Equipped for the Cold

Written by Vapur Pro Team member, Eric Larsen.


At 40 or 50 degrees below zero, there are few, if any, expedition tasks that are enjoyable. Waking up and crawling out of a (hopefully) warm sleeping bag has got to be one of the worst experiences in the entire world. Trail repairs are no cake walk either. Equipment fixes during the day usually require some semblance of manual dexterity, which is only achieved by removing big warm gloves or mittens. The cold feels like thousands of needles in your fingertips. I hate navigating in whiteouts, too. The snow surface blends with the sky to such a degree that you can’t even see your ski tracks in the snow. And throw out any idea you might have of skiing in a straight line. With no frame of reference, your best option is a serpentine course in some ‘general’ direction. As difficult as all these things are, there is one facet of polar travel that is hands down the worst: staying hydrated.

For starters, your body is dead set against retaining water. Exposure to cold causes a reduction in blood flow to the surface of the skin as blood vessels become constricted. This reduces the overall volume of the circulatory system and increases blood pressure. Your automatic physiological response is to reduce the fluid volume by getting rid of excess water in the urine. Your body also doesn’t want to waste energy heating all that urine in your bladder, either. So, put simply, when you get cold, you need to pee more often. Cold air is often much drier than warm air as well and you loose substantial amounts of moisture through basic respiration. Breathe harder, like when you’re pulling a sled across the frozen tundra, and you’ll loose even greater amounts of water. Of course, paramount is the fact that simply getting a drink of water involves a major effort – taking off gloves or mittens (again), digging around in the sled, trying to gulp down a few swallows without spilling (it’s not easy).

I liken polar travel to death by 1,000 cuts. It’s a battle of attrition because each day you loose a little bit of energy that you can never replenish. While any daily effort may not equal that of a marathon, its substantial enough and these expeditions span more than a couple of days or even weeks. My last North Pole expedition stretched 51 long days and the accumulative effect of such an intense, sustained effort was debilitating.  By the end of the journey, I was exhausted and depleted.

Needless to say, I am very focused on energy conservation throughout the day. I employ a wide variety of systems to be efficient and safe. From a regimented travel schedule to comprehensive menu planning to an almost fanatical packing regiment, anything I can do to conserve energy is critical. Weight is an equally important factor as anything I use I have to physically carry. The heavier the item, the more calories I burn moving it from one camp to the next. Therefore, I spend an inordinate amount of time researching gear to make sure that I have the lightest possible equipment. But I don’t always choose ‘light’. If being lighter also means that it is fragile or more complicated to use, I will choose a heavier item. It’s a convoluted decision tree that’s for sure; but there is definitely a method to my madness.

In a month and a half, I’ll be traveling to Antarctica again for another expedition. Deep into the planning and training process, I’ve been slowly accumulating my expedition kit over the past few months. I’ll be using a new tent and outerwear this year. I’ve also helped design a new pair of gloves that I’m really excited about and a Iridium network-based satellite tracking and messaging beacon. However, one of the gear items that I’m most excited about is my Vapur Anti-Bottle. Sure, it may not seem like a big deal on the surface – to choose one bottle over the next, but my ability to be successful, and ultimately, my safety and survival, is directly connected to the gear I use and the systems I employ.

Vapur’s Anti-Bottle has my dream trifecta of gear qualities: incredibly light, easy to use and durable. Compared to a rigid bottle, the Anti-Bottle weighs almost nothing (and I really like carrying things that weigh almost nothing). Functionally, drinking from a Vapur is incredible. Sipping from a rigid bottle can be awkward and I often either spill or choke on water. Vapur’s spout and locking lid mean I can quickly gulp down a few swallows easily without having to remove my gloves or mittens. However, I think the thing I was most surprised by was the durability of the Vapur’s Anti-Bottle. I mean really surprised! Climbing in the Cascades this summer, our Vapur’s were in constant use – in and out of packs, thrown on the ground, filled with hot water and more. During the entire climbing trip, we never had a failure. Amazing.

Equipped for the Cold