Gear Review - The Last Desert (Antarctica)
On the way back from The Antarctic to Ushuaia on board the M/V Plancius after the completion of The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2012, there was a lot of time for RacingThePlanet to get feedback from competitors on how their gear fared in the extreme conditions of the White Continent.
If you are planning a visit to Antarctica as part of an expedition, cruise or are already eyeing up the next edition of The Last Desert (Antarctica), then here are a few things to bear in mind that we hope will help guide your gear choices.
Snowshoes: This was the first time that all staff used snowshoes on land, and they were a universal hit. Not only did it mean that they weren't sinking up to their knees in deep snow as they were moving equipment and setting up the course, it was also a bonus for the penguins. The little fellas easily fall into holes left by humans, so cutting down on the numbers of holes in the snow, cut down on the peril for penguins.
Sleeping Pads: If you are camping in Antarctica then make sure you take two insulated sleeping pads. One just doesn't cut it.
Sleeping Bags: Even if it's summer, make sure your sleeping bag is made to withstand temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius if you want a truly comfortable night.
Headgear: Balaclavas are a must. It's not just the sun that dries and burns your skin it's the wind, and sunscreen just isn't going to help against the latter. Make sure you protect your face as well as your eyes.
Gloves: Whilst competitors were all very happy with the way their gloves performed, those who took hand-warmers with them too certainly seemed to be even more snug (and smug...).
Parka: You really do need a top quality parka when you are in Antarctica to protect against cold and wind. Something that covers your bottom properly, has a big hood so you can wear a hat underneath, and closes snuggly at all openings.
Brands that were highly recommended:
Canada Goose: Hugely well respected and rightly so. Staff on shore who wore Canada Goose parkas said they didn't need any extra layers underneath, other than a lightweight shirt. Perfect if you aren't going to be working up a sweat on shore.
Marmot: Whilst Canada Goose's products were created to cater for those people working at the world's poles, Marmot's have been created to cater for people going to the world's highest peaks. Their clothing received universal endorsement from the competitors and staff who wore them.
Arc'teryx: Another brand that excels at making quality cold weather gear. The competitors who used Arc'teryx's Gore-tex pants and jackets were full of praise.
Salomon: Both Salomon's shoes and apparel got the thumbs up. Their impressive R&D activities continue to produce some of the best innovations in Outdoor Gear, and we believe a lot of that is to do with how closely they work with athletes and end users.
Icebreaker: The reputation of Merino wool as the ultimate temperature regulating base layer has gained a lot of traction over the past ten years. Icebreaker are the leading brand in Merino outdoor apparel and all competitors who used their gear were very happy with how it performed.
Kahtoola: This company makes great snowshoes and crampons which all performed well.
What gear struggled in the extreme climate:
Sunscreen: After Stage 1 of The Last Desert (Antarctica), which saw bright blue skies and a fresh wind, there were a lot of burnt faces and lips irrespective of the brand of sunscreen that competitors used.
Much of this was due to the wind rather than just the strength of the sun so not so much a fault of the sunscreens per se. So if you really want to protect your face then you need to cover it physically rather than relying on sunscreen. It's also important to use a separate strong lip block that isn't dehydrating.
Sunglasses/Goggles: Again, irrespective of the brand used, all competitors had problems with sunglasses and goggles fogging. The extreme climate, coupled with the heat and humidity dissipated from the body during the exertions of running are always going to put even the best coatings and designs to the test.
Food Flasks: Competitors brought thermos' filled with rehydrated freeze-dried meals on shore each stage so that they had something nourishing and warming to eat in case officially in case of emergency, but in reality as a bit of a treat after finishing! Many competitors found that their insulated food flasks were not very effective at keeping their food hot. We recommend keeping any insulated flask inside a separate neoprene or other insulated layer to try and keep the food hot.
Here are Event Director Sam Fanshawe's Top Five most important items for competitors:
- Good Parka jacket
- Waterproof trousers
- Good waterproof trail shoes, preferably Gore-tex.
And here are RacingThePlanet founder Mary Gadams' personal recommendations:
To find out more about The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2012 you visit the official website for photos, videos, features and competitor blogs.