Friend of Rab® Peter Jones has just returned from an 'arctic survival course' with Ray Mears and Lars Falt, here's his write up on the trip.
Around the northern hemisphere runs a vast forest – the Taiga. The Taiga covers much of Sweden, Finland, inland Norway, northern Kazakhstan and Russia, most of inland Alaska and Canada as well as northern parts of the USA. The Taiga is the single largest community of trees and associated animals on the planet and I was lucky enough to recently spend a week in this fascinating Arctic environment with Ray Mears and Lars Falt. Ray Mears needs no introduction and is recognised as a world expert in wilderness bush-craft and survival. Lars Falt has lived and worked all his life in the Arctic and in 1980 he established the Swedish Army's Survival School. I couldn’t have been in better hands.
The course took place in Swedish Lapland, approximately 150 km north of the Arctic Circle. The area we stayed in was characterised by coniferous trees such as pine and spruce and animals such as lynx, wolf, bear, wolverine and reindeer. The emphasis throughout, was all about mastering the skills necessary to survive. However, Ray Mears and Lars Falt aim to teach people not just how to survive there, but how to be comfortable in such an environment.
With temperatures dropping below -40°C, the clothing used in such an extreme environment is a highly important factor and integral to the course. We quickly learnt that the principles of dressing for the Arctic follow the same layering principles familiar to any British hill-walker or mountaineer. However, the difference with The Arctic is that getting the balance wrong is not an option. Over-heating can lead to the freezing of moisture in your clothes and is just as dangerous as frost-bite and hypothermia brought on from a lack of insulation or protection. Learning how to manage your layers, and which layers are appropriate at which time is the key to being comfortable.
Warm, but breathable clothing is essential, starting with the choice of base-layer. As any excess moisture will freeze instantly it is important that base-layers used in this environment are high wicking as well as warm. Quick-drying thermals, such as the Rab AL Pull-on base-layer I used, are ideal.
My second layer was a Rab Double Pile Fleece which was perfect for the job. This I had on virtually all the time as my primary insulation layer, with the outer layers changing depending on the exertion level. It was surprisingly difficult to keep the correct temperature as we were in and out of warm cabins and switched between the intense exertion of building snow shelters or skiing through deep snow, to immobility and wind-chill experienced while travelling at speed on a snowmobile. I wore a Rab Photon Synthetic Insulated Jacket for periods of activity and usually threw on a Rab Summit Batura Down Jacket for snow-mobile travel or other periods when immobile.
We slept out-doors in various shelters we built ourselves. One night we tried out an emergency shelter. This was cut into the snow with the base covered in spruce boughs and covered with a tarp. Night-time temperatures were well below -30°C but again the correct equipment can make all the difference. I used a Rab Expedition Down sleeping bag, which meant I got a relatively comfortable sleep!
The course is unique; it is based on the experiences of two world experts who between them have travelled to every corner of the Arctic. The knowledge and techniques they are able to impart are second to none and in terms of learning how to survive in potentially the most hostile of conditions. The camaraderie of the group, the genuine warmth of our teachers combined with our newly developed skills made for a fantastic, unforgettable experience. Many Thanks to Ray Mears, Lars Falt and to Rab for providing the fantastic kit I needed to survive in such an environment.[gallery link="file"]