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7 December, 2000

Camping on the Ice

Many people were surprised to hear I would be sleeping in a tent in Antarctica. I was a bit worried about staying warm, especially after my first tent experience at snow survival school. That night I wore socks, long underwear, and a balaclava over my head and face. I was still cold inside my sleeping bag!

I should not have worried. Yesterday at breakfast, everyone was complaining about how HOT the tents were the night before. I spent most of the night sleeping on top of my sleeping bag with the door partially open. Even though the temperature falls below -10C (14F) every night, these small nylon tents stay amazingly warm inside. Yesterday, after breakfast I did some laundry. I hung my wet clothes in my tent and they were dry by lunchtime.

What keeps the tents so warm? The sun is the main factor. It is up all the time. It is highest in the sky in the late morning. The tents are warmest during that part of the day, especially when there are no clouds. Wind is another important factor. The warmest nights in the tent have been those few times when there has been no wind. A third factor is the small size of the tent that allows it to be warmed by body heat. The larger Scott tents are not as popular because their greater volume means they are colder inside.

Insulation from the snow is also important in keeping heat in the tent. I pitched my tent on top of a flattened triwall, a thick cardboard box. Under my sleeping bag are two ensolite foam pads and a Thermorest air mattress.

Some people say my tent looks like the United Nations because of all the flags around it. The bamboo poles act as tent stakes. They also keep the lines tight reducing the amount of flapping that occurs when it is windy. These tents can be loud when it is breezy.

The mountaineering tent is small, just big enough for a sleeping bag and all my cold weather gear.

I installed a Hobo temperature logger in my tent with the external sensor outside. This is the data for three days. Notice that the tent temperature peaks in the late morning. On the first morning, the outside temperature was -11C (12F) but it was a balmy 21C (70F) in the tent! It did get a bit chilly the next night, dropping to -11C (12F) inside.

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