Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Clothing in Antarctica - Modern Clothing

Clothing in Antarctica - Modern Clothing

Man is unique amongst animals in that he can live in the widest range of environments from extreme heat to extreme cold. This he does by making his own environment either in the form of buildings or more obviously of clothing.

No where is clothing more important than in an extremely cold climate such as Antarctica's.

Providing good insulation and protection from the elements is not difficult. What is more difficult is being able to provide protection from the elements while maintaining mobility, the ability to work AND comfort.

Early Antarctic clothing was designed to be windproof, insulating and also to enable the wearer to move about. Nothing wrong with that you may think - but there is one MAJOR thing that was wrong with that and that is that the clothing was not able to let perspiration (sweat) escape or easily allow the wearer to adjust how insulated and protected he (and they always were he at this time) was.

Captain Robert Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1911 - 1912 for example taught us a lot about the correct clothing. The men on that expedition were adequately insulated (most of the time) and could move about easily. Their clothing however lacked the ability to dissipate sweat and the possibility of easily adding or removing insulating layers without exposing the wearer to the elements (i.e. taking layers off to add or remove other layers underneath) or without removing gloves and mittens to make adjustments.

The result was that on Scott's fateful journey to the pole and back, the men's clothing became very wet with sweat during the day from the exertions of manhauling across the ice. When they stopped manhauling, they quickly cooled down, and the sweat made them colder than they would have been. A lack of fuel meant that they were unable to dry their clothes out properly overnight in the tent and so had to put them back on again the next day. Damp clothes lose much of their insulating properties.

This inadequacy in clothing wasn't the cause of their deaths on returning from the pole, but it was certainly a contributory factor.

We now know that for extreme cold weather clothing to be efficient it needs to:

bulletKeep the body adequately warm, particularly the extremities - fingers and toes
bulletAllow for the free movement of perspiration (sweat)
bulletAllow for free and easy movement of the wearer
bulletBe comfortable at all times - allowing for flexibility of adjustment

Modern Antarctic Clothing

This is achieved by what is generally referred to as the "layer method" of dressing. Several layers are built up, each of which has its own part to contribute.

Foundation (base) layer

longjohns are just SO coolmodern thermal vestThe layer next to the skin. Should be soft, comfortable and able to wick away perspiration quickly so feeling dry Things have come on an awful long way since the string vest (invented for the British Graham Land Expedition to Antarctica in 1934-1937). Modern foundation layer garments are generally made of synthetic material. In some cases the material is even treated so that it prevents the build up of bacteria that like to live in sweaty clothes and make them smell.

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