Deploy in 101 days ·

If I’d known how much packing I’d have to do, I’d have run again. Harry S. Truman

As my friends can attest to, packing is not my forte. At present, I have assorted items strewn across my room in various stages of disarray. Fortunately this is only a temporary state of affairs, as if I don’t have it sorted by 15th August, I run the risk of – literally – missing the boat.1

For overwinterers the luggage allowance consists of a large plastic trunk (the Personnel Box, or P-box), a 100L holdall, and around 20kg of checked-in baggage for flying down. The P-box and holdall are transported South on one of the two BAS icebreakers, in my case the James Clarke Ross, and whilst they need to be packed and handed in at BAS HQ in Cambridge by mid-August, I won’t see them again until two months after I arrive in Antarctica.

  • The P-Box flickr
    Each person going South with BAS gets issued with a "Personnel Box" or "P-Box". As I'll be flying to Rothera, my P-Box travels down on the icebreaker, the James Clarke Ross.
  • Big red bag flickr
    In addition to the P-Box, we also get a 100L holdall to pack clothing and other belongings into. This also makes its way South on the icebreaker.
  • Storage... flickr
    Advice from others on station is to over-estimate the amount of hard drives one takes south, as resupply is difficult. Plus I'm probably going to be taking a few photos and making some backups.
  • Wash gear flickr
    I was having great fun estimating 18-months worth of different toiletries and things like contact lenses. Fortunately BAS provides most of the basics. Here I've got 18-months worth of razor blades, shaving soap, deodorant and Vitamin D.

BAS provides all of our outdoors kit, from thermal base layers through to distinctive bright orange jackets, and seemingly countless pairs of gloves.2 During one afternoon in early June, I had my kitting session at the BAS warehouse in Cambridge, which involved wheeling a small shopping trolley round tall shelves stacked to the ceiling with polar gear, and picking various items from a shopping list – deftly proving that men never grow up, their toys just get more expensive.3

All of this gear is transported by BAS in a separate bag from our personal baggage, and, thanks to the unostentatious professionalism of the folks in Operations & Logistics, it magically appears in Punta to accompany us on the final leg of the flight to Rothera.

Fortunately, there’s relatively little for me to pack in terms of medical gear: the annual resupply is handled separately, but I’ll naturally be taking my own stethoscope and also a couple of small textbooks (such as the Oxford Handbook of Wilderness Medicine). As part of a small study I’m hoping to conduct with some surgical colleagues, I’m taking a compact laparoscopic trainer to explore the effectiveness of distance-based learning for surgical techniques.

No Antarctic kit list would be complete without some fun stuff to help get through the winter. I’m hoping to take a ukulele and learn how to play whilst away – hopefully without inducing the ire of too many of my colleagues. A Kindle is almost a prerequisite these days, as is a suitably decent camera (the common advice appears to be double whatever you can afford), along with enough external hard disks to store 18 months worth of photos and video.

My evenings’ entertainment for the coming week is the marginally Herculean task of packing the assembled gear into my P-box and holdall – I’m hope I avoid packing the kitchen sink.

  1. Pun intended. 

  2. It’s these sort of simple interventions that mean freezing cold injuries (frostbite and frostnip) are virtually unheard of when down South. 

  3. This was probably the most surreal experience to date: I couldn’t stop thinking of Bond being kitted out by Q before his next foreign escapade. Somewhat disappointingly there was a distinct lack of exploding gadgets.