There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

Only Inappropriate Clothing.

— attributed to many, many people

Helpful people in a room full of warm things. Really, really, helpful.

Helpful people in a room full of warm things. Really, really, helpful.

Part of passing my Physical Qualification for this job was submitting a form including a bunch of my measurements: hat size, shoe size, waist, chest, inseam, and so on. In a season of Lost Paperwork, I think this was the only paperwork I had that strayed, and when I got to the Antarctic Center in Christchurch, I had to guess at my sizes again. And then I was issued Cold Weather Gear at the Clothing Distribution Center, or CDC. The advice I got was to take everything I was issued, since I didn’t really know what I would prefer or like or need. A few things duplicated things I had bought, like long underwear and socks. Other than that, I took it all. There are many options. And here it all is, from roughly the bottom up.

"Bunny Boots" are the normal Summer wear here. They are quite warm when paired with REI hiking socks. I was issued the Wigwam socks, and haven't tried them yet.

“Bunny Boots” are the normal Summer wear here. They are quite warm when paired with REI hiking socks. I was issued the Wigwam socks, and haven’t tried them yet.

I took one pair of the Wigwam socks; I think they might have issued me three pair. The four pair of REI socks I brought are just as good, or perhaps better. If I ever try the Wigwam socks, I’ll know. The white boots are commonly called “Bunny Boots”. I have no idea why, but the boots don’t take offense at it. I laced them up about half-way, and just slip them off and on. They are plenty warm out on the ice. In the summer I just go to the tennis shoes for short walks; that’s pretty common. They have a Frankenstein Sole and add about four inches to my height. They also have great ankle support, meaning I can’t really bend my ankle much, and walking in them is very galumphy.

Icebreaker brand wool long johns, a pair of festive fleece pants with odd rubber bits around the ankles to keep them from riding up, and some skua polypro long johns I should release.

Icebreaker brand wool long johns, a pair of festive fleece pants with odd rubber bits around the ankles to keep them from riding up, and some skua polypro long johns I should release.

I brought a pair of 200-weight Icebreaker wool long johns which I wear over my high-tech ExOfficio boxer-briefs. [Why weren’t boxer-briefs invented years ago, or were they? They didn’t enter my life until maybe five years back.] I don’t recall if the spare long johns are Skua or issue; they are polypro. I’ve been told that polypro holds body stink a whole lot better than merino wool, like Icebreaker. I haven’t done a survey, so let’s just take that on faith. I am a wimp, so I wear the teal polypro fleece pants on top of that layer when it’s cold. I’ve never before seen fleece pants with zippers at the ankles and a rubberized cuff to keep them from riding up; it’s a good idea.

The 200-weight long johns have a matching 200-weight Icebreaker long-sleeve turtleneck with a zipper that opens to reveal my masculine, hairy chest. But not far enough to show my six-pack / quarter keg abs. The 200-weight is uncomfortable to wear indoors for more than an hour or so. I could have gone for the 160-weight, but I don’t think 200 was a mistake.

The wuggly not Cathart bib overalls. There are much heavier ones issued to people who actually work outside. I usually wear long johns under, unless it's a short trip, in which case I just wear cargo shorts.

The wuggly not Cathart bib overalls. There are much heavier ones issued to people who actually work outside. I usually wear long johns under, unless it’s a short trip, in which case I just wear cargo shorts.

Next on, bib overalls. There was a large selection of bib overalls at the CDC, and people seem to have strong preferences one way or another. I have a strong ignorance instead, and took what I was given. Actually, this may have been one of the things I traded for size. At the CDC Smart People try on everything they are issued, and make corrections. And I did, too. The CDC uses the measurement forms as a suggestion, and I heard someone complain that she had two pair of overalls marked as the same size, but differing in length by 4 inches. The overalls have some Velcro tabs that get into fights with the Smartwool on occasion. I hope the thermals can take the abuse. Lt Kel at the station mail-ordered a pair of purple Cathcartt overalls. She looks good in them, but who wouldn’t.

The famous Big Red by Canada Goose. This is a real mother of a jacket, and people overheat at -40. That hasn't been a real problem for me.

The famous Big Red by Canada Goose. This is a real mother of a jacket, and people overheat at -40. That hasn’t been a real problem for me.

Everyone’s favorite: The Big Red. This is one mother of a parka, made by Canada Goose and down-filled, presumably, with Canada Goose. The fur is factory-made, but it sure looks like some of the others have fur that used to keep something warm. Well. And let’s imagine that the geese all volunteered, and got to spend their down-free days somewhere warmer than Moose Jaw. It is full of pockets. I try to keep a system of what I put in which pocket, and it’s working pretty well. There are hand-pockets which seem to render gloves unnecessary until I actually need to take my hands out; at that point it’s only a couple of minutes until my hands feel very cold. Very. It has a USAP patch, and it has my name on a Velcro tag. My very own name. Because I’m at the South Pole of the World. I’ve heard that polies lord it over people who get to McMurdo and stop there by claiming that as a polie one gets to turn the tag upside-down. That would be redundant here.

A plain black fleece, for evening wear. Classic with pearls. A Smartwool long-sleeve shirt with a high neck and zipper down a bit. I was worried that the 200-weight might be too heavy. It's not. Yet.

A plain black fleece, for evening wear. Classic with pearls. A Smartwool long-sleeve shirt with a high neck and zipper down a bit. I was worried that the 200-weight might be too heavy. It’s not. Yet.


A pretty darn good jacket. I nearly forgot I had it. I wore this and my SmartWool top and was not cold at -45 with 12 knot winds. Well, my face got a bit chilly.

A pretty darn good jacket. I nearly forgot I had it. I wore this and my SmartWool top and was not cold at -45 with 12 knot winds. Well, my face got a bit chilly.


I have a plain black fleece jacket which would look stunning as evening-wear with a simple string of pearls. I don’t wear it much, and don’t think I’ve worn it outside. I do wear it in bed and for trips from bed to the head at 3am. For day wear I have Domo Kun, and .. well .. if you know me, you know I would wear it. Also in the not-often category is the Carhartt black jacket. I did wear it on a quick walk, and it was pretty darn warm. It’s also excellent for skiing when it’s toasty warm, like -10. I think Big Red may hold out the wind a bit better. When it’s forty below and windy, I think that may be more important than basic insulation.

Top: Various hats. Something issued, a polypro that I wear mostly, pink cashmere for cool nights inside, and something with ears. Bottom: Glacier glasses, bifocal for old folk. Neck gaiters, both issued and Icebreaker brand. A balaclava [which I was sad to learn is not the pastry dripping with honey].  Goggles for wear over glasses or just to cover more face.

Top: Various hats. Something issued, a polypro that I wear mostly, pink cashmere for cool nights inside, and something with ears.
Bottom: Glacier glasses, bifocal for old folk. Neck gaiters, both issued and Icebreaker brand. A balaclava [which I was sad to learn is not the pastry dripping with honey]. Goggles for wear over glasses or just to cover more face.

In the arsenal of hats, I like something with good stopping power. The Hard Wear hat is the go-to topper. Pink cashmere works well for days inside when the room is a bit cool. I haven’t yet deployed the hat with the ears. I’m not sure when that will get used, what with Halloween gone. But I do have a nose to match. [Hey! No I mean …] There’s also the thing with the ear-flaps, which I haven’t tried, but I see worn with great flash on many people who work in the Ice Mines. I wore the balaclava when I got off the plane, but only once since when I went out skiing on a day that was probably too cold to ski. The gray Smartwool neck-gaiter is amazingly thin and warm; it also doubles as a glasses-fogger if I pull it over my nose and mouth. But it can have ice caked on it and it still fights off the wind. Both ways, unfortunately — it’s hard to breathe through when caked in ice. The black gaiter is either wool or polypro; I’m not sure. I haven’t worn it much, and the other day a call went out that there were some cold necks who needed them, so I threw mine into the fray.

So many gloves! Roughly in warmest to ow ow ow my fingers hurt est. Mittens, Cathart work gloves, lighter work gloves, fingerless gloves, glove liners. Almost any of these are warm enough if I keep my hands inside the pockets of Big Red. A silk scarf, designed and made by Linda Gass, and the skua scarf. I'm kind of afraid to wear the Linda scarf because it is so pretty.

So many gloves! Roughly in warmest to ow ow ow my fingers hurt est. Mittens, Cathart work gloves, lighter work gloves, fingerless gloves, glove liners. Almost any of these are warm enough if I keep my hands inside the pockets of Big Red.
A silk scarf, designed and made by Linda Gass, and the skua scarf. I’m kind of afraid to wear the Linda scarf because it is so pretty.

On the hands I’ve been tending to use the USAP issued mittens, often with the glove liners. I do that because I would like to think I can take off the mittens and have enough time to take some pictures before my fingers get cold. I would also like a pony. The fingerless gloves are pretty good for a few things, but still not for getting a pony. I mean “taking pictures.” The work-gloves on the left are Carhartt, and a present from Pablo; I believe he was trying to keep me from having to use the issued work-gloves, the light-yellow ones in the picture. Ross-of-the-igloos had glove-envy, and needs good work gloves more than I do; Pablo has lent them to Ross for the winter. Ross’s previous pair had to be discarded after he wore them when he helped skin a polar bear in Alaska. True. Also visible is the Skua scarf which you may recognize. I expect others will be using that to recognize me when I’m on the ice. People bundled up all look pretty similar, and I’ve started to recognize a few people by how they walk, or their fashion choices.

I’m kind of afraid to wear the dazzlingly lovely silk scarf made by my pal Linda Gass. It’s too pretty, and I ruin Nice Things with my sweat and Velcro. But when it warms up — or when the wind dies down — I think I’ll be seeing more of this. I might ruin things, but I deserve a piece of flare this nice. And so do all of you. Wear clothes that make you happy.

These are the FDX boots most winterovers get. I believe they are very warm. Perhaps too warm for summer.

These are the FDX boots most winterovers get. I believe they are very warm. Perhaps too warm for summer.

I have no idea if this is warmer or better or whatever than Big Red. But it says South Pole right on it, so all those people in McMurdo can have a big cup of envy.

I have no idea if this is warmer or better or whatever than Big Red. But it says South Pole right on it, so all those people in McMurdo can have a big cup of envy.

And now some also-rans; things I could have had issues, but didn’t get. Here are the FDX boots; they have an inner liner and felt insole. some say they have better traction, but a lot of people seem to think they were the wrong choice. They may be more Frankensteinian. I’ll ask around.

The green South Pole jacket is embossed with South Pole Station. It isn’t given out to people who work at McMurdo, Palmer, or a field camp. I’m not sure why not.

You can see most of this in action here.

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4 responses to “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather

  1. The “many options“ photo has a “Quality Rental Cars” photo at the right end. Are they renting you cars in the Antarctic, or is this just a discount when you’re back in civilization?

    • The photo is from someone else’s ECW write-up: http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/archive/tiger/ecw.html which is a fun read.

      I was trying to make out that poster when I was arranging a rental car, but could not. I don’t think there are any rental agencies on the continent, or on the US bases anyway. There are various places that give discounts to USAP folks, but I didn’t find out until too late.

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