So you’re finally going to Antarctica! Congratulations. You have just signed on for the best adventure of your life to the most beautiful place in the world. Now the question is, what do you bring? Is it going to be freezing? What kinds of clothes do you need? I had all these questions and did more than my share of stressing over what to pack. Just a few hours before my flight I was frantically running to an outdoors shop because I was paranoid about being unprepared. I hope this will be the only guide you need to definitively guide you on what to pack for Antarctica. In some instances, I am not listing what I brought but what I SHOULD HAVE brought.
Table of Contents
Antarctica isn’t as cold as you would expect. Expeditions for tourists run in the summer months of November to March. The temperatures during my trip which was from Feb 20 to March 5 ran from -2 C to 15 C (28 to 59 F). We had especially warm and sunny days. The key things to remember are that you need base layers to keep your body warm and outerwear to block water and wind. The conditions change rapidly so you have to be prepared. You aren’t typically outside for more than 3 hours so you just have to get through these periods!
Most expedition companies provide waterproof boots for landings. Check with yours to see if this is the case. If not you will need waterproof boots that go to the knees. When you do landings from the zodiacs you may step into water.
Otherwise, you just need closed-toe shoes to wear around the ship. I brought my trusty Converse low tops that I take everywhere. I also had a pair of hiking boots because I was hiking before the trip. These boots were comfy and warm, so I often wore them on the deck of the ship.
You don’t have to bring your own parka depending on the company you go with. G Adventures provides a very effective warm, windproof and waterproof parka that you get to keep. I brought my own simply because I needed it for hiking in Torres Del Paine before the trip. Plus I like how mine looks and fits better.
I have had this Patagonia 3 in 1 Jacket for years and adore it. The hood zips on and off easily and the jacket can be split into a windproof waterproof lightweight shell or just the warm insulating layer.
For a cheaper alternative, I found this one that is the same idea as the 3 jackets in 1
I wore this on and off the ship. I used it under my jacket as another warm layer and on the ship to be comfy and cozy
Columbia Sportswear Sawyer Rapids 2.0 Fleece Jacket
I would bring 2 things like this and 2 regular sweaters.
Base layers may be the most important part of staying warm. Rather than one huge chunky sweater, you will trap the heat your body naturally produces better with many thin layers. Thermal layers are designed with this idea in mind. I would bring 2 of each of these (tops and bottoms). There are many brands out there including Uniqlo, UnderArmour, and Hot Chillis, but I found this brand to be more affordable and lightweight but just as warm as the others.
I wore these OVER my thermal leggings and under the waterproof pants because I am colder than the average person.
Eddie Bauer Women’s Polar Fleece Lined Pants
These are actually a requirement and you WILL want them. They are a thin waterproof layer to cover your pants so your entire leg will be waterproof when out on zodiacs and landings.
Marmot PreCip Lightweight Waterproof Full Zip Pants
An alternative if you already have them is a pair of ski/snowboard pants which are already insulated, warm and waterproof. Honestly, if I could do over, I would have taken my skin pants! I have these an absolutely love them. They fit like jeans.
Bring a couple of these for variety. This one with the pom-pom comes in many colors. You get 2 in a set.
If you don’t want the pom-pom, here is a regular beanie.
This may be the most important purchase. Nothing is more frustrating than thick gloves that hinder you from getting in and out of pockets or using the camera or anything you need dexterity for! Also, no other body part seems to get as cold as the hands.
I have used these mittens on ski trips and nothing has kept my hands warmer plus gives me flexibility. Mittens are warmer than gloves because the heat from the fingers warms the other fingers. These have a zipper so you can free your thumb and forefinger, giving you dexterity for a camera or a zipper, but it is lined so the fingers exposed are not going to freeze. Brilliant, eh? Also, the zipper allows you to insert a hand warmer into the perfect spot between the liner and outer glove.
Smart Wool Ski or Snowboard Socks
These are designed specifically for warmth, to be comfortable and to wick moisture away from your feet. They also dry quickly so ideal for travel. I would avoid putting these in a dryer FYI, to increase the lifespan on them. Snowboard socks come up higher on the calf than ski socks, which I prefer.
These give you an extra layer under your sock and you can place a hand warmer between the liner and sock.
Fox River CoolMax WickDry Sock Liner
Turtle Fur Polar Fleece
Antarctica is the windiest continent and your body can be warm everywhere else but when that icy polar air hits that small delicate exposed area of skin on your chin and neck you will NOT feel warm everywhere so have neck and lower face protection!
I am a huge fan of this brand. It is deliciously soft and warm. I also have used these for years skiing and you can get them in different colors. I would bring 2 in different colors (and maybe a matching hat for funsies)
This is lighter and stretchier and good for wind and sun protection if it isn’t bitterly cold. These double as headbands and are versatile and come in every color and pattern imaginable.
You will need this for the polar plunge (if you are brave enough to do it) and your ship may have a sauna or hot tub.
It can be bright with sun glare heightened by the ice and water. Also, the wind can blow particles into your face so it’s good to have a little eye protection.
Ray-Ban Polarized Aviators
Any comfortable pants will do. I had one pair of jeans, one pair of comfy hiking pants and one pair of leggings. I wore a T-shirt or base layer under my fleece jacket or sweater. The key is comfort. Comfy socks, comfy shoes.
Base layers (top and bottoms) plus a fleece jacket. Insulated pants covered with waterproof pants. Parka. Beanie hat, buff, sunglasses, mittens with hand warmers. Sock liners and snowboard socks with hand warmer in between. Waterproof boots. Sunglasses.
Base layers, fleece, and socks as above. Leggings. Sunglasses. They give you a dry suit that covers everything. I used a buff to block the sun on my face and a beanie. They give you special neoprene boots (similar to scuba boots) that go over your dry suit. Thick socks don’t fit well in these so make sure you choose a size larger than usual. There are also neoprene bogies that are attached to the kayak paddle. I wore glove liners under these but they often got wet.
You can carry a regular backpack for landings but if you do make sure the things inside (like camera equipment) are in waterproof bags. This type of dry bag is the most practical because it can literally be submerged in water and everything inside is protected. Get the kind with a strap that converts it into a backpack. This will come in handy on future boating or diving trips or anything where you have to keep items from getting wet.
If you want your phone handy, these are great because you can just hang it around your neck and access your phone when it is safe to do so. If you get splashed on the zodiac or kayak, your phone will be fine.
I referenced these above to put in between the sock and sock liner and into your gloves. I couldn’t have survived without them! You don’t necessarily need the ones for feet. The “hand” ones work fine for both. I brought a box of ten pairs. They are activated when exposed to air and last 10 hours.
Hot Hands Brand
The sun in Antarctica is no joke. There is an ozone hole in this region plus the reflection from the ice and water makes the sun more powerful. Put it this way, I lived in Miami for over 10 years and rarely got a sunburn. Two hours in Antarctica WITH sunblock on and I was burned. There were many red faces on the ship. I would reapply this every hour that you are outside. This one is recommended by many dermatologists and has a superior formulation of a high percentage of zinc oxide, which blocks UVA and UVB. I won’t use any other brand. It is also recommended as safe for the environment by the EWG.
The next three items are things to bring to combat the extraordinarily dry weather. I was constantly using all of these things.
Systane Lubricant Drops
As someone with chronic dry eyes, these are the ones that work best.
I always lose these so bringing two is not a bad idea. One is purely moisturizing and the other has UV protection.
Elta MD SPF 31
You can’t use enough of this!
I had a roommate who snored. You never know when these will come in handy!
Sometimes you may need to nap during the day or go to bed before your roommates want the lights off.
My boat used European plugs but check to see which ones your ship uses.
This is the best detergent for travel. It is compressed powder detergent formed into sheets of paper. Incredibly light and easy to pack. They are also eco friendly.
Obviously, bring whatever you normally take but you should be prepared with seasickness medication. If you are someone who knows they get seasick, I suggest obtaining a prescription from your doctor for a Scopolamine patch and/or Zofran (ondansetron). Note that neither works emergently and must be used preemptively. (I’m a nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist in my spare time if you didn’t know) If you aren’t sure and maybe sometimes get motion sickness, be aware that there is a high likelihood that the Drake Passage will cause some nausea. (Many people that never were seasick before, got seasick here)
Traditional Dramamine uses the ingredient dimenhydrinate which will put you right to sleep. This one uses Meclizine which still may make you a bit sleepy but much less severely.
This is a great natural adjunct for any kind of upset stomach, including sea sickness. My ship had ginger tea available which I drank often.
A plastic stud incorporated into the wristband exerts pressure on the P6 acupuncture point on the wrist. Pressure on this point is known to relieve nausea and vomiting. This technique has been well studied for post-op nausea and vomiting after anesthesia and is effective in many people
Antarctica is a photographer’s dream destination. Whether you are a professional, a hobbyist or just someone who likes nice photos from your trip, it’s worth putting some thought into what photography gear you will bring. I am not a professional photographer but I often pretend to be. Blogger problems. Seriously though, I have never had such camera and lens envy as I have on this trip. Here’s the deal. If you are not someone who takes their photos seriously, has a blog or needs perfect crisp wildlife shots, just bring whatever you normally use (i.e a point and shoot) but I suggest something other than your cell phone because you are coming all the way to Antarctica, after all.
I did not do what many blogs advised regarding photography. Several people recommended bringing TWO camera bodies, one for wide-angle landscape shots and one telephoto for wildlife shots. Supposedly, one can not change lenses in Antarctica because conditions would ruin your camera. While this may be true on a kayak or zodiac with high winds and lots of splashing, I didn’t find this to be true on most of our landings. We had incredibly good conditions and I was able to change lenses between wide angle and telephoto depending on whether I wanted landscape or wildlife. You will have to judge based on the conditions of the day.
This has been my baby since 2016. Compared to DSLR this is super light and compact. The lens it comes with is the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 which is a decent wide angle and great for landscape shots like the ones below.
Whether I had grey skies or blue skies, not only was Antarctica mesmerizing, but my trusty camera did a great job.
I also brought my telephoto 70 mm to 300 mm which I used to think was great. It was fabulous in Africa for safari and was great for the penguins and some seals which we could get close enough to. However, for the whales, I really needed something in the 400 mm to 600 mm range. Some people had 1000mm lenses!
You can get this pack (same price as lens alone) with polarizing and UV filters, both things that you may want. The UV filter is not universally agreed upon amongst photography experts. Some say it isn’t necessary with newer lenses that aren’t very sensitive to light but some say it protects your lens. You can read more about UV filters here. I did not use any filter for my photos. A polarizing filter helps with the color in your photos, to darken skies, manages reflections, or suppresses glare from the surface of lakes or the sea. One of these days I will try one. Some blogs said you can get a grey ice effect with the wrong settings. I didn’t find this to happen either! I think if you have a good camera, know how to use it, and use the correct settings, you don’t need fancy equipment.
These are some photos I took with my telephoto lens.
You can see that they are good but not perfect when zoomed in.
Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5–5.6 GM OSS
This is the kind of lens you need if you are getting REALLY serious about getting those whale shots or seeing each individual hair on the seal’s whiskers. It’s a major investment.
Here is an example of a beautiful whale fluke shot by another ship passenger at a 562mm focal length. Specifically the Canon EOS camera with Sigma 150-600mm lens.
Below are crabeater seals shot with my telephoto lens (300mm)
Here is an example of a Weddell Seal, shot with extra fine detail, taken by a friend from the ship. She used the Canon EF 100-400mm telephoto lens. Having that extra 100mm really makes a difference.
While kayaking I used my GoPro because I was too scared to bring my camera. However, the kayak master and a few others brought their DSLRs on the kayak! This photo below was taken with my very beat-up and smudged lens GoPro. It isn’t the greatest shot but just so you can see the difference with the other shots.
I actually shot this sunset with my Samsung S9 because my wide-angle lens broke on the trip!
The cold weather makes batteries lose charge more quickly. I brought 3 batteries but two probably would have been enough. It’s handy to have a battery charger that plugs in independently from the camera. My camera came with one of these.
You will take thousands of photos of icebergs and penguins. If you shoot in RAW (which you should, IMHO) it will require lots of space. Be prepared! I also recommend backing it up to an external hard drive every few days JUST IN CASE (can you tell I’m a paranoid person?)
This is the external hard drive I’ve used for years. The WD Elements 3TB….that’s 3 terabytes! I dare you to fill this thing up! I have SOOOO much stuff on it and it’s not even 25% full.
Bring plenty of lens cleaner and cloths because the wind blows all kinds of crap onto the lens. I keep this box at home and grab a handful of the little packets to stuff in my camera bag.
Antarctica is the most beautiful place on earth so get all the photos you can!!
Do you have any packing or photography tips to share? Have you been to anywhere this cold?
Tell me about it!
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