Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: winter gear

Gloves for winter

Even though the winter in Southern Finland is late, it seems to be arriving as there has been snow on the ground for couple of days now. Keeping your fingers protected and working in winter is very important, and also very challenging at times so I thought it would be a good time for a post about gloves and glove systems for winter use.

Part of my collection. How many gloves does one need anyway?

In this post I go through the different gloves and mitts that I use (mostly) in winter. The perspective is that of a longer (multiday) trips but the same kit of course works also for shorter endeavours. And for daytrips you have the advantage of checking the weather before walking out from the door and picking just the perfect handwear for the need.

Midweight fleece gloves

BlackDiamond Midweight gloves and Halti Peel gloves.

Midweight fleece gloves are very useful! I’ve used several different models and at the moment I’m using Black Diamond Midweight gloves. The thickness of Polartec Power Stretch used is good for me and the leather palm makes them a lot more durable than fleece gloves without one. These are usually enough for me down to -5C in windless conditions and if it’s cold enough I use them as liners under thick mittens. They are thin and close-fitting enough to be quite agile. They also dry relatively fast and are surprisingly warm even when soaking wet. (I had a little accident while skiing on slushy lake ice.) Almost all fleece gloves work just as well as any other but the leather palm is very good for skiing as the straps on poles cause extra wear on gloves and simple fleece gloves develop holes already in one season. The down side is that the leather is slow to dry. To make the Midweights even better I wouldn’t mind some grippy stuff on finger tips and a different cuff construction. The best cuff thus far has been on Halti Peel gloves: a double layer of thin microfleece and no elastics. They keep the wrist warm, are easy to put on and take off and easy to stuff under jacket sleeves. For a long trip I might take another pair of simple fleece gloves as backup. (For example I had two pairs with me in Svalbard.)

Thick gloves

The new Berghaus Extreme Hardshell Gloves and the old Icefall Extrem XCR gloves.

Since the winter 2009-2010 the Berghaus Icefall Extrem XCR gloves have seen a lot of use. I bought them in a pinch for a ice climbing course as I didn’t have proper gloves and I made a good decision! The g loves have durable very leather palm, they are wind and water proof and surprisingly warm thanks to Primaloft insulation. If exercising these gloves are warm enough down to -25C or so. They are also surprisingly soft and agile (compared to some other hardshell gloves) and for example using a DSLR with them is quite possible. First I didn’t like the idea of handwear with thick insulation fixed inside some membrane but they stay quite dry in use and even if the outer gets really wet (for example from digging a snow cave) the glove still stays warm. These are worth a bit longer love story (i.e. review) with some specifications but there’s nothing I’d change in these gloves. Well, a detachable nose-wipe would be nice.

The exact model is not available anymore but I was told be Berghaus that the follow-up model called Extreme Hardshell Gloves is similar. Well, I have a pair of those too and there are minor differences but overall they seem to be the same with some stylishing and wrist lanyards as stock feature. I can’t tell about the durability of the new model yet but I expect it to be good.

I’d also like to test some Arcteryx Alpha SV gloves as I’d like to find out if gloves worth over 200 euros could actually do all the skiing and climbing for you… 😉

Mittens

Bundeswehr surplus mitts, Outdoor Designs Summit mitts, Vaude Himalaya mitts and traditional leather work mitts

Mittens are the solution for the colder days of the winter. My primary mitts at the moment are Bundeswehr surplus mitts from Varusteleka. They have durable leather palm and thumb, polyester fabric on the back, pile lining and apparently some sort of membrane or VBR (vapor barrier) that keeps hands dry and warm. And they are also cheap. In Finnish army the similar mitts are called “noukkarit” which is derived from words “no can do”, and you can’t do much with these but they are warm. The mitts themselves are not warm enough for really cold but mine are well oversized (size 10) and I can fit a thick wool mitten or fleece gloves under them and I’ve used them happily in temps below -30C. If really soaked these mittens don’t dry too fast so keeping them dry is important but it’s relatively easy in times these are needed.

Sometimes I wear a pair of traditional wool mittens on their own but usually I wear them in colder temperatures under the surplus mittens. Wool mittens feel nice and stay warm even if wet. Homemade would of course be nice but for maximum warmth I use a thick felted Vaude Himalaya Mittens. Not agile but warm. And because they are boiled they are a bit wind and water resistant. These could have a bit roomier cuff  but luckily you can stretch them. Size 10 fits under the surplus mitts and can even fit a very thin liner glove under them. In my experience nice loose fit adds warmth.

I also have a pair of unlined hardshell mitts. Mine are few yer old Outdoor Designs Summit Mitts. They are quite beefy with bunch of features but they haven’t seen much use. I’ve carried them with me on some summer hikes (too heavy for that) and winter trips (didn’t fit the system) but haven’t really used them much. But there is one thing that they are very good for: building snow shelters. While digging a snow cave or carving a quenzee your gloves will get wet and if I plan to build snow shelters, I usually take the shell mitts with me and wear them over the fleece gloves to keep my handwear dry.

Occasionally I use a pair of typical Finnish leather work mitts. They are relatively warm (pile lined), very durable and cheap (6 euro per pair or so). I use them on trips were I play a lot with fire or if I’m working but usually I don’t take them for long trips. I have also a pair of nice waterproof down mitts from Nahanny but with my limited experience I don’t like them. They feel a bit fragile and don’t feel especially warm if gripping cold metal things (say an iceaxe). They would benefit from some pile lining and maybe a leather palm. Of course the warmth/weight ratio of down mitts is a lot better than with the surplus mittens + wool mittens combo. I just happen to like the latter more.

In very cold conditions many arctic travellers use special over mittens often called “tuherot” in Finnish. These are big bags that cover the hand and the end of a skiing pole (similar than ones used by bikers in winter or kayakers in cold environments). So no thumb or anything but a bigger hole for hand and a smaller hole for the skiing pole. (Click to see Poppis Suomela’s polar bear “tuherot” in use.) The idea is to provide a warm and protected environment for the hand without the need to wear bulky mittens, a thin liner glove should be enough. I made a pile-lined pair from Goretex but never found them fitting my style. But for someone doing a skiing trip in very cold environment, they are worth checking out. Maybe I’ll do another iteration with the design and give them another try…

I’d be also very interested in testing the RBH Designs handwear but those are sickeningly expensive so I have to pass the wish. And I might also buy a pair of heavy duty long-cuffed pile-lined leather mittens (or maybe something really insane like these?) for the upcoming internship period as I’ll be doing quite a lot of manual labour, be working with dogs and the temps can plummet below -40C.

Keeping the handwear dry

Keeping gloves dry is very important and can be very hard on the long run. If it’s really cold the moisture comes only from perspiration and is quite manageable but if you are for example building a snow shelter you might get the gloves soaked from the outside. For a shorter trips you might decide to bring several pairs of gloves and just change into dry pair and not bother with drying at all but this doesn’t work for long trips.

Pic not related to keeping handwear dry, but shoving wear on Halti Peel gloves after one season's use.

Thin gloves can be quite easily dried with body heat inside a shell jacket (or pants) and I’ve even managed to get soaked Berghaus Goretex gloves relatively dry under a shell but that was quite miserable thing to do. Small hot water bottles (0,5 liter Nalgenes) might help – at least they do wonders with boots. You can also dry gloves with body heat in a sleeping bag but that risks the sleeping bag as moisture will freeze in the insulation. It might be okay on shorter trips or if you can dry the sleeping bag occasionally (good weather in spring time or warm huts). Fire is of course a good way to dry wet things but with synthetic gloves and mittens you have to be carefull. I saw some smoking handwear on the guide schools safety management outing and burning your warm handwear in winter is a bad idea! So with fire, practise patience. A good way to dry gloves and similar small things is on the clothes line of tent heated up with stoves. This is the way I do my longer winter trips and even though it’s heavy, in my opinion it’s the way to go if you want to do really long winter trips without making fires. (There are places where trees don’t grow…)

The system for longer winter trips

As a summary the system I use for longer winter trips with temps varying from 0C down to -40C consists of:
– a pair (or two) of midweight fleece gloves,
– a pair of warm hardshell gloves and
– a pair of pile-lined surplus mitts lined with additional pair of wool mittens (left home if temps are expected to be warm).
– Occasionally unlined shell mitts for building snow shelters.

This setup covers all typical winter conditions that I’ve met in Finland and also gives some slack in case some of the handwear would accidentally get wet or lost. The biggest problem would be loosing the warm mitten combo in very cold weather but then I would probably use shell gloves topped with my extra woollen socks and some stuff sacks. And to prevent loosing handwear I’ve equipped all but the fleece gloves with lanyards so I can dummycord the handwear to my wrists.

And as mentioned above, keeping the handwear dry is important. For example I store my fleece gloves under shell next to body if not using them to keep them dry and warm and during the night I keep them in my sleeping bag (if it’s below -30C using gloves to open the zipper of the sleeping bag is good idea anyway). The Goretex gloves and mitts I dry in the tent after days use but they can also be dried with body heat if necessary.

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If you really liked the post, have something to add, have differing views or just want to, please leave a comment and share your winter handwear system with others!

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Sasta Everest jacket – Review

Once again this is a love story under the name “review”. And more than about a jacket, this a story about a hood. And not just any hood but possibly the best shell jacket hood in the world. And it can be found from Sasta Everest jacket.

The author enjoying the great hood in Svalbard in April 2011. Picture by Janne Holme.

Sasta is a small Finnish outdoor clothing company based in Nurmes in Eastern Finland. Sasta is well-known for modern high quality hunting clothing (“Green” line) and also as a niche manufacturer for the clothing used by Finnish expeditions to Arctic regions (most recently “The Pole” collection). In addition they also make some high quality outdoor clothing well suited for Nordic conditions (“Outdoor” collection) like the Kalotti anorak and backcoutry skiing clothing designed with Antte Lauhamaa.

The jacket reviewed here is a special model of Sasta Everest jacket that was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition to Svalbard. And to make things complicated Sasta has made several different variations of this jacket sold under the same name so if buying something named “Sasta Everest jacket” make sure you buy the model you were looking for.

A hard shell for winter use? Why?

Even though the conventional wisdom and some people say that in winter you should “avoid membranes in clothing like the plague”, I disagree with this in some cases. I think that hard shell clothing (i.e. something with membrane like Goretex and Event) can offer some advantages in winter expedition style use.

First of all, waterproof & breathable membranes work surprisingly well in cold and dry conditions as the relative difference in humidy and temperature between the inside and outside of the shell clothing is big enough for the membrane to work (i.e. breath). The hard shell fabrics are also completely windproof which adds quite a bit of warmth at least when compared to traditional tightly woven poly-cotton. In certain conditions 100% windproof clothing is a must. The membrane packed fabrics are also waterproof which is very useful in case of rain or wet snow as it keeps the user and layers underneath it dry. And if hard shell clothing gets thoroughly wet (from rain, sweating, submersion, etc.) in sub-zero temps it usually doesn’t freeze into a stiff lump but stays quite operational. All this is very useful on long-lasting winter trips with no real chances to dry clothing where you have to push on despite the conditions.

And if it is cold enough, almost all moisture freezes to the warm layers under the shell clothing or into the shell itself and in these conditions having a membrane or not doesn’t make much of a difference – a snow brush is needed anyway.

Moisture frozen under a shell jacket. Picture by Poppis Suomela from Magnetic North Pole Expedition 2003 of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland.

And one point for choosing a hard shell is the unfortunate (?) fact that hard shells are often better designed with better technical details meaning that if one wants certain details and functions a shell with membrane might be the only option available. So, from these points, from the experience and experiments by others and from my own limited experience I’d say that hard shell clothing works very well for winter expedition use. And of course this doesn’t mean that a non-membrane clothing* would not work!

The Design and Specifications

The Everest jacket is based on a jacket design by Kari “Poppis” Suomela who designed the jacket used by the Finnish Airborne Ranger Clu’s expedition across Greenland in 1999. During the last decade the jacket has been used on several expedition and revised several times but the basic design has stayed about the same. A slightly different version is now sold as “Sasta Pole Jacket”.

To be honest the jacket is quite a typical mid-length hard shell jacket. It is made using the “core comfort mapping technology” meaning that different materials are used on different areas. Most of the jacket is made of 3-layer Goretex Proshell and the side panels and underarms are made of stretchy 3-layer Goretex. The stretchy panels give some extra freedom of movement. The features of the jacket include:

– beefy full length two-way zipper with double storm flaps and a lacing back-up system
– long (50cm) two-way pit zippers with double storm flaps
– long sleeves with velcro tabs on cuffs
– draw cords on waist, hem and collar (plus a bunch of adjustments in the hood)
– two big chest pockets (33cm x 20cm), a small sleeve pocket and a napoleon-style pocket for a pen flare
– the best collar and hood system in the world

Not that winterish. Notice the different materials (different shades of black).

Being a “winter expedition jacket” it’s not a light one. My jacket is size XL and weights 990 grams with the thick fur around the hood adding 115g. The cut is quite roomy: I am 186cm long and weight around 100kg with relatively modestly built upper body (all the beef is in the legs) and I can easily fit a base layer and two thin fleeces under the jacket. For me the hem reaches below the waist line and a bit further on the back covering the butt. The sleeves are roomy and plenty long enough.

Sasta Everest jackets in use. Notice the full face protection provided by the depth of the hood.

Here are some measurements from my size XL jacket:

– length of the back (from neck to hem): 82cm
– circumference on chest: 135cm
– circumference on waist: 125cm
– sleeve (from shoulder seam to cuff): 73cm
– collar height: 11cm
– hood “depth” (from the brim to the back of the head): 27cm

Visible: the long pit zipper, different materials and some other features.

The Use

I’ve used this jacket mostly during the winter 2011 from January to April. I’ve used it on short ski trips, on snowshoeing day trips, while building snow shelters, on weekend skiing trips and of course on the three-week expedition to Svalbard. The conditions have varied quite a bit and occasionally the jacket has been an overkill* but often, especially in high winds, it has been a real gem. I think that I’ve used the jacket for some 50 times, often one time meaning a full day outside. I think that I have enough experience with the jacket to write a review of it. I haven’t used the jacket during the warmer time of the year, mostly because of it being heavy and overkill for the conditions. So this review is written purely from a winter use perspective. I know also that the exact model and similar ones by Sasta have been used for example in climbing at the Alps, the Andes and the Denali so it seems that the jacket would also work for mountaineering.

Successes

I think that the design in general is good for hard winter use but some features are more important or better than others.

All the zippers (all YKK) are adequately protected with storm flaps and all the zipper pulls have long cords to enable operating them with gloves. I think that it’s cool that the main zipper’s storm flap has a velcro closure and on the last 20cm there are small webbing loops that enable turning the jacket into an anorak in case of a zipper failure on a long trek! (Just add some cord and sew the rest of the zipper shut.)

Visible: double storm flap, pen flare pouch, collar wedge and backup loops.

The best part of the jacket is the collar and hood system. There is a 11cm high fleece-lined collar with a draw cord to keep the nasty weather outside. This is often enough and for better but not-that-good weather there is a fleece lined wedge with some velcro that can cover your neck even if you’d partly open the main zipper. I often use it to add a bit of ventilation but still keep me protected from the weather.

Visible: hood half-way down providing still some protection. Notice also the extra velcro tab for use with a hard face mask.

The hood itself is sewn to the lower edge of the collar. It is very spacious and you can even fit a helmet inside but in my opinion it works better without one. There is a bunch of adjustments in the hood: In the back of the hood there are two volume adjustments and in the front there is a total of three adjustment cords. The adjustment next to the forehead adjusts the fleece-lined seal next to skin. The next two cords adjust the big tunnel that protects your face from the hostile cold winds. The peak of the tunnel is stiffened with wire and there is some additional soft stiffening material on the sides. There is a 4cm wide velcro strip on the edge of the tunnel for attaching a fur**. (Fur is not included, I got some really furry raccoon from a hunter.) It’s really nice to be able to detach the fur on a rainy day. The tunnel can be easily folded for better field of view in better weather and with some adjusting the fur can still protect the cheeks, ears and neck while not wearing the hood.

Visible: The side profile and all the adjustments of the hood.

Because of the collar wedge and a big velcro tab that goes over the front of the hood, the hood can also seal over a hard face mask (like Scott Safari goggles with mask) to offer superior protection from raging winds.

The jacket worn with hard face mask. Feeling invincible.

The long and roomy sleeves are also nice. There is a lot room for movement especially with part of the sleeve being stretchy. The sleeves reach below knuckles providing cover for hands. I can also tuck the cuffs of my thick winter gloves (another love story to be reviewed) inside the sleeves. There are also small plastic rings for dummy cording gloves but I usually put the lanyard around my wrists so I haven’t used them.

Visible: long sleeves, velcro tabs, ring for dummy cord and sleeve pocket.

The big chest pockets are nice: they are roomy, easy to access and don’t interfere with backpack or harness. The pen flare pouch is useful if you need to have one easily available for example to fend of curious polar bears. The pouch fits one flare to the bottom and the launcher on top of it. Instead of a pen flare I carried a lip balm in the pocket and it stayed relatively warm and soft there. The sleeve pocket has been originally added for the needs of smokers but as a non-smoker I use it to carry a compass, sunglasses or something similar light and small.

Visible: chest pockets. The pockets reach all the way down to waist.

There is also a double layer of fabric on one place on the sides of the jacket as it seems that pulling sled for some 1000+km causes inevitable wear on this area. And actually some of the girls in the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition had visible wear already after some 400-500km of skiing with the jacket.

Room for Improvement

There are no major problems in the jacket but few small things could be improved.

In my opinion the major shortcoming of the jacket is that it is too short. I’m relatively long guy and to properly cover my groin area and butt (often chilled in stormy winter conditions) the hem should reach about 5 cm lower. This is not a crucial shortcoming but annoying one anyway. I’ve been thinking that an optimal ski expedition jacket could be even 15cm longer covering most of the upper legs. This would of course hinder the use with a climbing harness but might be worth it for skiing in very cold and windy places. And if the jacket would be that much longer it might be nice to add big pockets to the hem?

Visible: the hem (too short in my opinion) and the hood with the "tunnel" folded for better visibility. (Pics with me wearing the jacket by N.)

There could also be some additional length in the hood. Now at some cases the shoulder starps of backpack or sled pulling harness pulls the jacket down on the shoulders causing slight pressure on the top of the head if wearing the hood. This doesn’t happen always but when it does, it’s again slightly annoying. I think that a centimeter or two of extra fabric on the back of the hood (or the user having shorter neck or being shorter) would solve this.

The sleeve pocket is somewhat redundant but on the other hand doesn’t cause any problems either. It might also be useful to have lanyard-loops on the chest pockets. But what I’d really like to have would be a pocket or two on the inside of the jacket to keep some things warmer. One could be a napoleon-style pocket accessible under the strom flap without opening the main zipper (camera batteries, iPhone, lip balm, etc.) and the other could be a roomy mesh pocket inside the jacket to temporarily store things like ski skins, a water bottle or an infusing bag of freeze-dried food.

The edges of seamtapes are abrading on some areas. As the  seamtape used is wide this hasn’t caused any problems and I don’t expect it to but this shouldn’t be happening to a jacket with RRP nearly 700 euros (around $1000). Another minor inconvenience were the cords on zipper pulls. They were made of soft cord that got stuck in the velcro of the strom flap. Changing the cords into longer and stiffer ones was of course easy.

Visible: the wear on seamtapes and the thin fleece lining inside the collar.

Summary

In summary the Sasta Everest jacket is a specialized rugged hard shell jacket well suited for long trips in cold and windy places. It’s not cheap but for some it might be worth the price. The jacket is build with long man hauling trips in mind but in my opinion it should be a bit longer to offer better protection. The cut is good, the details are good, the sleeves are long and big enough. The outer pockets are also good but I think that the jacket would benefit from couple of inner pockets. The best part of the jacket is the wonderful hood and collar system. It’s great for hostile winter conditions – the best I’ve used or seen this far.

I’ll be using the jacket more when the proper winter arrives again and I will report immediately if I find out something new and interesting concerning the jacket. And at some point I’ll write a long-term report to complement this review.

Skiing to the ghost town of Pyramiden in Svalbard in bitter wind.

* PS. I’m also looking for a good light softshell to accompany this jacket on winter tours. It should be a bit beefier than windshirt but not too thick and preferably have a full zipper, couple of pockets, long sleeves, long hem and a decent collar/hood and maybe even pit zips. All recommendations are welcome!

** PPS. If you know a source for legal Russian/Siberian wolf fur, I’d very interested in upgrading my hood fur from raccoon to wolf as it should handle the frost better. Wolverine and Polar bear would be even better but those I can’t probably afford…

Availability

As mentioned, the very model of Sasta Everest reviewed here was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition, but: It is now available from one of the expedition sponsors Trekki under the name of Sasta Expedition Parka “Vaiska” Edition. It is expensive as hell but might be worth the price if it fits to your specific needs. And as mentioned the Sasta Pole Jacket is very similar to the jacket reviewed here and it is available from many places in Finland and also from online and it’s even quite a lot cheaper. And if you are looking for a jacket for a high-key expedition it might be worth contacting Sasta directly.

Crazy ideas: A propane burner with white gas?

It’s been a bit quiet in the blog as I’m using most of my spare time doing expedition preparations. Last weekend was spent weighting, mixing and packing food for three-week expedition. I’ll write more about my diet before leaving but here is a teaser pick:

Most of the food for two people for a three-week expedition. Missing from the picture: more butter, more hard rye bread and load of bacon.

Today I had some time to test stoves as earlier this winter I was able to get my hands on couple of old classic Optimus Hiker 111Ts. These are nice stoves with good power control and very quiet compared to modern roarer-style liquid fuel stoves. And they are very hard to find so I’m happy that I got two of them. I’ll later modify other burner to fit Trangia and use external fuel bottle and it’ll serve as my winter camping stove if takin only one stove as a cooker box for one stove is overkill and heavy. The Trangia-modification is called Ultima Naltio and is explained here.

Optimus Hiker 111T on test run. A classic piece of beauty.

previously I have modified a Primus Omnifuel multifuel stove to fit in Trangia and used it while winter camping. Today I got crazy idea about trying to use Trangia butane/propane gas burner with white gas! The burner is made by Primus. It has a vaporizer tube required to vaporize liquid fuel and it comes with 0,37mm Primus nozzle that is also used in Omnifuel to burn white-gas and it fits to Primus Ergopump that comes with the Omnifuel stove. The burner also looks quite a bit similar to MSR Simmerlite stove, so why not give it a try?

Testing Trangia gas burner with white gas. Original Trangia burner doing the priming under the base.

I filled a fuel bottle with little bit of white gas, twisted it to the burner and opened the valve. White gas showered out from the nozzle as it is supposed to. I shut the valve and used the original Trangia burner to prime the stove as the propane burner doesn’t have any cup for priming fuel, though it would be easy to attach one to it. After thoroughful priming I opened the main valve and the burner lit!

The problems started soon after igniting the stove. The burner seemed to work but there was minor leakage where the flexible fuel line is attached to the burner and the leaking white gas ignited so I decided to stop the experiment. I will test later if the joint leaks also when pressurized with cold water or used with propane but until then using a propane burner with white gas seems like a viable idea. The stove just needs to have proper sized nozzle, vaporizer tube, suitable burner head and no rubber or plastic parts near the burner head. I think that for example MSR Windpro or Edelrid Opilio might work very well. They would make reasonably prized and light multifuel stoves that could be used with butane/propane in summer and with white-gas in winter.

Have you tried to use butane/propane stove with white gas? Do you see some reasons why it might not work? Is there even any idea in trying?

Disclaimer: All testing and using of gear against manufacturer instructions are done at your own risk!

Heavy weight gear and the competition winner

I have now weighted almost every piece of gear that I am going to take with me to Svalbard on the three-week unsupported and unassisted skiing expedition next month.

Skiing on expedition meeting at Padasjoki, January 2011.

… and the winner iiis…

Earlier I posted my gear list to my blog and promised a free Blå Band expedition meal for the reader who would guess the weight. And now it is time to announce the winner!

There have been minor changes to the list I posted earlier and some of the weights are estimates but it should be close enough to the reality. The competition didn’t turn out too popular but of the two guesses Tomas’ guess – 42kg – was closer to the reality.

…and the weight is

It seems that my personal gear and share of shared gear will weight 49,1kg. This is full skin-out weight minus consumables. The sled, rented Fjellpulken Xpedition 168 makes a big part of the weight with its 11800g mass. With consumables the load is a bit staggering  87,3kg! There will be a lot of fuel and food as it is meant to be a holiday trip, not a gruelling expedition.

Here is the full gear list with weights and comments as a pdf file: UltimaThule2011_gear.

At some point before leaving I will post also my detailed menu for the three weeks. It includes over 5000 kcal of goodness per day so it also weights a bit as you can see from the gear list above.

While waiting for the food listing, I would like to hear your comments on lightening the load presented above. I have recognized several ways to lighten the gear but for this trip the die is cast. But  I will keep my mind open on options and lightening my load. I think I could easily shave some 10kg or a bit more! How would you do it? If you are new to this topic, take a look at the post Average day on the Arctic? to get idea of the conditions.

Arctic expedition gear and a free meal!

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.

Clothing

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.

Skiing

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.

Sleeping

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.

Camera gear

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.

Other stuff

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.

Consumables

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.

Common 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…

Summary

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.

UltimaThule2011_gear

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!