What to Wear, Up There

Before she headed to the research vessel Polarstern to study how ice “breathes” from the ocean to the atmosphere, we talked to Scripps Institution of Oceanography PhD student Emelia Chamberlain about what’s needed on an Arctic expedition:

Layers and Layers

“It’s all about layering to prevent overheating. When we’re working on the ice, we need protection from the cold, but also from overheating, which seems counterintuitive. When taking ice cores or sampling water, you can end up sweating, which will increase your chances of getting too cold later because it will freeze. We plan for three layers of clothing: an underlayer of moisture-wicking thermals, a mid-layer with sweat pants or thermal leggings and a wool sweater or puffy jacket, and then a third layer of snow pants and a big outdoor jacket.”

Double Gloves

“You bring two pairs into the field, so you can wear one and keep another tucked under your jacket to warm near your body. When your fingers get cold, you switch them out and put the others back to reheat.”

Filled Pockets

“Out on the ice, the warmth of your body is the most important source of heat. So your pockets are often stuffed with things—like batteries, a camera, and a water bottle—all right next to your body so they don’t freeze.”

Safety Equipment

“Head lamps are mandatory for winter months of 24-hour darkness. Same with a signal whistle in case you get separated. Available on board the vessel are special survival suits, for when weather conditions are harsh. These suits are bright red, so it’s easier to see someone hurt or lost from the ship.”


“I wear glasses, so I have to be careful—the plastic can get cold and break. I prefer to use big ski goggles for protection from sunlight and its reflection off the snow; they also keep my glasses warm.”

Face Coverings

“I’m a big fan of scarves and neck gaiters—I find that if my neck is warm, the rest of me will follow.”


“You don’t want your boots too tight because it’s dangerous to cut off circulation, bringing greater risk for frostbite. Multiple socks are fine, but you need air in your boots to stay warm.”

Comfort Items

Chamberlain also brought plenty of audiobooks, downloaded movies, and research papers to review in her downtime, as well as stuffed animals from her nieces and nephews.


What’s one thing you’d make sure to bring for several months at the North Pole? Tell us—tritonmag@ucsd.edu