Now and then: What we can learn from polar exploration

The golden age of exploration revealed uncharted waters, hidden landscapes and some incredible gear innovations. Today, polar exploration still comes with an epic journey – but with new reasons to explore.


Bridget Kruger (30), Keith Parsons (27), Hollie Woodhouse (33), and Brando Yelavich (24) have just completed 560 kilometres to cross the Greenland Ice Cap.

For 28 days, each explorer strapped on their skis and dragged a sled with 60 kilos of personal supplies behind them. Together they battled hurricane conditions, illness and heavy snow to complete their journey.

Why, you might ask? It’s part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Inspiring Explorers’ Expedition 2018 — a program designed to encourage young people to connect with the spirit of exploration and discover the world. Their expedition was in honour of Norwegian explorer and humanitarian, Fridtjof Nansen.

Inspiring Explorers 2018: Bridget, Hollie, Brando and Keith.
Inspiring Explorers 2018: Bridget, Hollie, Brando and Keith.

But Wait ... Just Who the Heck is Fridtjof Nansen?

In 1882, Fridtjof Nansen sailed past the Greenland ice cap and found himself asking a lot of questions.

So in 1888, after four years of dreaming and planning, he became the poster boy for polar exploration. Nansen and his small team of five became the first people to cross the Greenland Ice Cap – an incredible feat in a time without man-made insulation, waterproof synthetics and high-tech equipment.

Undeterred by his lack of GORE-TEX, Nansen simply decided to create what they needed. His innovations include the Nansen Cooker and the Nansen Sledge which were later utilised by explorers including Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen in Antarctica. Sleeping bags and clothing were also designed specifically for the expedition.

Thanks to Nansen’s innovations, long distance polar exploration was possible for the first time.

New reasons to explore

Although this adventure sees him following in the footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen, Brando Yelavich (AKA Wildboy) blazed his own trail in 2015 when he became the first person to circumnavigate New Zealand on foot. Just 19-years-old at the time, the 6000km journey helped Brando turn his life around and solidified his connection between exploration and self-discovery.

“Exploration is just as important now as it was back then, but in a different way,” Brando said.

“…we’ve almost forgotten what exploring is. It doesn’t need to be the wilderness, it can be anywhere – your backyard or your bedroom wall. It all comes down to curiosity, if we’re not curious then we don’t learn. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t get answers.”

But for many young people like Brando, polar exploration is bigger than the journey itself.

“The polar regions are going to be the first places to show the impacts of climate change, so it’s important that we can share the experiences we have on this expedition with other young people,” Brando said.

“Our generation will be responsible for what happens next.”

Taking on a snowstorm in the Greenland Cap.
Taking on a snowstorm in the Greenland Cap.

The Gear of the Past

Innovations in gear have always been essential to polar exploration. And while gear 130 years ago might not have been quite as sophisticated as it is now, a lot of it worked on the same principle.

Warm clothing consisted of a canvas-like outer shell (AKA, your outer layer) which was supposedly waterproof, although Nansen’s expedition found this was not the case. It was however, very wind-resistant, so it was effective as a large hood.

To protect their eyes they wore an early version of goggles; eye protectors made of wood that had thin slots carved into them for eyeholes. On their hands, they wore large woollen gloves, and in particularly cold temperatures they supplemented these with a pair of dog skin gloves. They used snowshoes called ‘trugers’, which consisted of a plaited network of sinews stretched over a wooden frame that Nansen described as ‘resembling an ordinary tennis-bat’.

Taking no chances against the snow ...or the sun.
Taking no chances against the snow ...or the sun.

The Gear of Today

To help them complete their journey, each of the four explorers relied on the XT Series as they took on freezing temperatures and rugged terrain.

Their packs included:

Thanks to trailblazers like Nansen, it’s possible to engineer technical gear that endures the world’s harshest conditions. And thanks to inspiring explorers like Hollie, Brando, Bridget and Keith, we can help even more explorers go beyond what they thought was possible.

Get ready for your next epic adventure with the XT Series.

Photos: Ousland Polar Exploration

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