A Gear Lover's Paradise

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logo by Malaka Gharib
Freeze Frame: Sights, Sounds And Science From The Bottom Of The World NPR science producer Jason Orfanon guest blogs as he journeys to the Antarctic Peninsula. Keep up with him on Twitter: "@jorfanon." And view the whole series page.

By Jason Orfanon

One of the first questions people ask me when I tell them I'm going to Antarctica is, "What kind of cold weather gear are you bringing?" The answer, which usually comes as a shock to gear junkies like me, is: Nothing at all.

It's true. But that doesn't mean I'm going gearless. Quite the opposite, actually.

  • Spread out in our lab aboard the Laurence M. Gould, a month's worth of gear — 40 pieces in all — dominates the workspace. To the right is my audio and video equipment, minus the Canon 5D Mark II used to capture this image.
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    Spread out in our lab aboard the Laurence M. Gould, a month's worth of gear — 40 pieces in all — dominates the workspace. To the right is my audio and video equipment, minus the Canon 5D Mark II used to capture this image.
    All photos by Jason Orfanon/NPR
  • At the NSF Antarctic Program's warehouse in Punta Arenas, Chile, Pablo Espinoza Gallardo makes sure everyone is properly outfitted with the clothing needed to survive the cold.
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    At the NSF Antarctic Program's warehouse in Punta Arenas, Chile, Pablo Espinoza Gallardo makes sure everyone is properly outfitted with the clothing needed to survive the cold.
  • My take-away bag of cold-weather gear, piled with others waiting for delivery to our ship.  Each Antarctic traveler gets one and is responsible for making sure everything comes back to the warehouse upon his return.
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    My take-away bag of cold-weather gear, piled with others waiting for delivery to our ship. Each Antarctic traveler gets one and is responsible for making sure everything comes back to the warehouse upon his return.
  • It's essential to keep your feet warm and dry in the Antarctic. NSF keeps a variety of boots in stock, from steel-toed sea boots to insulated Sorel snow clompers,  as well as a stockpile of thick, moisture-wicking socks.
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    It's essential to keep your feet warm and dry in the Antarctic. NSF keeps a variety of boots in stock, from steel-toed sea boots to insulated Sorel snow clompers, as well as a stockpile of thick, moisture-wicking socks.
  • Shelves of Carhart pants and overalls fill two full rows in the warehouse. They can take a beating in the lab and in the field, and they get more comfortable the more you wear them.
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    Shelves of Carhart pants and overalls fill two full rows in the warehouse. They can take a beating in the lab and in the field, and they get more comfortable the more you wear them.
  • The bright red Extreme Cold Weather parka is the signature outerwear of the Antarctic. With its tough, breathable outer shell and thick lining, it can keep you warm and dry in the coldest conditions.
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    The bright red Extreme Cold Weather parka is the signature outerwear of the Antarctic. With its tough, breathable outer shell and thick lining, it can keep you warm and dry in the coldest conditions.

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The National Science Foundation, with the help of its logistical coordinators Raytheon and Agunsa, maintains a warehouse in Punta Arenas chock-full of all the clothes a person needs to stay warm in Antarctica.

They lend you everything from your outermost layer, usually a standard-issue red Extreme Cold Weather parka that can stave off the coldest of the cold, down to your base layer of long underwear, socks, and wool glove liners. They even supply Sorel Sno-pak boots, thick rubber-soled snow steppers lined with a dense layer of insulation that make tromping in the ice and snow a breeze. In all, I received some 40 pieces of clothing, mostly used, but in great condition.

First penguin spotted in Chile

I spotted my first penguin while waiting for my connection in Santiago, Chile. hide caption

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It's summer now in Antarctica, which means that temperatures at Palmer Station hover just above freezing most days. Not too bad for the world's coldest continent, but definitely chilly enough to make this Alabama native shiver in his Sorels.

So, I'll definitely take that parka, and put it to good use. And its not just because it has a cool patch that reads "United States Antarctic Program." They also come in handy if you ever want to send a message to the folks back home.

Coming up next: the life aquatic. I set sail on the NSF research vessel Laurence M. Gould, headed south for Antarctica.

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