Polar Husky A to Z

Komatek

The Komatek sleds used by Team GoNorth! are exact Inuit design.

And even though Team GoNorth! does not carry seals, walrus, or polar bear on their sleds like the Inuit traditionally would, they sure pack a lot of stuff on there!

Have you ever jotted down a list of all the food and gear you'd need to pack for a family picnic or maybe a weekend camping trip?

Imagine what the list would look like if you knew some days the below-zero wind-chills would hit triple digits and other days you could be slogging through slush and deep snow; and that the gang you'd be feeding would need food with the calorie equivalent of a holiday feast ...every day.

Carrying supplies for five weeks a sled weighs between 1200 and 1400 lbs. A racing sled (i.e. in the Iditarod) weighs 100-150 lbs!


Our team members use some of the most advanced survival gear ever designed, like BGAN communication system designed by Thrane & Thrane, as well as pretty ordinary-looking equipment that might surprise you. The team does its cooking and ice melting for example, on the familiar green, two-burner Coleman stoves, just like ones you could pick up at a sporting-goods store. Here is a look of some of both the low-tech and the high-tech gear used on the trail.

Dogsleds

The Dogsleds haul between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds each. The team uses two sleds that haul between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds each. (as rule of thumb, each dog pulls its own weight x 1 - 1.5.). There are about 11 dogs per sled, and each dog weights about 100 pounds. The 14 foot sleds are made of birch and ash, except for the slippery and durable plastic runners. The sled is lashed together, giving it both strength and flexibility. Even though they do not have nails, the sleds have to be as tough as one. Imagine struggling up and then crashing down jagged ice ridges as high as a small house.

Each sled carries personal and expedition camping gear for two, plus people food and dog food. One sled carries the Thrane & Thrane communication equipment especially designed to fit the harsh and very cold weather the team travels in. Another sled carries the dog-harness repair kit and radio equipment. Each sled also has emergency flares which might be needed to contact the rest of the team in the event of trouble. Each of the sleds is designed to hold enough supplies for two people for 30 days.

The only time the explorers might ride on the sleds is if they are sick or injured, or for very short spurts, for example, when crossing a narrow space of open water.

Tent

The four-person team packs two heavy duty, easy-to-erect (so called tunnel-) tent. Now, you have most likely seen a tent before...but, there are a couple of things that are different about this tent.

The first thing is its shape. It is not one of those big square tents with lots of room to stand up you see on most family camping places. Remember above the tree line, we are talking fierce winds a great deal of the time, and with no protection. If the team used a big square tent, the wind would simply pound it until it ripped apart. Our tents on the other hand, are low to the ground (they can barely sit up on their knees inside of it) so that the wind can easily travel up and over it.

With winds as strong as - 20, 40, 60 miles an hour -- the wind could actually pick up the tent with the team members and all their equipment inside of it. So they have to anchor it down. For this there are big square "snow flaps" all around the tent. At night when camp is set, they shovel between 1 and 2 ft (30-60 cm) of snow on these flaps. There are also 4 guy ropes attaches to the tent, which they anchor into the ground. If they are on ice, they use an ice screw - if on snow they could use a pair of skis. Now the tent is anchored.

The tent is of course also made of extra strong materials, have reinforced floors, extra strong poles and very importantly a door in each end.

Inside of the tent they have all of their equipment, the food, sleeping bag systems, their clothing hanging down from above in the drying rack (how do you think it smells in there?) and finally a two burner Coleman stove. You should never have a stove in a tent. Needless to say if you bump it over, you can easily put the tent on fire. And it can be poisoning. You have maybe heard about how you should never be inside the garage with closed doors and turn the car on - because it can kill you from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas produced when burning gas for your stove as well as coming out in your car exhaust. Carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin in the blood taking the spots meant for oxygen - so you don't get enough air! This can happen rapidly and without warning. Symptoms of poisoning vary from light-headedness and headache, to coma, seizures and death.

So, why does the team have a stove in the tent? Well, they need it for cooking, drying their clothing and most importantly for melting that ice and snow into water. They just have to be extremely careful about keeping excellent ventilation in the tent, which is why the two tent doors (one in each end) are always zipped about 1/4 open. But yes, it is one of the most dangerous factors of an expedition.

Sleeping Bag System

Each person has a unit consisting of a bivy bag, 2 sleeping bags (an inner and an heavier outer) a foam pad and an air pad. The whole system weighs about 12 lbs.

The bivy bag is made of a material that does not easily rip and which protects the bags inside from getting wet, both inside the tent, but also outside since the sleeping bag system rides on top of the sled lashed on last. This is a safety measure. Lets say a team member fell through the ice into the water. Once out of the water the first thing you need to do is roll in the snow!!! Yes, think about it. The snow on the outside of your clothes work like a sponge pulling the water out so it does not reach your skin. In the meantime another team member has pulled off the bivy bag and you are stuffed into it with a couple of warm thermoses or water bottles. Now you are protected from the wind until the tent is up and the heat going inside. Remember it can take a while to put it all up - especially if it is stormy.

Why do you think we have two bags instead of just one big bag?

When you have two bags you have an airspace in between, and air is a great insulator. Also the sleeping bags are designed to wick moisture from the inner layer and pass it to the outside. Finally this way you can easier adjust the temperature by opening one of the bags up a little. It is quite warm...once the bags are heated up (They normally just sleep in their underwear).

Check out all the stuff the explorer has to wear to stay warm and safe in the daytime.

Links to Learn More

  • Are you wondering about the communication equipment? Visit Thrane & Thrane to learn more about the newest in communication systems ... Learn more >>