Antarctica packing list

Out on the Antarctic ice you’ll want to be well wrapped up and warm, but remember that for much of the time you’ll be on a ship, with a ship-sized closet and storage space. Here are the essentials you’ll need for your trip to the White Continent.

Though it can be cold, most of the trips to Antarctica take place during the southern summer, and temperatures will vary. On a sunny day, it could get up to 2C (that’s 35F). If it’s overcast, you are almost assured of below-freezing temperatures. So packing layers is a smart choice.

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Excursion gear

Start with a good base layer that will be next to your skin and will keep you warm, but also wick away moisture. Merino wool is a good option because it keeps you warm and dry, and it’s naturally odour-resistant. One set could last for your entire trip.

Add a layer: Ski or snowboard trousers are great - after all, they are designed to keep you warm and dry in the snow. Waterproof pants are also a good choice, but make sure you are warm enough underneath. On your top, keep your core warm with a fleece or midweight base layer.

Add a layer: You’ll want a solid outer layer. Most tour companies provide their guests with parkas in bright colours that are easy to see on the ice and snow. If yours doesn’t, bring a warm, water-resistant coat; a hood is useful to block the wind.

On the feet: Knee-high, waterproof boots are the footwear of choice on Antarctica. Again, most tour companies will assign you a pair before the first land excursion and you’ll keep them for the whole journey. They are easy to wash before and after you go on shore to keep the continent pristine. Wear with a thick pair of wool socks (pack a few extra pairs) and you’ll be good to go.

On the head and hands: Waterproof gloves or mittens are a must, along with glove liners, if you have them. Take a spare pair of gloves. A scarf or neck gaiter helps when the wind starts to blow. Top off with a warm hat that covers your ears. A hat with flaps is not a bad idea. Don’t forget your eyewear. Bright sun creates an incredible glare on the snow. Glacier glasses are top-notch, but goggles or high-quality sunglasses will work, too. A polarised pair can help you spot whales or penguins popping out of the water.

Sunscreen: High SPF sunscreen is a must. Not only are you dealing with the aforementioned glare, but the ozone layer is also thinnest here. Apply before every excursion.

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Everyday gear for Antarctica

You’ll need everyday clothes to wear between excursions. For those days at sea when you move between the ship’s deck and the inside, layers are good for quickly warming up or stripping off. Shoes with good grip are a must as the decks can get slippery.

You may want a nice outfit as there is usually a captain’s dinner on the last evening, and anything that doesn’t look like what you’ve been wearing for the past week will be an improvement. However, if you have limited space, no-one is going to judge you.

Feeling brave? Pack a bathing suit. There may be an opportunity for a polar plunge, if you’re up for the challenge of jumping into the Antarctic water.

Other essentials

  • Don’t forget your camera. You’ll want something technical on which to capture your wonderful experiences
  • A good pair of binoculars
  • Waterproof bag to keep your small electronics dry
  • Chargers: there are outlets on the ship for charging your small electronics
  • Small backpack or daypack for your on-shore excursions
  • Personal entertainment. There will be downtime on the ship. Some ships have a library, but you might want to take your own reading matter. A deck of cards can be fun, and a journal or notebook to record your observations and thoughts is handy
  • Any medication you need including prescriptions and, if necessary, seasickness pills. There will be a medical professional on board, but you need to bring your own meds. Hand sanitiser is also useful to have: In a contained area like a ship, people can share more than just a dinner table.

Why waterproof?

Why waterproof or water-resistant? The Zodiac inflatable boats used for shore excursions are open-air crafts. Though the drivers are pros, you can get splashed and it can be snowing or drizzling when you disembark. Having a waterproof or water-resistant outer layer will keep you drier, warmer and happier.

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