This is what mountain infantry wear at the Arctic Circle

This is what mountain infantry wear at the Arctic Circle

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The mountain infantry specialise in fighting in extreme climate and weather conditions. Whether in the desert or in icy terrain – their attributes are physical fitness and a willingness to go beyond their own limits in combat. In the snows of Norway, we took a look at the items of clothing and equipment that the women and men wear in winter combat.

Two infantrymen in white camouflage crouch in the snow.

To accomplish their mission in the bitter cold, soldiers of the mountain infantry wear special clothing.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

To protect themselves against extreme cold, humans have always relied on layering when choosing their clothing. Multiple layers of fabric on top of one another enable air circulation and retain heat better than a single thick shell. The clothing system used by the soldiers, who spend a lot of time moving outside in the snow, is based on exactly this principle. The materials of some clothing items have evolved over time. To this day, however, others are still made from natural raw materials that have proven their worth for hundreds of years. When the soldiers of 23 Mountain Infantry Brigade are out in the snow, they wear a combination of Gore-Tex, down and merino wool.

Wool as a thermal base layer

A soldier stands in the snow wearing a green, skin-tight, long-sleeve wool undershirt.

Soldiers keep warm by wearing merino wool underwear directly on their skin.

Bundeswehr/ Maximilian Schulz

The soldiers wear a base layer of merino wool long underwear directly on their skin. Merino wool is not only sustainable. It is also soft and enables air circulation. The material wicks moisture created during exercise toward the exterior of the fabric and at the same time provides a pleasant layer of warmth. The calf-high socks also contain a high percentage of merino wool. Depending on the weather, the soldiers wear additional layers over their thermals, such as soft-shell jackets. In extremely cold temperatures, the soldiers don a down jacket, which provides particularly good insulation when worn under their snow camouflage shell layer.

The outer layer makes it harder for moisture and wind to penetrate from the outside. The snow camouflage outer consists of several special membrane layers that wick moisture away from the body to the outside. The seams are taped with an additional membrane layer. Additionally, to avoid standing out in terrain, a snow camouflage pattern is printed onto the shell.

A bed in the snow

Military equipment must be adapted to the climate, not only for when soldiers move in battle, but also for when they rest. When spending the night out of doors in the extreme cold, the soldiers use down sleeping bags that by themselves have a comfort rating of around 40 degrees Celsius below zero. To protect themselves from snow and wind, the mountain infantry soldiers use what is known as an observer tent. It is designed as a one-person tent and is made of water-repellent and breathable materials. 

Head protection

A mountain infantryman in white battle dress stands next to a Hägglunds oversnow vehicle

The knitted balaclava can also be rolled up for use as a watch cap.

Bundeswehr/Maximilian Schulz

In winter, most of the body heat is lost through the head. To prevent heat loss or frostbite on the ears, the soldiers need to protect their heads. Depending on the operation, various items of clothing are worn, such as a white knit balaclava or an olive fleece hat. In combination, these provide effective thermal protection.

by Peter Müller