What to Pack for an Expedition in Antarctica

8 min read

Very few people on this planet have stepped on Antarctica and you are about to be one of them. Do you know what to pack?

What to Pack for an Expedition in Antarctica
Photo by henrique setim / Unsplash

Packing for an expedition in Antarctica sounds intimidating and for a good reason. The Antarctic environment is inhospitable, also unpredictable, and potentially dangerous especially if you are not well prepared.

The most important aspect you should focus on is your clothing. You don't want to get cold and most importantly wet. We also want to preserve and protect Antarctica, so make sure to clean very well your boots and other clothing items to avoid taking any seeds or foreign bacteria to the frozen continent.

As usual, the products that we mention in this article are products that we use ourselves. The product links are affiliate links that help us pay the costs for the Travelfoss blog.

Aboard The Ship

Clothing aboard the ship is mostly casual except for the Captain's Welcome Aboard and Farewell dinners, which are informal.

Casual wear

The daytime casual wear consists of sports outfits. After all, you never know when a group of orcas show up and you want to be able to go out on deck to see them. In the evenings, open-neck shirts, trousers, and casual wear are appropriate.

Informal wear

This is not a wedding or a ball, so there's no need to over exaggerate with the outfit. It is however a special, informal diner where a tie is optional.

Ashore

The most important way to gear up is layering. This way you are prepared for warmer days as well as colder ones. You should also consider that people feel cold differently. Some people might want to get some heavier layers, while others will be just fine with lighter ones.

Base Layer

The base layer refers to the first layer of clothes that you will take directly on your body. It is sometimes also called underwear (although it does not refer to your bras, panties, or boxers).

The base layer needs to be breathable, keep you warm, and wick moisture away quickly to keep you dry. The best materials for this layer are merino wool and synthetic technical ones like Capilene from Patagonia. We personally prefer wool for the base layer. Synthetic materials tend to smell quickly and tend to create static electricity.

When it comes to merino wool base layers, you can opt for different weights. The weight is measured as the fabric's weight in grams per meter2. The bigger the weight number, the thicker the material, and the warmer you will be. The graph below illustrates the different types of weight for wool products.

Source: Icebreaker

Our go-to options are either 200 or 240. These options are good for cold conditions. Remember that you will be layering, and the heavyweight might be a bit too much for some people.

The following are the base layers we use in Antarctica:

Women

Men

You should carry at least 2 pieces each so you always have a clean one when you wash the other.

Mid Layer

The mid-layer is worn over your base layer. It adds an extra barrier against cold without making you too bulky. It should be smooth on the outside for easy layering. You can opt for a heavyweight, mid-weight, or lightweight fleece.

Personally, I prefer wearing 2 lightweight fleece layers if necessary rather than a heavyweight one. That's because I have a bit of heat intolerance and I prefer feeling a bit cold rather than hot. Being able to take a layer off and prevent over-heating is extremely helpful. Taking the heavyweight fleece off might be too much though.

Like base layers, the available materials are wool or synthetic ones. For this layer, we prefer synthetic materials because they are extra light and quick-drying.

There are mid-layers for both top and bottom. The fleece pants can be either long, capri, or shorter. Most men may not need to wear mid-layer fleece pants. As a woman, depending on the weather conditions, I might skip the mid-layer or use capri length fleece pants. I prefer capri length pants, and not full length because I have wide calves and I prefer to be able to keep the mid-layer pants out of my boots.

Here are our go-to options when it comes to mid-layers:

Women

Men

Antarctica Packing Essentials: base and mid layers
Antarctica Packing Essentials: base and mid layers

Insulation Layer

There are numerous ways to pair this layer with your other layers. For very cold days you can wear it over the mid layer and under your parka.

Outer Layer

The outer layer is extremely important because it is your main shield against the Antarctic environment. Most Antarctic expedition cruises will provide a parka to their guests, so the only thing you should worry about is to order your size with your cruising company. If you are not sure, you should check with your agent the information regarding the parka jacket.

The parka is windproof and waterproof, but you will most likely receive it on the ship. If you are unlucky with the weather between the airport and the ship you might need to use a lightweight rain jacket.

Waterproof pants are a must! They will help you stay dry during zodiac rides and during wet landings where you will need to step into the water. The waterproof pants should be wide enough to fit over your boots. Yes, they should be worn over the boots, and not inside them. If you wear the pants inside your boots you risk for water to enter in your boots and getting wet is the last thing you want.

EDIT: Some readers have asked about using ski or snowboard pants instead of waterproof pants, so we wanted to share our insights on this matter. The ski/snowboard pants can be a bit bulky compared to layering, but the main concern about them are the wet landings. You will wear knee high boots and not all ski/snowboard pants fit over those boots. Additionally, the thin waterproof pants will stick to the boots when submerged in water preventing the water from going up between the pants and the boots. The bottom part of the ski/snowboard pants will simply get wet and offer no protection when stepping in water.

Footwear

Zodiac wet landings require you to step into the water. For this, you need knee-high rubber boots. You will be walking in those boots on land, snow, and ice, so you need good traction and warmth.

The best options that we know of for Antarctic expeditions are:

I don't know which is best, but we are from the EU and we could not find Bogs available for purchase in Europe since they are made by an American company. Therefore, we went for the Muck boots. However, we did read some reviews that suggested that the Bogs men's boots have different soles than women's and that men's have better traction. Also, women with larger calves are recommended to go for the men's version anyway.

Most (if not all) expedition cruises will offer boots for rent on the ship, but you should specify your size before to be sure you will find your size. Renting is the best option if you want to travel lightweight (a pair of boots weighs around 2.5kg), but keep in mind that you risk not having your exact number. If you plan to do other expeditions where you might need this kind of boots, then buying them is the best option. The rental price for a pair of boots is more than half the price of a new pair.

Hats, Gloves, Socks

Accessories

  • Sunglasses are a must in Antarctica. The sun can shine and the ice reflects a lot of light which can be harmful to unprotected eyes. You need a pair of polarized sunglasses with a UV filter. Metal frames are not recommended since they can get cold and harm your skin. It is also good to use a strap to have the sunglasses tied behind your head to prevent losing them. Just like on a glacier or Mont Blanc, the bright light is everywhere, so lateral covers for the sunglasses are also highly recommended. Our go-to option is the Julbo Explorer 2 glasses with Reactiv High Mountain 2-4 Photocromatic, Polarized lens, also known as camel or cameleon lens.
  • Trekking poles are good for increased stability when walking on ice or snow. We already discussed  how to choose your trekking poles in another article about hiking gear.
  • Binoculars are the best way to watch wildlife close up without disturbing them. We like traveling light, so we went for the small Olympus 8x25 WP II Binocular.
  • Sunscreen
  • Protective lip lotion
  • Motion sickness remedies
  • Zip-seal bags to keep the camera and phone dry
  • Lightweight and waterproof backpack
  • Bathing suit sounds a bit weird, but the arctic plunge is a common thing in these expeditions to Antarctica.

The Antarctica Essentials Packing Checklist

We shared with you some knowledge to help you understand what it is like in Antarctica and what you need to pack. To make your packing even easier you can get our packing checklist directly.

Packing for Antarctica by Travelfoss
Packing for Antarctica by Travelfoss ❄️ Special conditions require special gear. Aboard the ship Casual wear Open-neck shirts Trousers Sports outfits Informal wear Dresses or trouser suits Blouses Shirts Suit jacket Ashore Base Layer Synthetic or wool top Synthetic or wool bottom Mid La...

Additional Travel Packing

Besides the essentials that you need to pack for Antarctica, you may need to pack some regular stuff that you use on a daily basis when traveling. We have a travel packing checklist and also some tips & tricks for travel packing that you might like. In case you are interested you can check all our articles related to travel packing.


That's about it, I hope you found our checklist useful. If you consider that we should add anything to this list please let us know in the comments below.