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Polar packing: What to bring on your trip to Antarctica

When you're packing for your Antarctic expedition, there's one piece of sage advice you should always carry with you: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." (The phrase was technically coined by the Scandinavians, of course, but hey - it's just as relevant this far south of the equator).

When you're packing for your Antarctic expedition, there's one piece of sage advice you should always carry with you: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." (The phrase was technically coined by the Scandinavians, of course, but hey - it's just as relevant this far south of the equator). 

First things first: Despite the fact that Antarctica is cold enough to be the only uninhabitable continent on the face of the planet, you are not going to freeze while you're visiting. Think about it this way: You're visiting the warmest part of the continent during the warmest season of the year, and your proximity to the ocean (this is a cruise, after all), means the brutal temperatures of the least inhabited continent will be mitigated to some extent. Luckily, the majority of your bulky coats, pants and boots will be provided by the ship itself, but as anyone who's ever been skiing (or sledding, or snowshoeing) knows, feeling comfortable in the cold is all about layering. Here's what you'll need to pack to stay warm and happy on your expedition - whether you're sipping a cocktail from your cabin or kayaking through chunks of cracked ice. 

Woolen layers

The best advice we can give you about packing for Antarctica? Never underestimate the power of long underwear. Your base layer is perhaps the most important - and it's important to bring a few different sets. Thin wool is one of the best options, as it's not too tight to prevent a warm layer of air from forming around your body, but it's also ultra-insulating. Long pants or leggings, a few woolen long-sleeved tops and plenty of thin woolen socks are at the top of every "exploring Antarctica" list around. The bonus? It's really comfortable to sleep in, too. 

Fleece 

So you've got your woolen layers ready - now what? While several second layers function well over a warm base, fleece is one of the warmest and most versatile. It's a great layering piece because you can wear it on its own on warmer days, on board the ship while you're relaxing and underneath a windbreaker on the coldest days of your expedition. 

Thick socks 

Many people underestimate the power of layering your socks, but keeping your feet snug and warm will in turn keep your body warm (heat tends to escape through your limbs). Over those thin woolen socks you packed, put a thicker pair to trap even more heat. The two in combination won't be too thick to fit inside your waterproof boots, but they'll be doubly warm. 

Sunglasses 

This one might surprise you, but Antarctica can actually be a pretty sunny place (sometimes even in the middle of the night). Pair that with the endless expanse of reflective white snow, and you have a recipe for a ton of glare. While any sunglasses will be helpful, it's best to opt for polarized ones on a trip like this. An even better idea: Bring an extra pair, just in case. 

A camera (and waterproof bag)

You will undoubtedly want to take photos while you're visiting (how many people can say they've been to Antarctica?), so make sure you bring a good camera and several lenses. While regular point-and-shoot cameras work fine, the glare makes exposure and white balance tricky - and you could end up with photos that aren't so great. Whichever kind of camera you opt to bring along for the ride, make sure you have a waterproof bag, as rough waters and rides in the Zodiac mean you will likely get splashed at some point. (Plus nothing is worse that dropping your camera in the snow.)

Waterproof walking shoes with traction 

Tall, waterproof boots are crucial for exploring the mainland, but you'll want comfortable, warm walking shoes for the towns you visit farther north and the hikes you may go on in the Falkland Islands. There's likely to be ice wherever you are, though, so make sure they have good traction. 

​Underlayer gloves

​Underlayer gloves keep your hands warm in a similar way that those thin woolen socks keep your feet warm. They help trap warm air between your gloves and your hands, and they're great to have on hand (literally) when you need to do things that require a little more dexterity, like changing your camera lens. 

A face mask 

Winds in Antarctica can be intense, especially when you're cruising along the water in a Zodiac. Make sure you bring a face mask to help keep you warm - and prevent some serious wind burn. 

Sunscreen

Antarctica may be cold, but it's the highest continent on Earth and is located under a relatively thinner layer of ozone than most places. Make sure any exposed areas of your skin (most likely your face) are covered in a protective layer of sunscreen to prevent burns. 

Hat 

This one goes without saying - in such a cold climate, you're going to need a good hat that covers your ears. 

Moisturizer and lip balm

Due to Antarctica's low temperatures and high altitude, the air is pretty dry. Your skin and lips may get a little scaly, so be sure you have plenty of moisturizers on board. 

If you think this packing list looks a little like the one you made for your last ski vacation, you're not alone - packing for the two are actually pretty similar. Our last bit of advice? Try not to over​-pack - this is one adventure you don't want to be bogged down during!

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