Learn all the top tips on staying warm when extreme weather camping….told by those who have experience of surviving on extreme arctic adventures. These 4 experienced adventurers have learnt how to manage cold while on polar and arctic expeditions. And now they are sharing their advice with you!

For many heading into a big expedition in the Arctic Circle, managing the cold will be a big worry. With unpredictable weather, limited facilities and not a log burner in sight, it’s hard to know what to expect.

This is the second in a 3 part series. Make sure you also check out:

Before we start….

If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band – a full-time UK adventurer and founder of the women’s adventure community Love Her Wild. I’m on a mission to make getting outdoors and going on adventures as easy as possible. You can sign up to my newsletter here. Also check out my recently published book Three Stripes South, all about my first big adventure hiking the length of Israel.

If you have any questions, please do use the comments box below. And for ongoing tips and inspiration on camping and adventure, make sure you follow me on Facebook and Instagram. I’d appreciate it 🙂

Wendy Searle

Wendy Searle carried out a solo expedition to the South Pole in 2020. She has completed Polar Expedition training with Hannah McKeand and in training for the South Pole crossed the Greenland Ice Sheet. You can follow Wendy on Twitter and Facebook.

How did you manage nutrition on expedition?

This is such a huge topic! I had dehydrated meals for dinner and breakfast. During the day, you ski for a set amount of time (we did 60-minute legs), and then take a pause. It’s not really a break – enough time to have a pee, a drink and something from a snack bag.

Take every opportunity to eat – even if you don’t feel like it. I’d carefully prepared 6 days of snack bags which were nutritionally balanced – the only issue was I didn’t much like any of it. By day two, the smell of the snack bags made me want to gag!! Definitely prioritise food you love – milk chocolate, flapjack, whatever is appealing. Chop it into small enough pieces that you can just throw it down your neck when you stop, even if it’s frozen.

On day one, the hotel had filled my water bottle with hot blackcurrant. I dreamed about it for the rest of the week and will definitely be packing some of those concentrated squash things Robinsons do to try and replicate the blackcurrant joy! I weigh about 57kg and took about 4000 calories per day. This was far too many for me for 6 days, but on a longer expedition, I’ll take more.

I wasn’t hungry, but as a vegetarian most of my meals were yellow (macaroni cheese, salmon and cheese, cheese cubes in the snack bags) – I’ll be looking for a wider range of food (and colour) next time! We had a noodle break in the middle of the day’s marches. This really helped break up the day mentally, and it was lovely to have something hot. I didn’t sit down, just added boiling water (from flasks made up that morning) to some instant noodles mixed with a cup a soup. Sounds gross. Was awesome!

What’s the hardest thing about being in such a cold climate?

Staying comfortably cool (see Hannah Mckeand’s Youtube clip on this topic). Some of the time, in minus-whatever, I was skiing in a base layer. You get seriously hot when you’re hauling, and you don’t want to sweat as it will freeze and make you colder. Be aware of your body and its temperature. I had some weird arrangements going on at times – face mask and no hat, no jacket but arm warmers, I even skied along without gloves some of the time. Be constantly thinking about ‘where is the wind getting to me?’ or ‘am I getting hot, can I vent my jacket/ take off my hood?’

The hardest thing for me, as I’m normally very impulsive, is that you have to think before doing anything. You have to do everything very consciously – you’ve taken off your glove for a moment, where did you put it? You took off your gilet, whereabouts in your pulk did you put it? You have to be thinking ahead and constantly being careful. On a windy day, if you let go of your tent, it’s gone. Pitching and striking your tent has to be done in a very particular way.

Top tips for anyone heading into this environment for the first time?

Prepare well physically so you can enjoy it as much as possible. If you’re not worried about the energy required to haul a pulk, you can make the most of your surroundings. Remember how much of a privilege it is – most people never get to anything like it!

Respect the cold but don’t fear it. Take the best kit you can afford and try different things out. A down skirt is great for preventing getting super-chilled thighs. Leave your dignity at home, bring your sense of humour! Falling over in the snow is always funny ☺

If you’re even thinking of doing a Polar trip – do Hannah’s course. I love that it’s run by a badass Polar Jedi, but she’s funny and awesome too. We were all a little bit in love with Hannah by the end!!

Top tips on how to manage the cold on polar and arctic expeditions

Jo Bradshaw

Jo Bradshaw is an experienced expedition leader who is working towards completing the seven summits for Place 2 Be. She has climbed Denali and is now in preparation for climbing Antartica’s highest peak. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Or donate to her cause here.

How did you manage nutrition on expedition?

Denali was an interesting one because weight was such an issue. We ate a lot of carbs and cheese! A high fat and high carb diet were essential due to the nature and the calorific needs of our expedition. Getting fresh food when we got back was heaven! We also had plenty of snacks ranging from fast release sugars like Jelly Babies to slower release snacks such as flapjacks and nuts/dried fruit. You basically have to eat what is put in front of you as calories mean power and power means energy….and so on.

What’s the hardest thing about being in such a cold climate?

Oddly enough it’s the heat which is the biggest issue. You are dressed for the cold and suddenly the sun comes out and cooks you like you are in a microwave. I found this on Everest too. However, you need to manage every situation to the best of your ability and make sure you are not getting too cold or overheating by managing your venting and having the right kit. I’ve spent years honing my kit, what works well for me and my particular temperature ranges and also what I am comfortable in. Personal admin is the most important thing and to not get too cold because once you have cold blood running through your body it is very hard to warm up. Take care of yourselves!

Top tips for anyone heading into this environment for the first time?

Do your research but find the right people to listen to rather than the sensationalists! Good kit and good fitness are key but you don’t have to spend a fortune. Shop around, buy second hand, hire kit and don’t try to be the ‘all the gear and no idea’ type of person. Good kit will get you no-where if you don’t know how to use it properly.

At 360 Expeditions we run Expedition skills courses in the Pyrenees and TrekPrep weekends in the Brecon Beacons to get you ready for your adventures. It’s well worth spending a few extra pounds for peace of mind, new information and you will save money on kit, get great advice on training and meet more like-minded people. Definitely, go for it rather than say ‘oh no, I could never do that’ You never know until you try!

Lucy Shepherd

Lucy Shepherd is an adventurer who has a love for snow. She has completed a number of expeditions including spending 10 weeks in Svalbard. You can follow Lucy on Twitter, Instagram.

How did you manage nutrition on expedition?

Nutrition is everything on the longer trips. It’s a case of dehydrated food (Firepot by Outdoor food is by far the best and has no nasty stuff in!) plus making sure you don’t just bring sweet things like chocolate for snacks but also savoury – salami, cheese and nuts are all great. Another staple of my diet on expeditions is something called Mountain Fuel. It’s a powder to add to your drink. It encourages you to drink more, provides calories and electrolytes and tastes superb when you’re working hard. 

What’s the hardest thing about being in such a cold climate?

You never stop thinking what’s next. You have to be on top of your game 24 hours a day otherwise things can go wrong very quickly. Everything from knowing exactly where every item is to know what order to do things and how long things take.

You must be efficient and forward thinking so that you don’t let yourself get too cold in the first place is a priority – eating enough, putting on layers when you need, taking them off before sweating (it then freezes to your skin), getting the tent and stove sorted quickly… It’s none stop but when it’s a habit and everything is in control, it’s superb.

Top tips for anyone heading into this environment for the first time?

Prepare your mind for the hard times and feeling like it’s too much. Breathe, think logically and you’ll be fine.

As soon as you think of something, act on it (don’t lose your botheredness). Little things become the big things in this environment so just be very well organised and you’ll be set. Having a routine takes experience so before you set off on a massive trip, learn the basic polar living techniques as it’s this which will separate the crowds.

Seanna Fallon

Seanna Fallon is a passionate fundraiser and blogger. She joined an all-female team to attempt to cross the Finnmark Plateau right in the heart of winter, facing temperatures as low as -32. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

How did you manage nutrition on expedition?

Most of the time, I follow a vegan diet, but for the expedition, I chose to eat vegetarian instead, as it would have been too difficult to take on enough calories and get the nutrients I needed. You’re burning around 5,000 calories a day as your body fights to stay warm, so plenty of fat and sugar is just as important as all of the protein, vitamins and minerals needed to keep your body functioning well.

Breakfast was muesli with hot water, lunch was a pouch of ‘adventure food’ and for dinner, we’d have a proper meal with veg, carbs and protein that had been prepared in advance by our guide, then freeze-dried for the expedition. In between, I snacked on nuts and sweets.

What’s the hardest thing about being in such a cold climate?

For me, the hardest thing was organising my gear in the most efficient way. I had 3 pairs of gloves – some merino wool liners, some wool mittens and some windproof mittens and navigating where each of them needed to be at any given time when they might be needed was a minefield. I was forever forgetting to defrost my socks (which is done by placing them on your shoulder over your base layer to use your body heat) or sitting down for a meal and forgetting where my spork and cup were. And I needed to be better at remembering which pocket what was in and how to use my multi-coloured dry bags, as I ended up with freezing cold fingers and a lot of frustration looking for things. Everything takes longer out there, and you need to be methodical. My lack of organisation brought me to tears a few times.

Top tips for anyone heading into this environment for the first time? 

Be prepared to be uncomfortable most of the time, but you soon get comfortable being uncomfortable. It will challenge you. It will change you. And it is incredible for your mental wellbeing, and also incredible for your personal growth. There were times I was crying in frustration and even in those moments I could feel the gratitude in every fibre of my being. Just go in with a positive attitude. Be prepared to learn the environment but also be prepared to learn about yourself. You will come out the other end stronger.

Thank you Wendy, Jo, Lucy and Seanna for taking the time to answer these questions!

Check out my full kit list from my Arctic expedition. You may also want to check out the vlog from my adventure (things didn’t quite go to plan!):

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Any women reading this? I set up Love Her WIld – a women’s adventure community….we organise exciting adventures all over the world for you to join. Find out more – check out our private Facebook page.

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