Packing For Extreme Cold Part II: The Expedition Layer

In Part I of “Packing for Extreme Cold Travel,” I covered the basic stuff you’ll pack for your adventures in crazy cold climates. If you do any winter sports at all, you’ll likely have a lot of this stuff – it’s your basic ski vacation gear.

In this second part, I cover the serious expedition stuff – there’s not much of it, but it makes all the difference between freezing your backside off (just about literally) and having a great time in the minus temperatures.

When I arrived in the far north, it was -40F. Bitter cold. My fingers ached by the time I got to the car, just a hundred yards away.

An epic parka: Mine was a rental provided by Whitehorse expedition gear rental company. I have little use for something this intense in the moderate climates of the Pacific Northwest. But in the deep, deep cold of a Yukon winter, my loaner Canada Goose Resolute Parka was – well, I kind of fell in love with it. I’ve lived in apartments with less storage space than this parka. It took me 45 minutes to “move out” of it after spending a very warm ten days bundled up against the weather.

It’s a lot of work wearing a parka like this – it’s bulky, and I lost my glove liners inside the coat (I’m not kidding) to one of the many pockets. If I did not put my phone or pocket camera in the same place, it could take me ten minutes of exploration to find where, exactly, I’d stowed them.

But it was -40. That’s cold. So I appreciated the fleece-lined pockets, the secure zipper flaps, the slightly long sleeves with ribbed cuffs that I could tuck my hands up into. I liked the coyote fur lined hood – and I could never justify wearing a scrap of fur at home. I’m short, so the coat was almost below my knees, but I wasn’t sorry for the extra length when the wind was blowing. There are mesh pockets designed to hold warmer packs, I used them to store my phone because the battery got zapped of power easily in the cold. And I loved the bright red in the snow; you could locate me in just short of whiteout conditions.

You can spend a pile on a parka like this – over $700.00. Unless you’re planning to do repeated trips in this kind of crazy weather, there’s almost no reason to buy one, but an expedition outfitter will hook you up and that’s worth the money for the warmth.

The biggest boots known to mankind: “I saw that picture of you. What the hell is on your feet? You look like Rocket Boy!” Yup. That’s about right. My Bogs are swell in most conditions, and indeed, they were great for Antarctica, but when I went dogsledding, I was sorry I’d not pulled on the loaner -100 rated boots in my rented kit.

I was surprised, given the bulk, how light my -100s were. They were all insulation with a waterproof exterior. I wouldn’t have wanted to run for the bus in them, but they were fine for shuffling around Dawson City in the deep dry snow, and I wore them snowmobiling and was not sorry. Again, this is the kind of thing you’re not going to own unless you’re living the sub-freezing dream life, so whatever shows up in your rented kit is going to serve you just fine in the interim.

I got a huge laugh out of how out of proportion I’d become between my giant parka and my Frankenstein monster boots, but you know what, I wasn’t cold – not at all.