1910–1912 Fram expedition
South Pole tent
The tent used during the sledge journey to the South Pole in 1911 provides a unique insight into the expedition members’ abilities to modify and develop their equipment. After the expedition, Amundsen donated the tent to the Ski Museum now in Holmenkollen. It was on display for several years, but is today stored for preservation. In February 2021, the tent was digitized using photogrammetry.
Fram expedition originally took with it six three-person tents from the Navy’s stores in Horten. The first depot-laying trips in preparation for the South Pole journey in 1911 gave Amundsen and the crew valuable experience with the tents, which led to several modifications. During the trip to the depot at 82° S, they pitched their tents with the doors facing each other, which made it easier to distribute food and other things without leaving the tent. Amundsen himself described the further development:
“This circumstance led to a radical change in our tent system and gave us the idea for probably the best 5-man tent to have seen the light of day in the polar regions. As we lay that night lurking in our sleeping bags thinking of everything and nothing, the idea suddenly struck that if the tents were sewn together as they now stood – after the front walls had been cut away – we would have a tent that was much larger and more spacious for 5 than the two separate tents as they now were” 📜
On returning to Framheim, Oscar Wisting sewed the tents together to create two five-person tents, with both more space and less weight than before. In addition, he sewed in a lighter floor. The original tent floor weighed 5 kilos and was sewn from a thin tarpaulin, but Wisting’s new floor was made of a thin canvas fabric that weighed only half this. Additionally to the tents being further developed, the guy ropes were replaced, and the tent pole, originally made of ash, was replaced with a lighter bamboo pole made by Jørgen Stubberud.
The tents also changed colour. The original white made the tents nearly invisible in the otherwise white landscape, and also ensured that they absorbed little light and heat. Amundsen described the work with the dyeing in his diary of 16 June 1911:
“Our sledging tents are of thin, white cloth and this will not be good until spring when the sun gets high. It would then be far preferable to have a dark tent so that after the day’s work one could come in & rest one’s eyes. Another thing is that the dark colour absorbs the sun’s rays to a much greater extent and makes it warmer inside the tent. Well, we rarely get stuck. Now we have made a mixture of ink powder and black dubbin and with this product we will probably succeed in getting the tent just as dark as we want.”📜
After complete modification, the tents were reduced by more than 4 kilos and now weighed only 6 kilos. Even new tent pegs were made during the winter in Framheim. Hjalmar Johansen made 27 of them. According to Amundsen, they were made “just the opposite of what such pegs in general are: that is, they were flat instead of tall. We soon saw the advantage. Besides being many times lighter, they were also many times stronger.” 📜
Prior to the actual sledge journey to the South Pole, the tent also had an outer tent sewn from the red bunk curtains they had in Framheim. This meant that the tent both absorbed more sunlight and retained more heat. On October 24, 1911, four days after leaving for the South Pole, Amundsen wrote in his diary:
“We have it great in the tent. We came up with the good idea of sewing one outer tent from our two bunk curtains. This red-coloured outer tent proves to be excellent, as to a high degree it collects the sun’s heat and keeps the inner heat. This is a huge difference from the previous trip. Now we are always in dry bedding – warm & good. Another great advantage is that the tents are now always dark inside – and this may be needed when you have been staring at snow all day.”📜
Amundsen was also worried that the dogs could destroy the tent during the sledge journey, so Wisting made a cloth fence from gabardine that could be pulled around the tent and attached to ski poles. This, however, was never used, as the men realized that they could instead make a wall of snow to protect the tent.
Several times during the South Pole journey, Amundsen writes about how hot it is in the tent. On the return journey from the Pole, Amundsen wrote on 14 January 1912:
“It has been so hot in the tent lately that several of us have to get out of the bags. Then we lie there in thin underwear on a skin on top of a large ice block – for the barrier is nothing but.”📜
After the expedition, Amundsen donated much of his expedition equipment to the Ski Museum now in Holmenkollen.