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What To Pack For Your Antarctic Expedition


Packing for your trip to Antarctica can be a daunting task. You never know what kind of conditions you’re going to encounter on the frozen continent. 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 Antarctica. I’ll then share my exact Antarctica Cruise packing list with all the specific Antarctic expedition gear that I packed for my trip to Antarctica.

A group of people in the snow in Antarctic wearing red expedition parkas - essential clothing for what to wear in Antarctica
A bunch of “red penguins” on one of our landings. For each landing we would wear warm base layers, water-proof pants, muck boots, and the Poseidon expedition parka.

What to Wear in 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. The Antarctic Peninsula can have sunny days with average temperatures, followed by freezing cold conditions. So layering is crucial when packing for a trip to Antarctica because the cold 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 for Antarctica because cotton absorbs sweat and makes you colder.

Pro Tip: 

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 a pair of waterproof pants and a waterproof 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 expedition 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 rather than packing unnecessary bulky items. Your expedition company 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 Zodiac rides and were plenty warm with a good pair of thermal socks.

A zodiac boat out on an excursion in Antarctica with a towering mountain covered in snow
When landings weren’t possible we would often go on zodiac excursions instead. These were some of my favorite outings.

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 items, you can adjust your outfit to accommodate cold temperatures or activity level changes. You can easily remove or add an extra layer 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 weather out.

Moisture management: Multiple layers allows you to manage moisture effectively. The best base layer for Antarctica 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. Merino wool base layers are the best option for this.

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.

The casual dress code on board an Antarctica expedition cruise - plan what to wear onboard with your Antarctic cruise packing list
The temperature hovered right around freezing for most of our trip. But when the sun was out it felt lovely!

Antarctic Clothing List: What To Wear On Board

The dress code 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

My Packing List for 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 of what to pack for Antarctica! 

Holding a sign that reads "The Seventh Continent" during an Antarctic landing
Had to take a quick photo to commemorate our continental landing!

Antarctica Packing List – Clothing Checklist

Some of the links below are affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission on any purchase made – at no additional cost to you. As always, all ideas and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own. The small commission I make on affiliate links is the only way I get paid to provide free travel resources like this one.  I appreciate your support! 

Below is a detailed list of what to bring to Antarctica, how to dress for Antarctica and the Antarctica gear I packed for a safe and comfortable trip to Antarctica.

Thermal Top & Bottom (X 2) – Preferably wool.

Thermal/Wool socks (X 3) – Body heat is most likely to be lost from your hands, feet, and head. Keep them warm and dry with warm socks and thermal underwear.

Waterproof Pants – Required for all landings. You’ll need to put waterproof trousers on multiple times a day, so pick something that’s easy to get on and off. Snow pants with side zippers are helpful. These were the best waterproof pants for Antarctica during our expedition.

Warm Hat – You only need one, but I’d suggest bringing one or two good hats 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, however the cold weather conditions can be unpredictable. 

Thin Gloves – Thin gloves 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 – A high quality down jacket is the best material for 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 shirts and short sleeve options 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 Antarctic cruise 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. 

Items Provided On Your Antarctic Expedition (Probably)

Waterproof Boots – double check to make sure your cruise ship provides Muck Boots, or a close equivalent. These rubber boots are essential for keeping your feet warm and dry during wet landings and are the best boots for Antarctica.

Heavy expedition style parka – most Antarctic cruise expedition companies will provide a heavy water-resistant parka for you to wear over the course of your trip as an outer jacket. If not, you will need to pack your own but this waterproof outer layer is essential for your Antarctica cruise clothing list.

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 a dry bag or a similar waterproof bag that you can use repeatedly. 

Swimsuit – You will want a bathing suit for use in hot tub, sauna, or for polar plunge! 

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
your prescriptions.

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 probably will not be available on board.

Using a telephoto lens from the zodiac to capture wildlife in Antarctica
Of all the camera gear we packed for Antarctica we used the the 100-400mm lens and our iPhones the most.

Camera Gear for your Antarctica Trip

Antartica is a photographers dream. Between stunning landscapes and exceptional wildlife sitings there are 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 Camera 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.
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max

That’s my complete Antarctica cruise packing list for your expedition to Antarctica! The truth is you don’t need all that much clothing for Antarctica cruise expeditions. 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 in this Antarctica clothing guide. It’s always fun to hear about the travel necessities you can’t live without. 

Check Out These Posts For More Gear Inspiration!

Ultimate Hiking and Camping Gear Guide

Affordable Outdoor Gifts That Everyone Will Love

Complete Backpacking Gear Checklist

14 Cold Weather Camping Hacks For Staying Warm

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  1. Outstanding article! Love everything about it! I especially appreciate your spirit that you bring to the table on every article you write! Well done! Treat every day like your last day! Sincerely, Charles R.

  2. Kirtan Patel says:

    Love the 7th continent shot and the practicality of your post! An Antarctica trip is a dream, but you’ve made it one step closer. Thanks for sharing a great resource for planning a trip someday in the future. I’m curious, were you able to locate that one item that you left behind?

    • Jessica Dales says:

      Hi Kirtan! Great to hear from you. I wasn’t able to locate it, but I did contact the brand and they are going to send me a new one! I explained that it’s sort of my signature at this point, and I actually might be having a really fun project with them coming up now. So, it worked out for the best! I do hope that you get the opportunity to visit Antarctica. It was such a special experience.

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Hi, I’m Jess, an outdoor enthusiast based in Seattle. I grew up exploring the Pacific Northwest, and early on was infected with the travel bug. I tried to suppress my wanderlust in pursuit of a traditional career path, but after a short stint as a lawyer, I left the confines of my office to get back in touch with my roots. Now, I wander the world taking photos, making memories, and sharing my love for travel with others!

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