Are you heading to the land of intrepid explorers, icebergs, and penguins? If you are going to the bottom of the world, one would think you are simply packing the warmest stuff you can find – but there’s much more to an Antarctica packing list than warm clothes! I’ve been to Antarctica twice now and each time I was surprised to find out the weather wasn’t as cold as I expected it would be. In fact, most days it was warmer in Antarctica than it was in South Dakota in the winter! You do need to be prepared for the cold storms, but a mix of layers is the key.
Most cruises to Antarctica go as far as the Antarctic Peninsula (the northernmost part of mainland Antarctica), which experiences milder temperatures than coastal or inland Antarctica. However I’ve also been to Eastern Antarctica and that had a bit of a different environment, it’s much more exposed. The temperatures in and around Antarctica vary. The peninsula ranges between 20 to 40 degrees F, while Eastern Antarctica was more like 0 to 32 degrees F. But it’s not just about the cold, it’s also wet, windy, bright, and unpredictable. And when the wind blows, those average temperatures are meaningless! Here were my most essential pieces on my Antarctica packing list.
Antarctica Packing List
Cold Weather Gear
You will definitely need warm weather gear, but pack with layers in mind to take into account that half of the time you will be lounging around on the ship. The rest of your time is spent out on the zodiacs or hiking around on the continent. Of course you want to take a warm hat, ear coverings, a neck gaiter, and mittens. But there are often things that you might not consider when you think about your Antarctica packing list. Here’s what I recommend for a typical Antarctica cruise that you might not think about:
Waterproof boots or Wellies – Make sure you check to see what your boat supplies first. Some cruises, like mine, supplied us with Wellies which made packing much easier. The boots must be completely waterproof as often times when you are getting out of a zodiac raft and onto shore you will have to step in water that can be ankle deep.
Wool Socks – Layers of wool socks are best for drying quickly and keeping you warm. I suggest a liner sock and then bulky wool socks to keep warm in the boots. Our Wellies were not insulated and the wool socks were my main insulation – I used tall ski smartwool socks under my Wellies. Take multiple pairs in case they don’t have time to dry out between zodiac outings.
Waterproof pants and jacket – Waterproof pants are absolutely necessary for getting in and out of the zodiac in deeper water. In addition, if you are in a zodiac when it starts to rain or snow you’ll be happy you have them! A waterproof jacket comes in handy as wind protection and if like me you are doing other Subantarctic or other island stops that get more rain than snow.
Comfortable clothes & shoes for lounging around in the boat – You’ll spend a lot of time lounging around the boat so bring comfortable clothes and shoes. I packed yoga pants, long sleeve t-shirts, and fleece pullovers. Most of my suitcase was full of travel clothes from Exofficio as they are all quick drying and made for travel and comfort. Many people had UGG boots or slippers for lounging around the ship.
Smart Phone Gloves – If you plan on taking your smart phone with you for photos or videos on the zodiac or simply outdoor pics from the ship then be sure you have the right gloves with a fingertips made for touch screens. You don’t want to take off your gloves to take photos! However these are simply lightweight gloves, you’ll definitely want something more warm too for those windy days.
Swimsuit – yes, you read that right. Many of the expedition ships have a sauna or hot tub you might want to use. But the main reason to take a swimsuit is to take a polar plunge! Are you brave enough?
Most expedition ships come with highly qualified medical staff and supplies since you are traveling around remote destinations. However the most frequent medical issue is seasickness. Crossing through the Drake Passage or Southern Ocean is rough and both left me feeling pretty queasy to awful. Be sure to do your research before you go and take seasickness meds or patches – different things work for different people, so my advice is take more than one. Most ships also provide this too if you forget yours.
For most this may be the most important gear since you will be sharing your amazing experience when you return home. Make sure you have tested out all of your equipment before you go and know how to use it. And don’t forget extra batteries for all your gear, they will deplete quickly in the cold temperatures. I used a Sony Mirrorless camera and lenses and they worked great for my trip.
What photo equipment Should You Bring for Antarctica?
See my complete list of favorite Travel Photography Gear
Take some way to backup your photos while you go (laptop, ipad, or notebook), you don’t want to risk losing them! You will not have any ‘cloud’ storage/backup availability as the internet access is only available via satellite from the expedition ships and it’s VERY expensive to use.
Rain/Snow Gear for Your Camera
Just like you are waterproofing your clothes, you’ll want to protect your camera too. I use a simple DSLR raincoat from LensCoat which is great for this type of outdoor shooting when the weather quickly changes. Plus you can also get lens covers that will protect your lenses from all light weather. If you plan to do underwater shooting then bring a smartphone waterproof case, a GoPro or equivalent, or DSLR waterproof case.
You don’t have a telephoto lens for those penguin and whale close ups? Then consider renting a lens before you go! Places like BorrowLenses.com allow you to rent by the week.
Sunglasses and/or Ski Goggles
The combination of water, snow, and sun creates deadly glare so be sure to pack sunglasses and heavy-duty sunscreen! Or consider going the ultimate route, ski goggles which are really super for the windy day of which there are many on Eastern Antarctica. They provide more face protection too and that’s always a bonus!
Bird/Wildlife Watching Reference
The ships normally have this type of reference material, but if you want to take notes or have complete access to the guide all the time, then bring your own!
I didn’t have any and I wish I did. I normally just used my telephoto lens as my way to get a closer view, but a good pair of binoculars would have been a real help.
Grab a multi pack of these as they can be a great way to keep warm when you are on shore. I had them in my wellie boots and I had hand warmers in my coat pockets so I could easily warm my hands up between photographs where I often can’t use bulky gloves.
I used these for everything. To keep my smartphone protected while on the zodiac or in my backpack and I also brought a drybag that was big enough to hold my cameras and I could sling over me as a backpack. It was just great to not have to worry about important things getting wet.
These are cheap and a perfect way to keep your other gloves dry while on the zodiacs. Just grab a pair of these and put them on over your other liner gloves for water protection.
Clothes Line and Pins
Each ship is different – but it is nice to be string up a line in your cabin and let clothes dry from your landings or just handwash you do in the sink. On my month long Eastern Antarctica expedition I had to do hand wash all the time in my room so it was great to be able to dry them easily in my room. Don’t forget a little bag of laundry power too if you are planning to do sink washing!
Eye Cover for Sleeping
Remember you’ll be in the land of midnight sun and that means it’s hard to sleep since the sun never really sets. Bring along a good eye cover for sleeping
Travel Coffee/Tea Mug
It’s just nice to have one of these along so you can have hot beverages in your room when you want them. Or take it out on deck and enjoy the view with a cup of joe.
For shore excursions it’s great to have a water bottle. It was especially important for my Eastern Antarctica trip since we were often on land for 3 to 4 hours at a time thanks to our small ship numbers and the lack of other tourist boats there.
It really does help for the uneven surfaces. Many of our landings included hikes on pretty rocky/boulder covered ground. It was nice to have for a little extra balance.
Entertainment Digital and Non Digital
You will have a fair bit of free time on the ship as you make the journey, so bring things to do. Books, videos, movies, and podcasts are great for entertainment. But don’t forget it’s also nice to unplug and have some other hobbies too such as knitting, painting, writing, etc.
Some of my favorite Antarctica Books:
Check out some great Ross Sea reads before your trip!
Emergency Evacuation Insurance
Most Antarctica expeditions require proof of Emergency Medical/Evacuation Insurance. This is pretty much the norm on these types of remote trips. Getting proof of coverage was easy for me to do. I just called my insurance provider and made sure I was covered and then had them send me the paperwork that provided my proof of coverage. If you don’t have emergency evacuation insurance under your normal medical insurance, then you’ll need to look into travel insurance plans that cover you separately. I used Allianz Travel Insurance to determine my choices and choose a plan that worked for Antarctica.
Extra Passport Pages
Make sure you have empty passport pages. Most of the research stations the ships stop at will stamp your passport with a special Antarctica stamp.
Yes, you can shop in Antarctica! The ships normally stop at various simple research stations along the peninsula and most of the stations sell Antarctica memorabilia. You’ll find hats, postcards, patches, wine, mittens, and even vodka!
You’re all set to visit this magical remote land! Stay warm and Bon Voyage!