Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Extra Cold Weather gear (ECWs)

Extra Cold Weather gear (ECWs). Image - Antarctica New Zealand

Extra Cold Weather gear (ECWs). Image - Antarctica New Zealand

One of the greatest dangers for all living things in Antarctica is the extreme cold. The most damaging effect of low temperatures is the formation of ice crystals in the body's cells and tissues. Ice crystals can puncture the cells' delicate membranes, causing them to rupture and die. Cold-blooded animals also face the problem of water freezing inside the body cells. To prevent this, some organisms are able to reduce the level of water inside their cells or produce anti-freeze chemicals which prevent water molecules from forming crystals.  Humans are not well adapted to very cold conditions and have to take special precautions to prevent hypothermia or frostbite, including wearing clothes specially developed to provide protection from the environment.

A set of Antarctic clothing includes:

  • Polypropylene or woollen long johns
  • Thick woollen socks
  • Polar fleece salopetes (like ski overalls) or trousers
  • Woollen or polar fleece shirt
  • Polar fleece jacket
  • Survival salopetes (insulated and windproof)
  • Survival jacket (insulated and windproof)
  • Mukluks (insulated boots)
  • Polypropylene and woollen gloves and mittens
  • Polypropylene balaclava and lined hat with ear warmers
  • Polar fleece neck-warmer and headband
  • Sunglasses and goggles

Clothing is designed for windproofing, warmth, comfort, and to allow dexterity when working. It is recommended that wearing a number of thinner clothing items is best.  The warm air trapped between the layers is a very effective insulator, and layers can be easily removed or added to maintain body heat. Bulky items of clothing should be avoided as they encourage sweating, which robs the body of energy. Sweat may also freeze once activity has stopped.