If you have friends or loved ones whose hearts heat up when the mercury freezes, the gift ideas below will help keep them warm, well fed, and safe.
Unlike more technical adventures like rock climbing or whitewater kayaking, polar travel is largely winter hiking and camping. During my many Arctic expeditions, I have learned that the cold is not bad, even when it is so extreme that you can put out a match in a capful of gasoline. The key is to have the right equipment. If you are poorly equipped, you can survive, but you suffer more than you need to.
Gifts for winter adventurers
I wish the items below were available when I was just getting started. It would have made those first trips so much easier.
High SPF sunscreens are common, but try to find such a protective lip balm. Anthelios from La Roche-Posay handles both the high mountains and the blazing sun of Antarctica in summer. An extreme lip balm for extreme environments. It’s a small gift, but you can guarantee it will be used.
Simple but effective wind protection for the face, The OR Classic Gorilla Balaclava has a removable nose piece held in place by velcro. If you breathe out through the spacious nose, the goggles or sunglasses will not fog up. In the evening, remove the frozen nose and place it on the baking sheet while you melt the water and cook. If you’re careful, flipping the nosepiece over and over like a hot dog on a spit, you can dry it for the next day before your cooking is finished.
Most titanium pans are tiny – like many freeze-dried dishes, they don’t even serve one. But this two-liter Toaks model manages at least two big shipping appetites. The bail allows you to hang it over an open fire, but the rim also grips a standard pot holder.
Lightweight and fully waterproof – you can stand almost knee-deep in the ocean without leaking – these overboots let you handle varied arctic terrain without heavy footwear. Light hikers can handle dry things and then slip them on for swampy terrain. The Adventurer model climb the highest. Note that if you wear them all day, the inner shoes become soggy with sweat. They are designed for intermittent use, not for all-day mud tasks.
Ski poles specifically for transporting polar sleds are not easy to find. The Asnes Ingstad poles have all the right features: straps large enough to accommodate bulky mittens, sturdy powder baskets and pointy spikes to give buying on slippery, wind-packed ice or snow. 7075 aluminum is also stronger and easier to repair in nature than carbon. It is available in lengths from 130 to 160 cm.
For photography or the violin, mittens that open without having to remove them from the ski pole straps are ideal. This Primaloft insulated mitt allows you should wear thin or medium thick liner gloves, providing both dexterity and warmth. The unzipped top folds up and stays in place with a magnetic button. Get one size larger than suggested to accommodate a variety of inner gloves.
Another nifty idea to keep hands warm in polar conditions, these polyester insulated pogies Attach to ski poles, like those oversized versions on motorcycle handlebars in winter. Your gloved or mitten hand then slides easily when it takes dexterity to buckle a zipper or take a photo. When the task is done, the hands retreat inside these mini sleeping bags.
Most high intensity headlamps use proprietary batteries, which have such high amperage that a solar panel is difficult to recharge. Petzl Z2 is the brightest headlamp I know of that works with AA. Lower settings allow you to read, do tent chores and save batteries. It is also the model that Borge Ousland and Mike Horn used on their overnight journey across the Arctic Ocean. ‘Nuff said.
A classic of alpine skiing, these Julbo glasses are also used for polar adventures. The lens protrudes a bit from the frame, allowing good ventilation and minimizing fogging. In the event of a gust of wind, keep the wind and snow out by placing the lenses flush with the frame. They also work great for ski touring. We tested them in Colorado and love the great lenses and the ability to leave our sunglasses in the car on bluebird days.
A good shipping shell is distinguished by its length and classic norwegian jacket Easily covers upper thighs, keeping femoral arteries happy in freezing weather. The voluminous hood can accommodate a helmet or other bulky headwear. It also includes a mount, if you choose to sew a fur ruff. The interior lining includes two spacious mesh pockets.
About the Author
Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. Canada’s first arctic traveler, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and is currently working on a book on Labrador adventures. In 2018, he received the Polar Medal from the Governor General of Canada.