It is perhaps ironic that the key to keeping warm in Antarctica is keeping cool. If I wore one big warm jacket, as soon as I start skiing I’d quickly get too hot and start sweating. Sweat is dangerous at cold temperatures because as soon as I stop skiing, the moisture would make me cool down even quicker than usual and I could be more susceptible to cold injuries or hypothermia (which is when the body gets dangerously cold).
By wearing lots of layers, I can better regulate my temperature so that I stay warm but don’t overheat. It is perhaps surprising that I usually only need three layers – a thin thermal, a mid-weight fleece and a windproof jacket – but if the wind drops and the sun shines, I can often get away with just two.
The choice of outdoor clothing often comes down to personal preference and I have become quite picky! I like using merino wool thermals that are long in the body (so they don’t untuck themselves from my leggings when I stretch), have a zip at the neck (so I can vent if I get hot) and thumb loops in the sleeves (so that my wrists stay warm).
The choice of jacket is pretty crucial too – it has to be windproof and breathable but it also needs to be long (so that it protects my bum from the wind!) and have a big hood that will protect my face. When travelling in the Arctic I learnt the benefit of sewing a strip of fur around the edge of my jacket hood like the Inuit. The fur trim creates a little micro-climate around my face, away from the harsh polar wind. For this trip I have the warmest-looking ruff that I have ever seen –I was given it a few years ago and have been saving it for a special occasion!
On my bottom half I wear powerstretch trousers because they are easy, comfortable and warm (I sleep and ski in these) underneath pile and pertex salopettes. The salopettes have to have a drop seat to make going to the loo possible without getting completely undressed (!) and have zips right the way down the legs so that I can unzip and vent on hot days – but I use pile and pertex because I like the protection of the pile on my upper thighs which otherwise get blasted by the cold headwinds coming from the Pole.