Kilograms of kit to survive the Antarctic cold

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Outdoorsy types have a saying – “there's no bad weather, just bad clothing”.

This seems to be the philosophy of the Australian Antarctic Division's kitting unit – and why we left their warehouse in Kingston, Tasmania on Monday with so much gear (three large bagfuls) that we could barely carry it back to our hotel.

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Antarctica here I come. But what to wear?

It takes a lot of clothes to stay warm at minus 40 degrees. Science editor Nicky Phillips and video journalist Colin Cosier get kitted out at the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart before heading to the frozen continent.

The warehouse holds about 16,000 pieces of kit (multiples of 85 individual items) for the 500-plus expeditionists that journey south each season. It stocks everything from thermal underwear to polar sunglasses, each item selected for the harsh and variable Antarctic conditions. Thankfully, the kitting logistics officer Cathy Hawkins was there to guide us – layer by layer – through our daunting pile of equipment.

See Colin and Nicky's full clothing list below

Clothing for places like Antarctica works on a layering principle. We start with close-fitted woollen thermals (Australian merino wool, typically), followed by a mid-layer of polar fleece. There's also an option for an outer layer of polar fleece for especially cold days. These clothes are designed to keep us warm. They're useless if wet and provide almost no protection from the wind.

Over the warm layers, we wear an outer shell that's both windproof and waterproof - in a fetching fluoro yellow.


All this gear – including a pair of ice boots and survival gloves – will be carried onto the plane as "survival kit" on Wednesday morning in the off-chance we get stuck at the airstrip, which is four hours' drive from Casey station – or worse, if there is an emergency and we have to abandon the plane. It'll also be useful when we step off the plane in minus 5 degrees.

As Colin and I will be travelling inland for an ice core drilling project, we require clothes that can protect us from temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees. So we were also issued thick duck- or goose-down pants and jacket. Yes, they're as flattering as they sound – think Michelin man.

We were also given nine pairs of gloves, each with a specific purpose to protect the hands against wind, water, cold or a combination.

One pair of mittens has a thick pad of fur on the outside.

“Your nose will constantly run in Antarctica,” said Cathy Hawkins. “That's what the fur's for.”

While nine pairs of gloves might seem a lot, this morning Colin and I each bought one more pair – fingerless mittens for camera-operating and note-writing.

A complete list of our Antarctic gear

* Nine pairs of gloves: wind, water or cold proof, survival gloves if trapped in a blizzard, woollen inner gloves, wristlets, work gloves, mittens.

* Three pairs of boots: ice boots, deep field boots (when the temperature drops to between minus 30 and minus 40 degrees), steel cap work boots; boot chains for ice.

* Two pairs of woollen thermals, top and bottom, and three pairs or woollen socks.

* One mid-layer of polar fleece, top and bottom, and one outer-layer of polar fleece, top and bottom.

* Antarctic shell for wind protection; jacket and bib/brace bottoms.

* Duck- or goose-down jacket and pants.

* Various headgear, including beanie, balaclava, windproof Gore-Tex sledging cap, sun hat with a frill neck, neck gaiter.

* Eyewear: snow tinted goggles, polarised sunglasses.