You’ve researched your Antarctica cruise, booked, planned, and now it’s almost here! You’re probably beyond excited, right? But now comes the hard part: what should you pack? What clothes do you need for Antarctic weather? How cold will it be? What should you wear on the ship? And what essential accessories do you need to remember?
These are all questions I asked before I went to Antarctica. And because I’m an overthinker and I’m terrible at packing light, I investigated the answers thoroughly. I read every Antarctica packing list I could find. I contacted my Antarctic cruise operator. I researched polar clothing, Antarctic jackets, baselayers, gloves, hats, waterproofs, backpacks and more. I made lists of what to wear. I packed and weighed my luggage and unpacked and repacked.
And then I went to Antarctica, and found out what gear I really needed, what I’d packed that I could have left at home, and what clothes I’d failed to think of that I should have brought for my Antarctic adventure. I did all that research so you don’t have to, and here is the result: my Ultimate List of Essential Clothes (and other things) to Pack for Antarctica.
Note: I travelled on a 20-day Antarctica trip that also included the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. I travelled in December when the weather was relatively mild – it never dropped much below 0 degrees Celsius. If your trip is shorter or the weather is going to be colder, adjust your packing accordingly.
Antarctic packing list: clothes for excursions
Weather permitting, you’ll make two excursions a day in Antarctica, each one lasting about 2-3 hours. Transfer from ship to shore is by small inflatable zodiac boats which can get quite chilly and wet. Here’s all the clothing you’ll need to make sure you stay warm and try throughout.
You don’t need to pack a parka!
You will definitely need a warm, waterproof jacket for Antarctica, BUT, don’t pack this! Antarctic cruise companies provide them so they know everyone is properly protected and so that you’re easy to spot on shore.
Your Antarctic parka will be a nice, bright colour, and will normally have a removable inner layer which you can take out if the weather is mild.
The jacket is yours to keep, so if you think it’s the sort of thing you’ll want to wear again, make sure you leave enough space in your luggage to pack it for the journey home.
It may surprise you to learn that Antarctica is not that cold! At least, not in the southern summer when you’ll be going. In Antarctica the temperature never dropped below about -2ºC (28ºF) and in the Falklands and South Georgia it was much milder. For the first three or four days of our trip the temperature didn’t drop below about 10ºC (about 50ºF) and I would have been far too hot in my parka. Luckily I had brought my Arcteryx waterproof and windproof shell with me, so I just wore that over a base layer instead.
It’s not essential to bring an extra waterproof as you will always have the parka, but I appreciated having mine for the milder days.
Light packable down jacket
I bought mine from Uniqlo about five years ago and I take it almost everywhere with me. It packs into a tiny pouch and is great for an extra base layer when it’s really cold, or as a light warm layer when it’s just a little bit chilly. I found mine really useful for the milder days and wore it all the time (partly, I must admit, because I much preferred the colour to the bright yellow expedition parka!)
To get from ship to shore you’ll be transferred in a zodiac – a small inflatable boat. You WILL get wet, so waterproof trousers are essential. The best ones are rip-proof and have zips at the bottoms so you can get them on over your shoes or boots. Mine were by Mountain Equipment.
I took two pairs – a very thin hiking pair which I wore over leggings when the weather was mild, and padded ski pants for the coldest days in Antarctica – though I soon found these weren’t as waterproof as they used to be and I ended up wearing the hiking ones over the top!
It does get cold on the zodiac because you’re sitting still and there can be a lot of wind chill, so if you don’t have padded waterproof trousers make sure you bring proper thermal baselayer leggings to wear under your waterproof overtrousers.
Most Antarctic expedition companies also lend you boots, so do check before you pack your own. If they tell you to bring some, you’ll need good quality, insulated, waterproof ones that come up at least to mid-calf and ideally higher. You will almost certainly have to disembark the zodiac into the surf, and you don’t want to be walking around for hours with cold, wet feet!
If you are bringing your own, avoid boots with a deep tread. You have to clean your boots before and after every landing, and you don’t want to be spending hours trying to get penguin guano out of every crack! One popular brand – and the ones that we were given – is Muck Boots.
Under your Antarctic jacket and waterproof trousers you’ll need good quality baselayers made of a wicking fabric (NOT cotton). Ideally bring at least two merino wool or synthetic baselayers, and two pairs of thermal leggings. Primark do an amazing pair of fleece-lined leggings which I pretty much lived in the entire time, or you can also get them from Amazon. Laundry will be available on the ship so you only need two sets – one to wash and one to wear.
Antarctic packing list: accessories for excursions
You’ll need a decent pair of sunglasses, ideally polarising, to protect your eyes from the glare off all that snow and ice. Mine were cheap ones from Boots and they were pretty terrible, so I’d definitely recommend investing in a decent pair.
Scarf or buff
Bring a neck gaiter, scarf or buff to keep the chill wind from getting inside your jacket on the coldest and windiest zodiac trips. I’d never actually heard of a buff before I climbed Kilimanjaro, but I read about them on a couple of packing lists for that so I bought two, a lightweight one and a thermal one. The one I’m wearing in the photo above is the thermal one, and I still think it’s great. Get one at Cotswold Outdoor or Amazon.
I packed two pairs – a lightweight pair with e-tips so I could use my phone for photos and video, and a thicker warmer pair for wearing on the zodiac. Mine were photography gloves with removable fingertips and they weren’t waterproof, which meant my hands got cold and wet on more than a few occasions. I’d recommend bringing proper waterproof gloves for the zodiac, especially if you suffer from poor circulation or cold hands. You can find out more about the photography accessories I’d recommend in my Camera Gear for Antarctica post.
It’s important to have good, warm socks. Smartwool or merino are the best. I took six pairs of thin hiking sock liners, and four pairs of thick wool hiking socks, both by Bridgedale. I changed the thin ones every day (and wore them on their own with my trainers too) and wore the thick ones for several excursions before washing them.
Read more: 60+ Awesome Antarctica Photography Tips
Antarctic packing list: clothes for on board ship
I’d never been on any sort of cruise before, let alone an Antarctic cruise, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would it be cold? Would I be expected to wear smart clothes for dinner? Short answers: no, and no.
Here are the clothes I packed to wear on board our Antarctica expedition ship.
- One pair of jeans. The dress code on board was casual so I wore these most nights.
- One pair of tracksuit bottoms/stretchy trousers. I wore these around the ship on sea days and some evenings.
- Three t-shirts. I rotated these for the evenings and they were also useful to have for before and after the expedition. I buy most of my t-shirts from Boden because they wash well and I like the colours.
- Two jumpers – one thick, one lighter. I thought the ship would be much colder than it was; actually it was really warm on board and I didn’t really need the thick one, but it might be useful to have as an extra baselayer.
- Two long-sleeved tops. Again I barely wore these as the ship was so warm I mostly just wore t-shirts.
- Two dresses – both quite casual, one long-sleeved, one short sleeved, again from Boden who do a great line in pretty jersey dresses. I wore them on the first night, last night, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. It was nice to be able to dress up a little occasionally, though it certainly wasn’t necessary and lots of people didn’t.
- Swimwear / bikini. You’ll need this for the Polar Plunge if you plan to do it, and also if there is a pool or hot tub on board.
- One pair of pyjamas. I was sharing a cabin so I made sure they were presentable!
- A pair of sneakers / comfy shoes. It’s a good idea to take ones without laces so that if you want to go on deck in a hurry – for example if a whale is spotted, you can get them on quickly!
- Gym kit and running shoes. The ship had a small gym on board so I took two sets of sports clothes to make sure I got some exercise!
Antarctic packing list: clothes for the rest of the trip
Don’t forget that in order to get to Antarctica you will probably be flying to Buenos Aires and spending at least a couple of days there before and after the voyage. This means you’ll need to bring clothing for hot and sunny weather as well as Antarctica’s wintry conditions.
WARNING: If you spend 2-3 weeks at sea, being fed 4 meals a day, drinking a lot and doing almost no exercise, you WILL gain weight! I put on half a stone in Antarctica and when we got back to Buenos Aires my summer clothes were all too tight. Make sure you pack loose-fitting or elasticated clothing!
We had five days in Buenos Aires, so here’s what I packed.
- One pair of shorts. I should have brought two.
- One pair of cropped trousers – which I didn’t wear. The temperature was about 35ºC (95ºF), so it was really too hot for these, and anyway I couldn’t fit into them! I really like the ones from Boden because they have a good amount of stretch but even that wasn’t enough after so much amazing food!
- Two extra t-shirts.
- Baseball cap.
I ended up wishing I had taken fewer clothes for on-board ship and one or two extra hot-weather items for Buenos Aires. I felt a bit scruffy in the cosmopolitan city.
Antarctic packing list: essential gear and accessories
Of course packing for the Antarctic is not just about the clothes. There are lots of important accessories you need to remember as well. Here’s what was on my packing list:
- Suncream. Even though it’s not hot, the sun and the glare off the snow can be strong. Make sure you bring enough for your face and don’t forget to use it. You’ll also need it for your time in Buenos Aires. I swear by Riemann P20 because it’s hard wearing and you only need to apply it once a day.
- Lip balm with SPF and good hand moisturiser. I never go anywhere without my Neutrogena hand cream – it’s cheap and it works and I don’t know why anyone would buy any other kind.
- Camera. Of course! If you want to know more, here’s my post on What Camera Gear To Take To Antarctica
- Battery chargers for your phone, camera and laptop.
- Power adaptors. I took US and European ones, or you could take a universal travel adaptor.
- Travel sickness medication. The sea can be very rough and even the most hardened traveller may get seasick on an Antarctic voyage. Every ship has an on-board doctor who will be able to give out seasickness tablets, but it’s worth bringing your own if you know you’ll suffer. I took Scopolamine patches which I got on prescription from my GP and they worked well, though some people do experience side effects.
- Medical kit. In addition to the seasickness tablets, I brought my own first aid kit containing the usual first aid bits and bobs, plus any essential medication.
- Small bag or backpack. I used this around the ship and in Buenos Aires when I didn’t want to carry my big camera bag around. You can get some really good small backpacks that don’t take up too much space but have enough room for the essentials.
- Travel hairdryer. If you have long, thick, curly hair like me you might want to bring one like mine to avoid having to walk around in freezing weather with wet hair. But do check with your expedition company as some do supply them in the cabins.
- Water bottle. I always take my own, though again, one was actually supplied by the Antarctica company.
- Notebook and pen. I used this for taking notes for the blog. I prefer the hardback A5 ones with a loop to keep your pen handy.
- Tea bags. Because I’m British and I never travel without them. As it turned out, there was a 24 hr tea and coffee station on board.
- Handkerchiefs. I don’t normally use these, but lots of people get a runny nose in cold weather and it’s best to avoid using tissues as they create more waste and can easily blow away on a windy day. I bought mine in a pack of eight.
- Laptop, hard drive and card reader – for backing up my photos.
- Entertainment. Our itinerary was jam-packed with activities and lectures, there was a small library on board and plenty of new friends to chat to. But you will probably want to bring a couple of books or a tablet loaded with movies to watch on some of those long days at sea.
- Ear plugs (definitely useful if you’re sharing a cabin as I was). I use these ones by Quies.
- Eye mask for sleeping. Silk ones are the softest on your face.
So now you’re fully prepared! Have an amazing time, and don’t forget to come back and let me know how you got on in the comments!
If you’d like to read more, why not try some other Antarctica posts: