Antarctica packing

Packing light may be easy for a trip to the Tropics, but if you’re heading to the end of the Earth for an Antarctica Adventure Tour, choosing what to pack or not can have major consequences. Even if you’re on an airline generous enough to allow two checked bags with no fees, there are still challenges. You’re probably going to be traveling for at least nine days in all, plus you’ll be gearing up to go outside in one of the coldest places you can visit on the planet.

Our friends at Quark Expeditions have plenty of experience with dishing out advice on this subject. During high season they’re hosting a steady stream of visitors to the White Continent and have seen all the mistakes people make. So here’s what to pack for an Antarctica tour, and—just as important—what not to pack.

What You’ll Need to Bring on Your Antarctica Cruise

Waterproof Outer Layers
This is the kind of trip Gore-Tex, Polartec, OutDry, and similar fabric technologies were made for. You stay dry inside while any sweat you build up can escape as vapor. If you’re worried about buying $100 pants you’ll never use again though, simpler waterproof rain ones will do, especially if you’re not planning physical exertion activities like kayaking or hiking.

Good Gloves
Don’t skimp here: bring good brand name ski gloves that use the kind of membrane technology mentioned above. Thin glove liners can be helpful for times when you need to do something with your fingers that’s tough with bulky gloves on, like messing with snaps and zippers.

Head and Face Protection
The other parts of your body most exposed are your head and face and this is where much of your heat escapes. Bring a good hat or two and this is a time where a ski mask could make sense if the weather gets bad. A scarf or other neck warmer will also be useful.

Mid and Base Layers
To stay warm on the inside and have clothing that will also work in the ship, pack multiple thin (like long underwear) and mid-weight layers that are versatile. For the sake of your shipmates, you may want to bring merino wool or synthetically treated garments that will provide odor protection over multiple days of use.

Antarctica travel

All Your Camera Gear
If you’re a serious photographer, you’ll probably want to bring all your lenses to get good wildlife and landscape shots. Have a well-protected case for everything. Don’t forget extra memory cards and a way to back up photos.

Quality Sunglasses
Bring good polarized sunglasses that are well-engineered, not cheapies from a mall kiosk. You’ll have intense reflections off the snow, ice, and water.

The Right Socks and Shoes
Good tour companies like Quark provide waterproof boots you’ll wear on shore, so bring shoes you’ll be wearing on the ship and in transit. Pack plenty of quality pairs of socks though that will keep your feet warm. Some opt for some kind of toe warmer packets, insoles, or battery packs.

Important Cosmetics and Medicine
If you get seasick easily bring something like Dramamine and naturally you’ll need sunscreen for any exposed parts of your body. Bring all prescription medicines and things you take regularly as you’ll never be anywhere near a drugstore.

Antarctica Tour

What to Leave at Home

Nearly all Antarctica outfitters supply boots, so there’s no need to bring big, heavy shoes for the shore excursions.

Most supply a big parka as well, so fill your suitcase with plenty of layers instead of a bulky coat unless you’re going elsewhere in Chile or Argentina and it’s going to be cold.

This is an adventure tour, not the Love Boat, so leave the fancy clothing and jewelry at home.

You also want to limit the amount of heavy creams and cosmetics, so give emphasis to moisturizer and sunscreen, but scale back on the others you don’t need for a polar trip.

You can probably leave the first aid kit at home beyond some Band-aids. Ships are equipped for medical emergencies and mishaps.

The travel planners at Quark say to forget the complicated apparel. “If you struggle to put it on at home, it will be five times harder to take it off while wearing gloves during your expedition landings. Avoid one piece snow suits, items with small zippers or difficult buttons. Instead bring items that are lightweight and easy to put on, or take off, as temperatures fluctuate.”

Last, get familiar with all your gadgets and gear before departure. Don’t bring a fancy DSLR camera that just came out of the box or accessories that require you to pack a manual.

All photos courtesy of Quark Expeditions. See the Antarctica Travel section of their blog for more related travel advice.

For purchasing new travel gear online at a good price, we recommend Backcountry, Sierra Travel Post, and REI Outlet.