Science: The Cozy Eskimo

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How does an Eskimo keep himself warm? Arctic Expert Vilhjalmur Stefansson, in Natural History, explains: he fits his jacket tight around his neck and wears nothing but pants underneath. Dressed in clothing that follows this plan, an Eskimo is comfortable at 40° below. A Minnesotan, who wears three times as much clothing, says Stefansson, is rarely happy outdoors at this temperature.

The reason for the Eskimo's comfort in below-zero weather is that his clothes are not built on the European principle of insulating the body with many layers of cloth fitting close to the skin. Eskimo clothes are designed to capture and hold warm air. The loose fur trousers fit snugly over the boots. No cold air can rise up the legs to replace air that has been warmed by the body. Over the trousers the Eskimo wears a windtight fur parka with the skin side outside and no opening in front. It has a hood and it fits closely around his neck. Nearly all the air that has been warmed by his body stays where it was warmed.

When the Eskimo feels too warm, as he frequently does even in very cold weather, he loosens his parka at the chin and lets some of his bubble of warmth escape. If he has to sit out a blizzard in the open, he pulls his arms out of the sleeves and folds them across his naked chest as additional heat-generators.' He wears no underclothes, of course. They are not necessary, says Stefansson. and about all they do is add weight and collect moisture.

For the white man's clothing Stefansson has little admiration. It is too thick, he says, and it lets warm air escape both through its permeable material and through the neck and other apertures. It often gets saturated with moisture that stiffens into ice. The Eskimo's body moisture is mostly carried away by the small amount of air seeping up around his face. Stefansson does not know how the Eskimos discovered the principle of warm-air capture, but he is sure they could not live in the Arctic without it. Their houses, whether of snow or earth, are built on the same principle. Their winter entrances slant upward, emerging through the floor. Air warmed by human bodies cannot escape, so it collects cozily under the thick, domed roof. Even when Arctic blizzards are blowing overhead, the body-heated igloo often keeps so warm that the Eskimos snug inside need wear no clothes at all.