Vladimir Chukov: President of Arctic, an expeditionary center of the Russian Geographical Society; member of the Association of Polar Explorers, an inter-district social organization; consultant to the Expert Council of the Russian Emergencies Ministry; Merited master of Sports of the USSR. Organized more than 30 expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Was he first person in the world to complete 4 independent ski trips to the North Pole.
Q. Vladimir Semenovich, you posses truly unique experience in polar expeditions. You have been exploring the Arctic and Antarctic for several decades. Starting on such a challenging travel, one not only must be fearless and sturdy, but also needs special reliable extra-strong equipment. So we want to hear your expert commentary on products manufactured by Russian enterprises in the outdoor segment. Do they really meet the high requirements of polar explorers?
A. Modern Russian clothing and equipment is a result of long-term hard work. Moreover, some ideas were suggested by members of polar expeditions. Domestic outdoor products passed serious field tests. In the 70s and 80s, when we planned our first independent trips to the Arctic and Antarctic, we had no special equipment. We used just common camping stuff— cotton wadded pants, windproof jacket made of thick fabric, and canvas tents. Everything we lacked we had to invent just on expeditions.
Q. What expedition equipment was then used by your foreign colleagues? What tools were used in complex trips at ultra-low temperatures?
A. Up to the 80s, we almost did not know what equipment was applied by explorers from other countries. However, being an officer of the Armed Forces, I had access to different foreign sources, including US military studies on operation of polar stations. These scientific papers concluded exciting findings and observations. I must say that expedition clothing and equipment have evolved greatly. New ideas appeared in fierce debates. You cannot imagine how severely some enthusiast protested against synthetics. In the Soviet Union of the 80s we believed in natural fabrics only. We thought ‘there was no place for capron in Arctic expeditions’. Frankly speaking, some solutions that are obvious for everyone in the modern world, were pushed through with great difficulty. We could not believe then that in the future there would be membrane fabrics and super-light waterproof materials.
Q. You told modern outdoor equipment is a collaborative effort of polar explorers, extremal athletes, and manufacturers. How did you cooperate? So, you returned from another expedition and shared your ideas with garment factories?
A. More or less. But there’s another feature. The point is that the manufacturing companies that do business polar expeditions these days weren’t large factories or plants in the past. Well-known BASK and Red Fox were founded by enthusiastic travelers. At first they crafted goods solely for their needs. But their jackets, overalls, and different extremal sports equipment were so popular that the small backyard production acquired industrial scale. Now these companies work up to world-class standards. It may well be said that products of BASK, Red Fox, and other Russian companies leave behind foreign analogues to a certain extent. In general, modern equipment is the higher excellence level.
Q. Please tell us a specific story of your cooperation with, e.g., BASK. I know that you’ve been friends with the founders of the company, the Bogdanov brothers, Vladimir and Sergei.
A. Indeed, I know them for a long time. Vladimir and Sergei are my longstanding friends and colleagues. In the 1997 I prepared for an independent ski travel over the North Pole to Canada and we worked together on the equipment. That expedition had unique challenges. We had to develop clothing virtually from scratch in fact, thinking over every detail. It was a complex set of characteristics. We needed ultra-Light equipment protecting from strong winds and not hindering the movements. All this was achieved by a number of difficult decisions and compromises. A team of professionals designed the clothing sets. We involved manufacturers of new fabrics insulations. And we coped one hundred percent with the task. That’s why BASK now posses a unique experience in the production of clothing for arctic conditions. It comes as no surprise that this company develops equipment for the military and the Emergencies Ministry, serving in the North Pole.