If you have friends or loved ones whose heart warms when the mercury freezes, the gift ideas below will help keep them warm, well-fed, and safe.
Unlike more technical adventures like climbing or whitewater kayaking, polar travel is largely walking and winter camping. Over my many arctic expeditions, I’ve learned that cold’s not bad, even when it’s so extreme that you can snuff out a match in a capful of gasoline. The key is having the right gear. If you’re poorly equipped, you may survive, but you suffer far more than you have to.
Gifts for winter adventurers
I wish the stuff below had been available when I was just starting out. It would have made those early journeys so much easier.
High-SPF sunscreens are common, but try tracking down comparably protective lip balm. La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios handles both high mountains and blazing summer Antarctic sunshine. An extreme lip balm for extreme environments. It’s a small gift, but one you can guarantee will get used.
Simple but effective wind protection for the face, OR’s classic Gorilla Balaclava has a removable nosepiece held on with Velcro. If you breathe out through the spacious nosepiece, goggles or sunglasses don’t fog up. In the evening, remove the icy nosepiece and lay it on the stove board as you melt water and cook. If you’re careful, turning the nosepiece over and over like a hot dog on a spit, you can dry it for the next day by the end of your cooking.
Most titanium cooking pots are tiny — like many freeze-dried meals, they don’t even serve one. But this two-litre Toaks model handles at least two big expedition appetites. The bail lets you hang it over an open fire, but the edge also grips a standard pot holder.
Light and fully waterproof — you can stand almost knee-deep in the ocean without leakage — these overboots allow you to handle varied arctic terrain without heavy boots. Light hikers can handle the dry stuff, then slip these on for boggy ground. The Adventurer model comes up the highest. Note that if you wear them all day, the inner footwear does get soggy from sweat. They’re made for on-and-off usage, not all-day mud slogs.
Ski poles specifically for polar sled hauling are not easy to find. The Asnes Ingstad poles have all the right features: straps big enough to accommodate bulky mittens, solid powder baskets and sharp tips to give purchase on ice or slippery, wind-packed snow. The 7075 aluminum is more solid and easier to repair in the wilderness than carbon, too. It comes in lengths from 130-160cm.
For photography or fiddling, mitts that zip open without having to remove them from the ski pole straps are ideal. This Primaloft-insulated mitt allows you to wear thin or medium-thick liner gloves, giving both dexterity and warmth. The unzipped top folds back and stays down, thanks to a magnetic button. Get one size larger than suggested to accommodate a variety of interior gloves.
Another clever idea to keep hands warm in polar conditions, these polyester-insulated pogies attach to the ski poles, like those oversized versions on the handlebars of motorcycles in winter. Your gloved or mittened hand then slips out easily when dexterity is required to do up a zip or take a picture. When the task is complete, the hands retreat back inside these mini-sleeping bags.
Most high-intensity headlamps take proprietary batteries, which have such high amperage that they’re hard for a solar panel to recharge. Petzl’s Z2 is the brightest headlamp that I’m aware of that runs off AAs. Lower settings allow you to read, do tent chores, and conserve batteries. It’s also the model that Borge Ousland and Mike Horn used on their night journey across the Arctic Ocean. ‘Nuff said.
A downhill ski classic, these Julbo goggles also serve for polar adventures. The lens pops out a little away from the frame, allowing good ventilation and minimizing fog. In the teeth of a gale, keep wind and snow out by popping the lenses back flush with the frame. They also work great for backcountry skiing. We’ve tested them in Colorado and love the excellent lenses and ability to leave our sunglasses in the car on bluebird days.
You can tell a good expedition shell by its length and this classic Norwegian jacket easily covers the upper thighs, keeping the femoral arteries happy in frigid temps. The voluminous hood accommodates a helmet or other bulky headwear. It also includes a mount, if you choose to sew on a fur ruff. The inner lining includes two spacious mesh pockets.
About the Author
Jerry Kobalenko is the editor of ExplorersWeb. Canada’s premier arctic traveler, he is the author of The Horizontal Everest and Arctic Eden, and is currently working on a book about adventures in Labrador. In 2018, he was awarded the Polar Medal by the Governor General of Canada.