So you’ve decided to head for Churchill this fall to see the bears. What do you need to consider to prepare for the expedition? Here’s a gear list to consider when packing.
First off, yes, it will be cold. Depending when in the season your trip is scheduled, the temperature could range anywhere from 40F to -20F, though it should average in the 20s. A major factor in how cold you feel is wind. When the fall storms blow in from the Arctic, it’s not unusual for wind speeds to range from 25 to 60 miles per hour. Good choices in expedition or safari clothing are important to the enjoyment of your trip.
Skiers already probably have much of what they need in their closets. Though you won’t be generating as much heat as you do on the slopes from physical activity, wool sweaters, polar fleece and outerwear with windscreening cloth is essential.
A good strategy is to layer your clothing. Not only is layering more effective in retaining heat but it gives you the option to remove articles if you get warm. Long johns are essential. Wool pants or thermal/insulated jeans are good, and windpants will complete the lower body’s requirements.
On the upper body, a wool shirt, sweater and down parka (with a wind-proof shell) are essential. A wool or polar fleece knit hat (a tooq, as it’s called up north) keeps heat loss from the head to a minimum. If your parka has an insulated hood, all the better.
Ski gloves are fine for all but the coldest conditions. Heavy wool mittens are best when the temperature drops. Photographers may want to check out the ragwool combination mitten/fingerless gloves that allow the mitten portion to be rolled back so fingers can access the little buttons on the camera. Look for some silk glove liners to wear with these for extra protection.
Feet are a weak spot for many people. Neglecting to wear proper foot gear can turn an otherwise wonderful day pretty miserable. Warm boots and socks are essential.
Many people try to make hiking boots work, but these are a poor choice. First, you won’t be doing much hiking. Second, the type of tread on a hiking boot is not designed to provide traction on ice and snow. Next, hiking boots aren’t insulated and the hard rubber soles simply drain all heat from your foot onto the ground or the aluminum flooring of the tundra vehicle. And last, if you do walk in snow while poking around the town of Churchill, the tops of hiking boots are just not high enough to keep the snow out. You will end up with wet boot interiors.
There are a number of very good and inexpensive insulated snow boots on the market. One of the most popular is made by Sorel, and consists of soft rubber soles with many soft cleats for gripping the snow and ice. The tops of the feet are also rubber, and therefore waterproof. The rest of the boot consists of cloth or leather uppers that reach to at least mid-calf and can be tied around the calf to prevent snow from entering. The inside of the boot consists of a thick removable wool liner which insulates the foot.
This type of boot takes some getting used to, as it feels sort of like you’re wearing soft house slippers. But the loose, soft nature of the boot is great for walking on snow or ice and provides plenty of air space inside for insulation.
These and other brands of snow boots can be bought at any good mountaineering shop or outfitter like Cabelas (www.cabelas.com). Another good outfitter source for Churchill-bound visitors is the Army & Navy Store on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. You can pick up boots and any last-minute cold-weather gear at this great outfitting store if you come into Winnipeg a day or so early before your Arctic safari starts.
Miscellaneous Considerations for Your Gear List
If you’re really cold-natured, consider picking up the increasingly popular one-time-use hand warmers. These are little packets filled with powdered iron and a slow oxidizer which, when removed from the wrapper, combines with air and produces heat for up to 10 hours. They’re great for inserting into pockets, gloves or even snow boots to provide that extra bit of warmth on a really cold day.