How to stay warm in the Arctic

As mentioned in previous blogs, it can get pretty windy and cold in the arctic.  The informal definition for arctic is cold or freezing.  Actually, the word “Arctic” comes from the Greek word for bear,arktos while Antarctica means ‘the opposite of bear land‘.  But I digress….the following is a description on what we wear in winter to keep ourselves warm (and sometimes evn in the cool summers).  Basically, we use the best of both new and old technologies to stay warm.  New technologies include windproof material and duffel while old technologies include furs or skins.

Head and Neck – Get a very, very warm toque!!  That is the best advice I have for anyone braving the arctic outdoors.  For those of you that don’t know what a toque is, it is the Canadian word for a knitted head cap.  I have many different kinds of toques depending on the season and my mood. I even wear one in the summer!   We also wear the traditional Canadian trapper style hat (worn by RCMP for decades) when we go on the land or go snowmachining.  We find the fur keeps our faces very warm and cuts out the wind when we are travelling.  For our necks, we prefer wearing a neck warmer instead of a scarf.  The wind seems to find its way through the folds of the scarf and is not as warm as wearing a neck warmer or two!

Keeping warm while wearing a Canadian trapper style hat

Keeping warm while wearing a Canadian trapper style hat

Rob wearing a Canadian trapper style hat

Rob wearing a Canadian trapper style hat

Upper Body – The best way to keep your upper body warm is to wear several layers of clothing.  This would apply to any outdoor activities in the Arctic, and Canada for that matter.  We have found that the best clothing for layering are wool long johns (we like the name brand icebreaker), polypropylene and fleece material.  I have found that no matter how warm your outer layer might be if you don’ have enough layers on you will get cold and will not enjoy your time outside.  I have been known to wear up to 5 layers on top in mid-winter when going out for a ride on my snowmachine.  Don’t worry, I don’t wear that many layers when I go for a walk with the dogs!!

Warm day in Arctic Bay

Warm day in Arctic Bay

For a jacket, many people when they move up north buy a Canada Goose parka or something similar to this style.  Both Rob and I have owned Canada Goose parkas (the Snow Goose parka) but we have found it to be a bit too warm and feel like the marshmallow man from the movie Ghost Busters!  Historically, the Inuit made their parkas out of fur, mainly caribou or sealskin but now the Inuit ladies have developed more modern parkas that are made out of duffle, fleece, a windproof outer shell and fur around the hood.  Each region in Nunavut has developed its own unique designs.  The western region developed parkas that have been influenced by the Dene from the Northwest Territories and by the Inuit from Alaska.  The parkas vary in length but usually go from below the butt to below the knees and they have a rounded hood.  The parkas from the eastern region also vary in length but are shorter, have pointy hoods and usually made with no zippers.  We have not figured out why a pointed hood but I’ve read that the pointy hood was used to pull people out of the ice if they fell through.

Different styles of home-made parkas

Traditional caribou clothing

Traditional caribou clothing

When Rob lived in Cape Dorset, he had a few parkas made by the ladies there with the pointy hood, and loves them.  I was given a jacket from Kugaaruk ad wore it for a few years but I found it to be a tad too large on me and decided to make my own jackets using an old pattern I found from Alaska.  I’ve ended up making four jackets since living in Nunavut.  Trust me they are not easy to make and have taken me about a year or more to make each jacket.

Rob wearing a Cape Dorset Style Jacket

Rob and his Cape Dorset Style parka made by the late Naphachie Pootoogook

Sophia wearing one of the winter jacket's she made

Sophia wearing one of the winter jacket’s she made

When we go out on the land or go snowmachining, we wear a warmer parka made by Apocalypse Design which have been modified to our own preferences and style that accommodates the Nunavut weather.  Rob had his hood modified to match the eastern style parka – the pointy hood!  Both our hoods are lined with fur to keep our faces warm from the cold wind.

Rob wearing a modified Apocalypse Design Parka (see the pointy hood)

Rob wearing a modified Apocalypse Design Parka (see the pointy hood)

Hands – For our hands, we wear winter gloves made out of fur with duffle liners.  Gloves are the only clothing that we both won’t compromise on and it has to be fur to keep us warm.  I’ve tried synthetic materials but my fingers never stay warm and I become a very unhappy person – I’ve gotten so cold that the pain from my fingers have travelled down to my feet and Rob has seen me curled up in a ball trying to warm up my hands.  I do wear synthetic material gloves for working outside or skijoring but for everything else it has to be fur.

Sealskin Mitts from Cape Dorset

Sealskin Mitts w/t wolf trim made by the late Kenojuak Ashevak from Cape Dorset

Beaver Mitts

Beaver mitts w/t black fox trim, made by Sophia

Wolf Mitts from Cambridge Bay

Wolf Mitts from Cambridge Bay

Lower Body – Generally for everyday walking we use a very good pair of wind pants to keep us warm.  I like a good pair of ski pants but nothing too heavy. When we go out on the snowmachines or out on the land, we wear our layers as described above but I don’t wear as many as I do for the top; maybe up to three layers at most.  For the outer layer, we like to wear something similar to the Helly Hanson Canada Polar Bib pants.  It has a thermal Pile lining that keeps you warm.

Rob and Sophia in Cambridge Bay

Rob and Sophia in Cambridge Bay

Feet – Our favourite winter boots are the Steger Mukluks.  I wear these boots almost 6 months out of the year and they keep me toasty warm.  The only time I don’t wear them is when I’m travelling on snowmachine; this is when I use my Sorel Glacier boots.  They are clunky and big but are rated for -100°C (I find they only work down to -50°C) and keep me warm when we are travelling.  And yes we do wear a few layers of socks but only when snowmachining or skijoring.

Steger Mukluks

Steger Mukluks

We also have traditional Inuit kamiks made out of soft sealskin outer material and a duffel inner liner.  These boots are great but not very warm and get easily damaged on the gravel roads.  We usually wear these boots for dinners with friends or community events.

So that is what we wear to stay warm in one of the coldest places on the planet.  It is different for every one of course and very dependent on how chilly you get when you are outside.  If you want more information on choosing the best equipment and clothing, the Coldest Journey website is a good source of information on what to wear for some of the harshest conditions on the planet.  Keep warm and have fun out there! ~Sophia

Sophia in full winter gear

Sophia in full winter gear

Rob in full winter gear

Rob in full winter gear