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  cold weather gear
A display of cold-weather gear at McMurdo Station ©NSF
by Paul Doherty

November 29, 2001

It can be very cold in the Antarctic. It is also often windy. The combination can cause a person to become frostbitten or hypothermic.

Modern cold-weather gear has greatly improved the safety and comfort of people living and working in the cold.

Here are some items of clothing we'll wear in the Antarctic that were not available to the original Antarctic explorers.

The Upsides of Down
Down--the fine, insulating underfeathers of waterbirds--provides lightweight loft in clothing. But the real insulation is provided by the air trapped in down's fine structure. Stationary air is a terrible heat conductor--which is another way of saying it's a good insulator. Down clothing can provide inches of insulation without adding too much weight. Actually, steel wool would work nearly as well as down, but would be far too heavy.

There are several different ways to encase down between clothing layers. One way is to sew the layers together like a quilt. Called "sewn-through" clothing, this method can leave unwanted cold spots. You can also maintain the thickness by sewing cloth baffles between inner and outer cloth layers. (Good down sleeping bags use baffles.) This is a more expensive construction technique, but is considerably warmer than sewn-through quilting.

Down does not provide good insulation when it gets wet, but this should not be a problem at the South Pole or in the Dry Valleys, where it hasn't rained in millions of years. 

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