Debra Ireland’s Arctic Challenge

Debra Ireland Arctic Challenge on the lake

I was recently asked to follow 20 ‘kick-ass’ women to the Arctic by Debra Ireland for what they called an ‘Arctic Challenge’.

Basically 20 women had signed up for the challenge where they were going to learn to cross-country ski, snowshoe and camp out under the stars in temperatures as low as -20 degrees. The plan meant they would stay in a woodcutters lodge, without power or running water for 5 nights, with one night being spent camping approx. 10 km away, (which they had to get to by climbing a mountain on snowshoes, or go over/around on cross country skis.)

This posed an obvious problem for filming as to what camera/cameras to use to give a sense of the trip and how that equipment might perform in the extreme cold. Having spoken with people who have previously filmed in the cold, the main concerns were battery life and possible freezing of the LCD monitor on the camera. I’ve used the Sony FS7 for a while so it was the first option, but it’s heavy and not the smallest, and with only a LCD monitor for viewing and not an eyepiece I went with the more mobile and robust PMW 200. With no access to power for the 6 days, I had to beg and borrow enough batteries for the whole trip, (I had 9 large and 3 small in the end) and worked backwards, rationing out the batteries to 2, 2 1/2 per day. No power meant no laptop either so no way to back-up footage on the go, so 11 SXS cards were packed too.

In addition to the PMW 200, I took 2 GoPros, (with extra batteries), and there’s always an iPhone in the pocket. (Using the app Filmic Pro to control frame rate, resolution etc.)

The final pieces of kit were power banks, 2 10,000 mAh, and one solar powered 12,000 mAh just in case. (I ended up not testing out the solar powered ability as I had enough in the other power banks to recharge the GoPros at night and the iPhone.)

First night was a bit of  a panic as the battery display on the monitor showed 60 mins remaining on its first test in the cold, (-16 degrees on night one), 10 seconds later, 50 mins, 30 seconds after that 20 mins, but thankfully it stabilised then and held the 20 mins for around that time, (with stop-start recoding). Overall I’d estimate the batteries performed at 60-70% of their usual performance which was much better than I expected and I ended up coming home with a few to spare. As it happens, the woodcutters lodge where we stayed had wood fired stoves and was kept at a normal temperature, usually over 15 degrees so the batteries were stored there the whole time and only a couple taken out each day as per the rationing.

Apart from that the camera held up well, and was comfortable and easy to pack in and out of a rucksack quickly in between the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

The GoPros also performed quite well, often suggesting the battery was about to die but continuing to work for an extra 25-30 mins, of turning off and on when necessary. And the iPhone had no real issues other than battery in the cold, but for the most part it was on in inside pocket and kept close to the body for heat.

Radio mics, powered by AA batteries, once inside several layers of clothes lasted pretty much as long as they would at home.

A steep learning curve in terms of how kit performs and my cross-country skiing skills weren’t too bad either with the main difficulty being trying to get ahead of the group, set up the camera and filming them on their excursions each day.

Currently working on the edit of the project.

DEBRA Ireland is the national charity initially established in 1988 by parents, to provide patient support services to those families living with EB in Ireland.

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