Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
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official parka
  The official NSF parka
Antarctic Fashion pt.2 p.2
by Paul Doherty

The Pros of Polypropylene
Since the old days, it's been well known that wet wool keeps people warmer than wet cotton. Cotton is a hydrophilic, or water-loving, fiber; wool, on the other hand, has oils that make it hydrophobic, keeping it from soaking up moisture.

Polypropylene (aka Polypro) is a synthetic fiber with water-resistant characteristics like wool. Polypro maintains its insulating value when wet and dries quickly. But its fibers can also be used to weave clothing that is lighter and more compressible than wool, while providing just as much insulation.

When used in coats and pants, Polypro is called "fleece." Fleece comes in different thicknesses, from the thinnest 100-weight, to the heavier 200-weight, to the heaviest 300-weight fleece. In Antarctica, I'll wear Polypro pants and a 200-Polypro jacket under my down coat almost all the time when I'm outdoors.

Polypro is especially effective as the innermost layer of insulation--long underwear tops and bottoms. Early designs of Polypro underwear, however, revealed its biggest problem: It absorbed oil from the skin. After weeks of use, this human skin oil would become rancid, imbuing the underwear with a strong, unpleasant odor. Patagonia developed an improved Polypro fiber, called Capilene, which did not absorb oils, remaining pleasant-smelling for a longer time.

Polypro also makes a good mitten liner. Mittens get damp when used in the snow, so it's important to dry them out every night. Depending on their thickness, your gloves can keep you warm, but are also likely to reduce your dexterity.

Mitten shells that block the wind and keep out water are made of Goretex. 

Holey Goretex
Goretex is an impermeable layer pierced by extremely small holes. These holes allow water-vapor molecules (and some air) to pass through, but not water droplets.

Besides being effective for blocking the wind (some down and Polypro coats use inside layers of Goretex as windblocks), a raincoat made of Goretex will "breathe," allowing humid air from body sweat to leave.

We'll use Goretex pants as our outermost layer, since they are excellent for blocking the wind and keeping out water. 

Beneficial Bunny Boots
Named from a mistaken notion that rabbit fur was the insulation, bunny boots have rubber inner and outer surfaces with insulating material in between. Thick and well padded, these boots keep your feet warm. However, they also keep your feet wet. Users must take care to dry their feet every night, change into fresh socks, and use foot powder to control fungus growth and prevent infections. This useful footwear has been known by other names as well, including Korea boots, K boots, and mouse boots (after Mickey Mouse).

Bunny boots are fine when the going is easy, but on rougher terrain you can use "double boots." Made of a tough plastic outer shell and an insulating inner liner, double boots have soles that can be used to hike on snow or kick steps into snowy ridges. They can also serve as a solid platform for mounting steel crampons. These indispensable devices have 12 sharp points sticking out (10 on the bottom and 2 at the toe), which can come in handy when walking on ice. Swing the two front points into a vertical wall of ice and they'll penetrate and stick, allowing you to "walk" up an ice wall.

Together, these tools and materials will help keep us safe and comfortable in the wilds of Antarctica. Watch our dispatches to see how we put them to use!

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