Port Lockroy blog #9: It's cold outside…and in!
As the temperatures rise here on Goudier Island and rocks begin to emerge, we caught the news about temperatures plummeting in the UK. So, this week we thought it would be interesting to talk about clothing and how to keep warm whilst both living and working in colder climes.
Whilst Antarctica itself has recorded record low temperatures, we are here in the Antarctic summer, and our location on the Peninsula means it’s actually far warmer than you would think.
We’ve recorded our coldest temperature so far at -2°C although with wind chill it feels much colder. The Peninsula is the fastest-warming place in Antarctica and has a maritime climate, warmed by the ocean. This also means that as average temperatures rise, due to climate change, conditions are not only warming but also becoming more humid – hence the vast amount of snow this year.
So, how does one stay warm? The key is layering. And not just one layer on top of another for the sake of it but ensuring gaps for air between each layer too – oversized clothes are a necessity. The air gets trapped between clothes and warms up, acting as an insulation layer.
Layering is key to staying warm in Antarctica (Credit: Vicky Inglis/UKAHT)
For example, it's useful to have different-sized socks – one normal size to go next to your feet and then a larger size which is thicker to fit over the top. This also means larger shoes or boots are a necessity. This took a bit of getting used to at first, waddling around, but now it’s quite normal. Although, a visitor did comment on my extra-large feet the other day!
Moving up from our feet, merino base layers are essential. They keep you warm and don’t smell, so that’s a bonus when we don’t have regular access to showers! We have all been wearing at least one bottom and top layer every day. On top of this, I often add three or more layers if I’m standing still a lot or sitting inside with no heating. Then I strip them back when working and moving around more. I’ve found the Rab Vapourise trousers, which have a fleecy layer inside and water resistant/windproof layer on top, to be excellent over my thermals. They trap a nice layer of air between the two and are topped with a waterproof layer which works really well.
Interestingly, the clothing we have from the men who used to live in Bransfield House isn't as different as you would think. There was also a focus on wool and natural fibres and the team are very envious of the large woollen jumpers the men had and the excellent woollen underwear which is on display in the museum.
Some things never change (Credit: Rachel Hazell)
We do a lot of standing still so wearing as many layers as possible help with the cold. The other thing is regularly changing socks as wearing plastic boots all the time causes sweaty feet. So having a few sets to hand to change the inner layer regularly helps. If you do get cold feet then changing your socks can help to warm them up much faster. The same with gloves and other layers too. If you work hard and start sweating, change your inner layers otherwise you can cool down quickly.
So, here's our tried-and-tested layering system for surviving a season at Port Lockroy.
- Merino underwear – if you’re feeling indulgent (they are on the pricier side!)
- Merino thermals.
- Rab Vapourise trousers.
- Waterproof shell when outdoors – our Mountain Equipment ones are working well as they have full-length side zips which makes getting into and out of boots much easier.
- Merino thermals (I also add a Merino vest beneath my long-sleeved layer)
- Fleecy top with a hood – the hood makes such a difference if you are cold, add it beneath or on top of a hat for instant extra warmth.
- Insulated/down gilet as an additional layer around your core can be good too – keeping your core warm keeps everything else warm.
- Thin down jacket, we are all wearing Rab Microlight Alpine Jackets as our insulating layer – also with a hood. This is often worn indoors and outdoors.
- Waterproof shell when outside, our Rab Kangri Goretex jackets are very good shells with large hoods, a high neck (to keep the wind out) and big pockets – to fill with many useful things.
- Ideally a woollen or merino hat – worn indoors, outdoors and in bed too sometimes!
- We’ve found insulated plastic gloves to be hugely valuable when working, they stay dry and can be cleaned easily.
- When we are in the shop fingerless gloves are very helpful – keeping your wrists warm makes a big difference.
XtraTuf boots are popular (Credit: Vicky Inglis/UKAHT)
- Two thick pairs of socks – one larger size than the other so they are not too tight when on.
- Large boots – XtraTuf Legacy insulated neoprene work boots with a steel toe have been found to be the warmest we’ve got so far.
The one thing that many of the team say is they wish they had brought more merino socks and they love their merino base layers – whilst this kind of clothing is expensive it can last for years.
So top tips: layers and bigger sizes as you add them on top and keep moving!
The team donning their float suits (Credit: Lucy Bruzzone)
Good luck staying warm this winter. ..and if in doubt put a float suit on!
Lucy Bruzzone, Base Leader, Port Lockroy