Thursday, December 22, 2011

Update on Recent Events

Hey guys. I know I have been gone from the blog for some time. Thank you to all of those who have emailed me to express concern. I know it is over due, but I wanted to let you know what is going on.

Unfortunately, about a month ago, I ended a long term relationship with my girlfriend. I have been kind of under the weather since then, and have found it hard to motivate myself to generate posts.

I hope to be back soon, hopefully after I have figured out all the logistics of the separation. I know I usually don’t use the blog for personal matters, but I wanted to give you guys an explanation for why I have been gone.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Comparison Between Modern and Early 20th Century Cold Weather Clothing

It is an unfortunate fact that when people set out to prove something they already strongly believe, they knowingly or unknowingly tailor data to reach the desired results. Clearly that is something that each of us has to encounter at some point. Of course, the way to correct for those misconceptions, is to perform well controlled, duplicatable studies, so that the results can be judged by the rest of the scientific community.

Earlier I did a post looking at the clothing choices of some early 20th century cold weather explorers. You can see the post here. In recent years people with agendas of their own have made claims, which in turn have been picked up by other people with their own agendas, and as a result, most scientific data about the clothing that I discussed has been lost amid romanticism, nostalgia and wishful thinking. A clear example is the tests that Graham Hoyland performed in 2006, using George Mallory’s clothing. The “test” concluded that the clothing is very comfortable and warm, along with a number of other overly romanticized musings on the subject, by a person who has the clear goal of establishing that Mallory was in fact the first person to summit Everest. I have seen at least several people who based on Hoyland’s statements (with no further independent research) have concluded that the 1924 clothing is superior to modern cold weather clothing. 

So, I decided to do some research and see if I can find any actual scientific studies, which produced data on the subject rather than subjective evaluations. Interestingly, I found that such tests have actually been performed on both George Mallory’s clothing as well as that of Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen: Benchmarking Functionality of Historical Cold Weather Clothing: Robert F. Scott, Roald Amundsen, George Mallory, by George Havenith, Department of Ergonomics (Human Sciences) Loughborough University. The photographs used in this post are from the study.    

The below picture shows a side by side of Scott’s, Amundsen’s and a modern cold weather suit, used in the test.


Here the same clothing can be seen on the thermal manikins.


Here you can see Mallory’s clothing as used in the test.


The study was performed at Loughborough University and the clothing of Mallory, Scott and Amundsen was compared along several categories and factors to modern cold weather clothing, containing fleece and down insulation. Of the vintage clothing, the warmest possible combination of items was used for the test, with the Amundsen clothing being tested with both the reindeer and seal skin outer layer in the alternative.

Each clothing arrangement was placed on a thermal manikin is a controlled temperature environment. The insulation values were measured in units of clo (1clo=0.155 m2C/W).

The first test looked at insulation without the addition of any other factors such as wind. The graph below shows the results.


The results clearly show that the insulation value of modern clothing is higher than any of the other options. The Amundsen clothing with reindeer shell has the next best insulation, followed by Amundsen’s clothing with the seal skin shell, followed by Scott’s clothing, and in last comes Mallory’s clothing. It has been mentioned by some people that Mallory’s clothing was lighter than modern clothing used on Everest trips. While objectively true, it also provides significantly less insulation.

The second test, or more accurately, calculation, shows the insulation value as compared to the weight of the clothing. In the chart below we can see the insulation value (clo) per kilogram.


Here we can clearly see that for the weight, the modern clothing significantly outperforms the vintage options. The modern clothing provides more than twice the insulation per kg than Scott’s and Amundsen’s clothing, and 1.65 times better insulation per kg than Mallory’s.

The third test looked at how much insulation is retained when the clothing is exposed to wind. The chart below shows the insulation value as a percentage of the static insulation.  


The modern clothing again shows to be the best, closely followed by Amundsen’s clothing with the reindeer shell.

A fourth aspect of the clothing was tested in a study by Dorman LE. Havenith, The Effects of Protective Clothing on Energy Consumption During Different Activities, Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 105(3):463-70.

The study showed that not only weight, but also the bulkiness and layering of clothing contributed to energy consumption. Simply stated, bulky clothing makes it harder for you to move, and makes you use up more energy for the same tasks. The table below shows the increase in metabolic consumption caused by each clothing option looked at above. There is no exact data for Mallory’s clothing, but the study concluded that the layers of silk between the wool would make movement easier, decreasing the metabolic expenditure when compared to that of Scott who used similar wool layering.

Clothing Combination % increase of metabolic rate when sledge pulling % increase of metabolic rate when dog sledding






Modern Clothing



It is again clear that the modern clothing is a lot less cumbersome, and requires less energy expenditure to operate.

The conclusion reached by the above studies is that while Amundsen’s clothing provided better insulation than Scott’s, considering that Scott largely man hauled his sleds to the pole, unlike Amundsen who used dogs, the clothing would have provided adequate insulation. Both Amundsen and Scott would have found their clothing deficient during periods of inactivity, as was in fact noted by Amundsen in his journal. The big problem for Scott would have been the high energy expenditure required by the clothing. 24% increase in energy consumption is significant and would have greatly contributed to the expedition’s unfortunate end. With respect to Mallory, the studies concluded that his clothing would have been adequate down to -30 degrees Celsius. However, if any high wind speeds were encountered (above 40 km/h), or there was any inactivity, the clothing would have been deficient.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Early 20th Century Cold Weather Clothing

There has been a good amount of talk in recent years about the value of more traditional equipment, including clothing. Here I have tried to look at some sources and see exactly what clothing was used by early 20th century cold weather explorers. In a later post, I will try to present some comparison data.

Fridtjof Nansen 1884


Fridtjof Nansen is one of the most famous cold weather explorers. He is as famous for his crossing of Greenland as for his failed attempt to reach the North pole, and heroic return home. The equipment of most cold weather explorers following him needs to be looked at within the context of what Nansen had said on the subject. That is why here I want to briefly mention what he had to say about his cold weather clothing. In his book Across Greenland he describes the clothing he took on the trip as follows:

With the exception of two tunics of reindeer skin...and a little coat lined with squirrel skin, which I took but rarely wore, we had no furs, but wore woolen things throughout. Next to our skin we had thin woolen shirts and drawers, then thick, rough jerseys, and then our outer garments, which consisted of a short coat, knickerbockers, and gaiters...In wind, snow, and rain, we generally wore outside our other clothes a light suit of some thin, brown, canvas like stuff. This was reputed completely waterproof, but it turned out to be nothing of the kind. In wind and snow however, it did excellent service.” On his feet Nansen wore what he referred to as Finnesko, or reindeer boots. He described them as satisfactory, but that they do not hold up well when wet.

Sir Earnest Shackleton 1908


This general set up of clothing became the largely “traditional” way of dressing for cold environments for subsequent explorers for the next few decades, although changes and improvements were made. When in 1908 Sir Earnest Shackleton walked to within 112 miles from the South pole his clothing consisted of the same layers of wool, with the exception that instead of a short coat, more wool sweaters were used which provided greater warmth for the weight.


The canvas outer layer was still used, because even though not waterproof, it offered protection from the wind, and nothing better was available at the time.

Scott/Amundsen 1911/1912

Amundsen December_1911

In 1911/1912, two men, Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen raced to the South pole. Amundsen proved to the victor, while Scott died on the return trip from the pole. In 2006 the BBC recreated the race between the two men and their teams, and provided very valuable data in terms of reconstructing their clothing. The lists I am providing here are from that study. Since some of the clothing consists of modern equivalents, I will provide the name of the manufacturer next to the item. 


Robert Falcon Scott


  • Three pairs of long johns and long sleeve tops of different sizes for layering. Each pair was made by Wolsey, Devold Basic, and Aquaduct respectively.
  • One or two cotton/wool shirts.
  • Two woolen sweaters, one with a crew neck (Devold Nansen sweater) and one with a turtle neck (Devold Nordsjosweater)
  • One woolen waistcoat/vest
  • A thin wool jumper
  • Two pairs of trousers, one corduroy and the other woolen. Along with the trousers they had a pair of puttees to wrap around the bottom of the trousers.
  • Burberry jacket and pants. Burberry is the tightly woven canvas material to which Nansen refers above, which was supposed to be waterproof, but was not, something the Scott expedition noted as well.
  • The remaining items include a woolen hat, scarf and balaclava, woolen gloves, woolen mittens, fingerless gloves, and a pair of reindeer mittens. On the feet were several pairs of wool socks and the finnesko, again mentioned by Nansen earlier.

Roald Amundsen


  • Three pairs of long johns and long sleeve tops of different sizes for layering. Each pair was made by Wolsey, Devold Basic, and Aquaduct respectively.
  • One or two cotton/wool shirts.
  • Two woolen sweaters, one with a crew neck (Devold Nansen sweater) and one with a turtle neck (Devold Nordsjosweater)
  • One pair of corduroy trousers
  • Burberry trousers and jacket
  • Reindeer anorak with hood
  • Sealskin anorak with hood
  • Sealskin trousers
  • A pair of puttees to wrap around the trousers. Keep in mind that not all of the outer layers that Amundsen brought were worn at the same time. The Burberry jacket, reindeer anorak, and sealskin anorak were worn interchangeably depending on conditions. In fact, some were not carried during the entire trip.
  • The remaining items are the same as those used by the Scott team, a woolen hat, scarf and balaclava, woolen gloves, woolen mittens, fingerless gloves, and a pair of reindeer mittens. On the feet were several pairs of wool socks and the finnesko.

George Mallory 1924


Moving a decade forward in 1924, George Mallory attempted to reach the summit of Everest. He died in his attempt. His body was later found, and his clothing was reconstructed by the Mountain Heritage Trust. With few exceptions, his clothing remained the same as that of the above men. The largest difference that can be seen, and where technology reveals itself is actually in the sleeping bags that they carried. While Nansen, Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen used reindeer fur sleeping bags, Mallory had a down sleeping bag. 

  • One silk wool vest
  • Two silk shirts
  • Shetland pullover
  • Flannel wool shirt
  • Cotton long johns
  • Two pairs of Shetland long johns
  • Burberry jacket and trousers along with a set of puttees
  • The remaining gear was composed of woolen gloves, hat, and scarf. On the feet he had several pairs of woolen socks and boots (not finnesko).

Experts believe that the silk layers were not used for insulation, but rather to allow easier movement between the different layers of wool.

Sir Edmund Hillary 1953

By the time Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest in 1953, the clothing options had significantly changed. While wool was still used for the base layers, much of the outer wear was composed on down insulation and synthetic covering. 



Modern cold weather clothing is comprised almost entirely of synthetic materials, using fleece and down as insulation. Some people still prefer to use wool as a base layer, but thicker woolen items are almost never used.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Survivorman Returns!

As many of you have heard already, Les Stroud has announced that he will once again start filming Survivorman.


It is unclear when the new episodes will premiere, but it appears that he will now attempt to spend ten days in the woods without support unlike the prior seasons where he was out each time for seven days.

As this is one of my favorite shows, I can’t wait for the new season to air.

Friday, December 2, 2011

With an Axe and Knife

This is a compilation of very old videos showing people doing traditional wood work using basic tools. Some of them are quite amazing, and well worth a look.

To find more videos like this one, and other great information, visit Perkle’s Blog.