Parkas, layers & swimsuits | How to pack for an Antarctic cruise

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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 and wearing seal fur coats.

Thankfully, times have changed! You might think you need a suitcase the size of a small truck but you’d be surprised. Here’s how to pack for an Antarctic cruise and avoid excess baggage fees.

How to pack for Antarctica

The Antarctica 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 season temperatures are low. Some days are bitterly cold, and high winds can make it feel much colder. Other days the temperature is glorious, even t-shirt weather on occasions.

It can rain, sleet or snow and it can do all of this in any one day.

What to pack for an Antarctic cruise - hiking

Antarctica packing tips

Travel light

Your cruise could be anything from 8 to 22 days long. Most ships have a laundry onboard though 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.

Read our booking guide before you book your trip to Antarctica

Leave your ball gowns and dinner jackets at home

There’s no need for formal attire onboard an Antarctica expedition. Most days will be spent layered up outdoors. In the evenings and on sea days, the dress code is casual.

Even the Captain’s dinner is an informal affair. If you dress up to the nine’s you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s not as cold as you might think

What to pack for an Antarctic cruise ship

The Antarctica cruise season runs 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 for it well but on shore excursions it can feel quite warm. Layers are the way to go.

Don’t forget your travel insurance

Your Antarctica cruise is a big investment so getting the right Antarctica travel insurance to cover you for any unfortunate circumstances such as long delays or even trip cancellation!

Antarctica’s notorious weather, especially that of 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. 

Travel insurance tips

Travel insurance is an essential part of any overseas trip but can feel like a quagmire.

Take a look at these 2 posts to help you buy the best travel insurance for your trip.

Essential Antarctica packing list

So what do you really need to pack for an Antarctica cruise? Here's the complete essential Antarctica packing list to get you off to a flying start.

The best luggage for the Antarctica

Most travellers to the 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 you’ll want to keep your baggage weight down.

Onboard the ship, your cabin has limited storage space. We had quiet a lush cabin but the wardrobes wouldn’t have coped with large suitcases. And you must make sure things are packed away properly.

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!

What clothes to pack for the Antarctica

With an informal dress code and cold, yet changeable weather conditions, plan on packing layers.

Outer layers

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 with your expedition company first.

Some provide waterproof jackets to keep, others provide all the gear to borrow and some can arrange for you to hire the equipment you need. It’s often cheaper to hire, especially if you’re unlikely to use the gear again.

Our expedition company provided us with a fabulous parka to keep and lent us waterproof boots onboard. The agent we booked with lent us waterproof trousers free of charge.

Footwear for a trip in Antarctica

Don’t cut corners when it comes to keeping your feet warm either. We often wore 2 pairs of socks on the zodiac cruises, 1 pair being merino wool thermals.

We only brought 1 pair of shoes too. You don’t where them off the ship anyway so they won’t be ruined by penguin guano or elephant seal poop! And don’t wear flip flops around the ship.

The Drake Passage and 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, 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!

Clothing accessories for the Antarctica

What toiletries to pack for the Antarctica

Our cabin included lovely toiletries and if there was anything we’d forgotten, they were available to buy.

Just make sure to pack your suncream and moisturiser. I’m not kidding. It’s easy to get sunburnt in Antarctica.

What electronics to pack for the Antarctica

You’ll want to capture this once in a lifetime experience for sure. Don’t forget to pack your camera and GoPro. We’ll write another post on camera gear but suffice to say, the best camera to bring is the one you already have and can use.

Most expeditions have an onboard photography coach in the expedition team so they’ll help you make the most of your equipment.

We brought our laptops with us too. It helped us when we wanted to download our images each day and edit a few for the onboard photo contest!

Check with your expedition company if they provide a pair of binoculars. Some do. Ours didn’t but the binoculars are an essential piece of kit, especially for watching the amazing ocean going seabirds.

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Ultimate guide to packing for the Antarctica

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