Boots ‘n Bindings

Getting boots for polar expeditions is not entirely simple – you have to consider the warmth of the boots of course, but you also have to consider the bindings that will let you attach to the skis.

On the Auyuittuq and Cross Canada journeys, Natalia and I used the Baffin Boots – Polar Series (Impact); rated down to -100C, with removable liners. They are harder to get a hold of in Europe as opposed to Canada or the US, but are excellent. They are pretty big boots (and you need to get at least one size larger than your normal size as you have to think about the number of socks you’ll wear), but… they’re not compatible with any standard ski bindings. Instead, you have to get specialised bindings that can be used with large boots, and we found that the famous Australian explorer Erik Phillips designed and sells “Flexi bindings” for this purpose. Erik skied from the Siberian coast to the North Pole using these. The bindings are very simple–after you have installed them on the skis at least: you just slot in your boots and then tighten the straps. And they are also very easy to remove when you want to take your skis off. Sometimes when we were skiing the straps did become a little lose, and when the straps got wet, this would make them harder to tighten, but on the whole, we were very happy with them. They are pretty much indestructible, though only problem is that they are expensive, and you have to import them from Australia.

As a note, you can now get Baffin polar boots that are compatible with three-pin bindings, but I can’t comment about what these are like, aside from their being twice the cost of the standard polar series. Probably worth investing in Alfas…

With the Greenland Expedition, I will be with a team led by Hvitserk of Norway, and for the sake of making repairs easy with a group of ten of us, they have requested that we use BC bindings, which are much cheaper than the Eric Phillips bindings. Okay… the only problem is that while obviously normal ski boots can be used with such bindings, normal ski boots aren’t designed for polar expeditions and are way too tight and cold. You need to get Alfa Polar Expedition boots, which are… darn expensive (eliminating any savings from the bindings!). The good thing about the Alfas is that they are very warm and again have the removable liners that are also vapour barriers that prevent the inner boot getting wet from sweat; they are also considered the best expedition boots out there. And after having skied with them a week in Norway… well yes, they are really very comfortable. It takes a little while to get used to the BC binding system as opposed to the Flexi bindings – you have to place the bar at the front the of the Alfa boot in the lock on the bindings, so have to make sure it’s in the right position and it can take a little practice. Also, snow can get in behind the binding lock making it hard to open or close properly without removing it, so it can be fiddly. But overall, it seems more comfortable and solid skiing and moving with the Alfas than the Baffins, so I am (at least, I think I am) happy with the change! Again, let’s see after Greenland!