Winter essentials for FIFO workers

By Virginia Heffernan

Wintry weather adds a whole new dimension to working FIFO. If you are about to head out for your first rotation at a FIFO operation, or if you’re returning to camp after a fall vacation, you’ll need to pack differently to account for sub-zero temperatures, snow and ice. Here are some suggestions compiled from members of the Mining and Metals Professionally LinkedIn group as well as expert opinion from Bret Wiseman, a CHPP Training Supervisor for Anglo American with years of experience in FIFO camps.


  • Socks, socks and more socks, preferably two cotton inner layers and one wool outer layer. Natural fibres are always preferable to synthetics because they keep feet dry. Merino wool is the best performer.
  • CSA approved winter boots graded to -40°C. Ceramic instead of steel toed (if allowed) in order to prevent metal from robbing body heat
  • Sandals or casual shoes for the kitchen and other areas; shower sandals
  • Yaktrax, traction devices that fit to the sole of your boot to prevent slipping on ice and snow (optional)
  • Boot dryer (optional)

Legs & Torso

The main message here is to make sure you can layer your clothing to adjust to changes in ambient or body temperature.

  • Long underwear – again natural fabrics are best, though a polypro layer should be worn as a base to wick sweat away
  • High-visibility outerwear or vest (surveyor style recommended)
  • Windproof or ski pants
  • Alaska-grade parka
  • Camp clothes – keep in mind that hoodies are forbidden in some work areas

Head & Hands

  • Balaclava or face mask; warm toque
  • Safety glasses with an anti-fog coating that can adjust to abrupt changes in temperature (indoor to outdoor and vice versa)
  • Mitts or winter gloves


  • Moisturizer and lip balm for dry skin
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen with SPF 20 or greater (reflected light from snow can be hard on skin & eyes)
  • Shampoo, soap, toothbrush and paste, deodorant, laundry soap, personal towel and face cloth (try to avoid scented toiletries and perfumes, they can be overpowering on flights)
  • Prescription medications, Tylenol/Ibuprofen, Cold Fx, Tums: enough for twice your rotation in case you get stranded
  • Phone card or credit card (some camps rely on pay phones), cell phone and charger
  • Some cash for tuck shop purchases or the occasional poker game
  • Books and magazines, laptop and DVDs (not all camps have TV), MP3 player
  • Alarm clock that is NOT a cell phone. Cell phones are strictly forbidden on some work sites and networks are unavailable in some camps.
  • A personal lock for your locker

Most of the items can be found at stores that specialize in outdoor gear such as Deakin Equipment in Vancouver or Weaver & Devore Trading in Yellowknife. But make sure you check with the camp first to see what will be provided in the way of winter wear. Strict baggage allowances on flights may mean that some items need to be shipped separately. Most of all, as Wiseman says, bring a good attitude and enjoy the cold!

Thanks to all the geoscientists, lab technicians, mappers, drillers, training supervisors, and construction managers who contributed to this column.

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