Who the &*^% Goes to the Arctic in the Winter?
November 10, 2007 5:55 AM   Subscribe

I need clothing/gear recommendations for a week in Barrow, Alaska.

Arctic Filter: I am about to spend 8 days in Barrow, Alaska, my first trip to the arctic. Current ambient temps up there are around 0-10 degrees, -10 to -20 with wind chill, but can go as low as -30 ambient. It's dark, and mostly dry. But of course snow is a possibility. I'm not going there to hike, and will be mostly indoors, but will occasionally have to travel by snowmobile between remote locations (so figure an hour or two outside), and of course hope to walk a bit beyond town at least once, though not very far given the dark.

OK, so I get to buy decent outdoor gear on my grant budget for this, and I am carrying a lot of recording equipment with me, so traveling as light as possible is a major goal.

I haven't bought serious outdoor wear in a decade, and never for an arctic situation. Again, I don't need it to be full-bore outdoor survival gear, but I'd love recommendations for the lightest possible ways to stay warm and dry while remaining mobile, including specific recs for a) coats, b) boots, c) gloves, d) hats. Thermal underwear and socks as well. Let's say you had $1500-2000 to drop on an outfit for November on the North Slope. What would you buy? What do you own and love for serious winter situations?
posted by fourcheesemac to Travel & Transportation around Barrow, AK (13 answers total)
The fact that you mention weight a few times leads me to suggest GoLite. I haven't used their clothing but have used some of the packs and other accessories and have been pleased with them (weight-wise and functionality-wise). LiteBackpacker.com has a lot of information about lightweight gear and how-to, as well as a discussion forum where you might get some more focused answers. I'll put in a vote for Asolo boots. One pair has lasted me 10+ years, have never leaked water in (I do rain proof them every season), and never gave me blisters even on the first hike. This was before the preoccupation with light gear, so I'm not sure how they've addressed that issue.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:16 AM on November 10, 2007

Hand warmers, like these (or any of the other brands). You can get a whole box so you're not worried about saving them, any leftovers will do fine in normal, non-serious winter after you get home.
posted by anaelith at 6:24 AM on November 10, 2007

silk liners for your gloves and helmet and silk longjohns are wonderfully warm and fairly light.

when i ended up motorcycling without heated gear thru colder wetter weather than i expected, one of the things that made my hands happiest was silk glove liners, latex gloves over those as a moisture barrier, and then big winter gloves over those.

definitely look into whether your snowmobile will have heated vest/gloves/etc.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:02 AM on November 10, 2007

Best answer: Obviously the key here is layers:

1. Base layer:
Thermal long-johns and long sleeved vest. Do not use cotton but stick to technical fibres which will wick moisture.

Say: This and this? (x 3 = $360)

On your feet try Dahlgren socks with a lighter nylon pair underneath (x 3 = $70)

On your hands try a glove system by Gordini. This with this? ($40). Do some reading though, you might need warmer.

On your head Gordini do a number of fleece skullcaps and balaclavas. Use one / both with a thick woolen hat of your choosing ($30).

2. Insulating layer:
A lighter weight fleece ($80), ideally with a zip neck, under a synthetic jacket ($165). A pair of lightweight trousers ($85) would also be good for indoor use.

3. Outer layer:
Waterproof, windproof and breathable.

A good parka and trousers are needed here. Canada Goose top ($700) and bottom ($70)

On feet Baffin boots are an exellent choice, have a look at the Hawk and perhaps a pair of their Cush slippers for "chilling" in. ($120)

Finally, remember that wind chill factors can easily drop to triple digits below zero when travelling on a snow machine at 30 mph. Make sure your driver gives you a good facemask and wear a neck gaiter. Oh and speak to anyone and everyone who has worked up there, there is no substitute for first hand experience of your destination.
posted by brautigan at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2007

This is something you really need to ask the locals. I would imagine that you already have a contact up there, talk to them.

In the kind of weather you're describing, you could end up a a hand or foot with skin so frostbitten that the entire hand or foot has to be amputated. Just remember that snow machines break down and you may end up having to walk, you should be planning your outwear around that contingency.
posted by 517 at 9:33 AM on November 10, 2007

Seconding talk to the locals. They may even have extra snowmobile suits to borrow. Felt-pack boots.
My experience in the colder bits of Canada is that there is always a lot of extra winter clothing around (but don't count on it - ask) and that the insides of houses are as warm or warmer than they are anywhere.
If you buy stuff, make it easy to get in and out of if you are going place to place with your recorder.
In fact, I would look into protecting your recording gear as much as I would protecting your body. Sudden heat-cold transitions are murder on electronics if they trigger condensation internally. Look into a foam lined pelikan-style case and a gel pak to absorb moisture, and lots of very large ziplocs.
posted by Rumple at 11:49 AM on November 10, 2007

Snowmobiles expose you to the elements like a motorcycle plus they are notoriously unreliable so you do actually need survivial gear. You'll need a long heavily insulated & hooded parka, preferfably with fur trim at the hood, insulated pants and some kind of major boot (Sorel at the very least) plus down mittens (forget gloves), and a face mask. Down with a heavyweight outer material is the preferred kind. I would recommend borrowing or waiting to buy this stuff until you get to AK. If you stop over in Anchorage hit 5th Ave Outfitters, B&H (hunting and fishing store) on C St, AMH (Alaska Mountain -something-or-other). Call ahead now and tell them where you're going and they'll hook you up.

Don't go to REI in the Lower 48 unless you want to freeze to death. Fleece is not going to cut it and waterproof/breathable is pretty pointless when it's dry and frozen. You could buy mounatineering gear there, I guess but not on your budget, and it's not really appropriate.

Indoors you can wear regular winter-ish clothing. 0-10 isn't really cold at all if you're just walking from one building to the next and wearing a parka and boots over your regular clothes (with long johns).
posted by fshgrl at 11:49 AM on November 10, 2007

Dessicants. Even if it is dry outside, it may be humid inside and you need to protect any electronics. For longer snowmobile runs you might need to keep your batteries inside your coat.
posted by Rumple at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Yeah, I have local contacts. They're all like "oh, it's not that cold really." But of course they are Inuits.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:26 PM on November 10, 2007

For the audio visual equipment you need to be really careful taking it from the cold outdoors to the indoors- you can get some serious condensation problems. I would keep it in Ziploc bags and only open them once you've been inside for a bit. Also I second the recommendation to keep your batteries warm- they die v. quickly at 30 below.

ps if anyone offers you muktuk? say no.
posted by fshgrl at 4:02 PM on November 10, 2007

For walking around town at minus 30 I'd get Patagonia's R4 jacket. It worked for me at the South Pole at minus 80 with a few light layers underneath. best. jacket. ever.

also remember glove liners and bring extras, and and a fleece gator/face mask. also goggles so your eyes don't freeze, get clear ones that don't fog up, it will be dark there.

for feet I recommend Sorels rated to -60, try to find some that aren't super clunky if you're going to be out in the bush. also, wool socks

thirding the battery thing. they will die the minute they freeze. get warmers or put them right against your skin. if it's a camera battery, keep it out of the camera and warm until you are ready to take the photo.

bring a good headlamp.

I rode around on snowmobiles in -80 with the R4, windpants/fleece pants/heavyweight capilene (also patagonia) combo and was fine but never for a whole hour. talk to the locals.

you will probably get used to the cold fast and it won't seem that cold.

finally, my guess is everywhere you go indoors, it's going to be really hot. people tend to compensate for the outdoor cold by cranking the heat. bring a pair of shorts.
posted by culberjo at 7:12 PM on November 10, 2007

also, you didn't ask but I think Barrow is a damp town, meaning you can bring alcohol you intend to consume in, but you can't buy it there. So you might consider that if you enjoy a nightcap now and then...
posted by culberjo at 7:22 PM on November 10, 2007

Response by poster: Hey, I'm back. I'm now in the middle of my third trip up here, and am totally used to it. Heck, I came in February when it was -40 ambient all the time.

Thanks for all the good advice (including the one to send myself a bottle of whiskey with my gear, that's come in mighty handy after a frigid day out and about). I won't go on about the gear, but suffice it to say that yes, layers are the key to everything.

And this is an amazing, amazing place.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:44 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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