You’ve spent years pouring over National Geographic magazines, almost salivating at breathtaking photos of Antarctica. And now you’re finally headed there. To that barren frozen land, at the end of the world; that one last uncharted territory you’ve been dreaming of visiting. Whether you’re an experienced traveller weathered by years of global gallivanting, or on a first major overseas journey of discovery, an adventure trip to Antarctica is bound to inspire, invigorate and rejuvenate all your senses.
It’s all so romantic and beyond your wildest dreams…until you need to pack.
Packing for a trip to Antarctica may seem overwhelming at first and can certainly take all the romance out of the anticipation. But we’re here to tell you that it really won’t be all that hard because, unlike what you may think, it won’t be as cold as some imagine. At least, not the kind of south pole eyeball-freezing-cold you envisage. But lets be frank, it is cold.
Before you drag that suitcase from under the bed and start going shopping-crazy on AntarcticaAmazon.com, here are a few things you should know:
• A trip to Antarctica will be completely different to what you probably expect. You may not encounter blizzards or crazy weather (don’t count on it though) there will be more ice than snow and it can be beautifully sunny which will send you stripping off your layers.
• Antarctica cruising season occurs over the Southern Hemisphere summer, or Northern Hemisphere winter. If you hail from such frosty places as North America, Canada or Northern Europe, we dare say it will be warmer here than at home.
• Cruises are, by their very definition, taken on the high seas. Water has a lovely mitigating effect on temperatures, so it will never be as cold as if you were in the heart of the South Pole where the formidable temperatures occur.
• Don’t get stuck on checking the temperature every day, because it’s not the cold that’ll get you. It’s the wind and water that will…
All of this is not only true but also quite relative. In mid summer the day temperature may climb above zero, yet when you’re soaking wet and the wind picks up, it will certainly feel like it has. And at the end of the day, a warm and cozy feeling is the only thing that counts!
Before we give you with a list of things to bring, let us share some of our most invaluable tips.
It’s cold…but not extreme – Go into an active wear shop nowadays and you’ll see all sorts of gear aimed at extreme expeditions: sleeping bags and jackets able to stand -40C temps and all sorts of gadgetry that’s guaranteed not to freeze before you do. On an Antarctica cruise…you won’t be needing any of that. Sensible warm clothing is a must, but over the top gear that weighs twice as much as you do, is not.
Waterproof outer layers – These are your best friends, your protectors and the items of clothing you will wear more than any other. Well, perhaps aside underwear. A waterproof and windproof jacket and pair of pants are an absolute must, although you should make sure they are relatively thin and can be worn OVER your normal fleece and cargo pants or jeans. Your jacket should have a high collar to protect your neck as that’s where you’ll lose most of your body warmth. Same goes for boots: lightweight yet warm is what you should be packing.
Skip the thick woolly thermal onsie – We understand that cunning-you wants to invest in a Norwegian-made woollen thermal onesie made for winter sailing but aside the fact that no one wants to look like overgrown Teletubbies, wearing thick woollen thermal wear is actually counterproductive on an Antarctica cruise, for several reasons. Aside the fact that even at its coldest it still won’t be -55 as some articles boast, this is the peninsula and mid summer daytime temps can reach 5C, on either side of summer you’re looking at freezing to -5 (wind chill dependent). Coupled with some walking, you could be warming up within just a few minutes of disembarkation and that onsie will suddenly become inconvenient. So leave that one-piece couture item for your next jaunt to Siberia in winter instead and think layers.
Layer up – The best course of packing-action is to dress in layers, ones you can easily put on or remove depending on weather changes. Yes, the weather can be unpredictable in Antarctica, so you can be cold and warm and then a bit too warm and then very cold, all in a just a few hours. Layers are the only thing that’ll help you cope with that.
Thick woollen socks- lots of them – ‘You can’t have too many pairs of socks’, or so most Antarctica cruise guests believe. There is arguably nothing worse than getting your socks soaking wet and not having a clean warm pair to change into. This can seriously be the worst thing which could happen, plus the rubber boots you are provided with on a journey like this to protect the pristine environment are not insulated, so pack plenty of woolly socks. A pair in a zip lock in your back pack can be handy if you to happen to get a bit wet.
Hat, scarf & gloves – Ideally, you should wear two pairs of gloves: a thin pair with which you can operate your camera and get things out of your day-pack, and an outer waterproof pair that’s thick and warm and will keep your hands dry if you accidentally end up face-palming the ice. It’s been known to happen. A woolly hat is a godsend, and one with ear flaps particularly so, even if your outer jacket has a hoodie. A woolly scarf is invaluable to keep your neck warm.
Sunglasses– Ever heard of snow blindness? It’s a real thing and it totally sucks. Protect your eyes against the incredible glare which reflects off the ice. Wrap around UV-protected sunglasses is the best choice.
Small daypack – You’ll need a daypack for day-long outings, so you can carry your water, sunscreen, extra camera batteries, spare socks etc BUT it should be small, compact, and waterproof. A daypack should never be heavy, certainly not heavy enough that it affects your posture. Keep it light and supple and it’ll save you much back-ache.
Now that we have the most important tidbits of info out of the way, and you’re aware of the basics that’ll make your life easy and comfortable on an Antarctica cruise adventure trip, here’s a nifty little packing list of all the other items you’ll need.
Print out and stick on your fridge. It’s Antarctica packing time!
• Normal walking shoes – For the time you spend on the boat and those sightseeing days in towns before and after your cruise.
• Light airy footwear – After being in boots all day, your feet will be screaming for fresh air. Even Crocs or flip-flops feel divine after at the end of a full day’s exploration in the warmth of the heated ship.
• Toiletries – Sunblock (an absolute must!), chapstick, moisturiser, and all essentials you’d normally pack for a long-haul flight. Nothing more.
• Underwear & PJs – Don’t leave home without them!
• Cargo pants – cargos or trackies are great options to be worn under your wet weather gear.
• L/S tops – 3 x tops should do the trick.
• Polar fleece zip jacket – That divine warm layer between your long-sleeve top and your parka.
• Parka – Considering you’ll have wet weather overlayers, your parker need not be waterproof. It should be warm (lined) but not too bulky. You’ll be doing a lot of moving in and out of vessels so you need to be comfortable and not restricted a-la-Michelin man.
• Thin thermal pants and top – Warm undergarments are great as they take up little space but can add quite a few degrees of warmth.
• Binoculars – Good ones.
• Zip-lock bags – Small and medium size to keep all your bits and bobs dry.
• Medication – whatever your usual medication is, as well as Ibuprofen and Aspirin.
• Camera = you’re in photographers heaven in Antarctica
• Extra SD card – Dont hold back the penguins aren’t shy, you’ll be taking a TON of photos.
• Heavy-duty water bottle – One that doesn’t weigh a ton.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 13 years. She’s tour guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and is now in the midst of a 5-year motorbike odyssey from Germany to Australia.”