I planned my Antarctica trip 18 months in advance. Plenty of time to think about what to bring, especially with the packing list provided by Intrepid Travel. However, a month before my departure I was scrambling with what to bring. In the end, I’m happy with what I packed for my 10-day Antarctica expedition voyage but there are a couple of changes I would have made. So for anyone else wondering what to wear in Antarctica, here is my suggested Antarctica cruise packing list.
How Much to Pack for Antarctica
Before we get into what to pack, you need to look at how much you can pack. Most major airlines offer 23 kilos of checked luggage included in the price of your ticket. However, if you are flying somewhere else in South America first (ie: Buenos Aires for a few days) before continuing on to Ushuaia to board your cruise, then you also need to consider the local South American airlines. These airlines have a much lower checked luggage limit: 15 kilos. While you can pay extra (the fee is charged per kilo and depends on the airline and your destination) it’s pretty annoying to have to pay extra at the last minute. So, if you can, try to keep your luggage at around 15 kilos to save yourself the hassle and extra cost.
Note that there is laundry on board most cruise ships. It’s not cheap, but towards the end of the trip my cruise on the Ocean Endeavour with Intrepid Travel offered a full bag for $40USD which I took advantage of. You can always bring eco-friendly soap to do sink laundry for things like socks and underwear to help cut down on your luggage.
Another thing that will help with your Antarctica packing list is knowing what gear is provided by your tour operator. Again, I used Intrepid Travel who provided us with some basic kit that made figuring out what to pack for Antarctica a little easier.
Our expedition cruise provided:
- Muck Boots (both normal and wide calf options) to borrow for the duration of the voyage
- Expedition Parka: The waterproof outer layer to borrow for the duration of the voyage
- Insulated puffer jacket: for us to keep
For those taking part in kayaking, dry suit gear is also provided on board.
While this was a big help we did still need to bring our own waterproof pants and other cold-weather accessories.
A Note on Sizing in Provided Gear
Sizing guides should be provided to you regarding the provided gear. You will choose what sizes you need ahead of time, but there will be extras on board to try on if things don’t fit properly. I found the sizing to be true for me, however, there were a couple of mix-ups in our group which did cause some stress as larger sizes are more limited. If you aren’t sure about the measurements, I suggest sizing up.
Our ship provided expedition parkas up to a size men’s 3XL. If you fall outside of the size requirements, you will have to bring your own outer layers and they do need to be waterproof.
What’s the Weather Like in Antarctica?
When we think of packing for Antarctica we tend to think about how cold and icy it is. However, keep in mind that Antarctica travel takes place during their summer and while you won’t be sitting on a beach sipping a cocktail, it’s a lot warmer than you think. Especially if, like me, you live somewhere in the northern hemisphere where the months of November-March is very much winter.
For the duration of our trip in mid-January, the weather hovered around 0 to -2C (28-32F). Depending on where you are from, that could be freezing. However, for this Canadian girl that’s not a big deal at all. That being said, you will be outside for hours at a time, either on a zodiac, kayak, or on land and you can’t just pop back to the ship to put on something warmer. Additionally, it may be snowing, raining, or incredibly windy which can make it feel colder than it is.
Based on my experience, the key to what to wear in Antarctica is layers.
What to Wear in Antarctica
Your Antarctica trip will made up of be two parts: the ship portion and the excursion portion. Here are my thoughts on packing for both.
What to wear on the Ship
Most Antarctica cruises are adventure-type travel. I was on an expedition cruise which meant it focused on functionality more than fashion. There were no cocktail hours or formal dinners. This was not that type of cruise. Instead, our ship days involved lectures from staff, researchers, scientists, and experts. You could also take advantage of the gym space, sauna, library, hot tub and pool (note: pools aren’t open when you sail through the Drake Passage).
This meant everyone was dressed very casually. Most people wore a combination of long pants and long sleeve sweaters or t-shirts. Jeans and athletic-type pants like leggings were very common. For footwear, you do need to have closed-toe shoes on board. Running shoes were the norm but a few of us also brought slippers or moccasin-type shoes with rubber soles that could be worn both inside and out.
There was never any reason to dress up. Again, this was a very casual adventure-type tour. Re-wearing clothes is very common so do not feel like you need to have an outfit for every day.
What to wear on Excursions
Figuring out what to wear in Antarctica on excursions is where things got tricky. As I said above, this is where layering comes in really handy. A base layer is a must: both pants and top. A lot of people recommend merino wool base layers which will be the warmest. Mine were just a spandex and polyester blend and they did the trick too. As long as you don’t get cotton (which takes the heat away from your skin and takes ages to dry if you sweat) you should be fine.
Over my base layer, I wore a pair of polar fleece leggings and an additional, thicker long-sleeve shirt. On days when I was doing zodiac cruising only, I also wore a fleece layer since it meant being on the water for about 1.5-2 hours. If I was doing zodiac and a landing, I didn’t add the extra fleece because I found that I warmed up really quickly walking around the in the snow.
Over these layers, I wore waterproof pants (I choose not to bring actual snow pants as I thought they would be too warm. I was happy with that decision). Along with the puffer jacket and expedition parka provided by Intrepid.
I did double up on socks. I wore a light cotton pair under a thick pair of heat holders’ socks because my feet do get cold easily. I then had a light pair of gloves that I could fit under waterproof ski mitts, and a knit toque (beanie or winter hat for the non-Canadians).
This was perfect for me. Some people always wore a fleece sweater. Some people brought actual snow pants instead of rain pants. Some people only had a base layer under their outer layers. It really depends on you but I do suggest bringing multiple options that you can layer and then see what works for you when you arrive.
Suggested Antarctica Cruise Packing List
This Antarctica packing list is based on my 10-day expedition trip which included 4 full days exploring Antarctica and 4 full days on the ship. If your trip is longer, you may want to pack more. Or, as mentioned above, just make use of the laundry options.
- Two base layers. Either merino wool or another synthetic material (not cotton!)
- 1 pair of Polar fleece leggings or warm sweatpants that will fit under your outer layer
- One fleece sweater
- One pair of waterproof pants (can be rain pants or snow pants, just make sure they are fully waterproof, not just water resistant). Mine are these from Columbia, they worked really well.
- 2-3 comfortable long-sleeve shirts
- 1-2 sweaters for on the ship
- A couple of pairs of pants (leggings or jeans etc) for on the ship
- Touchscreen gloves (I used this and they worked pretty well!)
- Waterproof mittens or gloves like these (Canadian tip: mittens keep your hands warmer)
- 2 winter hats (in case one gets wet and doesn’t dry out in time)
- Regular undergarments
- 2 pairs of thick socks (I LOVED the heat holders socks. Find them for women and men.)
- Running shoes
- Slippers (ideally with rubber bottoms to wear indoors and outdoors like this)
- 1 Swimsuit for the spa or polar plunge! (check my list of my favourite swimwear)
Other Antarctica Essentials
Having the right clothing is key but there are a few more key items that I would highly recommend packing for Antarctica. These include:
- Face sunscreen: the sun is super strong here as the ozone layer is incredibly thin. (I use this reef safe one)
- SPF lip balm: Again, the sun is no joke, it’s also incredibly dry
- Moisturizer and hand cream: Again, SO DRY
- Eye drops: I used them every night and morning because of the dryness
- Polarized sunglasses
- Ski goggles: I wish I had brought mine for the really snowy days! Again, I suggest polarized.
- Neck warmer/neck gaiter: I did not use one but many people did.
- Hand warmers: I did not use these myself but quite a few people did. If you get cold hands (or feet!) easily then it’s a smart purchase. I recommend these rechargeable ones over single use type.
- Reusable water bottle: You’ll want to bring water with you when on shore
- Waterproof bag: It rains, it snows, and there can be some spray on the zodiacs. I highly recommend a good waterproof bag that you can stash what you need to take out for the day in.
- Sea sickness medications: The Drake Passage is no joke. I was incredibly sick the first day before I got some medication that actually worked. There is a doctor on board but prevention is key. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor and bring medication with you.
- Adaptor for your electronics: Your ship may have different outlets than you do at home so bring some adapters to charge your electronics
- I also chose to bring my own shampoo and conditioner since the products provided by the ship were the ‘all in one’ type which, let’s be honest, are awful.
- Binoculars: There is SO much wildlife here but it’s not always close. If you have a pair of binoculars, bring them!
- Gym gear: Our ship had yoga and stretch classes as well as a gym space to use.
What Camera Gear to Bring to Antarctica
One of the last things I want to discuss is what camera gear to pack for Antarctica, because this was something else I wondered about.
I shoot with a Nikon Z50 mirrorless. I have a telephoto lens of up to 250mm that I brought with me. I was glad I had it, but I do wish I had a bigger zoom. A 400mm or maybe even a 600mm. Of course, that’s a pretty big expense if you don’t already own one but there are some places that rent lenses. So, if you are big into wildlife photography, then I would consider it.
For other camera equipment, an extra SD card is always a good idea. Mine decided to corrupt itself partway through my trip. Thankfully a friend had extra and came through for me. Extra batteries are also recommended because of the cold temepratures. As for a tripod, you can bring one but you might not get as much use of it as you think. A few women in my group took the optional on-board photography course and they didn’t use them, which I say says a lot. But it’s totally up to you.
That being said, don’t stress that you need a big fancy camera. Many people had point-and-shoot cameras or even just their camera phones. Some of the wildlife gets pretty close, others stay further away. It’s a total crapshoot. At the end of the day, the best camera is the one you are most comfortable using.
For other types of cameras, a GoPro can be handy if you already own one. We had some penguins swimming under the boat and a humpback whale surface right beside us. I wouldn’t say buy one exclusively for the trip though. It’s not like there are snorkelling or diving options. Drones are not allowed in Antarctica, so save yourself the space and don’t even bother packing it.
Final Tips for What to Wear in Antarctica
The above Antarctica cruise packing list should be fine for your trip. Again, the key is to pack items that you can layer. As I said, I layered 2 long sleeves for expeditions and added my fleece hoodie for zodiac-only days. There is a shop on board most ships with some basics, but it’s easier to pack your own.
A final tip I recommend, when you go to purchase things like your hat, gloves, or even waterproof pants and backpacks- pick something colourful! Everyone looks the same all bundled up in their expedition parkas. Having bright accessories (mine were pink!) makes it easier for you to stand out to your friends and in the group photos taken by the ship’s photographer.
Lastly, when packing for your trip choose functionality over aesthetics. Our gear was all checked ahead of time and many people had cute penguin hats or hats with fluffy pompoms turned away because of the loose fibres. Preservation and responsible travel are key in this part of the world especially, and the goal is to leave nothing behind.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Antarctica
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.