Clothing — what do you wear?

Casey expeditioner on quad bike
Casey expeditioner on quad bike (Photo: Robb Cullen)
Ice ClimbingPassengers changing into survival gear prior to landing in AntarcticaWoman in hard hat and reflective vest

The type and amount of clothing needed to stay warm and dry depends on the time of the year, location, and what sort of activity the person is doing. Buildings on station are heated to around 18° Celsius, so normal clothes (e.g. jeans and t-shirt) are worn. If we were working on the ice during summer we would have long woollen underwear, trousers and a shirt with a windproof layer on top. In the winter you wear lots of layers topped with a thick, quilted freezer suit.

Dressing for the subantarctic

Wear an outer layer that is windproof and waterproof — Goretex or japara. Wear the minimum number of layers required to keep you warm but avoid sweating and remove layers if you overheat and replace the outer waterproof unless the weather is dry. Always carry gloves, head wear and additional insulating layers (jumpers, woollen shirts) in case you stop to rest or observe wildlife. Dry your clothing whenever you get a chance.

Dressing for Antarctica

Active situations

When walking, skiing, digging and running, wear insulating layers of clothing so that they can be easily adjusted. Add, remove or open them up as necessary. Adjust your clothing when you get too hot. Avoid sweating at all costs, especially in winter. Your clothing will be full of moisture which will freeze in the outer layers and melt with potentially harmful consequences when you warm up again. Even at low temperatures you will be surprised how little clothing you need if you are walking, skiing or digging. You may reduce insulation layers to perhaps only one thin layer. Always have with you or wear an outer windproof layer.

Passive situations

When driving quads, observing or surveying, you will need heavy quilted garments such as freezer suits and duvet jackets. These can be worn with or without many insulating layers. Unzip them as much as possible if you have intermittent bursts of activity: vent cuffs and neck, unzip trouser legs, remove headwear. Be careful with loose items such as mittens or gloves on harnesses when working around aircraft, with vehicles and other machinery.

Clothing can be divided into two layers:

  • the inner, insulating layers
  • the outer windproof or water-proof layer

Layering works by trapping air within the clothing. If clothing is too big, movement will create a bellows effect causing warm air to leave and cold air to replace it. Conversely if clothing is too tight you will not have enough air trapped to stay warm.

Insulating layers

The insulating layers are selected according to conditions and activity to keep the body comfortably warm. As temperatures decrease, or if you become inactive, add insulating layers. As you exercise and before you start to sweat, remove layers.

Outer layers

The outer protective layer keeps out wind, rain and snow. The wind chill chart in your First Aid Manual shows how great an influence the wind has on the effective temperature to which you may be exposed. In order to keep warm it is important to wear clothing properly and to keep dry. The outer layer is essential for retaining the still air and keeping the inner insulation effective.