Equip­ment and tac­tics for over­land­ing in se­vere win­ter con­di­tions

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Go­ing in search of the un­known is what makes the over­land­ing life­style such an at­trac­tive one for so many. It pro­duces ad­ven­ture, puts you in front of spec­tac­u­lar views and chal­lenges your senses and prob­lem solv­ing abil­i­ties. When over­land­ing deep into the wilds of Canada, it is im­por­tant to be well pre­pared for what­ever is­sue might arise. How­ever, if you plan to take on win­ter or even the Arc­tic, the game changes big time.

When plan­ning the Ti­tan Arc­tic Chal­lenge com­pleted back in March, to say I had steep learn­ing curve is an un­der­state­ment. It was near ver­ti­cal. How­ever, I learned a great many things on that ex­pe­di­tion, things to help you whether you’re just go­ing out for a spot of win­ter camp­ing, or plan­ning a full Arc­tic ad­ven­ture of your own. Here is just some of the valu­able in­for­ma­tion I took away from that ex­pe­di­tion.

Ed­u­cate Your­self

If there is one thing I can sug­gest to some­one look­ing to chal­lenge them­selves as we did, it is to be as best pre­pared as one can. Do not fool your­self, the Arc­tic is a se­ri­ously dan­ger­ous place if you’re not pre­pared, it will hap­pily put you in a life or death sit­u­a­tion.

The best thing I did in my prepa­ra­tions was to talk to peo­ple who have done this sort of thing be­fore. Take the time to do your re­search and find peo­ple who al­ready have ex­pe­ri­ence. They will likely be very ex­cited for you, and more than happy to feed you all the in­for­ma­tion they’ve al­ready learned. They will be able to rec­om­mend books to read, routes to take, camp­sites to uti­lize and lo­cal con­tacts. Most im­por­tantly, they will help you think of equip­ment and tech­niques that you haven’t thought of yet. A good re­source for find­ing the right peo­ple, and even get­ting train­ing, is to visit an overland rally or expo.

Spe­cial­ized Equip­ment

As a camp­ing and off-road en­thu­si­ast, my camp­ing kit is rather ex­ten­sive and of good qual­ity. That be­ing said, I was amazed how lit­tle of it I could ac­tu­ally use when deal­ing with tem­per­a­tures below -20°C.

Let’s start with cloth­ing. Ob­vi­ously, lay­er­ing up is es­sen­tial. When liv­ing in -40°C, make sure you have Merino wool long un­der­wear with sev­eral changes. We made sure we had a ded­i­cated set just for sleep­ing in, you don’t want to go to sleep in freez­ing con­di­tion in ma­te­ri­als that have been sub­jected to sweat. Good fleece mid­lay­ers are your best friend, try to have many

dif­fer­ent op­tions. We opted for a down win­ter jacket with a weath­er­proof shell for our main top layer, topped off with a Canada Goose Ex­pe­di­tion jacket for se­vere con­di­tions.

A set of Baf­fin Revel­stoke boots were ideal footwear, of­fer­ing enough warmth for -40°C, while small enough to drive in.

Don’t cheap out on sleep­ing gear. We had MEC -30°C sleep­ing bags that were nice and toasty un­til -20°C, a bit chilly at -25°C, then pro­gres­sively worse as the tem­per­a­ture dropped. We com­bated this by wear­ing MEC’s “Get Down” booties and Merino socks as well as a good earflap toque and bal­a­clava.

Propane freezes at -20°C, so you will want a white gas burn­ing stove for cook­ing. Any wa­ter you take will freeze, so have a large cov­ered pot for melt­ing snow on a camp­fire. Fire starters and fire logs also make life a lot eas­ier in camp.

A blow­torch comes in handy, like when your rub­ber doorstops freeze and you can’t shut the doors to the truck. Throw­ing a bit of heat on them softens them up enough to be op­er­a­tional. Fuel bought in the North should al­ready be con­di­tioned with an­tifreeze but hav­ing a gen­er­a­tor will keep the block heaters run­ning at night so the ve­hi­cle will start in the morn­ing.

Stay Warm

It might seem like a fool­ish com­ment, but it is easy to un­der­es­ti­mate just how cold -30, -40 or even -50°C can be when you are liv­ing in the out­doors. Don’t leave the warmth of a ve­hi­cle with­out gloves and a toque – frost­bite sucks, trust me. Carb up be­fore bed to keep the in­ner fire burn­ing and wear gog­gles to keep your eyes from freez­ing shut with ice crys­tals from your breath – ask me how I know.

Don’t go to Bed Alone

When it gets down to -20°C, I highly sug­gest that you don’t go to bed alone. When it’s this cold, ev­ery­thing freezes overnight, so you want to sleep with some se­lect items to warm with your body heat so that they’re not frozen in the morn­ing. That means a change of socks, de­odor­ant, tooth­paste, and a can­is­ter of propane for cook­ing break­fast. In my case, due to the ad­di­tional me­dia I had to pro­duce, I had a lot of bat­ter­ies on me as well. My cell,

cam­era, GoPro, GPS and flash­light bat­ter­ies were all stuffed into my car­gos be­fore bed. It didn’t al­ways make for the best sleep, but when ev­ery­thing I needed worked in the morn­ing, life was a lot eas­ier.

Choose the Right Peo­ple

Choos­ing who you take on a long-dis­tance ex­pe­di­tion is a lot more im­por­tant than you might think. Team chem­istry is huge when you are to­gether for days or weeks on end, deal­ing with tense sit­u­a­tions and ex­treme weather. You want good strong headed and ded­i­cated peo­ple that aren’t go­ing to break­down or snap in an emer­gency. Peo­ple who are ir­ri­ta­ble or tem­per­a­men­tal are poi­son when pres­sure builds. It’s also good to have a team leader who is not scared to del­e­gate tasks and make the tough choices when de­ci­sions need to be made.

Stay Or­gan­ised

Time is never on your side, hours be­fore de­par­ture are usu­ally spent fling­ing ev­ery­thing into the truck, think­ing you will or­gan­ise it all later. Don’t! Take the time to put to­gether a check­list, make sure that ev­ery­thing has its place and be sure to keep the ve­hi­cle tidy and sorted. It may seem anal, but trust me, it makes camp­ing much more ef­fi­cient and keeps ag­gra­va­tions to a min­i­mum.

Words & pho­tos by Budd Stan­ley

As propane freezes at -20°C, a multi-fuel stove run­ning white gas was used for Arc­tic re­gions.

At -40°C, five lay­ers of Merino wool, fleece and a down jacket was still not enough, we coun­tered this with Canada Goose Ex­pe­di­tion parkas.

MEC down booties and -30°C sleep­ing bags made sleep­ing in -30°C rather com­fort­able. -40°C… not so much.

Wa­ter freezes, so bring large cov­ered pots to melt snow over a camp­fire. An or­ga­nized ve­hi­cle can’t be over­stated enough. Ev­ery­thing runs smoother when you know where ev­ery­thing is.

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