Keep frostbite at bay

There’s a saying: there’s no such thing as bad weather if you have the right gear. Because I run trips through the winter months to some of the most inhospitable places on Earth and have damaged a few piggy toes with frostbite, I’ve learned the hard way what it takes to stay safe and (almost) toasty in the frigid north. I photograph polar bears, auroras, and the Iditarod—all of which can be found above the Arctic Circle from October through March—when smart folks opt for the beaches of Hawaii and Mexico. But truly, those people are unnecessarily missing out—big time. I blame my frostbite on stupidity, of course, but also on the adrenaline and awe that numb my common sense. Despite jackhammer shivering and the icepick piercing stings of 30 below temperatures, I refuse to exchange what just might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a cup of hot cocoa and a cozy blanket. Those comforts will still be there waiting for me, but the polar bears, northern lights, and the finishers of the Last Great Race—not so much.

These days, I know what to bring on my trips north so I can spend as much time as possible out in the elements—which isn’t the same as saying that I remember to pack them or use them when I get that in-the-moment thrill, the one that makes me forget to put my gloves back on after adjusting my camera settings. You can lead a horse to water…or in this case, a husky to the ice, but it doesn’t mean he’ll run. You get the picture. Here’s what you should bring and use on your next arctic adventure.

Fieldsheer rechargeable heated gloves


I hadn’t heard of this company’s products and went through several pairs of sub-par heated gloves before finding Fieldsheer. Many gloves on the market skimp on the extra cost to run the wires all the way to the fingers and fingertips. They stop around the knuckle or palm area, which is a total fail, in my opinion. The heating elements in my Fieldsheer gloves extend into all four fingers and thumb providing protection in the most critical areas.

Savior rechargeable heated socks


Heated socks are a great idea, as long as the wires aren’t so thick, bulky, and misplaced that they cause chafing and blisters when you encase them in your boots and start walking. The Savior socks fit me perfectly and are the only things saving my toes—even though I wear sub-zero rated winter boots.

Muck Arctic Ice boots


While these boots boast a “comfort range” to 60 below (who are their testers, seriously?), without the socks mentioned above, they bottom out around 20 degrees F. Still, they’re the best I’ve found on the market for warmth, fit, and comfort. But the main reason I love them, is that the Vibram Arctic Grip All-Terrain outsole provides superior traction, keeping me on my feet in ice, snow, slush, and everything in between, while my tripod blows across the hardpack beneath the northern lights.

Zerofit Heatrub Ultimate base layers


Zerofit claims to be the world’s warmest base layer, and I’m not going to argue. The fabric’s cutting-edge technology provides instant heat, wicks away sweat, and allows fluid movement with a four-way stretch that’s perfect for skiing or, in my case, chasing huskies to the burled arch in Nome. Bonus points awarded because the material doesn’t irritate skin. Oh, and they make a pretty cozy neck warmer too, essential for pulling over your nose, mouth, and ears in a blizzard.

All bundled up with plenty of places to go.



You might wonder why I use handwarmers when I have heated gloves. Trade secret: I put them in my pockets. Why? I often remove a glove to change camera settings or to feel the pressure of the shutter so I know that I’m taking a few photos instead of thousands without realizing it. I can easily put that exposed hand into my pocket and grip the handwarmer without having to wrestle a glove on and off several times. Plus, handwarmers keep extra camera batteries from losing charge and keep your water in your water bottle from freezing solid. While you can opt for the air-activated packets, I prefer the environmentally friendly rechargeable ones like those made by Zippo.


and hellyhansen.com

For the absolute coldest temps, I wear an ultra-thin, lightweight, calf-length Canada Goose puffy layer with a hood, beneath a calf-length Helly Hansen Longyear down-filled hooded parka. Beneath both hoods, I wear a wool beanie. I can (and do) stay out all day and night, comfortably warm, dancing with polar bears, mushing with huskies, and chasing auroras in an arctic wonderland that feels like home.    

Senior editor Michelle Theall leads wildlife tours at wilddepartures.com, and her debut novel, The Wind Will Catch You, is available now at amazon.com. 

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