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Goddard Space Flight Center

Astrophysics Science Division | Sciences and Exploration

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TIGER in Antarctica

Extremely Cold Weather (ECW) Clothing

What sort of clothing is needed to stay warm and safe in Antarctica? The NSF ensures that every person going down to the Ice has what they require. Everyone reports to the Clothing Distribution Center (CDC) in Christchurh, NZ and gets a full set of Extremely Cold Weather (ECW) clothing. Since I am writing this after already having been in Antarctica for more than a month, I can say that the stuff they lend out (I'll have to return it as I go back through New Zealand) is very good.

Below is a picture of a wall of clothing they display at the CDC which shows the equipment. I'll go through all the items, although I wasn't issued everything on the wall.

Demo Wall of ECW Gear

Photo above: Demo wall of ECW gear

Starting at the left, is the Parka, Red. This is a wonderful, warm, many-pocketed, down-filled, hooded parka that you could practically live in if you needed to. The hood zips all the way up to your nose, and there is an inner liner at the waist that one can cinch up to prevent snow from getting underneath. Very expensive, but well worth it. Next to it is a Carhartt (which is a name-brand) Parka that is issued to tradespeople instead of the Red Parka. This means people who are going to be involved in rougher work than I will. It is not as warm as the Red Parka and can freeze up, but the outer layer is much tougher than the Red Parka. Tradespeople also get a Carhartt Jacket and Pants instead of the Jacket, Wind and Trousers, Field that I was issued. Everyone gets a Jacket, Polar-Fleece and Pant, Polar-Fleece that goes in between the the outer, windproof layer and the moisture-wicking inner layer. Polar-Fleece is very warm and I purchased an Antarctica polar-fleece pullover for myself from the McMurdo store.

Everyone also gets Pants, Wind, Bibbed that are basically like the snow pants I wear to go skiing. One set of long winter underwear is Expedition weight. It is thick and very warm. There is also (not pictured) a set of Thermax long winter underwear that is much thinner, but very useful during the summer. The Balaclava is a hood that protects most of the head and neck. Instead of a scarf to protect the neck, a Gaiter is used since it doesn't come off or get tangled up. The Snow Goggles fit over my glasses and are good in the wind. The Cap, Yazoo has ear flaps that can fold up if you don't need them. The Hat, Pile/Knit is another choice for head covering that everyone gets.

There is wide variety of gloves/mittens one can choose to wear. You can use a Liner, Glove, Thermax for extra warmth inside either the Glove, Leather or Glove, Insulated. There is also a Liner, Mitten, Wool that can go inside of the Mitten, Kodalite or Mitten, Wind or inside the Mitten, Leather which can fit inside the Mitten, Gauntlet. Everyone also gets six pairs of very thick Sock, Tube, Wool. Wool is much better than cotton because cotton tends to freeze too easily. They recommend that you wear one set of these wool socks, instead of multiple thinner socks because that can reduce circulation and actually make things worse.

For warmer weather, the Jacket, Wind and Trousers, Field are uninsulated, but with proper inner layers can keep you quite warm also. For footwear, tradespeople get issued Boots, FDX which have an inner liner and a felt insole. It has better traction but isn't as warm as the Boots, Thermal that I received. These are usually called "Bunny Boots".

What I brought or bought

I brought several extra pairs of long-winter underwear, both silk and knitted, flannel shirts, t-shirts and several pairs of blue jeans. While down here, I've also bought a number of t-shirts and an Antarctica Program collared shirt. And also a nice polar-fleece pullover, which I mentioned earlier. I've also got a good pair of hiking boots which are now on their fifth continent (still missing Asia and South America).

What I've brought but don't really wear are a couple of dress shirts (worn only at the Thanksgiving Dinner), a pair of dress slacks, regular cotton socks, a pair of sneakers (too wet or snowy for them), a sweater, and a wind-breaker. I also brought a few pairs of thermax sock liners, but it hasn't been cold enough to need them.

What I wear and don't wear

My typical daily attire consists of a set of long winter underwear, either the Thermax or the silk top and a Thermax, silk, or knitted bottom. Either blue jeans or the field trousers, and one of my t-shirts or flannel shirts. Most of my shirts are short sleeve, while my two long-winter underwear tops are long-sleeved, but having the long-sleeved undergarment sticking out is pretty common here. I wear the issued wool socks and my hiking boots, which I worried wouldn't be warm enough, but they have done really well even in the snow. Over that I wear the Red Parka, and if it's windy, I'll throw on the yazoo cap to keep my ears warm. The barn where we're working can get cold inside, in which case I will put on a polar-fleece top, but I haven't needed it much under the parka. On my hands, I wear the insulated gloves, which were the ones that worked very well on my first day of snow school. Inside, most people wear clothing that is very typical to what one would find in the states during winter. There seems to be an active tendency to not wear the ECW clothing unless one really has to, to the extent that some people will never wear the Red Parka or anything, even if it means being cold.

I've worn the snow bib a few times when it's been very windy, but I prefer blue jeans or the field trousers. I've only rarely (snow school) used the polar fleece pants, the expedition weight longjohns, the neck gaiter, or the bunny boots. The bunny boot are very warm, but also quite heavy and don't really have good traction. I also wore the Leather Gloves, although they needed the Thermax Glove Liners at snow school, but they weren't as good as the Insulated Gloves, and I've never needed any of the mittens. I've also never worn the balaclava or the knit cap. The balaclava is only for when it is very cold, and it seems like people either wear the knit cap or the yazoo cap exclusively. I'm in the Yazoo camp.

If you really wanted to "bulk up" because you were expected the full fury of Antarctica, you could wear the following: both sets of long-winter underwear (thermax on the inside); polar-fleece pants; bib; polar-fleece top,; neck gaiter; balaclava; parka; wool socks (one pair only, although maybe with sock liners); bunny boots; mitten liners; leather mittens; and the gauntlet mittens. This would keep you warm through just about anything, but is basically unnecessary during the Antarctic summer.

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Dr. Eric R. Christian
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This page was last modified on December 19, 2002