For the newly qualified ecologist, the prospect of getting yourself ‘kitted-out’ is daunting. Not only does a lack of field experience and contact with other seasoned professionals (who would be willing to share their experience with you) present a major barrier to getting access to the right kit, but other factors, such as available budget and shear variety of choice, help to add further confusion and hinder getting the right kit for the right job!! However, help is at hand… Over the years I’ve tried the lot, sometimes I made good decisions and sometimes I didn’t, so over the course of the next five blogs I’m going to share with you 20 years of my experience, with an emphasis on getting kitted-out on a budget!
This week covers waterproof clothing; however, subsequent weeks will provide advice and tips on footwear, gloves vs. mittens, thermal layers and for those budding ornithologists out there, buying the right optics.
Unless you’ve been lucky enough to land a position working in the Mediterranean, where your chances of encountering anything more than a light shower are slim, then you’re going to need some form of waterproof (outer) clothing.
I remember at the start of my career after I’d recently graduated, I was always tempted to save money and choose waterproofs that weren’t gas permeable i.e. breathable. Don’t make the same mistake as me: always buy breathable because anything more than a light walk is going to leave you wetter on the inside than out! Back in my days there really was a big price difference between breathable and non-breathable; however, that’s far from the case now, so there’s no excuse for making this same rookie mistake as me!
Waterproof clothing is obviously a matter of personal choice, but it’s important not to be seduced by famous brands, which aren’t going to make a difference to you, unless you’re a competitive athlete. Over the years I’ve developed a saying: ‘If it’s good enough for the army or the police force, then it’s good enough for me’. The rationale behind this statement is based on buying clothing primarily made for the military or police force. However, before you roll your eyes, shake your head and close your browser, hear me out… An effective military and/or police person can’t do their job in the field unless they are wearing kit that’s going to keep them warm and dry. Unlike many of the mainstream clothing companies out there (you know the ones…), manufacturers for the military and police force aren’t primarily making their products with the ‘seasons colours’ in mind; it simply doesn’t factor into the garments’ use. So when you buy surplus clothing, what you get is quality and a bit of kit that will last you many seasons, if you buy right and look after it! I’ve ordered numerous items from the following company and have always got value for money: www.surplusandoutdoors.com. However, Surplus and Outdoors isn’t the only choice out there and it always pays to look around.
Budget is always a major consideration – for all company sizes! One recent example that comes to mind was when I needed to buy waterproof clothing for an ornithologist who was going to be working on Shetland for a year. I bought them an ‘as new’ Gortex (breathable) jacket and a pair of waterproof trousers from Surplus and Outdoors for under £50, which is a fraction of the cost a jacket and trousers would have cost from a mainstream company.
If you’re planning on splashing out on a more expensive jacket, and to be fair, green or camouflage isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, then you’re likely to be faced by the dilemma between a jacket, with a single zip up the front or a smock, which zips up either side of the jacket. My advice to you would be to think carefully about a single zip option. The reason is actually very simple – if you're walking around all day and need to let out heat but still want to stay dry, then a single zip up the front isn’t going to work very well at ventilating your base and mid-layers, especially if you are wearing a backpack with a hip and sternum strap.
I’ve used two smock jackets to date (incidentally they were both made by Paramo Clothing (www.paramo-clothing.com). Unfortunately, I had to return my first smock jacket when I handed-in my notice to a former employer and had to buy the second jacket myself. The second jacket is still going strong after four years of near-constant use and I would rate Paramo Clothing as offering excellent value for money over time. One of the other advantages of a smock jacket is a large central pocket (I call it a kangaroo pocket) in the front of the jacket – just don’t leave it open when you bend over water; that’s all I’m saying… One final bit of advice when thinking about ordering an expensive jacket - it pays to look for 'seconds'. These are garments that are still technically sound, but just haven't cut the mark for mainstream retail e.g. a messy stitching line. My first Paramo Clothing jacket was bought from Paramo Seconds - a company selling out of Ebay.
Choosing the right pair of waterproof trouser is generally less of an issue than a jacket. If you’re going to be working solidly in the field, then don’t expect to get anything more than a year from a single pair of trousers, so it’s best not to spend too much money, because if barbed wire fencing doesn’t destroy them, then a full seasons’ use will! However, one BIG piece of advice is to avoid buying a pair that has a seam in the inner leg: over time this will get rubbed and in all likelihood will eventually give way, so it’s best avoided, if you can.
If you liked the above blog, then stay tuned for more!! Over the course of the next four blogs I'll provide you with advice and tips on footwar, keeping your hands warm, thermal layers and for those aspiring ornithologists out there, buying the right optics.
Image Credit: TETRIX Ecology, Surplus & Outdoors and Paramo Clothing