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When fighting outside in 50 degrees below zero, the enemy is moisture

May 17, 2017 (Photo Credit: David B. Larter/Staff)
TAMPA, Fla. — When sweat hits arctic temperature, it freezes. Where that happens in your clothes makes the difference in cold weather warfare.

Russia is aggressively expanding their military presence at the top of the world, and the U.S. military is taking notice. But while U.S. troops have been spending more time in the Arctic, their gear has sometimes not lived up to the harsh conditions.

In March about 200 Marines took part in an exercise in Norway, but their gear had shortcomings. Troops operating in the cold found their gear less than a match for temperatures sinking well below freezing. One cold-weather gear expert said that’s because just adding layers doesn’t solve the problems faced when troops need to fight in temperatures that drop as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

“They looked like the Michelin Man, with all these big clothes,” Jonas Rydholm said of the Marines. “They think they’ll be warm but they are freezing like hell.

A sales executive with the Swedish outdoor gear company Torraka, Rydholm said heat and moisture coming off the body will freeze somewhere inside the layers of clothing in harsh cold, and you want that moisture freezing as far from the body as possible.

“Its actually all about moisture,” Rydholm said. “That’s the trick and they don’t understand this.”

Torraka’s gear is lightweight and designed to send moisture to the outer layer, through a waterproof Gortex membrane and into a layer between the outer shell where it will freeze. The fabrics in the base and mid-layers are all surprisingly light, and all are quick-drying to minimize the risk of freezing. The layers are also easy to put on and remove.

The system that they are selling to Scandinavian countries, including Norway, is designed to be used anywhere from moderately cold conditions with wet snow falling, all the way down to about -50 degrees, Rydholm said.
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