Just paid the deposit for that once in a lifetime trip to world’s coldest, driest and windiest continent… and now you have to pack for it?!
Here’s what you need, and what you can save on (cause let’s face it, clothing for Antarctica falls in the wedding dress category…)
1. BASE LAYERS - Thermal underwear/ long underwear.
*Ideally merino wool or a synthetic blend, but NOT cotton… it’s worth noting that fine merino wool does not itch, despite your childhood memories of that itchy wool school sweater/jumper.
>> Why you need it: Long underwear is the basis of your layering system, instead of relying on one giant jacket to protect you, can adjust layers by removing and adding items of clothing as the day heats up and cools off.
>> $$ Saver: Invest in wool- it breathes better and doesn't trap odour (it literally doesn't smell!) so you can usually do several days in one pair.
2. MID LAYERS - Sweaters, shirts, jumpers, skivvies, pull-overs… (Whatever you call them from where you’re from)
>> Why you need it: Depending if you’re a cold person or one of those guys who can wear shorts in a Canadian winter… you may need two or none of these! It is worth noting if you’re going a cruise, you will spend a lot of time on the ship which is heated at the ships discretion. You will also be dining for each meal, so some people like to have these mid-layers presentable!
>> $$ Saver: Sweaters you are already using for winter, outdoor activities like skiing or hiking will be fine for these purposes… no need to invest in a technical mid-layer if this is once off trip.
3. BIG JACKET
*Ideally down fill, long enough to cover your butt and large enough to go over your mid-layers without compressing them too tight.
>> Why you need it: Because it’s very cold outside! While Antarctica is the driest continent, most tourist trips will be in Summer and around the Peninsula, so it’s likely you’ll encounter snow and or ocean spray, so it’s a good idea to have a water resistant coating on your down jacket.
>> $$ Saver: Most cruises to Antarctica include a jacket which you can keep. (check before you leave, and if you’re not satisfied with the jacket than bring your own)
4. WATERPROOF PANTS
>> Why you need it: As mentioned above, you’ll likely have to deal with snow and or ocean spray and bums can get real wet sitting in a zodiac. Waterproof over pants or ski pants will work with pockets
>> $$ Saver: These are not provided by the ship and if you don’t ski or hike, then just borrow them. Don’t depend on buying them at your departing town, the price will be outrageous...they know you’re coming for one reason!
*A solid hiking boot or a waterproof snow show like the Sorrels.
>> Why you need it: Antarctica is covered in snow, rock and ice. If you’re walking around, snowshoeing or getting in and out of zodiacs, you’ll need good foot protection that keeps you warm and dry but not so clunky you can’t walk around.
>> $$ Saver: Most cruises to Antarctica provide rubber boots to wear on expeditions to the continent. This is mostly done as a quarantine control to adhere to IAATO environmental rules. You will be allocated these boots for the duration of your trip but not to keep.
6. COVERED COMFORTABLE SHOES
>> Why you need it: If you’re going a cruise, you’ll be walking around the ship a lot, but the ship has a no flip-flops or slippers rule (despite providing them for you in your cabins!) … so bring a show you can technically slip on but is not a slipper! … a comfortable closed in shoe!
>> $$ Saver: Don’t get caught in the corridors wearing your provided slippers.
7. HATS, GLOVES, SUNGLASSES, BUFFS
*Try to avoid scarves or hats that can blown off. Hats or beanies with ties are useful.
>> Why you need it: Again, it’s cold outside! Two sets of gloves might be useful - a thin pair that allows you to operate cameras and a thicker mitten when the chill really sets. It’s very windy in Antarctica so watch for items that will be blown off… the ship’s not stopping for a blown off hat. Snow is bright and there’s a lot of daylight in the polar summers, so bring glasses that can handle bright light - climbers glasses are great.
>> $$ Saver: There’s nothing technical about these items so no need to buy anything special if you already have winter gear.Our cameraman, actually bought thermal thread on Amazon and sewed it onto the finger tip of his gloves - a mucher cheaper option than buying the gloves with the heat transfer fabric built in.
8. T-SHIRTS - and other normal clothes
>> Why you need it: Yep, despite everything we said about it being cold outside … it can also get hot! Inside the ship can get quite warm, but also the start and end of your journey, departing from places like southern Argentina in the summer can be balmy.
9. PERSONAL ENTERTAINMENT
*Download Netflix shows to your iphone/tablet, bring books, crosswords… that novel you wanted to write...
>> Why you need it: You’re going to have quite a bit of spare time on your trip to Antarctica as it’s a trip that’s at the mercy of the weather. On cruise ships or overland camping expeditions you can be cabin/tent bound for days if the wind is simply too strong to go outside. While the ships endeavour to provide on board entertainment, they are not your typical “Royal Carribean” cruise ship…in exchange for water slides and casinos they have built a ship that will survive polar conditions, so the on board entertainment will be limited to geology lecturers and a PG movie night. On this note, don’t rely on internet…Most ships will provide internet but it won’t be cheap.
>> Why you need it: This is one of the most spectacular regions on earth, you'll want a few snaps to take away, especially as it's the only souvenir you can take away from this continent.
Bring a zoom or long lens - the tour guides are following conservative IAATO regulations which won’t allow you to get too close to the wildlife. The penguins however are very uninhibited (thanks to a lack of land predators) so will walk right up to … wide lens for those moments.
GoPros are fun to mount in time-lapse mode on the bow or stern of the ship.
Bring a small tripod to improve the quality of your video. Drones are banned unless you applied 6 months in advance for a permit.
Bring a USB stick and computer to share photos with fellow passengers - you might have got the only shot of a breaching whale, and Bob’s the only one who got a clean shot of you doing the polar plunge…
>> $$ Saver: For cruises or guided tours there’s usually an expedition photographer who knows what she/he’s doing and the ship will provide you photos.
11. SOCKS & UNDERWEAR
>> Why you need it: I’m mentioning this obvious one as a way of segueing into the extremely high cost of laundry on the ships (or lack of laundry on an overland expedition) … bring enough pairs to avoid the $3 per piece charge! Also, there’s not a lot of airflow in these cabins, so I wouldn’t rely on the old ‘wash em in the sick and hang to dry in the bathroom’ option.
12. SWIMSUIT - Swimmers, cozzies, bathing suit, swim trunks, board shorts, bikini… whatever you call them from where you’re from...
>> Why you need it: Most cruise ships do this dumb thing called the Polar Plunge where you can jump into Antarctic waters. It’s not cool to do this in a wetsuit… it’s considerably not cool if you don’t go at all.
>> $$ Saver: Jump in your underwear or stay on the ship watching a parade of idiots.
13. PASSPORT & VISA
>> Note: This will be held by the ship when you get on board and return when you leave.
14. SEA SICKNESS PILLS
>> Why you need it: Obvious note to bring your usual medication but add any sea sickness remedies - wristbands/pills/ginger… There's a reason they call the Drake's Passage the "Drake Shake"... it's one of the roughest stretches of water on the planet.
>> $$ Saver: Most cruise ships provide sea sickness tablets and paper bags for free.There’s also a doctor on board with a basic surgery. HIGHLY recommend if you do get sea sick to force yourself outside on the deck once in a while for fresh air.
>> Note: Check what your ship offers, but most ships and Argentina use the European outlets (two round pins). You may also need adaptors for 110v appliances.
16. WATERPROOF BAGS
>> Why you need it: A good dry bag can be useful for stashing your valuables when you partake in water activities like zodiac cruises or kayaking. I would still bring a small backpack if you bring camera equipment. You will want to stow everything on the zodiac and when you’re walking to a penguin colony.
>> $$ Saver: A sturdy zip-lock bag!
17. DUFFEL WHEELIE BAG
>> Note: Try to pack into one bag (unless you're splurging on a huge room on the cruise). Bags that can stand on end are great for Tetrising into tight nooks in your cosy cabin or tent!
Let us know if you thing we've left anything off, or you have any cold weather gear tips.