Your average winter outdoor gear doesn't hold up to the extremes you find at the North Pole. That's what arctic explorer Eric Larsen has found. Larsen and Ryan Waters are about to embark on what could be a world record-setting expedition to cross the Arctic Ocean — from Canada's Ellesmere Island to the North Pole — on skis and snow shoes. If all goes as anticipated, they'll spend 49 days traversing 500 miles of the constantly shifting, melting, re-freezing, and drifting ice of the Arctic Ocean.
Upon arrival in Nunavut, Canada, one of the coldest inhabited places on the planet, Larsen and Waters worked to make the final modifications to their equipment. "Any rubber like on the binding of our snowshoes is no good," Larsen says. "When it's 50 below zero, it gets too brittle to stretch and just breaks. The same goes for Nylon – it tears like paper. Metal tent poles can snap. You can't do what we do with ordinary gear, by any means."
Much of Larsen's preparatory tasks involve making modifications to their gear, including wrapping duct tape around fuel bottles so they won't get frostbite from the cold metal and screwing skins into the bottom of their cross-country touring skis. He also modifies their food. To keep weight down (he and Waters each tow a 350-pound sled of food and supplies), he removes the heavy vacuum packaging from the freeze-dried food packets and replaces it with a plastic bag – after adding 20 to 30 grams of butter and olive oil. "The butter is for extra calories," says Larsen. "By the end of the expedition, we'll each need to consume about 7,500 calories a day."
While Larsen isn't ready to divulge all his arctic expedition secrets, he did hand over his "must bring" gear list. Here are Larsen's and Waters' essentials: