Category Archives: Arctic

British Army Ski March Boots

Skiing in the context of the British Army is rather different from skiing for leisure or sport. The British Army use a method of skiing known as ‘Telemark’ skiing. The encyclopaedia definition of Telemark Skiing is:

Telemark skiing is a skiing technique that combines elements of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Telemark skiing is named after the Telemark region of Norway, where the discipline originated. Sondre Norheim is often credited for first demonstrating the turn in ski races, which included cross country, slalom and jumping, in Norway around 1868. Sondre Norheim also experimented with ski and binding design, introducing side cuts to skis and heel bindings (like a cable).

Telemark skiing was reborn in 1971 in the United States. Doug Buzzell, Craig Hall, Greg Dalbey, Jack Marcial and Rick Borcovec are credited with reintroducing the style after reading the book Come Ski With Me by Stein Eriksen. Telemark skiing gained popularity during the 1970s and 1980s. The appeal of Telemark skiing lies in access: long pieces of synthetic fabric, known as skins, can be attached to the bottom of the skis to allow travel uphill.

Telemark skiing uses a specialized type of equipment. Generally, Telemark skiers use flexible Alpine skis with specially designed bindings that fix only the toe of the ski boot to the ski, thereby creating the “free heel”. Oftentimes the heel is attached to the front of the binding by a hinged cable, which holds the ski boot firmly in the binding. These bindings are often non-releasable.CaptureIn a military context this method of skiing is hugely beneficial as troops are often carrying heavy loads and weapons and need to ski in mountainous areas. By having the heel easily removed from the ski it is possible to walk in the skis which makes it much easier to navigate Arctic terrain. In order to work with Telemark skis, a special type of boot is needed and it is a pair of these ski march boots we are looking at tonight:imageThe most distinctive features of these boots are the square toes that slot into the front bindings of the ski:imageAnd a large groove around the heel that allows the spring rear clip on the ski to be easily attached or detached:imageThe base of the soles of these boots are made of rubber with decent grips for use on the ice. Note the brand name for these boots, ‘Skeesol’:imageAt the heel a leather loop is fitted to help when pulling on the boots:imageThis design of boots was used for many years, but this example is dated 1986 and the details are stamped inside the boot along with an NSN number:imageThis design of boot has now been replaced with more modern patterns from companies such as ALCO, but still remains popular amongst some cross country skiers due to how robust it is. This is another great addition to my little Arctic Warfare collection and I just need to get the skis to go with it…

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Cold Weather MTP Cap

I always like a bargain and so whenever I see a hint of camouflage in a pile of jumble I get a little excited. A few weeks back I spotted the distinctive colours of a piece of MTP poking out of a huge pile of clothes on my second hand market. Pulling said MTP out revealed it was a very nice MTP Moisture Vapour Permeable Cold Weather cap and the price was a very welcome 50p! The cap is designed for use in cold weather and so features a large pair of ear flaps that come down either side of the face to secure under the chin:imageThese can also be lifted up and fastened to the top of the hat, much like a deerstalker:imageVelcro is fitted to the two flaps to allow either position to be adopted:imageThe cap has a peak on the front of it, with a piece of wire fitted all along the brim:imageThis wire allows the peak to be adjusted to suit the wearer’s preference and it will stay in that position. This is especially useful in the winter where winds are strong and the soldier’s hands are probably full with equipment and can’t be used to adjust the peak constantly.

At the back of the hat is a Velcro tab and simple plastic buckle that allows a degree of size adjustment:imageA piece of elastic is also included inside that helps keep the hat secure to the wearer’s head:imageAn elasticated chin strap is fitted as well. Even just trying this on the strap was annoying so I would not be surprised if this elastic was frequently taken out in service:imageA standard label is sewn into the hat, here showing that this example is a ‘large’:imageNote also the colour of the fleece lining to the cap, here is a pale coyote brown. Earlier examples came with a black lining and at some point they swapped the colours over. Presumably this was because if worn with the flaps up, the black would show up like a sore thumb in the snow. These caps are very well made and like much modern British Army Goretex equipment they are very popular with hikers as a cheaper way of getting top quality wind and waterproof clothing. At the price this was a very nice addition to my collection.Royal Marine Reserves in Norway During Winter Training

DPM Arctic Parka

Over the last couple of years we have covered a number of the padded liners issued to troops for service in extreme cold weather, including the parka liner here. This liner was designed to be fitted into the arctic parka used by British troops in extreme cold weather. Happily I have been able to add an example of one of these parkas to my collection and we are able to take a closer look at this garment tonight. The parka is a distinct garment, different from the more usual smocks. It is longer and baggier than the traditional windproof or parachutist’s smock and has a permanently attached hood:imageThe hood itself is padded with a quilted liner and has wire around the front to allow it to be shaped to suit the wearer’s preferences:imageLarge baggy patch pockets are sewn to the front of the parka, secured with green plastic buttons:imageA heavy duty zip with a Velcro fly is fitted to the front of the parka:imageAnd two buttons are sewn to the lower front skirt of the garment:imageThese are to allow a tail flap to be passed between the legs, much like the parachutist’s smock and fastened to the front. However where the parachutists smock used press studs, this example uses large buttons. When the flap is not needed it buttons into the inside rear of the parka:imageThe same buttons go through two button holes to also act as the fastening for the large soft kit pocket that runs all across the back of the parka:imageThe parka is designed to be worn with a liner, so large patches of Velcro are sewn into the inside of the garment:imageThese are the loop half and the corresponding hook part of the Velcro is on the outside of the liner to allow the two pieces to be attached together.

The sleeves of the parka are also distinctive with large double thickness elbow sections to add extra protection and comfort when shooting:imageThe cuffs are unusual in having a tab with Velcro to secure them:imageThis design allows the wearer to tighten the cuffs, even when wearing heavy arctic mittens.

It should be noted that there also exists an arctic windproof smock that was issued at the same time as this parka. It has been suggested that the smock was for infantrymen, whilst the parka was for more static troops such as those maintaining vehicles or in non-combat roles that required them to stand still in the cold for longer. I have been unable to confirm if this is indeed the case, but it seems a plausible theory. These parkas are extremely well made and I was lucky enough to find this one in a vintage clothes shop for a very reasonable price. Strangely this is only the second parka in my collection, the other being an earlier olive green example I picked up several years ago.

Arctic Mitten Inners

Last year we looked at an example of the inner mittens of the British Army arctic gloves set here. This was an earlier design of mitten and featured a thick pile liner that whilst very warm, was both bulky and soaked up water very easily. In August 1995 that design was dropped and today an updated inner glove is used in Arctic situations and it is an example of this we are looking at tonight:imageThis glove benefits from more modern fabrics and is much lighter and flexible than the older design, whilst still retaining some of the same thermal properties. What has changed is the method of wearing the mittens. The older design consisted of just a heavily padded inner and a waterproof outer layer. The new system had three layers: a wool inner liner, these polyester inner gloves and then the water resistant Goretex outer layer. The three layers allow the level of warmth to be altered depending on how cold it is, with layers being added or removed as temperatures dictate. The palm of the inner mitten is covered with an artificial black leather to aid grip:imageThe cuff of the mitten is secured with an elasticated pull cord and friction toggle:imageThe DPM fabric used on these gloves is a rip-stop type polyester and is windproof. The inside of the mitten is lined with a black fabric that seems to be the self-wicking type of fabric that draws moisture away from the hand:imageThis would be helpful in a cold environment as if a hand was wet from sweat, when the mitten was removed this moisture would far more rapidly cool the wearer’s hand than if it were dry.

The inside of the mitten has a sewn in label giving details of the mitten’s designation and year of manufacture:imageFrom this we can see that this pair of mittens date back to 2009. Three different sizes were produced, small, medium and large. This illustration comes from the army’s ‘Black Bag’ kit book:CaptureThe stores catalogue indicates that these mittens cost the MOD about £18 each:Capture1These mittens are prized by civilians working or hiking in the snow due to the quality of the mittens and how cheap they are on the surplus market. I find it interesting how many variations there are for Arctic mittens, every time I think I have found all the versions, I come across another variation or design.

Snow Shoes, Assault

Walking and working in deep snow brings many challenges. A major one is that it is easy to sink into the snow if it is not compacted and this them makes walking extremely tiring as you have to trudge your way through. It is far better to be able to walk across the top without sinking in and lightweight snow shoes have been used for centuries inn areas of heavy snowfall to make it easier to move about. The idea is to strap something large, but light, onto your feet that then distributes your weight resulting in a lower ground pressure and stops you from sinking in. For several decades the British Army have been using this design of snowshoe for Arctic warfare:imageThe shoes are made of a lightweight tubular plastic frame, with criss-crossing heavy duty vinyl plastic straps, here in orange:imageThese are riveted to each other to make a web that helps hold the wearer up:imageOn the base of each snow shoe are a pair of angled aluminium strips with teeth to help grip the snow:imageA heavy duty orange strap with a metal buckle is fitted to pass over the toe of the user’s boot:imageOther straps are made of white nylon and surround the boot to help hold the snow shoe on securely (the last thing you want is for it to slip off in the middle of the snow!):imageThese straps have metal buckles that allow them to be easily tightened:imageNote the long gripping tabs to make it easier to adjust the boot straps when wearing heavy gloves. These snow shoes have been used for decades, and are still listed in the British Army stores catalogues:CaptureAs can be seen, the ones in the catalogue are made entirely in white, but both orange and white versions seem to be in use alongside each other, as seen in this image of them being worn by the Royal Marines:imageNote that they are being used with ski-poles to help aid balance- snow shoes are very effective but they do make you a little clumsy!

Arctic Mittens Mk III

With the temperature dropping in the UK, now seems a good time to take a look at another piece of British Army extreme cold weather gear. The extremities of the body are the most vulnerable to extremely cold temperatures and it is essential the fingers are suitably protected. Mittens are one of the best ways of keeping warm as each finger helps to heat the others next to it, gloves insulate one finger from the other and it is much harder to keep them all warm this way. Unfortunate mittens are very clumsy and manual dexterity is virtually non-existent with them; not very helpful to the soldier who needs to fire a weapon. To solve this dilemma the British Army issued the Arctic Mitten MK III:imageThis is made in DPM fabric and has a heavy duty padded hand and thumb section:imageThey are fitted with an artificial fur liner:imageElastic at the wrist helps keep the heat in:imageSmall ‘bumps’ to aid grip are fitted to the palms to help the wearer hold the pistol grip of his rifle:imageWhere these mitten are special though is that they have a separate opening for the trigger finger:imageThis part of the mitten is not padded with fur at all and leaves the finger free to pull the trigger of a rifle easily. Most of the time all the fingers can be kept inside the mitten for warmth, but when the need arises it is the work of seconds to move the index finger into this special finger section to fire the weapon.

As ever a label is sewn inside the mittens with stores details:imageThis label is quite far into the body of the mitten, so it was not easy to get a photograph for you! This mark of glove has now been superseded by a more advanced design, but they are certainly warm and I can imagine they would be very much appreciated in extremely low temperatures. The gloves themselves are not actually waterproof, cold water would rapidly remove their effectiveness so they would be worn with the waterproof outer we looked at here.

Short Cold Weather Mittens

A long time ago on the blog I looked at a pair of cold weather mittens here. That pair were quite long, with the body of the glove coming half way up the forearm. Tonight we have a second pair of snow gloves, but these are much shorter, just covering the hand itself:imageThese gloves are made form a closely woven but lightweight cotton, as such they would afford no warmth to the wearer. They would have been worn over a pair of woollen gloves or mittens, the woollen layer offering warmth and the cotton outer glove providing camouflage and some degree of waterproofing. The layer of air trapped between the inner and outer glove would also add to the insulation and help keep the wearer’s hands warm.

The wrists of the gloves are secured with a piece of elastic:imageEach glove is /|\ marked and dated 1942:imageThey are marked as having been manufactured by J B & Co Ltd- unfortunately I have been unable to link this with a specific manufacturer.

I am not sure how widespread the use of these mittens actually was- photographs of troops wearing cold weather kit are unusual in the first place and all those I have seen just show men wearing just the woollen gloves and mittens, without the white outer mitten. Certainly this pair are in mint condition and don’t seem to have ever been issued.