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Trying to figure what clothes to pack to stay warm or the gear and supplies you need for Antarctica? I've got you!
I know it sounds crazy but…I packed everything I needed for a 23-day adventure to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands in in March 2023 in single CARRY-ON suitcase!
But there where a few reasons I decided to only pack the essentials and travel light to Antarctica:
Packing everything I needed for Antarctica in a single suitcase was challenging, but I realized that you really DO NOT need as much clothing or gear as you may think! In this ultimate Antarctica packing guide, you’ll find:
No matter where you travel, packing light has several advantages:
If you’re visiting the White Continent during the summer season (November - March), Antarctica isn’t as bone-chillingly cold as you think! When I visited Antarctica in March 2023, I experienced day temperatures in the high 20’s to low 30’s, which isn’t too different from any cold-weather camping, hiking, or outdoor adventure we experience when we're not in Antarctica.
Staying warm in Antarctica IS NOT about wearing the most expensive, name-brand gear. It’s even simpler (and cheaper) than that. Here are the golden rules for staying warm in Antarctica:
Dressing in layers makes it easy for you to take off layers as you start to heat up as you move around during landings and excursions in Antarctica. Your layering system to stay warm will consist of three layers:
The second piece of staying as warm as possible in Antarctica is to STAY DRY. Wet clothing in cold temperatures will make you feel even colder, which can be dangerous and lead to serious health and safety issues like hyperthermia.
In Antarctica, your clothes may get wet from:
To stay dry in Antarctica, you want to pack base layers and mid-layer clothing that are moisture-wicking. Whatever you do, AVOID COTTON! Cotton clothes and socks absorb moisture and are difficult to dry (which also leads to some unpleasant odors). Instead, choose clothing that is made from wool or wool blends, merino wool, or bamboo.
And when it comes to outer layers to pack for Antarctica, make sure your outerwear is waterproof.
As mentioned, staying warm in Antarctica is about staying dry. Which makes waterproof outerwear that much more critical when traveling to Antarctica.
Your jacket for Antarctica should be waterproof, insulating, and windproof for additional warmth on those days when the polar winds are strong.
*Pro tip: Check with your Antarctica tour operator whether they will provide you with a jacket or parka. Traveling with Poseidon Expedition, I was provided a durable, windproof, and weatherproof parka (to keep!), saving me a ton of valuable space in my suitcase!
I wore a pair of waterproof, windproof rain pants over my mid-layers to keep my legs dry from water sprays during zodiac cruises and hikes in the rain or on glaciers.
Should I pack rain pants or snow pants for Antarctica?
Struggling to decide whether to pack waterproof rain pants or snow/ski pants for Antarctica? I did too!
I decided to pack a pair of rain pants instead of snow/ski pants for Antarctica for several reasons:
Tall waterproof rubber boots with good traction (that are at least mid-calf or taller) are essential for Antarctica. These rubber boots will keep you dry as you get in and out of zodiacs or if you’re doing any glacier hiking.
I’d recommend sizing up the boots so you have enough space to layer up on socks to keep your feet warm.
Like the parkas, check with your tour operator to see if they will provide rubber boots for your trip. My tour operator provided me with a pair of gum boots after we boarded the ship.
I recommend packing extra mittens and gloves in case any of them get wet during your excursions. Wearing wet gloves in Antarctica will make you COLD.
Thankfully I packed (2) pairs of thin gloves and (2) pairs of outer mittens. The extra pair of gloves and mittens came in “HANDY” (pun intended) after they both got wet while kayaking.
Keeping your feet warm in Antarctica also means you’ll need to layer up on your socks! I packed several pairs of thinner socks to wear underneath my warmer, thicker socks. I packed (5) pairs of thinner socks and (3) pairs of thicker, outer socks.
The type of socks to pack for Antarctica is also important for keeping your feet warm and dry. Here are two tips when it comes to packing the proper socks for Antarctica:
Packing a single beanie or hat should be enough to keep your head warm in Antarctica. However, if you have room in your suitcase, I'd recommend a spare hat. My beanie ended up in the ice-cold water during a kayaking expedition, which would've been problematic for the excursion we had later that afternoon.
Pack a gaiter or scarf to keep your neck covered and warm in Antarctica. I packed a windproof fleece-lined Buff for extra warmth!
The sun in Antarctica can be STRONG, especially when it’s reflecting off the ocean and snow. Make sure to pack your sunscreen and sunglasses!
Base layers are the first layer (closest to your skin) in your layering system to keep you warm in any cold-weather adventure.
Features of a good base layer:
When it comes to picking the best base layers for Antarctica, you want to avoid cotton material, since cotton retains moisture as you sweat. Your damp clothing will make you feel even colder.
Instead, you want to pack base layers made from wool, wool blends, merino wool, etc. for the moisture-wicking properties. These materials will keep you dry if you start to sweat from activities.
I packed two pairs of base-layer bottoms and tops for Antarctica.
I packed three mid-layer tops and pants for Antarctica. Even when I wasn’t out on a land excursion, I’d wear these mid-layers to hang out onboard!
“What am I going to need a bathing suit for in Antarctica” you ask.
Honestly, you can't visit Antarctica without doing the famous Antarctica polar plunge!
I mean, how many people can say they’ve swam in 34F water?
My 23-day cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands means LOTS of days at sea. With that many consecutive days onboard, you’ll be itching for some physical activity. So whether you’re walking laps around the ship or getting a quick workout in the ship’s gym, make sure to pack some workout clothes.
I packed (2) lightweight workout tops and shorts.
When packing for my trip, I read about several ships having Welcome Dinners or Farewell Dinners where passengers could dress up. Although I packed a lightweight jumpsuit “just in case”, I never wore it! Like me, the rest of our ship was chill and casual.
Although you’ll need a pair of rubber boots for land excursions and zodiac rides, you’ll also want to pack comfortable shoes to wear onboard your Antarctica cruise ship.
Whether you plan to do laps around the ship, exercise in the gym, or just do some city touring before or after your cruise, you’ll want a pair of sneakers.
I packed my favorite lightweight trail running shoes (Altra Lone Peak) to hike in Tierra Del Fuego, stroll through Buenos Aires, and work out during sea days on our expedition ship.
Since the ship was going to be my home for 23 days while exploring the Antarctic region, I wanted to feel like I was at home!
I packed a pair of camp slippers to wear pretty much EVERYWHERE on the ship, whether it was to attend lectures or meals in the dining room. These slippers were also perfect to slip on quickly (with great traction) when the captain would announce wildlife sightings and I needed to run on deck to beat the crowd!
I recommend bringing a backpack with you to Antarctica if you plan on bringing a camera or just need something to hold your layers if you get warm.
Just make sure to protect your backpack from getting wet during bumpy zodiac rides! The saltwater can damage your backpack and any gear inside.
Pro tip: You cannot bring any food or drinks (besides water) onshore in Antarctica or South Georgia per IAATO regulations, you won’t need a backpack for this purpose.
I packed my 22L Patagonia Blackhole backpack, which was perfect for holding my camera, camera gear, and extra layers for land excursions. But what I love about this backpack is that it is waterproof, protecting my camera from getting wet during zodiac cruises.
Don't have a waterproof backpack? Backpack rain covers are an affordable way of keeping your backpack dry on wetter outdoor adventures.
A drybag is used to keep your valuables and electronics dry on wetter, outdoor adventures! I packed a dry bag to keep my camera dry while riding the zodiacs and hiking in the rain in South Georgia.
Kayaking in Antarctica? Check with your cruise operator to see if they will provide dry bags for your kayaking sessions. We borrowed dry bags for the duration of the trip to keep our phones, cameras, and other valuables in as we kayaked!
The best camera to bring to Antarctica is the one you know how to use the best. There would be no point bringing an expensive, professional DSLR camera if you don’t know how to use it! Although I packed a Nikon DSLR camera to Antarctica, I used my phone camera the most to capture the landscape and wildlife.
If you do end up packing a DSLR camera, make sure to bring a few Ziplock freezer bags to protect your camera body and lens from damage from condensation. Since the air temperature in Antarctica is far colder than the temperature onboard the ship, condensation will form on the inside and outside of your camera lens and body. To protect your camera from condensation:
Imagine taking the most incredible pictures of Antarctica’s magical landscape and unique wildlife, only to lose them! To prevent that, I packed a few camera accessories that were essential for protecting the thousands of pictures I took in Antarctica.
The camera accessories and essentials I’m glad I packed to Antarctica include:
Your experience crossing the Drake Passage can be either smooth as butter or rough as hell! Even though I had no previous issues with seasickness, I wanted to prepare for the worst.
The key to curing sea sickness is to prevent it! Here are the essential things I packed to prevent seasickness in Antarctica, especially while crossing the Drake Passage:
Fortunately, I did not experience any sickness! I do believe the scopolamine seasickness patch was extremely effective for me, so I highly recommend packing those if you're able to.
Forgot to bring seasickness medication? Our ship's onboard doctor had Dramamine (over-the-counter seasickness pills) available.
Because I wanted to pack light for Antarctica, I knew I would need to do laundry and wash my clothes throughout the trip. To minimize how much I spent on this trip, I packed travel laundry detergent sheets to wash my clothes in the sink when my clothes got dirty. And I’m glad I did because it costs $2.50 per pair of socks to get washed using the ship’s laundry services!
No matter how long your Antarctica cruise itinerary is, full days at sea are guaranteed. Pack your favorite things to keep busy, like books, a laptop for blogging, or some cards! Our ship offered multiple educational lectures and activities on sea days and even had an onboard library!
Outlets will be available on your Antarctica cruise ship for electronics. Make sure to pack any adapters and portable chargers you may need for your trip! Because I had so many electronics to charge (and wasn't sure if there would be enough outlets in my room), I ended up packing this power strip to make it convenient for to charge all of my devices at once.
If you’re looking for the ultimate guide on how to pack and travel light for Antarctica, this Antarctica packing guide lists the essential gear, clothing, and things to bring that will fit in just a carry-on suitcase for an epic trip!
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