatures means I was always able to maintain good insulation. Useful pockets in the Salopettes enabled me to carry lens cloths and a chance to warm my hands when they were out of my mitts. At temperatures down to -39C, I enjoyed using the Salopettes because they had enough room in the knees, hips and behind to allow me to sit on a snow machine or stand up whilst riding it and because they fasten high up the chest and back meant my kidneys never felt cold air which can cause pain. The amazing thing is that Snugpak kept me warm whilst both moving around and during long static periods of inactivity standing in deep snow. The Salopette knees are coated with a tougher fabric which means you can kneel in snow, if working on a snow machine, without getting wet or feeling the cold.
I also especially like the zipped and velcro fastening closure on the front of the Ventile as it’s high front can be closed to stop any cold air and snow from entering at all. Velcro fasteners on the wrists and the in-between leg strap further stop the smock from filling up with air and billowing. Upon coming across a recent moose kill by wolves whilst snow machining I was able to walk through deep snow with never any fear of getting cold and spend a long time examining the body. Each of the 4 pockets on the front of the Ventile hold something crucial for my work and survival and the lower pockets hold my action camera which I can remove quickly to operate. I like the Ventile also because it is heard wearing and I can treat it like a work top without the fear I have to compromise my work because I don’t want to damage it. Whether taking photos amongst tight trees, chainsawing wood, using an axe or catching myself on ice, I never slowed down for concerns about the toughness of my clothing.
I was at this remote location to document the lives of 3 people and their dog whilst indoors and out. What I mainly saw was these people but I also experienced the last frontier of true wilderness. Silence is one of the biggest factors, clear fresh air and calm is what I felt. There isn’t much wildlife visible that can stand such cold temperatures but there were moose, signs of fox and wolverine martin and hare. Bears hibernate until April and May. People say that they couldn’t imagine being so cold but in fact as long as you wear the correct Snugpak clothing for the right situation you never get cold and arctic temperatures feel like normal.
Upon finishing the project I was elated at having done a good job but it is always a good idea to examine what areas helped you achieve. This is why I say repeatedly that high-quality equipment should never be over-looked and that a full set of clothing should be viewed as a space suit that allows you to survive out in the extremes of mother nature. In 3 weeks I never had to wash any of my Snugpak kit as it wears so well and doesn’t carry odours. Being able to simply put the same clothing on and take it off late at night is the mainstay of what I depend on. Snugpak is the cornerstone of what allows my photography to flourish.
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