Packing for your trip to Antarctica can be a daunting task. You never know what kind of conditions you’re going to encounter. And the weather can change in the blink of an eye! You may experience anything from t-shirt weather to arctic, sub-zero snow storms without any time to change your clothes — so layers are essential. Layering provides flexibility, warmth, moisture management, and comfort throughout the day, allowing you to adjust your outfit to your body temperature, the outdoor temperature, and the level of physical activity. In this blog post, I’ll go over general recommendations for how and what to pack for a trip to Antarctica. I’ll then list off the specific items that I packed for my trip to Antarctica.
The Key To Packing For Antarctica Is Layering
Packing for a trip to Antarctica can be challenging as it is a unique environment with extreme weather conditions. Layering is crucial when packing for a trip to Antarctica because the climate can be highly unpredictable, and temperatures vary widely throughout the day. Layering allows you to adjust your clothing to your body temperature, the outdoor temperature, and the level of physical activity.
For all of our Antarctic landings, I wore a wool base layer (top and bottom). Then, depending on the temperature outside, I layered with a light down jacket or a fleece pullover. You want to avoid using cotton for your outdoor clothes because cotton absorbs sweat and makes you colder.
Dress in comfortable, loose layers. It’s better to wear relatively light, loose layers than one thick, heavy item. Between each layer, there is insular air that, when heated by your body, acts as a natural insulator. It will also allow you to keep from overheating.
Staying Dry And Warm In Antarctica
My outermost layer was always waterproof pants and a jacket. We weren’t allowed on the Zodiacs to participate in landing without waterproof pants – so remember to pack these! Lightweight PVC fabrics and disposable rain gear won’t hold up and are unacceptable. Moreover, as a general rule, avoiding single-use plastics on your trip is best.
Most expedition companies will provide a heavy, water-resistant parka for your convenience. The provided parka will save you significant room in your language. I packed a few heavier jackets, but in the end, the parka provided by Poseidon Expedition worked the best for an effective layering system, and I didn’t end up wearing any of my other jackets. So my recommendation would be to stick to the essential layers and use the gear provided by the ship. They know what they’re doing!
Because most landings involve stepping into the water, a pair of mid-calf waterproof boots are
essential. Again, most exposition companies will provide this. But double-check before departure! The Muck Boots provided by Poseidon were great for getting in and out of Zodiacs and were plenty warm with a good pair of thermal socks.
Factors To Consider When Choosing What To Pack For Antarctica
If you’re still having trouble deciding which layers you should pack with you to Antarctica, consider if your layers will help you achieve the following goals:
Flexibility: By layering your clothing, you can adjust your outfit to accommodate temperature or activity level changes. You can easily remove or add layers without changing your outfit completely.
Warmth: Layering provides better insulation than wearing a single thick layer. Air trapped between layers offers additional warmth, helping to keep your body heat in and the cold out.
Moisture management: Multiple layers allows you to manage moisture effectively. Your base layer should be moisture-wicking to keep sweat away from your skin, and your outer layer should be waterproof and breathable to keep you dry in wet conditions.
Comfort: Layering will help you stay comfortable throughout the day. When you feel too hot or cold, you can quickly adjust your clothing to maintain your comfort level.
What To Wear On Board
Dress on board the Sea Spirit was casual and informal, which is likely true for most Antarctica expeditions. You may prefer to bring slightly nicer clothing for some of the dinners on board, but I didn’t pack anything special, and I never felt out of place. For footwear, sturdy walking shoes or sneakers with a good grip sole for the slippery deck are all you need. I also brought my Teva slippers (which also have a grippy sole) for lounging around.
Want to hear more about my trip to Antarctica?
Everything you need to know to prepare for a trip to Antarctica
What I Packed For My Trip To Antarctica
Over my many years of traveling professionally, have tried to master the art of minimalist packing. There’s a fragile balance between packing everything you need to have a safe and enjoyable trip, while packing light enough to travel efficiently. This was particularly true for my trip to Antarctica, because I knew that I was headed directly from the expedition to an extended road trip through the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. So for this specific trip I packed for nearly a month of diverse climates, and a lot of moving around. And I have to say, I think I did a pretty great job!
Clothing Checklist for Antarctica
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Thermal Top & Bottom (X 2) – Preferably wool.
- WoolX Marino Stella Legging
- WoolX Marino Hanna Long Sleeve top
- Stoic Tech Fleece Legging
- Smartwool Thermal Merino Crew Baselayer
Thermal/Wool socks (X 3) – Body heat is most likely to be lost from your hands, feet, and head. Keep them warm and dry.
Waterproof Pants – Required for all landings. You’ll need to put these on multiple times a day, so pick something that’s easy to get on and off. Side zippers are helpful.
Warm Hat – You only need one, but I’d suggest bringing one or two as this was the one piece of clothing I almost never took off.
Winter Gloves – I never ended up using the winter gloves I brought, but we had pretty mild weather the entire time.
Thin Gloves – Thin gloves with with touch screen tips are great for keeping your hands warm while allowing you to still take videos/photos of all the penguins with your phone.
Fleece Jacket – I live in fleece jackets, so I brought two. A heavier weight pullover, and a lighter one. I wore both almost every day.
Down Jacket – Great warmth to weight ratio for layering on and off the ship.
Pants ( X 3) – Other than the thermal pants you’ll wear on your daily excursions, you’ll want to have a few pairs of pants for lounging around, working out, and wandering around town before and after your expedition.
Shirts – Pack a combination of long sleeve and short sleeve option for a variety of activities. It can get quite warm aboard the ship.
Comfortable Shoes – You’ll need shoes for wandering around town, days on the ship, working out, and lounging. This is up to your personal preference, ideally your shoes will have good traction, as the decks can get wet, and it may take a few days to get your sea legs.
- Danner Trail 2650 Hiking Shoe (my favorite right now for EVERYTHING)
- Teva ReEMBER Fleece Moc Slipper
Items Provided On Your Expedition (Probably)
Waterproof Boots – double check to make sure your ship provides Muck Boots, or a close equivalent. These are essential for keeping your feet warm and dry during landings.
Heavy expedition style parka – most Antarctic expedition companies will provide a heavy water-resistant parka for you to wear over the course of your trip. If not, you will need to pack your own.
Other Essentials To Pack For Antarctica
Sunglasses – Because of all of water and snow, the sun in Antarctica is extremely bright. Polarized lenses are preferable.
Hat – To protect your face from the sun.
Sunblock – For your face. The sun is quite strong when it’s out.
Lip balm – With sun protection.
Daypack/backpack – Using plastic ziplock bags to protect your electronics and other items is discouraged. It’s better to invest in dry bags that you can use repeatedly.
Swimsuit – For use in hot tub, sauna, or for polar plunge!
- The Minimalist One Piece by Londre (I don’t leave home without it!)
Binoculars – This is one item that I didn’t bring, that I wished I had.
Extra money – US dollars are particularly handy both on board and throughout Argentina.
Converters/adaptors as needed – Check for the system your specific expedition ship uses.
Medication – bring a sufficient supply of any medications you regularly take; prescription
and over-the-counter. It’s also a good idea to bring your preferred motion sickness remedy, even though the ship will likely have some options on board. It’s also a good idea to bring copies of
Toiletries – make sure to pack all your favorite toiletries. Although some ships have small shops, they often have very limit supplies available. Your necessities and favorites probabaly will not be available on board.
Antartica is a photographers dream. Between stunning landscapes and exceptional wildlife sitings there’s no shortage of photo opportunities. You will likely want a variety of different focal lengths, but in general we used our zoom lens far more than any other lens. Below is a complete list of the camera gear we packed for our trip to Antarctica.
- Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS Lens: We actually purchased this lens right before the trip and it was the best decision we made. The wildlife in Antarctica was our favorite thing to photograph and we were often at the long end of the zoom.
- Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II Lens: Although this is generally my favorite travel lens, for this particular trip I didn’t end up using it much.
- iPhone 14 Pro Max
That’s my complete list of items to pack for your expedition to Antarctica! The truth is you don’t need all that much. Focus on layers, and comfort, and you should be good to go. Let me know if you can think of any items I’m missing. It’s always fun to hear about the travel necessities you can’t live without.
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