Keeping warm in freezings conditions comes down to many things, one of which is of course kit.
I can talk about kit for hours on end but I wanted to note three important items of clothing that I think are essential for polar conditions.
You’ve obviously got the really obvious items, like a good breathable windproof jacket and warm but light down jacket but here are some things that you might not have given as much thought into…
This is one for the Ladies! These have saved my ass.. Quite literally!!! (This tends to be a lady problem due to our thighs and bum shape being different to guys.)
On an arctic expedition many moons ago, I could not understand why at the end of each day, I would get into my sleeping bag and try to sleep but would be unable to warm up my bag due to the huge blocks of ice that were indeed my thighs and ass! They weren’t in pain but the entire surface was frozen solid and these bad boys are not easy to warm up! This is a big problem at night and quite literally sucks the energy out of you. My life changed when I discovered that insulated synthetic down shorts were a thing! They come to just below the knee, full zip so easy to get on and off during the day and are super light so that not packing them doesn’t even enter my mind now. I go for Bergans brand. I put them on anytime whether it be on breaks, at the end or start of each day or even wear them on the mega baltic days. Trust me - they are an easy solution to keeping the whole of you warm!
We all know how important it is to keep our hands warm in minus temperatures. The problem when you’re on expedition is that there’s often so many fiddly things to do and sort that you end up taking gloves off to do things. For me, mittens are my life line. I treat my mitts with huge care and always know where they are, and make sure they are never near water or fire. The key features I look for in mittens are: Easy to get on: When your hands are cold, getting tight gloves/mitts on is near impossible. Your hands become useless. You need to know that you can get them into the mitts with no worry so go for a size bigger than you think. Yes, this limits what you can do when wearing them (I’d recommend differently if we were talking climbing expeditions) but in my opinion as long as you can do basic manoeuvre and grip, then that is good for these. Make sure that they have a cord attached so that you can loop them around your wrist and if they don’t have that, make your own. Then, you can easily whip them off and on to do the fiddly things. What material you choose to go for varies for what environment you are in. In arctic conditions I go for down - it’s dry so I don’t need to worry about getting them wet but their weight to warmth ratio is fantastic. I wear RAB expedition ones.
3. Base Layers
Often overlooked, base layers are your first barrier after the skin and will control sweat enormously. You want something warm but breathable, cool but comfy. There are many different brands of course, I’ve found that Brubeck base layers work well in the arctic. They retain their shape so that they remain close to the body, trapping the air and being wool they avoid smelling which your team mates will be thankful for! (Remember you probably won’t take these off on expeditions shorter than 2 - 4 weeks!) There’s a range of shapes to go for but if you are going to polar temperatures, the high neck is a great way to maintain that core heat. By keeping the blood in your neck warm, the rest of you will find it easier to keep toasty!