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Kilograms of kit to survive the Antarctic cold

Ready to bolt: Colin Cosier models protective clothing for Antarctica.

Ready to bolt: Colin Cosier models protective clothing for Antarctica.

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.

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.

Logistics officer Cathy Hawkins at the Australian Antarctic Division's warehouse.

Logistics officer Cathy Hawkins at the Australian Antarctic Division's warehouse.

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.

3 comments so far

  • On my trip to A, I found, through bitter experience, it was necessary to lay ALL items of clothing out in order, to save the time-consuming job of taking off each layer in order to don the forgotten 2nd thermal. Everything happens oh-so-slowly: getting dressed in all that gear; walking in all that gear...

    Commenter
    Dale Lorna Jacobsen
    Location
    Maleny Queensland
    Date and time
    December 18, 2013, 10:16AM
    • I lived near the Arctic Circle throughout a winter when down jackets were the only technical clothing available and not everyone had them. I went through most of the winter in a coat I made myself from a pattern handed round locally and materials bought at the Hudson Bay Store, very much the indigenous style of a thick felt below knee coat with hood, and with hem sleeves and hood lined with fur. All seams cross stitched together, lined with polyester and could have an outer layer sewn on to be completely windproof. The thick, lined felt was warm enough. Sealskin gloves and fake sealskin boots bought in Toronto years before, and breathing into the fur lining of the hood. One night I miscalculated and wore a long velvet pile coat over shirt and jeans, no gloves, no head covering and walked several miles to see a friend who wasn't in. It was 40 below, 70 below with the wind chill factor and walking on to another house I looked longingly at snow drifts thinking about just lying down in them and going to sleep......luckily I recognized the signs and kept going to my friends' house, arriving very disoriented. Yes, warm, windproof, all extremities covered is the watchword, whether traditional materials or the fantastic new(ish) technical clothing hyper-designed for all conditions and that principle works for all levels of cold, from Brisbane winter to polar.

      Commenter
      ILGA
      Date and time
      December 30, 2013, 3:21PM
      • These temperatures may sound cold to Australians but in many places in Canada it's perfectly normal to have -40 and even as far south as the US border, you can see -30 and one does not need all the equipment mentioned above. Layering is key, I've been our running with double balaclava's and wondered why my chest hurt, then I discovered I had been running in -45 If you are doing exercise, you have to plan on zipping up or unzipping to maintain your heat level and or being able to visit the bathroom, quickly. The key areas are toes and fingers, good -40 capable boots, can also fill with sweat, tricks like using peper can also cause a chemical reaction with sweat. Fingers, spend enough time in the real cold and you get frost bitten. Then you have to be even more careful in the future. But visiting and living in that extreme environment is one of extreme beauty... Enjoy it while you can.

        Commenter
        OttawaMensCentre
        Location
        Ottawa Canada
        Date and time
        January 01, 2014, 12:33PM

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