Battling at -50°C: Thermal protection with Keela

It’s the evening of the 16th of February 1943, and a group of six Norwegian commandos are gathered in a briefing room at RAF Tempsford in Bedfordshire. They are preparing to strike the German occupiers’ heavy water production facility in Vemork, Norway, vital to the Nazi’s plans to produce an atomic bomb. While their biggest challenge will be parachuting into enemy territory and sneaking past the guards to plant their explosives, there is a second enemy they will have to overcome on their 300 km journey out of occupied territory to the safety of Sweden: the bitter arctic cold. Clad in layers of thick wool, the commandos had to brace the wind and snow of the Hardangarvidda glacial plateau, camping in rough conditions and risking frostbite every night.

81 years after the daring wartime raid, the adventure-survival specialists at SOE Expeditions retraced the commandos’ perilous journey across Hardangarvidda with a crew of enthusiastic civilian customers, ready to experience the adrenaline rush of being on the run in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth. Luckily for the SOE team and their guests, thermal insulation has developed massively since 1943, and thanks to Keela Tactical’s Extreme Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS), the modern adventurers were far better protected from the elements than their commando forebearers.

Surviving the Ice

Originally designed to withstand the frigid -50°C temperatures on the Siachen Glacier in the Himalayas, the ECWCS helps special forces and extreme adventurers prepare to tackle dangerous conditions through its specialised design.

The ECWCS is comprised of 3 layers, a next-to-skin base layer to provide initial insulation and moisture wicking, an insulation layer with PrimaLoft® material for warmth, and an outer shell layer which is waterproof, windproof, and constructed with System Dual Protection® to reduce condensation inside the garments. The outer layer jacket is also equipped with a wired peak and adjusters to fit a helmet, easy-to-use draw cords, lined handwarmer pockets, a removable snowskirt, and material reinforcement in high-stress areas for maximum durability.

Keela has over 30 years of experience producing apparel for the defence industry, using their knowledge to continuously improve designs and create the garments that servicemen want. Some of the additional features for wearer comfort include; ventilation systems to facilitate airflow and reduce the build-up of heat during exercise, weight optimisation which reduces bulk and restriction to movement, and various adaptive and customisable options to modify the ECWCS garments for any operational role. The team at SOE Expeditions made full use of these added bonuses, adapting the ECWCS suits to their requirements for movement and insulation, keeping the warmth in at night and venting heat in the day.

Taking responsibility for your safety

When designing the ECWCS garments, balancing durability and protection with factors like breathability, mobility, and weight considerations were key factors in ensuring the garment was both insulating and practical. Advanced material selection and innovative design all contribute to creating garments which offer uncompromising protection while allowing for agility, ideal for both extreme hobbyists and military personnel who will be active outdoors all day.

The ECWCS’s performance has been rigorously tested and validated through a comprehensive suite of laboratory and field trials, meeting EN ISO 15831:2004 for Thermal Insulation of Clothing and other standards for breathability. Keela Tactical has left no stone unturned in ensuring that their products meet and exceed the demands of the harshest environments, even partnering with specialised labs to develop new methods of cold weather testing where previous testing was not rigorous enough. Their data shows that even at -50°C wearers will keep a stable body temperature and be able to carry out their necessary duties unimpeded by their equipment.

While the journey across Hardangarvidda is over for the SOE Expedition crew after a successful cross-country adventure, the ECWCS garments will not be discarded but rather reused or recycled through Keela’s Legacy program. Keela Tactical will take back old garments and repair them to be reused or resold to their original performance standards, only recycling garments back into fabric to be used in new products if the original garment is too damaged. The Legacy project is a testament to the company’s commitment to sustainability and the durability of their products, giving them a new life even when tough conditions have worn them down.

The clothes that Arctic heroes need

When explorers venture into the world’s most unforgiving frozen landscapes, they need gear that can match the intensity of the environment. Keela Tactical’s ECWCS is that gear – a meticulously designed cold-weather clothing solution forged from decades of real-world feedback and rigorous performance testing. By closely collaborating with military, tactical and emergency personnel who routinely operate in extreme conditions, Keela Tactical has distilled vital insights into its cold-weather gear.

The result is an expedition-grade system that doesn’t just defy the chill of a Norwegian winter, but enables wearers to operate and perform in the most inhospitable icy plateaus and glaciers. From following daring commandos across Hardangervidda to operating in the highest Himalayan battlefields, the ECWCS exemplifies Keela’s exceptional ability to outfit and protect the world’s boldest explorers wherever they go.


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