Outdoor Clothing For Photo Trips

Earlier this year, I’ve shared a comprehensive packing list with my Iceland photo trip participants on what to prepare for the trip.  A common question asked by everyone is what outdoor clothing is most appropriate for such trip.  While you can find quite some information in my free eBook Ultimate Buying Guide For Your Iceland Landscape Photography Trip, I’d like to share a bit more of what I learned after many trips in the US and the globe, regardless of the season and weather.

For example, I packed four seasons of clothes during my 2.5-month National Park Road Trip last year.  The trip started in the beginning of August and ended in mid-October, covering from warm weathers in California and Pacific Northwest, to wind and snow in Colorado and the Rockies.  One of the biggest challenges before the trip was – how to carry enough clothes to cover all seasons while still keeping the luggage clean and light?

Here’s what I’ve packed:

Essential layers (Must Haves!)

  • 2-3 wicking material T-shirts

Wicking material (athletes’ typical choice) – synthetic fibers such as polyester – can pull moisture away from your body and keep you dry and warm.   Do NOT wear cotton.

Natural fibers such as wool also wick moisture effectively. However, it’s less comfortable, and better for socks or outer layers.

outdoor clothes

  • 1-2 wicking material long sleeve shirts as base layer

outdoor clothes

outdoor clothes

outdoor clothes


  • 1 fleece jacket or lightweight woolen sweater as middle layer

Marmot grey top

outdoor clothes

North Face black fleece

  • 1 rainproof (weatherproof) shell as the outside layer, ideally with hood (used during rain or high wind condition).  It could also be sufficient for winter as long as you don’t stay out all the time

outdoor clothing

outdoor clothes

  • 2-3 rainproof (weatherproof) pants / trousers, better if they can be folded up and converted as shorts or capri pants

outdoor clothes

  • 1 pair of sturdy hiking boots (better waterproof) with ankle protection

  • 1 pair of easy walking shoes / light sneakers

  • 1 wicking material cap or hat

outdoor clothes

outdoor clothes

If you have short hair, wear a hat instead of cap that can protect your neck from the sun in the back.

  • 1 scarf that is large enough to be converted to a backup layer

outdoor clothes

outdoor clothes

  • 3-4 pairs of warm wool socks

If you wear high ankle boots, make sure your socks are of higher ankle so your skin don’t directly rub against your boots.

  • 1 pair of sunglasses

I brought 2 pairs – one with prescription for driving, one without.  I ended up wearing the pair with prescription all the time.

Additional essentials for extreme weathers:

  • 1 rainproof (weatherproof) double shell parka as the outside layer, ideally with hood

outdoor clothes

  • One pair of rainproof (weatherproof) snow or ski pants

outdoor clothes

outdoor clothes

  • 1 down jacket as additional layer (worn underneath the double shell parka), ideally no hood

outdoor clothes

This can also be worn by itself in replacement of the shell when the wind is not too strong

outdoor clothes

  • 1 hat with ear protection.  This could be worn inside the jacket hood

outdoor clothes

  • 1 pair of weather-proof gloves

  • 1 pair of long thermal underwear, or wool leggings (worn underneath the ski pants)

Other Recommendation

  • Swimsuit 

No matter you are traveling to Iceland or tropical rain forest, you might encounter either thermal or regular swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, or spas.  Swimsuit is always a nice piece to bring.

  • 1 pair of sandals

If you travel to tropical rain forest, and want to take some easy walks around a small town, sandals could be a nice choice and can handle rain much better than other shoes.

Examples and Outdoor Clothing Purchase Links

REI is my go-to store in the US.   I almost got everything mentioned above in this store.  They have great customer service (1-year return policy) although we are very happy with everything and didn’t need to return anything.

If you live near San Francisco / Bay Area, Sports Basement is my backup store.  For everything you saw in the pictures above, I purchased my purple double shell parka, gloves and ski pants there.  If you are lucky enough to find your size in the sales season, you’ll find some great bargain.

I have owned a couple of hiking boots before and these are my favorite.  I used to hurt ankles and toes in bad boots, but this pair gave me maximum protection.  After trekking in the snow, sand, streams, and on rocks, mud and bushes, these shoes still look new.  Even in ice caves and on glaciers in Iceland, they still worked very well.  With their durability, I have no doubt they will accompany me in many other trips ahead.

Apart from Vasque, Merrell and Asolo also have some nice boots although different countries/markets might have different brands/products.

I wore Arc’teryx (see photos above) and am very happy with it kept me dry and warm in the rain and wind.  When we traveled in Colorado last year, I only wore 3 layers in the snow – my base long sleeve layer, fleece jacket plus this thin jacket.  I felt completely warm and protected.  The downside is that this brand is a bit more expensive.

Columbia and North Face are two other solid brands with lots of nice jackets.

I don’t have a specific brand to recommend but make sure you choose “moisture wicking” material.  I brought only 3 pairs of pants to my 2.5-month national park road trip last year and all of them are made of wicking material.  They dry super fast when you sweat or get wet in the water.  Two of them (REI private label) could be rolled up into capri pants, which was a high plus – I could wear them in a kayak or during a hot summer day, or in much cooler weather.  The other pair is from North Face.  My selection is not based on brand, but size and comfort.

I bought mine in Sports Basement and can’t find the link.  But I remember spending a long time studying and comparing.  This is a bit technical item and a good weather proof parka makes a huge difference in extreme weather conditions.  Waterproofness, breathability, warmth vs, weight, as well as durability are all important factors.  You can check this article to learn more.

Similarly, I bought my insulated ski pants in Sports Basement.  Since I wore them for hiking in the snow, not skiing, I simply got the most simple design from North Face brand.   No zippered thigh vents, nor fancy cut.  It simply kept me warm and dry and worked perfectly.

Overall, these are what I recommend as essential outdoor clothing for a photo trip.  Of course, how many items and varieties you’d like to bring completely depends on your needs.  After taking on so many trips in the world, I am a strong advocate for packing light.  Alas, I have to bring all the necessary photography gear, which adds up a good chunk of weight.  The only way to save weight is from clothes.

To see a more complete recommended packing list for a photo trip, feel free to download my free eBook.  You can also find some photos and my photo journal about my 2013 National Park road trip and the trip route.

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