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Old 02-09-2011, 05:58 AM   #1  
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Default Alaska Gear

Thought I'd throw this out to the group. It's sure to stir up debate and opinions from fellow tundra pilots. I had received a PM for a "newbie gear list" from a young pilot starting his first Part 135 gig in Bethel (or similiar). I put a little effort into the reply, and thought I'd post it for others to comment on. I haven't been in Bethel for a few years, so maybe a few Beth-ites can comment?

Here goes:

Congrats on heading north! Very cool.

If you have a rotation, like most do of 20 on/10 off or 15/15, then you'll be able to suit up as best you can for a rotation and go ask/see what the locals use. Gear up on your first rotation home, and return ready to rock. Alaska is such a land of extremes, I could give you my gear list for the arctic, and it would be complete bunk for Tin City or Bethel.

If you're leaving for groundschool soon (sorry about the delay in my reply; things have been crazy), the minimum for Bethel this time of year might be (starting from inside/out, bottom to top):

Several pair of non-cotton long underwear. I like smartwool, but you have to be careful not to put it through the drier. There are other great brands, underarmour is good but don't mistake active running wear for longies. They aren't comfortable on long flights.

Socks; I like Smartwool again, as well as any of the wool blend brands that are available. Don't go cheap. Spend $15 a pair, generally. The more expensive ones tend to be thinner, and therefore you don't have to oversize your boots. When the weather warms up, the boots still work with the standard cotton sock.

Boots: Bunny boots. These are the white, rubber, sometimes even made by BF Goodrich for the military. The black ones are good, too, but aren't for the extreme cold. Having one each is useful, if you plan on doing this for a while. Should run you in the mid hundred dollar range. You can buy used for half that at an Army/Navy surplus store. For summer, you'll need Xtra tuffs. These big rubber brown boots will see you through the 'mud' season. We have three seasons in much of alaska: snow season, green season, and mud season. Mud season is on either side of snow season, so you get it twice a year!

Pants: At least one pair of insulated Carhartt work pants. Yeah, they're cotton, but they wear better than anything else I can find. I wouldn't wear them out for winter camping, but they work well for my job. A pair of double front carhartts (non insulated) for warmer days is nice, too.

Shirts: I like thin fleece pullovers under my jacket. Having a hood helps if you're in a windy area. Whatever shirt you like, make sure you have one of those on when you buy your jacket. Make sure it doesn't bind in the sleeves (sleeves in the jacket should be lined with something smoth and slippery or it'll take you 5 minutes to pull your shirt sleeves through it). I like hoodies too, if the weather is dry. Cotton kills unless there's no chance of it getting wet.

Coat: Go for the system coats, that have removable liners. Carhartt makes a good line, so does Columbia Titanium. Removing the liners make the coat usable in the warmer weather. Make sure whatever you buy has a tough shell, an integrated hood with neck collar, and doesn't make you look like the marshmallow man. Puffy coats catch on latches, static wicks, and are akward in tight cockpits.

You will likely be crawing on the ground, putting on engine blankets, you will be loading and unloading your aircraft with 70 pound boxes of soda in 30 mile an hour winds and windchills at by now only -10F. In dead of winter you can see -40 in Bethel.

You will be fueling your airplane, most likely, so a good pair of fuel tolerable gloves is imperative. I use the Chilly Grip Insulated Latex Palm-Coat Gloves. They work good for what I do, down to -15F or so. I carry 'real' cold weather mittens in my survival pack, in case I need them.

As you are there, you will begin to put together your own survival kit. I've never used mine, but I won't go anywhere without it. In Anchorage, you can hit up any number of gear shops to help. I picked a compressable, lightweight synthetic sleeping bag (30F)and shoved it into a compression duffel. Got it down to the size of nearly a football. Why only 30: most times you get stuck in the ville, where you'll be sleeping at the school. Otherwise I'm putting on the engine blanket as well.

I carry a PLB (Personal Locating Beacon). It's the 406 elt with built in GPS, giving your ID number, lat/long to the NOAA folks for help. "Spot" is a sport version, but uses the satphone satellites, not COSPAS/SARSAT sats to work. I won't use one of those. Put in a good hunting knife, fire starter, your choice of storage stable protein and carbs, a pair of mushing mittens, goggles. That's a good start. I'd put the whole thing in a small dry bag, like the kind used for kayaking. The whole thing shouldn't be bigger than an average backpack.

Don't do your shopping at Walmart or Kmart. Go to a top end sporting goods store or outfitter. Cheap stuff will lead you down the dark path. I like REI or Eastern Mountain Sports, Cabellas. Hunting stuff works, because they, like us, sit for periods of time without moving in extreme cold (while flying... many singles and some twins have crappy heaters).
Have fun! Hope this helps!

Here's a few links!
Norwest Safety - Industrial Safety Supplies & PPE
AAWU - Alaska Aviation Weather Unit
NWS Wind Chill Index
Alaska Mountaineering & Hiking is Anchorage's climbing, hiking, backpacking, paddling & skiing HQ!
Carhartt Double Front Sandstone Canvas Pants - Insulated (For Men) - Save 35%
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Old 02-09-2011, 06:03 AM   #2  
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I forgot a hat. Take your pick, but make sure it covers yer ears! I use a full balaclava when things get really whipping. Did I spell that right? Anyway, a 'tube' works great, too. that's a big neck warmer thing that can be pulled over the head as well. Anyone else use those?
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Old 02-13-2011, 12:44 AM   #3  
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I don't think Bethel even has a Walmart (we have one in Juneau, along with a massive Fred Meyer).

One thing I can't stress to people is do NOT skimp on the clothing. Alaska bush = mail order. And good luck getting 3 days off to non-rev to Anchorage to go shopping.. you'll get bumped. So fork out the $400 for a ticket on Alaska/PenAir and go confirmed.
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Old 02-13-2011, 03:44 AM   #4  
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Great job on the list Frozen. I have only been to Alaska once, but have done alot of winter mountaineering. Your advice is spot on. I did quite a bit of flying in the Rockies, in singles and twins, and always had a survival pack in the airplane. My motto is hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Fly safe.
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Old 02-13-2011, 10:41 AM   #5  
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I don't have any experience as an AK pilot but from an outdoorsmen's experience, all I can say it layer layer layer. Nice baselayer (Helly Hansen is my personal). Same with a nice jacket that is wind/water proof (gortex or Hyvent DT if your North Face) and comes with a liner. Nice gloves, hat, and boots.

Sounds like a kick @ss time...
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Old 02-13-2011, 11:16 AM   #6  
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I hear Jim Tweto makes some pretty hot stuff.
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Old 02-13-2011, 11:23 AM   #7  
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Carhartt's Arctic Extreme Bibs. Bibs do a way better job when the wind chill is -40 (like it is today). A good coat that's made out of something tough (like Carhartt), a hood is really nice to have. With the bibs you don't have to have a super long coat so sitting in the plane with it on is a lot easier.

I've used polypropylene long underwear for 20+ years and like em. Will keep you from freezing in your own perspiration.

A good face mask is required.
A REAL Alaska hat...mine is beaver fur and with a face mask I could ride my snowmachine out to the airport and be fine. Another plus is if you're flying a piston single you can put your hat on the dash and keep a little spot of windshield from frosting over so you can see to land.

Mechanix gloves or soft leather gloves for slinging freight and mail. Warmest ones you can get for winter ops. I also carry a pair of polypropylene glove liners that weigh nothing and are great inside your heavy stuff or alone on "warm" days.

I don't wear bunny boots because I have a size 14 foot. Bunny boots biggest advantage is if they get wet they will warm up again. I've always wore Sorel pack boots and they work fine, just don't get the felt liners soaked. Have an extra pair of liners back at the pilot house and rotate 'em so they stay dry.

Summer time if you don't have a mosquito head net in your flight bag your just plain stupid. You've never seen a mosquito until you get to western Alaska...

A 100% waterproof jacket and I like soft shell hiking pants for wetter weather as they shed water well and dry quickly, plus comfortable and easy to move around in.

Many years ago a friend told me an old Norwegian saying, "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."

Just my 2 cents
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Old 02-13-2011, 01:06 PM   #8  
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Originally Posted by N9373M View Post
I hear Jim Tweto makes some pretty hot stuff.
Jim is a heck of a nice guy! We flew 207's together back in the day at Ryan Air.

Just thought I would ad my 2 cents. I always carried a North Slope oil rig type parka with me when I worked for Cape Smythe. I didn't like the bunny boots ao I wore Sorel shoe packs. You have to have a spare liner though and change them daily. I agree with everyone else layer, layer, layer!
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Old 02-13-2011, 08:08 PM   #9  
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Great advice, all! Thanks, Bellyflyer. I enjoy canyoneering when I can, in the Sierra Nevadas, and that list is a little different, too...

Akaviator, right on... I have a mulokai, and the thing is nuclear. Spotted Seal with otter ruff, nothing gets through that. Only thing is that I left it in the airplane yesterday, and the ride to work was a little chilly! I was given the weather/gear line my first year up here. It rings more true the farther north I end up.

I forgot to mention sunglasses? Nothing like trying to land with the full brunt of the sun off the dash and the reflection from the snowpack below. I have a pair of near welding goggles I use for this, and a fog buster pair with barely a tint that seems to clarify in flat light.

Safe travels,
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Old 02-16-2011, 09:32 AM   #10  
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Army/Navy store often has very heavy wool pants for $10 that are so tight and thick they are almost windproof. I wore them under a snow or rain pants anyways, but they are super warm for the days when you don't feel like wearing the carhartts. I never wore bunny boots (to big and bulky for my taste) but then my feet were cold alot in the winter. A few pairs of gloves of of different thickness, and for the different jobs you will encounter. A good thermos with your hot drink of choice in it is nice as a warm up too. Bring a good attitude!
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