Taking the right clothing and equipment with you to Antarctica is critical for safety and success. There are no stores in Antarctica in which to purchase forgotten, broken or lost gear and clothing so you must plan in advance.
There is a lot of info here so I will split this blog into a few sections over a few days.
Because my expedition will be a combo we will need gear and clothing for two different types of adventures. We will need to have clothing and equipment for a ski expedition to the South Pole and for a mountaineering ascent of Mount Vinson. There will be some overlap, but there will also be a lot of specialized items that only apply to one of the adventures.
For our South Pole expedition, we will be dropped off by ski plane at 80 degrees South and will need to make our way to 90 degrees South (the South Pole). There are many ways to travel this distance of 60 nautical miles. One can walk, snowshoe, or ski. We have chosen ski as it is the most efficient mode. We will also need clothing to protect us from the elements, a tent to provide shelter, a store to melt snow into water, a sled to pull all this in and many additional items. I will explain what we will take with us breaking it into three main categories.
Clothing: any adventures will know how important the clothing you select is. These items will insulate you from hypothermia and protect you from the snow and wind. We start with our next to skin layer which needs to be thin and have good wicking properties so it will move any sweat and body moisture away from you skin. Next is a thicker layer of long underwear type clothing. A synthetic fabric or wool is best, but absolutely no cotton. Om top of this we layer various thicknesses of fleece and down clothing depending upon the are temperature and the windchill factor. This is all protected by a windproof and breathable layer of pants and jacket made of a Gore-Tex type fabric. The last layer is a thick down parka and pants for when it is really cold and when working around camp.
Protecting your feet is critical on a ski expedition because a foot injury could be a trip ender. We wear a three layer sock system consisting of a thin liner sock that wicks moisture away from your foot, a vapor barrier liner (VBL), and a thick warm mountaineering sock. All socks should by synthetic or wool and be fit properly so there is no bunching or wrinkles that will cause blisters. The VBL is critical to keep moisture away from your thick insulating sock and your boot liners. While skiing your foot will sweat up to 250ml of water. If this water get’s into your warm sock or your boot liners you are in deep trouble. The VLB stops this water transfer and while it does create a very moist environment for your liner sock this sock is very thin and will be dried out relatively easily.
There are several boot styles you can go with for an Antarctic or Arctic ski expedition. These different style of boots match to different types of ski bindings. The most simple is a large flex binding system that almost looks like a snowboard binding. With this style of binding you can use pretty much any high quality winter boot such as a Baffin or a Sorel. You can also use a traditional 3-pin style of binding and in this case you will use wither a Baffin 3-Pin Guide boot or an Alpha Pro boot. The Baffin is made of synthetic material, is insulated to -100 and has a tall built in gaiter to keep the snow out. The Alpha boot is a more traditional leather boot that is made of heavy grade leather with a boiled wool liner. Both systems are very good and will do the job no problem. The Baffin system tends to be used by North American explorers and the Alpha system tends to be used by Europeans and Norwegians.
For your hands, you will have several different gloves used for different tasks and different temperature. You will have a thin liner glove that will be used for tasks that require high levels of dexterity. These gloves provide light protection from the cold, but cannot be used for too log in very cold temperatures. I will then have a mid weight soft shell style glove that still gives me some dexterity, but with added warmth. I will use this glove for chores around camp and for skiing unless it is really cold. Next is a heavy mountaineering style glove to provide a high level of insulation and protection, but dexterity is compromised. The last option is the huge and warm down mitt. This will be used when it is hyper cold and frostbite is a real threat. You can hold a ski pole with these on, but all other dexterity is sacrificed.
On your head you will have a few different thicknesses of fleece or wool hat that you will wear depending upon the temperature and wind factor. My main hat that I have used for years is a North Face High Point Windstopper fleece hat. This hat covers my ears and has a draw cord to pull it tight under your chin when things are getting really bad. The hood on your jacket needs a fur ruff that is essential to protect your face from frostbite and windburn.
Goggles and glasses protect your eyes from the powerful suns rays and the reflection off the snow. Without these you would be snowblind within a day and trust me from experience, this is no fun at all. In my opinion, the nest goggle is the Julbo Aerospace as this goggle has a unique venting feature that almost eliminated the challenge of lend fogging.
That pretty much wraps up the clothing layers required. Because you have to cart all this with you across Antarctica you buy the best quality and bring a few extras. For a 50 day expedition, I will bring 2 pairs of underwear and 1 change of socks. These get switched out about halfway through the trip whether they need it or not and it feels really good to put on these clean items.