40 Below Zero C, Antarctica–Vinson–Gear

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | January 5, 2015      

Vinson Massif, Antarctica

The keys to great trips, whether a day in the mountains, weekend hut trip or expedition are choosing the right partners and being dialed on your gear.

On a recent trip to Vinson Massif, it was the little things that shifted our minds away from severe cold and suffering to cozy camping and comfort on the hill and in the tent.

Here’s a list of some of the kit that kept us warm and snug between 0 centigrade and –40C.

Linden Mallory skiing headwall down from high camp.

Linden Mallory skiing headwall down from high camp.

Hands, head and feet

Tip: Getting warm in the morning is priority #1. Then during the day you want to layer to stay on the edge of warm and cold and thus not perspire. If you’ve got good blood circulation, temperature regulation can be done via your extremities — specifically your head, hands and feet (mainly, your head). But working with your torso layering is key as well.

Gloves — I carried a light liner, light and heavy leather style work gloves and a super warm mitt. Specifically: Black Diamond Rambla, Guide glove and Absolute mitt. Both my partners used the First Ascent Guide Glove which allows good dexterity and ample warmth. Shop for BD gloves.

Headwear — Since I’ve got enough hair for cranial sun protection I’m a fan of headbands (and tennis legend Bjorn Borg) as they vent super well but retain warmth. Assorted Buff style neck gaiters are key and double as a sleeping eye mask as Antarctica offers 24 hours of sunlight. I took an old Patagonia Highloft shell hat (so old I couldn’t find an image on the internet) along with a BD Balaclava as it offers full coverage over the nose. For a lightweight hat I also brought an old Cloudveil 4-Shadows Beanie made out of Scholler Dryskin which wicks and cuts wind but is low profile. Neoprene facemask is also a must.

balaclava with full coverage and a neoprene mask below the summit

balaclava with full coverage and a neoprene mask below the summit

Tip: Cut out the balaclava mouth area to allow eating drinking on the trail and improve airflow.

POC Iris goggles and Jeremy Jones Signature glacier glasses. These glasses are dark and steazy. Spare glasses were Revo Guide glasses.

Thermacell Heated footbeds (sold by WildSnow advertising partner 8k Peak), remote control heat at the touch of a button. They work, terrific in climbing/ski boots and around camp.

Tip: Thermacell footbeds warm up to body temp (keeps battery output good) and are easily regulated with the hand held remote. This is key because while chemical heat packs for hands and feet are good, being able to regulate warmth and not overheat or getting sweaty feet is important to multi-day warmth and comfort while logging miles.

La Sportiva Olympus Mons EVO – these things are MONEY.

BD Sabretooth crampons – great all around crampons. You want steel in cold temps and the Sabretooths are precise on mixed ground.

Forty Below Neoprene Overboots (for ski boots and around camp). Wildsnow has blogged about these and the modification you can make to accommodate tech bindings. Well worth warm toes.


Tip: we tried to eat as much as possible because battling cold temps burns calories. Easy to prepare foods that require little to no dish duty or clean up keep the calories flowing.

Penn’s special gorp – mix of shelled pistachios and chocolate covered espresso beans (protein, anti oxidants, fiber and caffeine).

Mix of cheeses, salami, proscuitto, crackers – real food tastes good.

Dinty Moores, Ramen, and Tasty Bites. Real bacon and burgers at base camp for the first and last days.

Couple of boxes of wine again at base camp , a flask of Genepi — c’est bon no?

Assortment of Honey Stinger waffles and chews, GU gels and Chomps and Voke Energy Tabs. Various climber and skier friends of mine have recommended Voke tabs. These proved super valuable for the final push to the summit. Easy and chewable – and they don’t freeze. Apparently they work well logging long hours at a desk in NYC as well…

Sleeping and accessories

Tip: For super cold nights at altitude pack some salty snacks, shelled nuts or a non-chocolate bar or waffle to eat if you wake up at 2AM cold. Snacking in the middle of the night restores warmth like adding a log onto a fire.

You want a combo closed cell sleeping mat and insulated pad. Big Agnes Doubletrack insulated pad and Girdle Compression straps – an insulated air core pad was key to warm and comfy sleep. The compression straps turn any stuff sack into a compression stuff sack.

BA pad and expedition mascot Paco the penguin.

BA pad and expedition mascot Paco the penguin.

Alps foam matt – basic, durable, bomber. Also doubles as a seat pad in the cook tent/megamid or posh tent

Pee bottle – 5-star essential. Collapsible or Vapur style with large mouth for easy aim are ideal.

I used an old-school Feathered Friends overstuffed -40 bag. Get your bag extra long to store and dry out boot liners, socks and gloves while you sleep.

Klean Kanteen insulated thermos water bottles X2. Keeps fluid hot for hours.

GoalZero Solar Chargers are perfect for recharging batteries. Even so, because cold temps reduce available capacity, extra batteries are a must if you want to shoot images or video.

Lumix DMC – GM1 – compact. Great little camera that fits in a chest pocket. Interchangeable lenses and manual setting options. I took a 12-32mm and 40 – 200 mm lenses.

Sea to Summit – Padded Soft Cell, Ultra-Sil compression sacks and Aeros Pillow Premium – One of my partners was packing this 2.8 oz pillow and I was super jealous. I shoulda known better as another friend had previously told me how great this pillow was when they were up on the Evolution Traverse in California.

Snow saw and shovels – as avy conditions were low on the glacier your shovel and saw plays a more critical role in shoveling tent platforms and cutting blocks for wind protection. Don’t skimp on weight or bring plastic shovel. They do not cut the mustard. Larger blades and extendable shafts are imperative. We used a BD Deploy, snow saw and Brooks Range shovel.

Low camp, Vinson

Low camp, Vinson, still cold.

(WildSnow.com guest blogger Penn Newhard is a skier, climber, father, author and partner at Backbone Media, an active lifestyle agency based in Carbondale, CO. Backbone does represent multiple brands mentioned in this post including Black Diamond, SmartWool, First Ascent, Big Agnes, Honey Stinger, Klean Kanteen, POC, Thermacell and others. To prove Penn is an authentic person and not a fictitious construct foisted on us by the Koolaid brewers at Backbone, we backed off on the “advertiorial” linkage in the blog post above. If you can’t find mentioned gear, just leave a comment and we’ll provide links or alternate suggestions.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


9 Responses to “40 Below Zero C, Antarctica–Vinson–Gear”

  1. Paddy January 5th, 2015 9:33 am

    What was your ski boot of choice? Skis? Skins?

  2. Penn January 5th, 2015 11:44 am

    As I do some work with BD my set up aligns with what they make. I used BD Quadrant boots with Intuition liners for lighter weight and added warmth. I’ve always been an Ascension skin guy since the days of purple skins and they have never failed me.

    As for skis I used the new BD Carbon Aspect. This last decision I weighed pretty heavily as a friend of mine who has skied down there a lot said he prefers wood core skis over carbon down there due to the hard temps and snow/ice. I ended up deciding to go lighter and the skis worked out great even on the blue ice and satrugi.

    Last thing wort mentioning is I took a Whippet. For true ski mountaineering I find Whippets almost more indispensable than a piolet.

  3. Aaron January 5th, 2015 6:02 pm

    Are you carrying both the La Sportiva and the BD boots? Im sure Im missing something but why the two?

  4. Marcus January 6th, 2015 3:02 pm

    Great report, I’d love to hear some more about the trip and the challenges operating in such cold conditions. In that photo it looks like you have two down jackets layered over each other.

  5. Peter January 7th, 2015 1:21 pm

    @Penn you know that the Carbon Aspect DOES have a wood core, right? And there’s no such thing as a “carbon core”. A solid carbon core ski would be stiffer than a steel I-beam, unskiable-stiff, and cost a ridiculous amount of money.


    Perhaps you meant not using a foam core ski?

  6. Lou Dawson 2 January 7th, 2015 3:15 pm

    I’m pretty sure Penn was just talking about the difference between skis constructed with lots of carbon, and those with more of a glass wrap. The glass wrap skis tend to be a bit less nervous, not so much because of weight difference but because the glass behaves differently — and happens to be heavier. What’s interesting is that Penn found the “carbon” skis to be fine. I’ll edit his comment if that’s the case. It’s also true that the foam core skis tend to not be as good on ice and piste as wood, as a rule of thumb, but rules can be broken. Lou

  7. Penn January 7th, 2015 4:19 pm

    @Peter sorry if I was unclear. As Lou infers and what I was getting at is that many carbon skis can be jittery on firm snow. My contact was Andrew McLean as he has skied extensively down south and on both the older wood Aspect and the newer carbon version. Andrew suggested I take the weight penalty and opt for the slightly damper original Aspect. I, in turn, did what any good man does and disregarded Andrew’s well intentioned advice and took the carbon Aspect and was very pleased with it in all conditions. Good thing I did not have to stop and ask directions…

    @Aaron our intent was to ski as much of Vinson as possible so we doubled up on boots. There is good skiing around basecamp and the approach to low camp is 6 miles of crevasse riddled travel on the Branscombe glacier. Skis proved ideal on the Branscombe for shuttling loads and provide a safety margin. We were able to ski from high camp (~12K) to low camp (9K) including the headwall which was a little over 3000 vert of 40 degree plus terrain. We found above high camp conditions less than ideal for skiing, primarily sastrugi and blue ice so we did not take skis higher. Once down we did ski around basecamp – which was great and again at Union Glacier before we flew back to SA.

  8. Penn January 7th, 2015 4:23 pm

    @Marcus good eye. I actually had 5 layers on top on summit day. It was -25C and about 10-15 knots of wind adding up to below -40C.

    2 base layers – 1 LW, 1 mid. I had 3 down layers a lightweight microtherm from First Ascent that fits like a sweater (no hood) and then the BD Cold Forge jacket and Stance parka on top.

  9. See January 7th, 2015 8:01 pm

    Any recommendations for a nice light sledge hammer? (Kidding.)

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version