I had the pleasure of trialing some of your clothing in Canada’s North West Territories this last winter. The following is a background of the seasons work.

I hauled fuel in a configuration known as a ‘B’ train, a unit consisting of two trailers coupled to a prime mover, and carried about 42,500 litres of fuel a load.

Each load involved a trip to Hay River from Yellowknife to load, then up to Yellowknife for dispatch on to the winter road. This round trip is about 1020 kilometres, all on highway, and taking about 14 to 16 hours to complete.

From Yellowknife dispatch, one travels 70 kilometres up the Ingham trail to Tibet Lake. This road is very narrow, twisty, gravel carriageway, and trucks are dispatched in groups of 3 or 4, at 20-minute intervals over a 24-hour period.

All the mines are reached by this same route and it is at Tibet Lake that the ice road begins. The furthest away mine is Tahera at the tip of Contwoyto lake, approximately 800k’s from Yellowknife and about 22k below the Arctic Circle. Ekati mine is about 480k’s from Yellowknife, Diavik mine, is about 440k’s from Yellowknife, and Snap Lake mine is 660k’s. The time to each mine varies with the weather and conditions, but takes from 2 to 4 days for a round trip. I have enclosed a map with the approximate locations of each mine. There are dining facilities at each of the mines and a road camp at Lockhart Lake as well as a base camp in Yellowknife. About 200 tankers were involved in this seasons fuel haul.

We are in the trucks 24 hours a day as each one has a sleeper berth on board. Drive and work time each day is 16 to 18 hours, so rest time is at a premium. In 8 weeks I covered about 21,500k’s of highway driving and about 25,000k’s of ice road. Ice Road speeds vary between 15 – 35 KPH loaded, and 25 to 60 KPH empty.

The following were my observations of your products:

  1. Merino Jersey (BL229). Very good for casual wear, lightweight and warm. I only used it in a dress situation; I could not bring myself to work in it!
  2. Thermadry balaclava (THBS39). This was the most useful in the colder temperatures at the mines (-40c and more) and used under a liner of a hard hat.
  3. Gloves (THGS638). Fantastic warmth -15c to -0c and also used inside heavy mittens at the mines.
  4. Thermadry long sleeve (THRS40) and Long Johns (THRS43). These were nice lightweight underwear, ideal for this situation.
  5. Thermadry Possum Socks (THKS30). A very good sock, I just about wore these out, an ideal work sock for the conditions.
  6. Thermerino Top (THWS129) and Thermerino Pants (THWS123). These are excellent garments for the colder conditions, and I used these as under garments at -70c at Tahera mine, which was the coldest I experienced this season. Overall, your underwear measures up well. The Thermerino does take a hiding, and is highly recommended to anyone.

This has been a fairly rigorous test; the job involved over a thousand hours behind the wheel of a 60 tonne unit in very difficult and harsh conditions over a very short eight-week period.

I thank you very much for the opportunity of trialing this clothing, your co-operation and generosity are much appreciated.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for further endorsement.

Yours sincerely,
Gavin Smith.

I can think of nowhere better to test thermal clothing than on a geology field expedition to Antarctica. The thermal gear came with me to Seymour Island, a small island off the eastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. The aim of our team of six was to study rocks and fossils on the island in order to investigate past climates of Antarctica, millions of years ago. We spent six weeks there, working from a tent camp in January and February 2006.

This period is the Antarctic summer and the weather can be pretty mild, usually with temperatures hovering around freezing and, at these high latitudes, with long days of continuous sunlight. This region, however, is one of the areas on Earth that is warming fast, possibly the result of global warming, and we really felt the effects of it this year. The weather was unbelievably warm; one day we recorded a staggeringly warm +19c – far too hot to wear thermal underwear! But this is Antarctica where the weather is unpredictable and, true to form, we also experienced several days of blizzards and temperatures well below freezing.

I tested several articles of clothing: merino underwear, merino wool and possum fur gloves, gloves of possum fur with synthetic fibres, plus merino wool and possum fur socks. Working conditions were pretty harsh – the island has no ice cover but is made of bare unconsolidated sediments. It was dusty and dirty work. The clothes did not get washed for two months and were used for more than 12 hours per day, day after day. Only the toughest survive.

My gloves were made of possum fur with synthetic fibres. Normally I would be apprehensive about wearing woollen gloves in Antarctica – I would have thought that wet woollen gloves would be a sure way encouraging frostbite and chapped fingers, and would be a pain to dry out. However, these woolen gloves worked a treat. They had a very functional appearance and certainly not so luxuriously soft as the merino wool and possum fur gloves I also had with me. But they were up to the job – warm, windproof and strong. They did get wet in snowy conditions but dried quickly in the warmth of the tent. They were warm enough to wear as a single layer on very cold days and comfortable enough to allow me to hold a pencil for writing.

Compared to other purely synthetic gloves that I commonly wear, these gloves were thicker and warmer, far more comfortable and durable. From now on, these will be my choice for Antarctic fieldwork.

My second pair of gloves were merino mixed with possum. The softness of the merino wool and possum fur felt luxurious and I loved them. They fitted well and were very soft and very warm – they really kept the wind out. I was heartbroken when I lost one glove. Somewhere on Seymour Island a lucky tern chick will probably have a nice soft nest next year. I kept wearing the one remaining glove until it fell apart. These gloves are not really meant for tough outdoor chores and handling rocks so, not surprisingly, after two weeks of heavy work, holes appeared in several fingers and the surviving glove wore away. Although these are not gloves for harsh working conditions, I would certainly choose to wear a pair for cold weather in the UK for the warmth and the luxurious feeling.

I also tested thermal underwear made of merino wool. My long johns were worn for a week under cotton moleskin trousers while out to work. They also stayed on for the night so got a good test for 24 hours a day. They were great – very comfortable and a good fit. They felt softer and less sticky on my skin than synthetic thermal underwear. After a week’s rest under my pillow (the Antarctic equivalent of a wash cycle!), I wore them again and they were still comfortable – they did not go too baggy and they did not smell too bad. Although they did not get a thorough test in cold conditions I will certainly wear them again for comfort. The thermal top was also soft and comfortable to wear, and made an exceedingly comfortable top to wear when travelling.

I also tested socks made of possum fur and merino wool. Like the gloves, they felt fabulously soft and very warm. I wore them as my base layer in working boots, sometimes with another pair on top. They were thick and soft and a joy to wear.

I am a convert – merino and possum fur will be in my kit bag for my next Antarctic trip in 2007.

Jane Francis.

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