Thursday, February 16, 2012

What it takes to travel to the arctic

Last night I spent a fun evening with several of the Trailblazer staff. First I met with Laura to give an interview for the blog. I hope I expressed myself well. It's much harder to organize my thoughts and get across what I really want to say than I thought. I'm sure Laura can work her magic and make me sound like a fairly competent person. After that a few of us met for farewell drinks. It's so nice to hang out with people that are really excited about this trip and understand why I'm doing it. These are people that love to travel and don't think I'm insane for needing to visit remote places.

A lot of people have asked what we're bringing and how we've prepared for such a trip. So I've compiled a list of my purchases for this trip, along with items I'm borrowing. There was a lot of agonizing and comparing and the occasional return involved with every one of these purchases. I asked loads of questions and need to give a lot of thanks to a few people. The awesome staff at Trailblazer had lots of great suggestions and never kicked me out of the store despite my multiple visits per week with questions. was another source for a lot of my gear, and their online chat support is second to none. I even had a scare on Sunday as I went to pack up my big down coat and noticed little punctures in it. They sent a brand new one with free second day shipping and gave me a return label to send the defective coat back.When they say they have a no questions asked return policy, they mean it. Last, my uncle was a big help, having camped (always in the rain) with my cousin many times on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. He loaned me a lot of gear and had lots of useful tips for a variety of situations. With the help of these sources, I feel fairly confident I have what I need for not just the trip, but even an emergency situation.

Norrona Lyngen 750 lightweight down jacket - Probably my favorite purchase as I've used it non-stop all winter. Backcountry is the only US supplier of this brand, and I took a shot with an unknown company. I actually ordered a North Face and Patagonia jacket in addition to these and after testing sent the better-known brands back. It wasn't a question in my mind which was the best. The colder it gets, the warmer this jacket gets, and yet it's so light and thin.
Norrona Lyngen 750 - The other jacket's big brother. So warm, I haven't been able to wear it this winter.
Canada Goose Aviator hat - What fun is going to the arctic if you can wear a crazy ear flap hat with coyote fur?
Norrona /29 balaclava - I was so impressed with their jackets I got their balaclava, too. I like that it hinges so I can just use the face mask part if I want.
Marmot Warmest Mitt - These little ovens for your hands are so warm I've yet to be able to use them this winter.
North Face Etip Pamir Windstopper glove - My glove this winter, I love that I can keep my hands warm and still use my Android. Or Bob's iPad when I'm in the navigator seat.
Smartwool Midweight Long Underwear - Because wool doesn't stink!
Patagonia R1 full-zip jacket - I quickly found myself throwing this on around the house when I was a little chilly and instantly warming up. I think I'll get a lot of use out of this as a mid-layer during the trip.
Patagonia Capilene 3 top - Got the crew neck and 1/4 zip jersey
Patagonia Capilene 4 top - Bought a second one after I was blown away by how warm and windproof the first one was.
Lipsmackin' Backpackin' - Filled with loads of great recipies for the trails, I picked several and packed myself plenty of dehydrated meals to keep me going on this trip. I will not be forced to eat greasy roadside food!
First aid kit
Compression sacks - Let's face it, a MINI doesn't provide much in the way of cabin space. But with a few compression sacks, things like my clothes, down jacket, and sleeping bags are just a fraction of their original size. Every little bit helps.
Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow - Rolls down to 1/4 of it's full size and I don't have to put my face on skuzzy motel pillows. Win-win.
Black Diamond Trail Back trekking poles - I hadn't planned on buying these but they were on clearance. I figured if I get to use the snowshoes, these will come in handy.
SteriPen Opti Adventurer - This handy little gadget will purify water from any source and kill just about everything in it. If I need to refill my bottle with snow from the side of the road, or even for the tap water at the hotels, I can rest easy knowing I have one less thing to worry about.
Nikon D7000 - Yeah, I didn't need this for the trip, but it was a handy excuse for getting a new camera. This thing will document every moment of the trip and I look forward to printing lots of pictures when I get back. I also like the option for HD videos.
ACR ResQLink+ - This is one of those items I bought but hope I never need. No matter where we find ourselves, if something should happen and our lives were in danger, I can use this to get help. It's linked to military satellites and our exact location is sent to the nearest search-and-rescue team. I will also keep this on my kayak after the trip.
Cleanwaste WAG BAG - Yeah, I bought portable toilets. I'd like to see you do your business outside at -40° with no trees to hide behind.
Oakley Split Jacket - My dad works at an optician's, so I outlined what we were dealing with (bright snow and ice, wind, etc) and they found these. With the interchangeable lenses I can use them with or without my contacts, and the attachment creates a seal that will protect my eyes. Very cool.  

There are some items that I don't need for any reason other than this trip or knew someone that I could borrow from so that I could save some money. Some of this I hope I don't need, but is essential to carry where we're going.
-20 Sleeping Bags - No, we're not camping. But if something happens and we're stuck on the side of the road, I'll be real glad I have these. The compression sacks were key for these, because -20 bags are MASSIVE. I'm bringing two, and I believe the other car will also have two, so there will be no drawing of straws should we find ourselves spending a night on the side of the road.
JetBoil - Quite possibly the coolest thing ever, I fully plan on buying one for myself. Small, self-contained, and wicked fast, I will make great use of this on the trip. I really like that I can cook and eat my meals from the same container. I really, really like that it has a french press accessory. Hello, fresh coffee! We also have a second MSR burner to keep in the other car, but don't plan on using it much.
Snowshoes - I don't know how much free time we'll have, but I certainly want to play with these a bit. They're just another "good to have just in case" item. We have two pairs, one for each car. Because you don't want to find yourself in this situation:

Dehydrator - Technically not going on the trip, but I made a lot of stuff for my "Lipsmackin'" recipes. Another item that I will purchase for myself after the trip. I already can things, I like having yet another way to preserve food.
Strike Anywhere Matches - Hard to find, but invaluable to have. Bob and Dave had a rather pathetic showdown trying to outdo each other in igniting the matches. Neither succeeded.
Toe Warmers - I have a massive bag of these, and they certainly make things more comfortable. I like that my mittens have little pockets to stuff them into.
Old-fashioned Hand Warmer - Another of my uncle's items, this involved lighting these special sticks and placing them inside a case where it would slowly burn. Kind of cool, and I want to give it a try.
Sorel Glacier boot - I've borrowed these from my aunt on our other trips and have always had warm, dry, happy feet. I should just go and get my own pair.
North Face Nuptse Fur IV boot - I've had these for 2 or 3 years now and have been happy with them. They feel like wearing sneakers, which is a pleasant change from the usual clunky winter boot. I will use these for around town and in situations where I don't plan on being in deep snow.

I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting, but this should give a pretty good idea of what kinds of things were brought into consideration. Thankfully, I didn't have to worry about the car stuff, I'm sure Bob or Dave could write an equally long list of things they had to do to their vehicles to prepare them.

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