Wondering what to wear in Antarctica? This comprehensive packing list will ensure that you have everything you need for a memorable journey to the icy continent.
In the early years of polar expeditions, packing involved:
- Loading a wooden ship with a year’s worth of supplies.
- Growing a beard for frost to settle on.
- Wearing seal fur coats.
Thankfully, times have changed!
As first-time visitors to this amazing continent, you may wonder what to wear in Antarctica.
You might even think you need a suitcase the size of a small truck, but you’d be surprised.
Don’t worry. We’ll go over everything you need to know before your voyage and provide a complete packing list for your trip.
Antarctica is a truly unique place. Therefore, we want to ensure you’re prepared for the weather conditions and activities you’ll experience on your cruise.
This article will provide a complete packing list for your trip. Plus, we’ve included tips on dressing for the coldest, most glorious continent on Earth.
Let’s get started!
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What To Wear In Antarctica
The Antarctic cruise season runs from around late October to late March: spring and summer in the southern hemisphere.
But the seasons here aren’t like other places around the world.
Throughout the tourist season, temperatures are low. Some days are bitterly cold, and high winds can make it feel much colder. However, the temperature is glorious on other days, even t-shirt weather occasionally.
It can rain, sleet or snow, and it can do all of this in a single day.
When packing for an Antarctic cruise, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
First and foremost, make sure you pack clothes that will keep you warm and dry. You’ll be spending a lot of time outside, so it’s essential to have clothes that will protect you from the elements.
It’s also a good idea to layer your clothing, so you can adjust depending on the weather.
In addition to warm clothes, you’ll also need to pack some essentials for your trip.
Make sure to bring a good camera to capture all the fantastic sights and other electronics like a laptop or tablet. You’ll also want to pack sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.
And don’t forget any medications you might need – Antarctica has no pharmacy!
Our Complete Antarctica Cruise Packing List
Here is our complete list of what to wear in Antarctica, plus all the other packing essentials.
You can download the list above; we’ll go into more detail below too.
- Soft Duffel bag
- Dry Bag
- Waterproof pants
- Windproof & Waterproof jacket
- Fleece jacket
- Thermal underwear
- Long sleeve shirts
- Sweaters/fleece jackets
- Comfortable outdoor trousers
- Waterproof ski gloves
- Glove liners
- Merino wool socks (lots)
- 1 x Pair of comfortable shoes
Electronics & Camera Gear
- Go Pro
- Laptop or tablet
- Zoom lens
- Wide angle lens
- Spare camera batteries
- Spare memory cards
- Battery charger
- Tripod or Monopod
- Sunscreen lotion (SPF 30 or higher)
- Lip balm with SPF 15 or higher
Antarctica Packing Tips
Now that you know what to pack for your Antarctic cruise, here are a few packing tips to ensure you’re prepared for anything.
Your cruise could be anything from 8 to 22 days long. Most ships have laundry onboard, so you don’t need to pack 22 evening outfits.
While laundry isn’t cheap, it does save you the hassle of oversized luggage.
The bathroom may have a short washing line in the shower area, perfect for hanging your smalls.
Pack a small pot of washing detergent and wash your smalls as you go.
You won’t need as much clothing as you think. We recommend packing light, so you can enjoy the experience and not worry about lugging around a lot of stuff.
Leave Your Ball Gowns & Dinner Jackets At Home
There’s no need for formal attire onboard an Antarctica expedition. Most days will be spent layered up outdoors. However, the dress code is casual in the evenings and on sea days.
Even the Captain’s dinner is an informal affair. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you dress up to the nine’s.
Dress In Layers
The key to staying comfortable in Antarctica is to dress in layers. The weather in Antarctica can be unpredictable.
Trips to Antarctica run during the Austral spring and summer. Temperatures usually hover around 0°C or 32°F.
It can feel pretty cold on zodiac cruises if you’re not dressed well, but it can feel quite warm on shore excursions.
If you wear layers, you can always take them off or add a layer depending on the conditions.
You’ll want to have a few different layers that you can add or remove, depending on the weather.
A good base layer should be made of Merino wool or similar material that will wick away moisture and keep you warm even when wet. Thermal underwear is an excellent option for a base layer.
On top of your base layer, you’ll want to add a few more layers for warmth. Fleece jackets and sweaters are perfect for this. And make sure to bring a waterproof and windproof outer layer to protect you from the elements.
Bring Sunscreen & Lip Balm
Even though it’s cold, the sun is powerful in Antarctica. Pack sunscreen and lip balm with SPF to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
Pack Medications & First Aid
Antarctica has no pharmacy, so it’s important to pack any medications or first aid supplies you might need.
The Antarctic expedition ships always have an onboard doctor for emergencies. Still, you should bring any meds you take regularly.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Your trip to Antarctica is a significant investment. Therefore, protect yourself with the right travel insurance policy to cover you for any unfortunate circumstances, such as long delays or even trip cancellations!
Antarctica’s notorious weather, and especially conditions in the Drake Passage, often dictates when a ship can depart.
At the mercy of the weather, delays can be long, so it’s vital to purchase an Antarctica travel insurance policy that covers you for the worst.
Most expedition companies consider suitable travel insurance compulsory. Therefore, they may ask to see your policy certificate before you’re allowed to join the cruise.
Your travel policy should cover personal injury, pre-existing medical conditions, and repatriation and evacuation expenses.
In the worst-case scenario, an accident or sudden illness could result in you needing to be evacuated from the Antarctic. That could cost as much as $150,000. Make sure your policy can cover that as a minimum.
We highly recommend World Nomads Insurance for US-based travelers and True Traveller for everyone else.
What Kit Will Be Provided On The Expedition Ship?
Depending on the tour company and ship, you may receive some of the necessary gear for your voyage.
Most polar cruises include a high-quality waterproof and windproof jacket. We traveled with Polar Latitudes, and they gave all passengers a bright red Helly Hansen jacket to keep.
We were also provided with a loaned pair of waterproof neoprene boots. These are essential for shore landings and zodiac cruises.
It’s worth choosing a size larger than you usually wear to allow for an extra pair of thick Merino wool socks.
Don’t worry about getting the correct size. The expedition teams usually hold a boot exchange part on the first night of the cruise.
You should check with your tour operator before traveling what is included. If you forget any essentials, you can usually hire them before you board the ship or buy them on board.
Read more: What To Expect On An Antarctic Expedition
What To Pack For An Antarctica Cruise
So what do you really need to pack for a trip to Antarctica? Here’s the complete essential packing list, including what to wear in Antarctica and all accessories to get you off to a flying start.
Best Luggage For Antarctica
Most travelers to Antarctica will fly into Ushuaia from Buenos Aires or Santiago after a long-haul international flight. The flights into Ushuaia are mostly on small planes, so keeping your baggage weight down is essential.
On board the ship, your cabin has limited storage space. We had quite a lush cabin, but the wardrobes wouldn’t have coped with large suitcases.
And you must make sure things are packed away properly once the ship has set sail.
The Drake Passage has a habit of being quite rough, and being woken in the night by a flying suitcase would get your trip off to a really bad start!
Soft Duffel Bag
The best luggage for Antarctica is a soft duffel bag that can be rolled up and stuffed in a drawer when unpacked.
Some ships will take you unpacked cases for safe keeping, freeing up some space in your cabin.
We needed to store our bags in our cabin and were glad of the soft duffel bags.
A dry bag is a crucial thing to have on an Antarctic cruise.
Bear in mind almost every excursion involves getting into a zodiac boat off the back or side of the ship in the Southern Ocean.
You will get wet, so you’ll need a dry bag to protect your camera gear!
They’re relatively cheap and indispensable. Get one that also acts as a day pack, so you can carry it hands-free.
What Clothes To Pack For Antarctica
With an informal dress code and cold yet changeable weather conditions, layering is the only way to go.
Base Layers & Underwear
Merino wool makes a perfect material for base layers. It’s lightweight, ultra-warm, and dries quickly, even when hand-washed.
Synthetic fabrics such as polyester are also good options, especially if you’re on a budget.
They don’t hold moisture like cotton, so you won’t get cold and clammy when you start to sweat.
2 sets of base layers are perfect, but you can get away with 1 and hand wash them every few days.
Just be sure they’ll dry overnight, as you will need them the following day.
These layers will make all the difference to your comfort on zodiac excursions in cold weather.
If you’re off for a zodiac cruise, dress up in a long sleeve sweater and a fleece jumper to keep out the chill.
Just the fleece jumper will probably be okay for shore landings, but you can shed a layer if you’re too warm once you start hiking.
For your legs, fleece-lined trousers are perfect. You may spend time sea kayaking and sitting on the ground to observe the penguins, which will help keep your butt cozy.
The following items are completely essential for all zodiac cruises and shore landings.
You’d catch your death if you got wet so getting good quality items is worth every penny.
However, before you spend a fortune on new gear, check whether or not your expedition company can provide them first.
Some will provide you with a waterproof jacket to keep, others provide all the gear to borrow, and some can arrange for you to hire the necessary equipment.
It’s often cheaper to hire, especially if you’re unlikely to use the gear again.
Polar Latitudes provided us with a fabulous expedition parka to keep. In addition, we borrowed waterproof boots on board and hired waterproof trousers.
Don’t underestimate the difference a good pair of gloves will make.
Cold, wet hands will ruin any excursion, and once the wind starts howling, you’ll want to cut your zodiac excursion short for fear of losing your fingers.
We wore two pairs of gloves: one pair of thermal glove liners and a water-resistant outer pair. They weren’t cheap, but we stayed dry the whole time.
Don’t cut corners when it comes to keeping your feet warm. We often wore 2 pairs of thick socks on zodiac cruises, 1 pair being merino wool thermals.
We only brought 1 pair of shoes too. You don’t wear them off the ship because you will always wear waterproof boots.
So, there’s no need to worry about getting your hiking boots ruined by penguin guano or elephant seal poop! And don’t wear flip-flops around the ship.
The Drake Passage and the Southern Ocean can be rough, and the ship will often roll around a bit, so you need a good sturdy pair of shoes.
Packing for the ship
There’s little time to relax on an Antarctic expedition.
Most days are spent on excursions, and you’ll be so tired after dinner that you’ll probably turn in early anyway.
As the dress code is informal, pack for a comfortable trip. And leave a little room in the waist too! The food on board is fabulous!
Clothing Accessories For An Antarctic Expedition
We’re not talking about fancy jewelry and shoes here. Instead, these are essential accessories to include on your Antarctic packing list.
As strange as it may sound, don’t forget your bathing suit! The hotel you stay at on either side of your expedition may well have a luxury spa.
Even if you don’t want to take advantage of such facilities, you’re bound to want to do a polar plunge! Aren’t you?
It’s a tradition for all first-time visitors to the south polar region.
And after the initial shock (that’s an understatement), it’ll make you feel buzzing with life (and that’s an understatement too)!
What Toiletries To Pack For Antarctica
Our cabin included luxurious toiletries; if there was anything we’d forgotten, they were available to buy.
Just make sure to pack your sun cream and moisturizer. I’m not kidding.
It’s easy to get sunburnt in Antarctica.
What Electronics To Pack For An Antarctic Cruise
You won’t have any signal or access to the internet for most of your expedition. Still, you will want to take photos and videos.
You’ll want to ensure you capture all the fantastic sights on your trip. So don’t forget to pack your camera and any lenses or accessories you might need.
A Good Quality Digital Camera
The scenery in Antarctica is truly unique, and you’ll want to be able to capture it in all its glory. A good quality digital camera will also allow you to take advantage of the unique light conditions that exist in Antarctica.
Try to learn how to use it before you begin your trip to get the best photographs you can.
Most expeditions have an onboard photography coach in the expedition team, so they’ll help you make the most of your equipment.
Don’t Forget Your Batteries!
The cold weather can drain batteries very quickly, so pack plenty of spares.
We recommend at least 4 batteries.
- One inside your camera,
- Two fully charged spares on each excursion, and
- one on charge.
You’ll go through your batteries like they’re going out of fashion, so ensure you always have a battery on charge.
Use a fresh, fully charged battery when out on shore landings and zodiac cruises. Keep your spares in an inside pocket with a hand warmer. Your body heat and the extra warmth from the hand warmers will help prevent them from draining too much.
Wide Angle Lens
A wide-angle lens is essential for getting those amazing shots of the icebergs, mountains, and wildlife.
Make sure your camera can take interchangeable lenses and that you pack a wide-angle lens in your hand luggage.
A zoom lens is also handy for getting close-up shots of the wildlife without disturbing them.
Aim for at least a zoom of 200mm and much more if you can afford it. It will help capture great whale flukes and far-off wildlife action from a safe distance.
Get Inspired: 31 Beautiful Pictures of Antarctica
No need to call home, but a smartphone is good for taking quick photos and videos on the go.
Plus, with a smartphone, you can take some of your zodiac cruises without carrying heavier camera equipment. And there’s a lot to be said for putting the camera down!
Just remember to keep it in a waterproof case or dry bag.
A Laptop or Tablet
Far from essential, but it’s great to be able to download your photos each day. Plus, most trips run an expedition photography competition on the return leg across the Drake Passage.
The Antarctic landscape is truly amazing, and you’ll want to ensure you capture it in all its glory.
Spare Memory Cards
You’ll be taking many photos and videos, so make sure you’ve got plenty of storage. We took over 5,000 photos (each) on our 21-day expedition!
Using a laptop, you can always download your photos and videos daily to free up space on your memory card.
Read our booking guide before you book your trip to Antarctica
What Not To Bring To Antarctica
You’ll spend most of your time on the ship, so there’s no need to pack many clothes. In fact, you probably won’t even need to bring a formal outfit as most expedition companies don’t have a dress code for dinner.
Here are some other things you don’t need to bring:
- Hairdryers – Most ships have hairdryers in their cabins.
- High Heels – The decks can be slippery, so leave your high heels home. Same for the flip-flops!
- Fancy Clothes – There’s no need to pack formal clothes as most expedition companies don’t have a dress code for dinner. You’ll be spending most of your time in thermal layers anyway.
- Your Make Up Bag – You won’t need it! The winds will just blow it all away. Plus, who wants to wear makeup when you’re on an expedition?
- Your Jewellery Box – Again, you won’t need it. Leave all your valuables at home.
- Towels – Most ships provide towels. If not, you can always bring a quick-drying microfiber towel.
Our Exclusive Coupon Code
If you book your Antarctica cruise directly with Polar Latitudes, use our exclusive coupon code for 5% off.
That could save you as much as $2000 per person!
Plus, you can use it on already discounted prices.
Just quote “Mowgli” when booking.
By now, you know exactly what to wear in Antarctica – and what not!
Packing for an Antarctic cruise is different from packing for any other trip.
But as long as you’ve got the essential items on this list, you’ll be well prepared for the adventure of a lifetime!
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