Extended Arctic/Anatarctic expedition footwear advice

11:18 a.m. on December 23, 2008 (EST)
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Hi,

I would be vey interested to hear from any one who has done any extended Arctic/Antarctic trekking as to what footwear/ski/binding system they regularly employ for their journey.

For example the system I am going to employ on my South Pole expedition will be composed of the following:

1. Baffin 'Doug Stoup' expedition boot
2. Profeet custom Insoles: http://www.profeet.co.uk/f_index.asp
3. RBH Designs VaprThrm calf/ankle Insulator Sock used as an inner sock with an RBH Designs Liner Sock worn as an outer sock

I know there are a number of people who employ a dual boot system, a light plastic boot for skiing and a winter boot for walking, but the thought of having to bring my feet out in -20°C , and below, weather to change out from a ski boot to a winter boot (Steger Mukluks for example), or visa versa, just doesn't sit well with me at all, hence the reason I have settled on a one boot system for both skiing and walking.

When Skiing I will be using the Icetrek Expeditions Flexi Ski Binding (http://www.icetrek.com/index.php?id=161) with a pair of Åsnes Amundsen skis.

I would greatly appreciate any flaws in my thinking to be exposed and hung out to dry rather now than later. 1100+ km is a long way to travel with anything less than the best footwear on.

Many thanks in advance.
Andrew

11:31 a.m. on December 23, 2008 (EST)
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Andrew -
"Skiing" in Antarctica is a bit different from real skiing. Because it is so cold, the snow is more like sand, especially on the trek you plan. And it is mostly like slogging along, sort of like track skis. Plus you are hauling a heavy sled. So the skis end up being used more like snowshoes. Most people on the Hercules Inlet to Pole, Last Degree, and Shackleton tour use a fairly wide ski with a binding that takes a mukluk-style boot (the binding you show in the link). The light plastic ski boot leaves you feet cold. Looks like to me your reasoning is ok. By the way, it isn't really that bad to pull the boots off to change socks, as long as you are in the tent. Just not out in the wind, and do it quickly.

While we were sitting at Vinson Base for a few days waiting for the flight out, we did some skiing, using AT skis with skins for climbing up the slopes, stripping those off, then skiing down (usual AT bindings, but with our climbing boots - undo the heel and put the heel lift up for the uphill, lock the heel down for the downhill part). Kind of like skiing in sandy powder, though. I think there may be a photo of me skiing and/or our tracks in my Antarctic article in the News section of this site.

The Arctic is a bit different, since you are in a maritime climate, and you run the risk of getting immersed. I am assuming you are talking about a trek to the NPole, not just wandering around on Baffin or Ellesmere. So you will need to seal the top of the boot to keep the water out (the seawater doesn't freeze, remember). You will be wearing a drysuit from one of the several suppliers of Arctic gear, presumably.

12:37 p.m. on December 23, 2008 (EST)
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Hi Bill,

Yes I use the term 'Skiing in the Antarctic' very loosely, and as you correctly say, and from all the reports I have obtained thus far, it does have the 'soul sapping' effect of seemingly adding more weight to ones pulk!

In regards to snowshoes, from many of the expedition reports I have received in the last few weeks, conditions have been such that skis have been abandoned in favour of a straight foot fight. As such, I am inclined to factor usage of a pair of veruy lighweight snowshoes into my kit list, just in case.

Regrads
Andrew

2:38 p.m. on December 23, 2008 (EST)
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In the temperatures you are going to encounter I would never consider a plastic ski boot as they just are not warm enough. Your Baffin boots look like they will work for you.

10:16 a.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Can someone please tell me, when selecting snowshoes, whether I need to factor in both my weight (14.5 Stones) as well as the weight of the pulk I will be pulling (@ around 17 Stones)?

I am currently looking at the Cresent Moon Gold Series 17 Expedition Snowshoe (snowshoers up to 300lbs)

Many thanks in advance
Andrew

10:58 a.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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I have those same snowshoes and they are about the best "misery slippers" that I have ever used and that includes quite a number.

I have never been to Antarctica or anywhere north of Yellowknife, N.W.T., but, have trekked and backpack camping in sub-zero conditions quite a lot and oftimes alone.

I would choose the Canadian Forces white mukluks with the mesh insoles and duffle liners for serious cold and get spare liners, as well. These are QUITE pricey, but, WILL keep your tootsies warm.

12:06 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Hi Kutenay,

I managed to dig out a link to the mukluks you mention:

http://www.armynavydeals.com/asp/products_details.asp?SKU=Can%20MukWt&ST=2

Could you possibly point me in the directon of the insoles/duffle liners you mention?

May I also be enlightened as to your usage of the term 'misery slippers'? :-)

Many thanks in advance
Andrew

12:18 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Andrew,
There is never any significant amount of powder in Antarctica in the interior. Much of the surface is pretty hard, sometimes blue ice. You just don't sink in. Look in my report at the photos as we went up the ice fall - you will see that the boot prints up the slope aren't very deep. We were often on the crampons with the points just a couple millimeters into the ice. The main purpose of the skis is to bridge crevasses and spread the weight when crossing snow/ice bridges. But the main consideration if you take some snowshoes is the crampon to bite into the ice surface. Then again, for that, you just strap a regular crampon onto the boot (except for the kind of boots needed for a few hundred kilometers of slogging, the crampon fitting is problematic - the boots you mention, Doug Stoup, do have crampons available).

When we were on Vinson and around Pat Hills, we didn't use skis, except when going up the hills to do a bit of skiing. There were a couple parties on Vinson who did use skis. The Hercules-Pole and Last Degree folks used skis (but, as I said earlier, not the regular recreational skis), but did a lot of boot-slogging (I forget what Hannah told me, though I think she used skis all the way in 2006).

One of the few times I have to disagree with kutenay - the Stoup boots are well-proven for the conditions for the long Antarctic treks. I heard of no one using them getting frostbitten toes (though some got frostbitten hands, nose, ears, and cheeks). We used regular double-plastic mountaineering boots with overboots or the Millet Everest boots for the climb with no problems (but we didn't have the long slogging, for which the Stoup are better. The guys who skied Vinson used regular AT/randonee boots a couple sizes oversize with extra socks, with overboots when off the skis and climbing. The one person I knew about who got frostbitten feet was the Norwegian who fell into the crevasse in the icefall and lost his gloves and hat, then ended up dangling for a couple hours (he was in a party of 2, and it was some time before another party came along and they got some of the ALE people up on the mountain to help - and then they bivied for a few hours - he did lose some digits).

So why is it you are loading your jacket and sled with stones ;)? (us Norte Americanos don't know anything about rocks and stones, or compute our currency in bob and quid).

1:50 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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Hi Bill,

My mention of snowshoes is solely based on the experiences journaled in a few expedition, especially Todd Carmichaels, in which he mentions having encountered deep snow on a few sections of his journey!

I did find this very strange for the region, which normally receives what can only be described as a yearly light dusting, but with all the climatic change that is occuring globally....then again, I could easily have read incorrectly, which wouldn't be surprising the amount of reports I have read in the last few months.

In regards to the Stoup boots, yes, all reports I have received from those who have used them recommend them highly.

As for the stones, 41 years I've had that system drumed into me! I'll do my utmost best to report any future weights in kilograms, for you modern lads :-)

regards
Andrew

3:34 p.m. on December 24, 2008 (EST)
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I see no reason to disagree with me as I have no idea what Stoup's boots are and never mentioned them. I merely stated what I have found in cold weather here and the CF mukluks are the best I know of and have used. I do not ski and am only a plodding "misery slipper" navigator.

"Misery Slippers" is an oldtime Canuck bushman's term for snowshoes and many old pharts I used to work with called them that. I actually LIKE snowshoing and am going again on the 28th. I would go today, but, Vancouver is "shutdown" due to over a foot of snow and things are just a total fubar all over the Lower Mainland and one cannot get anywhere.

9:29 a.m. on January 2, 2009 (EST)
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A friend only today, who did a traverse and return journey of Greenland (http://www.tisogreenland.com/), and used the Baffin 'Doug Stoup' boots on this expedition, said to me, and I quote:

'The Baffins were 'ok' but I would possibly choose something different in future. We got cold toes even in minus 25/30.'

I guess I'll find out soon enough for myself when I test them out. I may well take a close look at those Canadian Forces mukluks.

Kutenay, have you tried the Steger 'Arctic' Mukluks? I know a number of Arctic/Antarctic expeditions that have used them.

The 'mesh insoles and duffle liners' you mentioned earlier, are these stock items that come with the boot or something I would have to purchase as a special order?

Many thanks in advance
Andrew

3:00 p.m. on January 2, 2009 (EST)
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Andrew, did you read the boot article and forum thread on wintertrekker? I saw you had one post about a jacket or something there. I have no idea if what they wear would work for you in Antarctica, but worth asking since some of those guys go out in -30C weather.

Bill, question for you. I see in some ads for boots that they supposedly will keep your feet warm in -60C or some other incredibly low temperature. Here is an example- http://www.northernoutfitters.com/p-23-arctic-boot.aspx

How do they know this? I understand how sleeping bags are rated using the European standard where the put a mannikin into the bag and measure heat loss, but no idea how a boot would be tested.

5:46 p.m. on January 2, 2009 (EST)
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Tom,

Yes, the question I asked was in relation to an article I read on the site in regards to using a 28 oz 100% virgin wool, polyester fleece lined, jacket with a hood as an outer layer used in conjunction with Codet 28 oz 100% virgin wool trousers.

I did have an 'Ah Hah' moment when reading the clothing artciles on the site, especially the information on wool versus 'modern' manufacturing attempts to recreate the wheel by producing synthetic material which behaves like it.

regards
Andrew

10:34 p.m. on January 2, 2009 (EST)
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Tom,
Somehow the ads imply that you can go out in -60 weather naked with just your boots on and have warm feet (freezing everything else off??) The truth of the matter is that you need a full system of clothing. Keeping your torso warm is first. If your torso is warm, your body can push warm blood to your extremities (such as toes and fingers). But you still have to provide insulation for the skin on your toes, fingers, ears, nose, everything that gets exposed to the air and wind.

Clearly, if you walk out on the ice in your socks, you will soon get frostbite. So you need some thickness of insulation in the boots. At the same time, you need enough looseness around the feet and hands to keep circulation going (we had a guy on one Denali climb who had the best high altitude mountaineering boots, but stuffed an extra pair of heavy socks in - result was he lost all feeling in his feet by the time we got to 19,000 ft).

So, yes, boots can keep your feet warm to -60, IF the rest of the your gear is adequate to that temperature, and you have shelter, food, hydration, and the rest of the needs.

And in the present context, the boots have to serve their function. They have to fit the skis, they have to take the crampons, etc. For kutenay's work, the boots have to work in heavy-duty logging operations - climbing, polar traverses, and forestry are three very different situations, calling for very different functions for the boots in addition to keeping your feet warm.

12:31 a.m. on January 3, 2009 (EST)
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Thanks Bill, A friend of mine has a pair of these-
http://www.northernoutfitters.com/p-23-arctic-boot.aspx
at least that's what I think they are. He got them for a film job in Alaska and I saw them only once.

I have no idea how you'd wear them skiing, even in a Berwin or Icetrek Flexi style binding.

I hate wearing tight boots so I can't imagine wearing tight ones while mountaineering in cold weather.

10:42 a.m. on January 11, 2009 (EST)
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Today I stummbled upon Charles Van Gorkom and his Yukon Snow boots. To me, they are like a work of art.

Bill, kuntenay, have any of you guys doned these boots out in the field?

His Hiking boot also looks fantastic!

regards
Andrew

11:59 a.m. on January 11, 2009 (EST)
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I have known Charlie since 1993 and we have two pairs of his boots here at present. Mine are the higher hikers and are very fine boots, however, I would not pay the current price for a pair.

The Yukon boots are NOT capable of REAL cold, IMO, they are probably fine for northern BC in most situations.

I would go with whatever Bill suggests as he has actually BTDT. I know about cold, but, I do not ski and have never been to the high Arctic or Antarctica.

12:20 p.m. on January 11, 2009 (EST)
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kutneay,
both yourself and Bill were spot on with your recommendations for footwear in Antarctic, as both the Baffin and Acton Chimo are both recommended by many Antarctic exploration organisations.

In regards to Mr Van Gorkom, it is just wonderful to see a true craftsman ply his trade.

2:08 p.m. on January 11, 2009 (EST)
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Interesting thing is that the 4 original 1966 American Antarctic Expedition who were with us were of the opinion that the white "Mickey Mouse" boots they had back then were warmer than the modern boots we were using in 2006, at least when standing around in camp. These were the standard issue for US Arctic forces and for the Antarctic crews at the time. I believe they are the same as the Canadian forces boots that kutenay mentions. I have used them for standing around in a cold astronomy observatory, when I was doing some observational work back in the 1970s. The main problem with them is that they are a bit clumsy for climbing (they are called "Mickey Mouse boots" because they look like Mickey's feet in the cartoons). And crampons for use with them have to be specially made to fit the huge size. The boots most of the Hercules-Pole and Last Degree people were using made use of modern insulating materials that allow better heat control with a thinner total thickness.

3:15 p.m. on January 11, 2009 (EST)
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Bill,
this sentiment has been reitereated to me over and over these last few months, and it does make one wonder.

A product that once started life well engineered, as time passes and newer versions of the product emerge, diminishes in quality.

It is only from learning from people like yourself that I understand why many people I have spoken to, having encountered a well engineered product they need, buy two of the same.

regards
Andrew

1:07 p.m. on January 16, 2009 (EST)
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Kutenay,

Is it the Acton Chimo boots you have, and if so do you know how much they weigh?

I have been unable to find out any information on this issue, and I'm still awaiting a reply from Acton themselves.

Many thanks in advance
Andrew

5:27 p.m. on January 16, 2009 (EST)
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Just to let you know that I managed to get a weight figure for the Chimo's.

Andrew

July 25, 2014
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