Secrets of Polar Gear, Part IX: Electronics

Although I’ve done many expeditions to both the North and South Poles, both as an independent traveler and a guide, every fresh trip brings up new gear ideas. There are also old, tried-and-true standards that I have used for years. As I begin the South Pole season, let’s take a look at my gear. Today: electronics.

One note: Proper gear is just one aspect of polar travel. Developing skills, planning and logistics, understanding the polar environment, and knowing how to minimize risk are all equally important. If you would like to fast-track your development as a polar traveler, consider hiring an IPGA guide.


There are two types of batteries recommended for cold-climate use: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) and Lithium Polymer (Li-Po). Both are high density, which means lots of power in a relatively small package.

Li-Ion batteries use a liquid electrolyte and they can be prone to leaking and combustion. On the other hand, they have little memory loss and are cheaper (and more readily available) than Li-Po.

Li-Po batteries use a gel electrolyte so are much less likely to leak and can be manufactured in a multitude of profiles. But they’re more expensive and have a shorter lifespan.

Depending on the length of your trip and how power-hungry you are, you’ll recharge your power banks using solar or wind (I’ll chat about these later) or take multiple power banks. In 2011, I guided a team from the North Pole to Canada, and we uploaded a minute of footage almost daily for 40 days through a MacBook and Iridium modem. From memory, we carried 10 HyperJuice batteries (18v ) because it was still too early in the season for effective solar charging.

Check power bank specs before buying, as some deliver less than 80% of their stated power.

Anker 10,000mAh wireless powerbank, Silicon Power 20,000mAh powerbank, InCharge charging cables, lithium AA batteries. Photo: Eric Philips


Things to consider:

  • 20,000mAh is a good compromise of weight and capacity
  • USB-C offers faster charging
  • Dual output ports charge two things at once
  • Pass-through charging (charge the power bank while it charges your device)
  • A backup wireless power bank, if your phone supports it
  • Only use quality braided cables; multi-heads might be convenient
  • Protect batteries from moisture. I once destroyed a power bank knocking over a kettle in the tent.
  • Only use lithium AA and AAA

Keeping batteries warm

Although electronics tolerate cold better than heat and lithium is (currently) best for polar use, any battery will perform better once warmed up.

For years, I used a Lumix DMC-FT6 camera because somehow, the battery worked at -40°C. No idea how. The optics were average but the magic battery allowed me to take photos even on very cold days. Now I prefer better optics, and I have a system for taking photos that works for me. I keep the battery of my Sony RX-100 in a pocket on my shell pants and slide it into the camera when I want a photo. This seems to be enough to operate in all temperatures.

Taking photos with a phone is common, but the risk to fingers in severe cold is obvious. Phone batteries (Li-Ion) are improving all the time, but you will need to keep it warm if you want to use it during the day.

A collection of charging devices. Photo: Eric Philips


There’s usually no need to keep your power bank warm while you travel though it will probably accept a solar charge more efficiently. Drone batteries are typically the most demanding. Keeping them next to a Nalgene filled with boiling water til you need them is a good option. Alternatively, stash them in an inner pocket, although that can be fiddly. Chemical hand warmers don’t seem to work too well for this purpose.

A power bank delivers charge in most temperatures but will just do it more consistently when warm. In Antarctica, you’ll probably have enough solar radiation in the tent to keep the battery warm enough. If you need power quicker, use the hot bottle trick or hang the battery in a bag from the ceiling, preferably not above the stove!

Frederique Olivier preps her drone while filming our Svalbard expedition, April 2022. Photo: Eric Philips


For optimal charge overnight, sleep with your power bank while it charges your devices unless it’s being solar charged. That’s where it’s useful to have two banks and alternate them each night. I place my phone under my pillow while it charges overnight, using vibrate as my alarm.


Since my first polar expedition, to Ellesmere Island in 1992, I’ve been back to the Arctic or Antarctica almost every year, including three new routes to the South Pole, a double-season traverse of the Arctic Ocean and two crossings of Greenland. In 2012 I co-founded the International Polar Guides Association and am its current president. With over 25 expeditions to the North and South Poles, most as a guide for my company Icetrek, I’m fascinated by high latitude adventures.