Greenland fieldwork 2019 – equipment reviews

August 5th, 2019

I bought quite a lot of new equipment for my field trip to Greenland this year, and am going to blog briefly about the various things I bought and whether I thought they were a good idea. I’m going to also include a few “old favourites” that did particularly well.

Garmin inReach mini satellite communicator

I bought this on Amazon for £265 in a sale – the full price is £299.99. Having seen a couple of other people on the trip using the “full size” inReach units, I think the Mini was a good buy for me. It’s very compact and the battery lasts a long time in part because of the small screen. Sending messages is easy through the companion app on your phone, but it’s very easy to read messages and request a weather forecast using the device directly. It does function as a GPS but only in a limited sense – I bought a separate eTrex GPS for navigating with. InReach airtime isn’t cheap but the Expedition Plan (£65 for the month for unlimited messages) did mean that I could send updates to family, friends and Twitter without worrying about the airtime charges. Definitely a morale boost to be able to just send and receive a few quick messages home every day, rather than making a weekly Iridium call.

Alpkit Koulin Trail Long Sleeve Zip baselayer top

I paid £25, currently on sale in limited sizes for £20. Straightforward synthetic baselayer, worked well. Allegedly non-smelly, but that was hard to judge. I did like the stretchy armpit panels which seem to make it more comfortable than some of my other baselayers. I like the fact that it has a chest zip for adjusting your temperature. Good purchase.

Mountain Warehouse Merino Mens Long Sleeved Zip Neck Top

I paid £25 each for two of these. They are currently on sale at the same price. To be honest I only wore one, and used it as a second layer over a synthetic baselayer – the wool is a bit scratchy and it wasn’t really cold enough to warrant wearing lots of wool. Might well come in handy for future ski trips though.

Mountain Warehouse Argyle Mens Half Zip Fleece

Cheap green fleece pullover, bought for £9.99 to make up free shipping on an order! Wore a couple of times, seemed fine. Mostly used as a pillow, to be honest.

Alpkit Griffon gridded fleece midlayer cardigan

I paid £42 for this, and they are on sale at the same price now. I actually wore this quite a lot, both at home for casual use and in Greenland. I didn’t use the hood much but I did like the fact that it was light and warm. The full zip makes it easy to adjust temperature for changes in the weather or changes in activity.

Alpkit Gabbro gloves

Big chunky ski gloves, bought for £40 last year. They’re more expensive (£50) this year and Alpkit have almost sold out. I suspect they’ll reissue them for the winter season. I highly recommend these for fieldwork because they are warm and waterproof but the leather construction makes them much more durable than a normal ski glove – almost as good as a work glove and much warmer.

Lomo Maxview dry bags

Lomo is a Glasgow-based company who primarily make wetsuits and watersports equipment, but who have diversified into outdoor gear. A lot of their products are excellent value for money.

These drybags are made of an unusual silicone material – has a slightly “squirmy” texture – which is translucent so you can see what’s inside. Genius! The small 3L one (£2.99) is great for keeping electronics dry in. I did also buy one of the 6L ones (£5.50) but found it less useful – it’s so large that you can fill it with stuff and not be able to see everything. Good drybag seal though.

Lomo Extra Large Microfibre camping towel

Having had several microfibre towels that aren’t large enough to dry myself with properly, I was very impressed with this one for £7.99. And it comes in High Visibility Orange, so you can use it to flag down a passing helicopter. Everyone should know where their towel is.

Lomo Mountain Walking gloves

Very light and inexpensive waterproof gloves (£14). I wore these a couple of times – they’re best seen as a backup pair to keep dry in case you get soaked in your main pair. I think I bought these slightly too small – should have paid more heed to the warning on the webpage that they size out a bit small.

Lomo bushcraft tarp

I bought this tarp (3m x 3m, £23) as part of Lomo’s bigger “bushcraft set” (£31) which includes extra tarp clamps, pegs and paracord. Whilst I did use the paracord, the rest was unnecessary – the tarp is great on its own. I’d originally thought I’d use it as a windbreak or for extra shelter when setting up equipment outdoors. What it turned out to be brilliant for was as a laptop shade. The dark green colour really cuts down the light, and the tarp is big enough to fold into two or even four so that you can get really good shade. I used it once outside as a shade, poking my head underneath in order to use the laptop, and then later rigged it up inside another light-coloured tent so as to make it easier to read my screen. It’s got lots of loops sewn onto it so I was able to attach it to the other tent with a few zip ties. Excellent purchase, will take on many future trips!

Lomo emergency storm shelter

Also known as a “bothy bag” – this is a handy zip up bag (£18.50) you can shelter inside in lieu of carrying and erecting a tent. I didn’t actually use it so I will reserve judgement on how good it is.

Lomo water-resistant fleece gilet

Lomo make a number of things out of water-resistant fleece fabric, and this gilet (£24) was a new product when I bought it. I wore it several times in the evenings as a simple extra midlayer when sitting around in the cold. I have also worn it on summer camping trips in the UK – it has a wonderful instant cosiness when you put it on.

Lomo 3-pack ultralight dry bags

Three dry bags for £7.50. I found these pretty handy, though their lightness makes them a little less durable than some I’ve used. I used one of them to keep a down jacket dry, and others to keep dry clothing in.

Lomo waterproof drybag rucksack

Easily the best £26.99 I’ve ever spent on a piece of outdoor gear. A big, simple 60 litre drybag with rucksack straps – including waistbelt and chest strap. Kept all my scientific gear dry when left outside in torrential rain. Much more useful than an alpine-style rucksack for a field camp environment. Even better – the straps can all be removed (by undoing velcro and buckles) so that you can check it into an aircraft. I brought mine onto the plane as a cabin bag, rolled down to half its full size.

Lomo waterproof messenger bag

I bought this in Lomo’s sale a few years ago, for £15, but still good value at full price (£29.99). This is basically a waterproof laptop bag – it’s not a drybag, but the waterproof fabric means you can put it down on the ice or in a puddle and not worry about the water soaking into your computer. It was a tight squeeze to get my CF-53 Toughbook into it, but it did go, and less chunky laptops will do fine. My one complaint is that it only has a shoulder strap and not a secondary carry handle, but this is really nitpicking.

Helly Hansen sou’wester

PVC rain hat, £12. Wore once – probably wanted breaking in as it was rather stiff. Glad it didn’t rain enough that I had to wear it more often.

Alpkit Dumo sleeping mattress

Big soft air mattress with an integral pump, £49. I didn’t use this in Greenland as SPRI provided a Thermarest Mondo King 3D XXL (£150) but I did try it camping in the UK and it worked well. The integral pump requires a little bit of brain power to work out how to use, but does work well.

Vital VW607 Ice Pack Safety Wellingtons

Everyone on the RESPONDER project recommended wellingtons, and suggested either Dunlop Purofort or Muck Boot Arctic Sport, both of which were upwards of £80 when I looked. These marine-industry safety wellies were only £60 and have a steel toecap – it’s worth noting that safety boots with toecaps attract 0% VAT which often can make them cheaper than non-safety ones. I think the soles weren’t quite as grippy as the Dunlops other people wore, but I didn’t have any issue with them and more or less lived in them for a fortnight.

Dickies Eisenhower Work Trouser

Nice durable pair of “carpenter” trousers with double outer pockets and space for knee pads, £36. I bought generic knee pads and used them a lot – being able to kneel down on the glacier without worrying about the hard, cold surface is very convenient (thanks to Nanna Karlsson for the tip there!). My only gripe is that the knee pads fell out until I worked out that there was a hemmed lip that was supposed to retain them. Also I think I bought a size too big.

Venitex VE702GR High Precision Work Glove

Fabric glove with a dipped rubber palm, £1.02 a pair. I wore these a lot and they were great – high dexterity, warm, not too constrictive. They come between the Skytec Ninja Lite gloves (which are incredibly thin) and much bigger and bulkier gloves. Can’t fault the price, either!

Skytec Ninja Lite work gloves

These I discovered when working for BAS last year, and they’re great for fiddly tasks. So thin, such high dexterity. £3.30 a pair.

CPC leather work gloves

Basic leather rigger gloves, £1.88 a pair. My first pair developed a hole within the first day, but the other two pairs I brought were fine.

Venitex Venizette 920 Latex Safety Gloves

Bought these and stupidly left them at home. They would have been great for handling icy water, which we did a lot for various domestic and scientific tasks. Basically an insulated Marigold style rubber glove.  £3.54 a pair.

Limitless Equipment EDC XL Utility Pouch

This seemed like a better idea than it turned out: a sort of handy tool pouch with lots of places to put different things. Unfortunately the tools I wanted to take didn’t fit into it very well, and the military-style velcro patches on the outside tended to attract bits of ice if put down on the floor. Not great, but not terrible either. A traditional tool roll would probably have been better.

Limitless Equipment TacFolder and StormPad notebook

A zip up folder for your waterproof notebook and pens, £19.99. Very handy and (I think) much more practical than a traditional surveyors’ notebook which generally doesn’t have anywhere to put your pen. Comes with one waterproof notepad included. The zip compartment on the outside I used for a Sharpie marker pen since you often need to write on boxes when doing logistics work

RUD Bergsteiger shoe chains

Still the best things ever for walking on snow and ice. These provide 80% of the benefit of crampons or microspikes but with less than 1% of the hassle. They’re just a set of stainless steel chains attached to a rubber ring that goes around your boot or shoe. The chain provides enough bite to grip into an icy surface, but because there are no spikes you can easily walk on ground that is a mixture of rock, snow and ice, or on and off tarmac paths. They don’t scratch floors unless you really scuff with them, and they don’t damage tents (unlike crampons and microspikes, both of which are torn tent doors and groundsheets waiting to happen). My only gripe with the Bergsteigers was that they tended to drop into the tread on my wellies, making them less effective, but I could easily rearrange them when I needed more grip.

Scuba Box XL waterproof box

A rigid plastic box with a waterproof seal. £26.99 + shipping (watch out, as the shipping can be a bit expensive) from Solent Plastics.  Holds 110 litres, proved extremely waterproof in the field, has a couple of little wheels to make moving it around easier. A++ would buy again.

Explorer box

A much larger plastic box, holding 185 litres. Not advertised as waterproof but proved to be in practice. Nice features: the lid can either hinge open or be removed completely, and empty boxes can be stacked. Best used for low density items as if totally filled would be too heavy to lift. Maximum load is apparently 60kg. £40 plus shipping (a further £25 if you’re not ordering anything else, because the box is massive and hence expensive to ship) from Solent Plastics.

Waterproof phone cover

£2.50 from Hema. Worked really well, and easy to remove the phone when needed – e.g. for taking a photo. Was a bit crumpled by the end, but then it was only £2.50!

Polycarbonate whisky tumblers

At the end of the day a glass of whisky from a tumbler, rather than out of a mug that previously contained coffee, makes everything feel a little bit more civilised. £9.94 for a set of 4 from Amazon.