Meet our users Aline & Olivier
Adventurers Aline Guignard and Olivier Forney are currently on an expedition, raising money to fight childhood cancer through the organization Zoé4Life. They left their hometown in Switzerland in March 2022 and will reach the North Cape in summer 2024, after 5.800 kilometers by foot and sea kayak, sleeping in bivouacs in the Scandinavian alps close to the polar circle. In temperatures dropping to minus 30 degrees Celsius.
What will be the biggest challenges in terms of weather and conditions?
On a long-term travel, weather conditions can pose two types of problem: humidity and cold. Walking from Luleå to Tromsø, we will have to cope with temperatures down to -30°C, but it’s not likely to rain. In this kind of conditions and travel, humidity is generated by our own sweat, so you need the right clothing to ensure you sweat as little as possible.
After Kiruna, heading to Finland, we will have about 24 days of complete autonomy before arriving in Kilpisjärvi. It's really difficult to know in advance what the temperatures will be there. We could very well be on spring snow, ice, or deep snow! Having some Icebug Torne 2 BUGrip GTX will allow us to move with dry feet whatever conditions we get. When we arrive on the Norwegian coast, we will have some opposite conditions; the temperature will be positive and we will have humidity. But as we will travel in our kayaks then, we will use other equipment, that we will carry in our luggage.
How cold nights are you preparing for?
The Swedish lowest temperature recorded is -43.6°C. Leaving Luleå on the 12th of February, it's not impossible that we will encounter temperatures lower than -35°C, but we will probably be closer to -25 to -30 on the coldest periods. But since we are travelling in autonomy and will be bivouacking every night, we need to be prepared for temperatures as low as -40°C. What's certain is that if we were to experience such temperatures, we'd be in survival mode and moving would be out of the question.
What gear is needed?
What gear do you need to cope during winter nights outdoors? Since you will carry everything with you, you will also need to travel light?
To be able to sleep at such temperatures, you need to minimize the loss of body heat. To do this, you need a quality tent that protects you from the cold but is also sufficiently ventilated so that the humidity you give off when you sleep is evacuated. During the night, we need to protect ourselves from two cold sources: the ground and the air. For the floor, we use an 8 cm thick air-filled mattress. To protect ourselves from the air, we have a sleeping bag for great cold, and an over-sleeping bag like the one used by the Norwegian army.
Travelling light will naturally not be possible in these conditions. When we travel, we usually carry all the equipment we need for the entire journey. Since we left Switzerland in a kayak, we'll be crossing Lapland with our two Plasmor kayaks, which weigh 25 and 37 kg respectively. In total, with gas and food, we'll be carrying around 250kg. To be able to transport our kayaks, which can't be dragged over the snow because it's so fragile, we're going to travel with 4 pulkas, which we'll connect 2 by 2, a bit like a semi-trailer truck.
Winter camper – how to?
As a first-time winter camper – what should I focus on to make it a pleasant experience? It's difficult to answer this question, because it requires a great deal of knowledge, and it would be impossible to list them all. But broadly speaking, it's important to carry out a test close to home on a very cold night before carrying out a full-scale experiment. That way, if something has been badly thought out, you can retreat to the warmth.
When you're bivouacking in Scandinavia, it's easy to find a place to pitch your tent. However, you need to be careful not to stand too close to areas frequented by snowmobiles or to stand under trees if they are full of snow. If it's windy, you need to find a place that's protected if possible, and if not possible, you need to build a small snow wall. This wall will have 2 functions: to reduce the feeling of cold and to prevent the tent making too much noise during the night.
In terms of equipment, you need to be equipped for the cold and remember that bivouacking in winter is not exactly the same as bivouacking in summer. For example, you need to adapt your tent pegs to the season, to bear in mind that some gases cannot be used in sub-zero temperatures, and that water turns to ice. Carrying a small aluminum shovel is also essential for preparing your bivouac area.
When it comes to food, you should be aware that on expeditions of this kind, you consume far more calories than you would at home. Not having enough calories also means being more vulnerable to the cold. Moreover, any food that contains water will be inedible as it will become hard as stone.
Bringing food that has been dehydrated at home is a good way of countering this problem and avoiding spending money unnecessarily on freeze-dried preparations. And if the expedition lasts several weeks, you should be aware that the water obtained from melting snow/ice contains no minerals, so you'll need to adapt your diet accordingly for your body to continue to function properly.
Icebug Torne 2
Last but not least: you walk in Icebug boots – how’s the experience of them so far? When we arrived in Luleå in September, being Swiss, we didn't know the Icebug brand. When we asked the people hosting us about shoe advice, they told us as if it was obvious: “You need Icebugs!” We did some training with the old Icebugs they lent us and were delighted. After that, we offered you a partnership, and since then we've been doing all our training runs with some Torne 2 BUGrip GTX. To date, we've done 900 km of training, with temperatures down to -36°C, and we've never had cold feet. We choose half a size bigger than our usual shoe size, so that our toes would be surrounded by a bit of warm air. During warmer periods, we had to go through over-flow and were pleased to find that our shoes were waterproof. The Grip system saves us a lot of energy that we used to lose, by giving us stability in slippery areas.