Eric Larsen: Thoughts on Staying Warm in the Most Extreme Cold

By Eric Larsen

People assume that because I spend much of my time in polar regions that I must enjoy being cold. The truth couldn’t be any further from the fact. I like being warm, just like everyone else. The only difference: I like being warm in really cold places. But there’s also a catch, I don’t like being hot in cold places either. I’m kind of like the polar version of Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

To achieve the perfect arctic equilibrium while traveling is no easy task and it requires careful diligence and following a few simple rules.

1. Be the onion.  Back in the day, we would throw on a huge down jacket, go outside and call it good. Sure we were warm, but there was also a gallon of sweat that pooled up inside as well. Today, were smarter understand that being warm as important as the ability to wick moisture away from our bodies. Dressing in layers allows for clothing to have different levels of moisture wicking and insulation. There is no such thing as cold weather just not enough layers.

2. Polar Strip tease. When I was a dog musher racing, I would easily wear 7 layers on my upper body. The dogs were so fast and it was so cold that when I was standing on the runners, I never moved. However, if there were every a problem and I had to get off and walk three steps, I was wearing so many clothes that I easily broke into a sweat. Your clothes insulate you because they trap a layer of air next to your body. Fill that air with water and at some point you will be very, very cold. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, if I am overheating, I take layers off. At any given moment on the trail, I am constantly adjusting layers, unzipping or zipping, pulling my hat off, putting it on.

3. Move. There are moments, when it seems like nothing I do helps warm me up. In those instances, I stop what I’m doing and start moving around – jumping jacks, spinning my arms, running back and forth. Wearing a bunch of layers and doing the Presidential Fitness Award shuttle run for 10 minutes is a sure way to get your blood pumping and you warm.

4. Efficiency. Traveling across uneven snow surfaces (i.e. all snow surfaces) is difficult even in the best conditions. I try to moderate my pace to an even steady cadence of steps. I rely heavily on the right equipment. Lightning Ascent snowshoes and Deploy poles provide extra traction, flotation and balance that keeps me from over exerting myself.

5. It’s your attitude. If you think you’re going to get cold. Most likely, you’re going to get cold. People have an amazing ability to endure. The key is to understand that even when you’re at your coldest, you can still get warm.

Think Snow!



Polar explorer and MSR ambassador Eric Larsen is traveling across Arctic ice on what could be the world’s last unsupported ground expedition to the geographic North Pole. He and expedition partner, Ryan Waters, are attempting to break the 2006 speed record and bring awareness to the region’s rapidly melting ice. Stayed tuned to the Summit Register for exclusive content, along with voice and video clips from Eric while he’s on the ice.