I promised to write about the gear for my future big trip. It ended up to be a monsterous post so grab some coffee or tea and maybe a cookie. Here it is!
A three-week unsupported and unassisted skiing expedition in the arctic requires a huge amount of gear, so here is almost a huge amount of text. And this post is only an introduction to the gear. I will later on write more specific reviews on certain pieces of clothing and gear.
In addition to the introduction I give you a chance to guess the total weight of the gear. The one whose guess is most close to my Excel calculations wins a free bag of Blå Band Expedition meal! More information about this in the end of the post!
About the gear choices and system
The amount and type of the gear needed depends on many factors. So in addition to listing most of the gear I am going to take with me, I also try to explain how the gear is used. My gear choices are based on my own and others experience and the recommendations of our expedition leader Vaiska. The recommendations on the other hand, are based on the arctic expedition system tested and developed by the Finnish Airborne Ranger Club. Vaiska was the leader for Club’s first expeditions to Svalbard, over the Greenland Icecap and to the North Magnetic Pole. Later on the club successfully reached the North Pole in an unsupported and unassisted endeavor.
So the gear system is tried and true, but unfortunately is not in the lightweight category! It is serious expedition equipment. I have recognized some ways to make the load lighter. I could change some gear to lighter alternatives, leave couple items to home, share more gear with my tent partner, etc. This way I could probably lighten my load even 10 kilo! Some further weight could be shaved off by changing the style we travel. But lighter gear is more expensive and some of the gear has been acquired already years ago. In addition the expedition travels in the style it does and honestly, I am very happy with the style of travel and the gear as I don’t have any experience about long arctic expedition (a week in Lapland in winter is not a long expedition). So in a way, this is also a learning trip for me.
The basic idea about our style of travel is explained in my post “An average day in the arctic?” but as a quick reminder: every day we wake up around 0700, make breakfast, melt some snow, break the camp and start skiing at 0900 sharp. We ski 50 minute long legs and have a 10 minute break in between, except for lunch break which is 30 minutes or so. On average day we ski seven or eight legs and then pitch the tents. The evening is mostly spent in the tent eating and melting snow for the next day. Conditions will likely vary a lot with temperatures between 0 Celsius and night-time lows below -30 Celsius. It will likely be windy for most of the time and occasional storm may cause forced days off. Snow conditions can vary from clear ice on glaciers to fresh powder or slushy snow mixed with salty sea water.
Trying to make some progress in a storm in Sarek, March 2010.
Surprisingly, clothing is maybe the easiest thing to choose. Hauling a heavy sled is hard work and causes excessive amounts of heat so staying warm while moving should not be a problem as long as you can keep the wind out. I use a thin merino wool base layer and Icebreaker merino briefs. As I intent to use the same underwear for three weeks, merino wool is the best choice because its odor management abilities. I think that a synthetic underwear would be quite stinky after three weeks of sweating! For colder days (below -20 Celsius or with remarkable windchill factor) I have a Power-stretch fleece mid layer. The base and mid layer are from Finnish company Finnsvala. Especially the mid layer shirt is superb with good cut, long sleeves, thumb holes and very high collar.
Me fixing a stove in a tent this January and wearing Finnsvala Extreme merino wool base layer and Powerstretch shirt.
The shell clothing needs to be 100% windproof but able to vent well and the hood has to be top-notch to give protection from wind. We use special jacket model “Vaiska Everest” made by the Finnish company called Sasta. As shell pants I have the Sasta’s older model called Storm. The Pole jacket and pants sold by Sasta are very similar to my clothing and are also used by some of the expedition members. These clothes were originally developed for the Airborne Ranger club’s Greenland crossing and has then been further revised, improved and used on several expeditions. The jacket and pants are made of Goretex Pro Shell and some stretchy Goretex. The jacket has probably the best collar and hood combination in the world! The sleeves are extra long and roomy, there are two big chest pockets not interfering with the sled harness, big zippers for venting, etc. I’ve added some blue fox fur on the hood for extra protection from the wind (there is a velcro for attaching it). The pants have high waist with braces, full length side zips, drop seat, two pockets, etc. These are really good pieces of kit and I will write more about them later on.
On training trip at Tiirismaa, January 2011. Matias wearing a Sasta Vaiska Everest jacket and Prestige Altitude Blitz sunglasses.
Staying warm while hauling a sled is relatively easy but you get quickly cold when stationary. I have a Marmot Zeus down vest for short breaks and for tent use if it’s really cold. It’s light and packs down to nothing. For longer times in really cold weather I have Nahanny Winter down jacket and pants (pants are shared with my tent partner and mostly taken for polar bear guard duty). Nahanny is a great small Romanian company that makes tailor-made down gear for very reasonable price. There is a bunch Nahanny gear going with us to Svalbard. My jacket and pants are really really warm and have waterproof fabrics both outside and inside. This way wet clothing or snow won’t compromise the down insulation. In addition I have an extra fleece jacket as a camp clothing and Nahanny down socks as a camp and tent booties.
Clothing for a five days skiing trip to Lapland last January. All the gear except the rubber boots and green Halti jacket is going with me to Svalbard. Excellent Nahanny down clothing on the left.
For feet I have thin Bridgendale liner socks and thicker Endurance Trekker hiking socks. I’ve tested this combination on several one week-long trips and the socks work well for at least a week of skiing without a need for change. But I think I’ll take couple of extra pairs with me to chance socks once a week. For sleeping I have a dedicated pair of home-made wool socks. To protect my head I have a couple of different caps and balaclava. In addition to handwear I find the headwear to be the most problematic part of the clothing system. I have a fleece beanie, windproof skiing cap, merino wool balaclava and windproof balaclava. These are also from Finnsvala. I believe that most of the time I’ll use Berghaus Icefall XCR gloves. They are maybe the best gloves for winter touring. In addition I have power-stretch gloves for warm days and down mitts (by Nahanny) for the coldest of days.
Most of the expedition, me included, will ski with Madshus VOSS skis, Rottefella NNN BC bindings and at least part of the time with Colltex skins. The relatively narrow steel edged skis are good for sled hauling on packed snow, the NNN BC binding is a real joy to ski and skins are necessary to get enough grip to tow a heavy sled. We use 38mm mohair skins that also slide relatively well. And when skins are not needed I rely on the MGV+ base of my skis thus eliminating the need to wax skis as it is a group trip and you have to along with the flow.
I have Alpina BC 1600 ski boots. These are hiking shoe like full leather boots with membrane and Thinsulate insulation. Even with insulation the boots are not warm enough on their on. Most of the expedition members have boot covers made by Finnish T-Tossu but I have made my own boot covers from Goretex with pile lining.
As a ski sticks I have Komperdell XC Mountains. They have a cork handle for warmth, aluminum shafts for durability, big baskets for soft snow and reasonable spike to get some grip on ice. In my opinion they are a great choise for the price. I bought mine from Skistart.
Tent and kitchen
Tent is the only shelter available and an absolute necessity if you don’t build a snow shelter every day. There are no trees in Svalbard, other natural wind break is scarce and storm winds can blow around 30m/s. So, a reliable tent is a must have. Everyone in the expedition uses Hilleberg Keron 3 GT tent. The Airborne Rangers Club did extensive testing for different tent models to find one well suited for arctic expeditions and this was the one. Part of the reason why the tent was chosen is the ease of pitching it. We tape the pole segment together except the one section in the middle of the pole and leave the poles halfway inside the pole tunnels. The sleeping pads are also left inside the tent. After this the tent is rolled as a big Swiss roll and strapped on top of a sled. When pitching we first stake down the windward end, open the roll, push the poles in place and tighten the tent up. Easy, fast and safe. We use a three persons tent for two people. This is partly because of comfort (long evenings spent in the tent, need to dry gear inside, etc.) and partly because of safety: even if two of the seven tents would be totally destroyed we could still get everyone sheltered and keep going.
A Hilleberg Keron 3 GT in a wind in Sarek, March 2010.
Inside the tent we have a big CCF mat that covers the whole tent floor making it really comfortable. In addition we have clothes lines and drying nets in the ceiling for drying our gear with the excessive heat from the stoves.
We have two white gas stoves per tent. Again, partly for comfort and partly for safety. We have a MSR XGK and a Primus Omnifuel. The first is of bomb proof design and robustness and the latter can be better adjusted so it is better for cooking. For safety reasons we have an aluminum cooker box which also holds all our kitchen gear. We have 2,9 liter Primus Etapower pot for efficient snow melting and two smaller pots for cooking and warming water, etc. In addition we take a frying pan to make some pancakes. 😉 And there is of course a mug, spoon, thermos bottles and other stuff.
View inside the tent in Sarek. The cooker box and stoves are on the other end and there are some gloves drying on the clothes line.
Another necessity for good trip is a good nights sleep. There are some challenges related to the sleeping system: night-time temperatures will likely plummet below -30 Celsius, moisture will accumulate on the bags during three weeks of use and bad weather may prevent drying the bags in sun for several days in a row. Because of this a double bag system is good way to go. I have a seriously warm down bag made by Cumulus in Poland. The bag is a bit tweaked model of their Alaska 1300 bag with some special details and extra room for comfort. It is top-notch work and it was still reasonably priced compared to many other standard bags! On top fo this bag I’ll use Carinthia Explorer Top MF bag in size XL. It is maybe the most roomy over bag in the market and should fit my extra large and very lofty down bag. The idea is that the moisture will accumulate and freeze to the synthetic over bag thus keeping the down bag dry, warm and comfortable. This system has been widely used and it works well. Another approach, and a necessary addition in some conditions, would be a VBL liner: a waterproof sack used inside the down bag to protect the down from moisture. As I don’t have enough experience with these, I’ll go with the tried and true system.
The Cumulus sleeping bag after a night in -32 Celsius in Repovesi National Park last February.
As for winter sleeping pads I use solely closed cell foam. It is foolproof and always ready to use and with sleds the packing volume is not a problem. We have 10mm CCF mat covering the whole tent floor and in addition I have a regular Ridgerest and a piece of generic 10mm CCF pad. That combination has worked well down to -33 Celcius with tent pitched on ice.
I will sleep in my base layer, fleece beanie and dedicated wool sleep socks. And if it’s really cold, I’ll the fleece mid layer and even a fleece jacket. With my sleeping system the use of down clothing should not be necessary thus keeping them more likely dry and efficient for day time use.
Documenting the expedition is one of my interests at the moment. That means quite a lot of camera gear and thus more weight on the sled. I will take Canon EOS 550D DSLR camera, battery grip, bunch of batteries (I can use the expedition solar panel to load them) and couple of good lenses. I’d take eben more if I could afford. 🙂 As 550D is capable of recording Full HD video, I’ll try to shoot as much video as possible. This causes the need for tripod and for a huge amount of memory. Unfortunately my tripod is a heavy Manfrotto 055 but I’ll modify it a bit for the trip. I will take some 40 GB worth of SDHC cards and in addition will have rugged external USB hard drive to store all the video and pics. Or actually, we’ll have two so that we can also take backups. These will be used with the expedition computer: a HP mini laptop with SSD memory. The computer is also used to send our daily dispatches via an Iridium satellite phone. And in addition to the DSLR I’ll take an Olympus 3000 Though camera with me. It is waterproof, so it should not mind the temperature difference between a warm tent and freezing air and the condense water this causes. So all the inside photos will be taken with the Olympus and the DSLR will stay outside all the time.
In addition to the stuff mentioned there is other miscellaneous stuff that will find it’s way to my sled. These include small stuff like sunglasses, storm goggles with face mask, iPod, pee bottle, notebook and pens for diary keeping, etc. And bigger stuff like shovel, ice axe and crampons for glaciers. like In addition we have first aid and medical stuff and repairing kit shared with my tent partner Matias.
Big bulk of the sled load will be consumables. Most of this will be food. A 100 kilo weighting young man like me hauling a sled in a cold consumes an insane amount of calories. And as I am going for a nice holiday trip, I don’t want to be hungry and miserable. So there will be a lot of food. There will be also quite lot of stove fuel as we intent to warm the tent with the stoves to add comfort and to be able to dry damp gear.
In addition to personal gear and gear shared with my tent partner we will have some common gear for the whole expedition. This includes for example the guns mandatory because of polar bears, spare equipment like spare skis, boots and ski sticks, some climbing gear, communications gear: solar panel, laptop, satellite phone and other stuff. This will make a nice addition on top of everything else meaning that the final sled weight will be a lot higher than what I have calculated myself…
As a gear freak I have naturally made an extensive Excel spreadsheet about all my gear. This is also useful when planning the freight to and from Svalbard. Below you can find the spreadsheet without the weights. I will later publish the weights but before that, I’ll give you a chance to try.
Want to have a free meal?
As I promised, there is a chance to win a free meal. I haven’t yet told anything about the total weight of all the gear so you have a chance to guess it! What I am looking for here is the so-called full skin-out base-weight without consumables (food, fuel, toilet paper, first aid stuff, etc.) The one whose guess is closest to the final number of my calculations wins a bag of Blå Band Expedition meal. Because I pay the postage myself, I have to limit this competition only to those living in Europe. But everyone is free to give guess. Remember to type your e-mail address when leaving a reply so I can contact the winner for delivery details! I will declare the winner by the evening of Wednesday March 16th.
And Matias, who happens to know the exact weights, is not allowed to participate. Sorry.
In a nut shell:
– give a guess on the skin-out base-weight with out consumables
– give your answer with a resolution of 10 grams
– remember to type in your e-mail address
– closest guess from Europe wins a free meal
Let the game begin!