What to Pack When Travelling to Antarctica

Laura Pattara

Laura Pattara  |  17 January 2018

Find out what to pack for your Antarctica trip of a life time 

Discover our trips in Antarctica

Often described as one of the harshest and most inhospitable destinations on earth, Antarctica elicits visions of mind-boggling snow blizzards and brain-numbing freezing temps. And that’s precisely the reason so many Antarctica cruise passengers tend to overthink and overpack for their unforgettable expedition to the frozen ends of our world. Antarctica may certainly be a remote and tough place to visit yet in truth unless you’re a research scientist (or a masochist polar explorer), you’ll be visiting during the warmest and mildest months of the year. This doesn’t mean you won’t experience harsh winds and cold temps (yep, you most likely will) but you may be surprised to discover just how manageable the climate in Antarctica can be during the height of cruising season.

As long as you pack right for it, that is.

An Antarctica cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience

An Antarctica cruise is a once-in-a-lifetime experience

People who live in cold-climate countries follow the credo that ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ and this also holds true for Antarctica. With the right gear, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way and this is particularly important in a destination renowned for its sudden and unexpected climatic changes. It is for this reason that layering – as opposed to bulking up with single heavy items – is the preferred dress code here. You need to have the option to quickly shed (or put on) layers depending on how active you are and how quickly the weather turns.

Antarctica's packing factors:

  • Temperatures are often ABOVE zero

Many first-time Antarctica cruise passengers express angst at having to deal with very low temperatures yet what they don’t realize is that the temps, in fact, will not be all that bad. Most of the time, especially if cruising in December and January, daytime temps will hover between 5 and 10C. Cold enough to warrant a warm winter coat but not the kind of temps that require you to don a padded penguin suit. What will cause you to suffer, however, will be unusually strong winds and water spray during Zodiac rides ashore.

Which leads us to the next point…

  • The best line of defence? Windproof and waterproof outer layers

Good-quality outer layers that protect you from the wind and water spray (or random snowfall) are arguably the most important packing items on your list. For convenience and flexibility, pick a jacket & pants combo made of durable yet lightweight material, roomy enough to be comfortably worn above your warm parka and pants. Make sure the jacket has a hood and the pockets are large enough to hold your gloves, so you can easily slide them on and off to operate your camera. On that note, don’t forget to pack a pair of padded waterproof gloves that’ll keep your digits nice and toasty too.

  • Beware the fierce sun

The glistening white horizons in Antarctica are mesmerizing yet they can also be rather blinding. A good pair of sunglasses with high UV protection will help ward off the glare and don’t forget the sunscreen! If you’ve ever been skiing, you’ll know how easy it is to get sunburnt in a reflective, snowy landscape. Do note that some wearers of contact lenses may be more comfortable donning ski masks as they help prevent eyes from drying out in the harsh winds of Antarctica.

  • Make sure your clothing doesn’t restrict your movement

Getting on and off the cruise ship, and Zodiacs (inflatable rafts used to get you from the ship to the shore) requires a certain amount of flexibility so make sure your clothing choices don’t restrict your movement in any way. Leave all bulky clothing items and choose warm synthetic fibres which wick away sweat yet are thin and comfortable to move around in. You don’t need to be doing summersaults and burpees but you will need to be somewhat agile to get the most out of your Antarctica expedition and partake in all the exciting Zodiac outings.

An amazing wildlife

An amazing wildlife

  • Don’t forget you’ll be in a warm and comfortable cruise ship

Many travellers get so caught up with their outdoor expedition packing list that they forget they’ll be spending a lot of time in the comfort and warmth of their Antarctica cruise ship. Comfortable clothing and a light pair of shoes are wonderful to change into at the end of a day’s on-land exploration. Just make sure your shoes have a non-slip sole in case you need to dash onto the outer deck to catch the sight of a breaching whale!

  • Consider your other travels

Most passengers heading to South America to join their Antarctica expedition ship will undoubtedly add other destinations to their itinerary. At the very least, a few days of R&R in wonderful Buenos Aires or Santiago. Considering the high temps you can expect in both cities (and most of  South America) at this time of year and pack plenty of comfortable summer clothing for relaxed (and warm) sightseeing days.

Various activites are possible

Various activites are possible

Antarctica essential packing list

Following are the most pivotal items for your Antarctica adventure:

  • Layers - As stated above, layering is your best bet on Antarctica expeditions. An ideal outfit would be thin thermal underwear (of wick-away fabric), a long sleeve top, warm cargo pants and a cosy fleece, followed by a waterproof and windproof parka and easy pull-on waterproof pants.

  • Thermal socks –We’re not huge fans of thick thermal undergarments for Antarctica expeditions because they can cause you to overheat in an instant and are impossible to remove outside the comfort of your cruise ship. However, thick thermal socks are another matter altogether. Walking on ice for hours on end – with non-insulated expedition boots to top it off – can cause footsie-freeze, so make sure you bring several pairs of thermal woollen socks and always have a spare pair when on an outing in a Zodiac, in case your feet get wet.

  • Make sure your boots are long and waterproof – There are no docking piers in Antarctica so Zodiac landings are usually made straight on the beach. This requires you to sometimes jump, feet first, into ankle-deep and freezing waters. Make sure your boots are not only waterproof but also high enough so you don’t end up with soggy feet from the get-go. Waterproof, knee-high boots are essential.

  • Thermal beanie, scarf & gloves – Ear-freeze is about as detestable as footsie-freeze so make sure you pack a deliciously warm beanie that covers your ears and a scarf to protect your neck, face and throat. We also recommend you find a (thinner) pair of gloves to fit under your waterproof ones, so you can easily use your camera and zip up/unzip your jacket, whilst still keeping your hands warm.

  • Warm jacket & pants – Warm cargo pants and a fleece jacket, worn over thin thermal underwear, will become your daily uniform when off the boat.

  • Small, waterproof backpack – You’ll need a small backpack to store your gear during on-shore excursions; one that’s waterproof and can hold all your photographic gear, sunscreen and water bottle.

  • Photographic equipment – Batteries run out much faster in the cold so bring plenty of spares for your camera and don’t forget to pack the charger! Unless you have multiple memory cards, you may also want to bring along your laptop/netbook to download and store photos at the end of every day. Keep in mind that you will, without a doubt, take infinitely more photos than you think you will. Antarctica is one of the most spell-binding places on earth and, even though no photo will ever do it justice, it will be hard to convenience you otherwise, during your trip. Bring along the best camera you can afford and click away to your heart’s content. We’re sure your photos will bring you immense joy in the years to come.

  • The little things – A few essential items you may not have considered yet include: books to read and a travel journal for jotting down impressions on cruising days, sea-sickness tablets in case of a rough Drake Passage crossing, and eye mask and ear plugs for a better night sleep on board.

Penguins are here to welcome you

Penguins are here to welcome you

What NOT to bring on an Antarctica cruise:

  • Bulky & heavy clothing/shoes – Anything that makes you feel as if you’ve just polished off a 12-course Christmas lunch is probably going to be inappropriate for extensive on-shore explorations in Antarctica, so don’t pack anything that’s thick, heavy, bulky and makes up half your luggage allowance.

  • Expedition tools – Just because you are headed on an expedition to the end of the world, it doesn’t mean you need the tools for it. There’s no need to pack a Swiss multi-tool knife, compass or head torch. Yours will very much be a 21st century Antarctica expedition and you, as the honoured guest aboard a strengthened ice-breaker, will not be required to fix anything on the ship or find your way back in the dark. Promise.

  • Formal attire – You’ll certainly want to pack a nice dinner outfit (especially for the Captain’s welcome/farewell dinner) but it really needn’t be anything formal. Leave the bling at home and enjoy the extra luggage space.

What gear can be rented or borrowed in Antarctica?

Many Antarctica expedition cruise ships now have a wide collection of gear available for guests to rent, including warm jackets, expedition boots and daypacks. If you hail from a warm-climate place and don’t yet own any cold-climate clothing, it pays to ask your trusted Antarctica travel agent just how much gear you can actually borrow or rent, either on the ship or from Ushuaia, the most popular embarkation port in South America. Although this is not a cheap option, it can work out cheaper than buying everything from scratch, especially if you don’t plan on ever using any of the gear again. Moreover, if your Antarctica cruise is part of a longer jaunt in Latin America then this may turn out to be the most convenient option of all. No need to be lugging a parka and knee-high trekking boots all over the continent!


Antartica packing essentials checklist

Underwear                                                                             Sunglasses

1 x set thin thermals                                                               Waterproof daypack

3 x long sleeve tops                                                                Camera gear

2 x warm cargos/jeans/pants                                                   Toiletries & medication (sunscreen,  

                                                                                             ibuprofen, aspirin, sea-sickness tabs etc)                    

5 x pairs thermal socks                                                            Zip-lock bags (to keep things dry)

Warm parka/winter coat                                                           2 x comfortable outfits for relaxing on ship

Thin, thermal gloves                                                                1 x comfortable walking shoes

Waterproof/windproof jacket, pants & gloves

Waterproof boots

Thermal beanie & scarf

**Do note that laundry services are offered aboard most expedition cruise ships.

Want to know more about Antarctica expedition cruises, including costs, the best time to visit, unique options and other aspects of a trip you should consider? Give us a call! We offer a comprehensive array of Antarctica expeditions to suit varying budgets, time restrictions and destinations. Trust Viva Expeditions to get you there (and back!) whilst serving up the absolute adventure of a lifetime. Contact us for more info.

Discover our trips in Antarctica

Learn more about Antarctica on our blog 

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