The last thing you want is for a key piece of gear to break when your hundreds of miles from the nearest road. In any outdoor situation, good gear is important. The need for reliable gear is magnified exponentially when you're on a wilderness expedition. A very important part in planning a remote trip is researching the type of gear you need, looking for stuff that will stand up to the test. A lot of this knowledge is gained from smaller trips closer to home where you can see what works and what doesn't. For my Arctic adventure, I searched out the best gear I could find and put it to the ultimate test. This gallery covers some of the equipment I used and what I learned about it.
Brunton 8099 Pro Compass: This is a top-of-the-line orienteering style compass. My brother Ted and I brought four of them on our Arctic adventure, and I always kept one on a lanyard around my neck. Well above the industry standard, this compass puts new and innovative ideas to work making it deadly accurate and a pleasure to use. The Eclipse is an advanced compass and may seem a little complicated if you don’t have a lot of experience, but it comes with detailed directions to make life easy ($106; bruntonoutdoor.com).
Garmin GPSMAP 78s: My brother and I bought two of these devices and we were happy with the results. We used them everyday we traveled, as the battery life was surprisingly long, despite the low temperatures. Although I had little time to familiarize myself with the device before leaving, the Garmin was the most user friendly GPS I have ever used. I could mark our route in the software and could download maps of the surrounding area. When our route changed, I was able to easily locate a new path and we entered coordinates into the device with ease. It made finding destinations a simple task. In the far north (where compass declination can be enormous), a device like the Garmin 78 S can be a saving grace ($350; buy.garmin.com).
Julbo Micropores Glacier Glasses: These Arctic exploration sunglasses make the perfect shield to the whipping northern snow. The shades have removable leather side panels that block out glare and the dark tint protects against those pesky UV rays. The glasses form a unique bend around the ears for a comfortable custom fit and prevent them from falling off. They can also be bent straight back, so you can wear them while wearing your snowmobile helmet. The Julbo Micro Pores were the ideal choice for our chilly trip; however, they can also be a great choice for sunny spring days of sledding or ice fishing ($140; julbousa.com).
Petzl Tikka Headlamp: Although its uses are obvious, we discovered some surprising qualities of this lamp. The battery life was great, despite the constant cold. The headlamp is simply constructed, an important thing on a long trip, and its practical design makes it fairly durable. The Petzl Tikka stood up to a lot of abuse on our trip and, despite its low price, is a top-of-the-line headlamp. ($30; petzl.com)
YakTrax XTR: These simple cleats that attach to your boots can make a huge difference if you have to travel across stretches of smooth ice. Keeping them on at all times isn’t necessarily unheard of (or a bad idea). I don’t think my brother has taken off his spikes in four years ($60; yaktrax.com).
Equinox Big Extra Industrial Boggans: At almost 10×3 feet, these reinforced fiberglass toboggans with Teflon runners could tow even the heaviest items. We weighed down the sleds with almost 700 pounds of cargo each and towed them for over 750 miles. We did have to change out the worn runners halfway through the trip, but the boggans float well in deep snow and the metal tow bar was good for maneuvering through the bush. Attesting to the boggans’ durability, locals of Delene can pull up to 16 caribou in each one. However, these toboggans do not travel well in rocky, low-snow conditions. Bumpy terrain will wear the runners out quickly and can break the fiberglass. To offset this potential risk, some people in Delene welded metal brackets to the bars for extra support. We used rope to tow ours, which worked very well, as a long rope can also give you time to stop your toboggan and save your gear if your snowmobile should go through the ice. The Big Extra Industrial Boggan provides one of the best buys on the market for trips as grueling as ours ($1,634-$1,730; eqnx.biz).
The Exped DownMat 9: For keeping warm on those chilly nights, Exped makes the warmest mat on the market: their DownMat 9 model. The comfort and warmth this mat provided was great. Its multiple size offerings ensure that you won’t have to worry about rolling onto the cold ground or having your feet hang over the end. A great feature in the mat is the built-in pump, which dramatically speeds up inflation. The mat’s lightweight design allows you to roll it into a very compact size. However, it takes longer to roll than a standard foam mat. Because it’s vulnerable to punctures, it’s advisable to be fairly careful with it. Despite these minor structural flaws, there’s no other mat I’d prefer to keep me toasty ($179; exped.com).
Western Mountaineering Bison GWS: These sleeping bags were easily compressed and could stuff well into any pack. With a good ground pad and some fleece clothing, the bags can keep any outdoorsman warm at even 40 below zero ($835-$865; westernmountaineering.com).
Polaris 600 IQ WIDETRAK: The 600 IQ WIDETRAKs were the most important pieces of equipment we had for completing our expedition. They met all of our needs, were great on gas, and were tough. They effortlessly hauled our loads over steep hills and countless hard-packed drifts. The under-the-seat compartment is a great feature, as is the large basket in the back and the heated glove box on the dash. On a trip like ours, mechanical failure can be devastating and these machines proved their reliability. We put them through a very tough test and they passed with flying colors ($11,099; polarisindustries.com).
Voile XLM Avalanche Shovel: This shovel should be an essential for any snowmobile rider. The lightweight design allows for easy, quick stowing. However, don’t let its agile frame fool you; it can still move plenty of snow. It’s great for digging away drifts and piles to set up your tent or emergency shelter. Any adventurer trekking off the beaten path shouldn’t leave home without it ($40; voile-usa.com).
Choko Extreme Cordura Pants: When researching snowmobile pants, I called a snowmobile dealer in the windswept Arctic town of Yellowknife, NWT, and asked what the best possible make was for extreme conditions. The dealer’s immediate response was, “Choko pants.” I researched what I could about suitable snow pants and found no other pair that could match the Chokos’ capabilities. The over-all style adds a lot of extra insulation to your core keeping you very warm, and the zippered vents make it easy to cool down if it starts getting too hot under the fabric. They breathe well and prevent moisture from soaking in. The pocket in the upper-body portion of the pants provided a fantastic insulated shelter to store my satellite phone or water bottle to prevent freezing. A storm flap covers the leg zipper and keeps the wind out, but I don’t think they come in longer leg sizes, and were a little short on my 6-foot 5-inch frame. ($231; bikerleathers.ca)
Kolpin Fuel Pack: These compact packs were the containers we used to carry our gas. Its handy design makes it hard to believe that they can stow up to 4 gallons each. We lined up 10 in a row at the back of our toboggans and they fit perfectly. You can also easily stack them or hang them on a wall. Their puncture-resistant plastic construction makes these the perfect durable fuel packs. A truck could drive over them without inflicting damage. Leaking gas cans could have caused us major problems, but the Kolpins’ durability put our minds at ease. ($92; kolpinpowersports.com)
Kolpin Gun Boot 5.0 Transport: This gun case gives quick access to your rifle or shotgun. It comes with a soft-shell liner that I used with a strap to sling my gun over my shoulder while I rode from Kugluktuk to Ulukhaktok. Additionally, i was able to zip-tie two gun boots together for my commercial flights, which cut my oversized baggage fees in half. If you are traveling off the beaten path and need a hard gun case, the Gun Boot Transport is the best thing on the market. ($150; kolpinpowersports.com)
Roadpost BGAN Internet & Iridium 9505A Satellite Phone Rental: Roadpost provided me with satellite Internet BGAN, which I used in order to blog from the north. Its Internet capabilities worked well from even the most remote corner of Great Bear Lake and the sea ice north of Kugluktuk. It’s a nearly 8.5×11-inch sized device that, when pointed at the satellites, receives a signal to allow use of email and the Internet when connected to a laptop. Roadpost also provided us with an Iridium satellite phone that offers the clearest signal in the far north. I used the phone to call my editors at Field & Stream and even conduct a 20-minute radio interview from Prince Albert Sound. The phone’s impressive wireless range could have obviously saved our lives if we had found ourselves in an emergency. ( BGAN Internet: $360/month, Iridium 9505A: $200/month; roadpost.com)
Stihl Auger Drill: Stihl’s auger drill is a top of the line model that packs enough power to break through the thickest, hardest ice. Its break handle provides a great feature that will put the engine into neutral if the handle sticks. With its strong steel frame, the Stihl auger drill is durable enough to rely on in the harshest conditions. It also makes a good seat when you are ice fishing. ($899; stihldealer.net)
Coleman Duel Fuel 2-Burner Stove: This stove is both durable and versatile. It can burn naphtha gas and even unleaded if you are in a pinch. I primarily used the stove to cook, but it can also double as the tent heater if you have enough fuel (however, if the temperature drops substantially, two stoves might be needed to sufficiently heat a tent). When cooking or boiling water, the lid and wind-blocking side panels work well. Tried, tested, and true, this camping standby remains reliable as ever. ($100; coleman.com)
Under Armour: Under Armour provides excellent base layers that do a phenomenal job at wicking sweat away from your body. We used both the shirt and pants. They are designed specifically to tackle cold weather conditions and we were glad to wear them. The strenuous work we did during our trek made these base layers important, as they provided a change in the case we worked up a sweat. Although Under Armour worked well when we were active, the pieces did not seem to trap warmth once they became damp with sweat. (Men’s ColdGear UA Base 3.0 Crew & Men’s ColdGear UA Base 3.0 Legging: $70 each; underarmour.com)
Minus 33 Long Johns, Crewneck Shirts and Neck Gaiters: These makers of merino wool inner wear craft awesome product that we used throughout the expedition. The long-sleeved shirts and long johns provided excellent warmth. Their neck gaiter, which was lighter weight than their shirts and long johns, became very useful under a thicker fleece neck warmer. ( Men’s Wool Expedition Weight Crew Neck & Wool Expedition Weight Bottoms: $80 each, Wool Mid Weight Neck Gaiter: $20; minus33.com)
Patagonia Men’s Capilene 4 Expedition Weight: We used this thick, top-of-the-line base layer and found it to be the warmest addition of all. If moving around a lot, this comfortable shirt also includes a zipper that can be undone to cool down. However, lots of physical activity in this jacket can cause and trap sweat, creating a slimy feeling under the jacket. ($119; Patagonia.com)
Everywhere Maps: Everywhere Maps provides an excellent source for all of your mapping needs. From guidebooks and software to GPS units, wall maps, and any topographic map or nautical chart, Everywhere Maps is ready to ship anywhere in the world. I utilize the site for all of my various adventurous expeditions ($TK; everywheremaps.com).
6-pack of Tram Bars by Kate’s Real Food: The ideal lunch on the trail should be three things: quick, simple and full of energy. Tram Bars by Kate’s Real Food fit these requirements and get you moving. Their powers grant salvation from the weakness associated with hunger and also prevent the body from eating its muscle when hunger strikes. When I was in the Arctic I would pack about four Tram Bars into my pocket in the morning and they were often all I ate for lunch. They gave me that extra push I needed to get the job done on several occasions. And, unlike most energy bars, Tram Bars actually taste good. ($21; katesrealfood.com)
Jim traveled 555 miles by snowmobile with his brother, Ted, unsupported, over frozen Great Bear Lake (ice-fishing for monster lake trout), cross-tundra to the Arctic Ocean, then across the sea ice of Victoria Strait to the hamlet of Uluhoktok. Read The Adventurer blog to follow along on his trip and his next adventure: an ATV trek through the Northwest Territories’ Mackenzie Mountains to reach prime Dall’s sheep habitat.
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