What to Pack for Antarctica

What to Pack for Antarctica

A Polar Packing List

I have three words for you:  Layers, layers, layers.

Layers is the name of the game when planning any winter outdoor trip.  You never know what the weather will be like.  Wet and warm or cold and windy, you need to be prepared for any kind of weather.  The list below can be used for any kind of winter trip.  From exploring the Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle, or an Antarctic expedition cruise, the following guidelines will insure that you stay warm and dry in any kind of weather.  Be sure to read to the end and download the checklist to use for your next polar adventure!

You can buy everything you need at Outdoor Adventure stores such as REI, or Patagonia, or online on Amazon.  

If you are taking an expedition cruise to Antarctica, or the Arctic, check with your travel adviser or cruise line as most will include a fabulous warm waterproof parka in the cost of your fare.  True expedition cruises (where your only means of transit is by zodiac) will generally have it included.  If you are doing a hybrid cruise where you will be docking and visiting local communities, in addition to zodiac landings, you may find it is not included.  


Base Layer

The Base Layer is probably the most important layer.  You want something that wicks away water (aka: sweat), dries quickly and also keeps you warm.  You fail here and you will be cold all day.  Merino wool is the best option, which is much softer and breathable than other types.  If you happen to be allergic to wool, Capilene is a good alternative.  This layer should also be thin and not bulky since you will be wearing it underneath two other layers.

Insulation Layer

Stretch tops and bottoms that fit over your base layer and under your waterproof layer. It can also double as your outer layer in warmer temps.  You can choose to wear two sets of a base layer, if you prefer.  Just make sure that whatever you wear as your second layer fits comfortably over the first and isn’t too bulky to wear under your waterproof (top) layer.

Socks and Sock Liners

Even with socks, layers are key.  You still need a base layer to wick away moisture and add extra warmth, especially for those days where you are going to be out all day.  Regular socks should be heavy weight and made of wool or a wool blend.

Gloves and Glove Liners

Fingers are usually the hardest to keep warm, especially if you keep taking off your gloves or mittens to take photos!  This is why they invented touch screen gloves!  These are great.  I would recommend using these as a regular glove in warmer weather, but they can also be used as a liner in extreme cold temperatures.  If you need to take off your gloves to use your touch screen phone or camera, you can still keep your fingers (relatively) warm while fiddling with the buttons!

Make sure your outwear gloves are water resistant!

Balaclava Wool hat w/ flaps Infinity Scarf

Head Gear

80% of your body heat can escape from the top of your head.  It’s important to trap as much heat as possible.  There are a couple of different options:

All-in-one balaclava which covers your head, forehead, neck and mouth.  Probably the least bulky to pack and also wear

Hat with ear flaps combined with a neck gaiter. 

A gaiter is similar to an infinity scarf, which wraps around your neck but doesn’t have any loose ends to get trapped anywhere.  I don’t recommend a scarf at all, especially if you are climbing in and out of zodiacs or sleighs where they can easily get sat on or stuck in tight spaces.  Having your neck wear tucked inside your parka or coat will alleviate this problem

Waterproof pants - to go over your base layer(s)

Outer Layers

Waterproof jacket and pants are equally important when packing for a polar expedition.  Most cruise lines will include a fabulous warm, waterproof parka in the price of the expedition – but not all.  Please check with your travel advisor or the the cruise line you are traveling with to ensure you will receive one, and if not, plan accordingly.

Some cruise lines will also rent out waterproof pants for the duration of your cruise – again check with your agent or the cruise line to make sure.  


Waterproof Jacket – Lightweight,breathable and easily packable. For warmer days on land or up on deck when weather is wet.

Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots – For “sea days” when you are on the ship, or for land based vacations.  When at sea, most cruise lines will supply you with a pair of waterproof rubber boots for use while on your expedition voyage.  These are to be used for wet zodiac landings, especially in Antarctica to clean off penguin guana etc upon return back to ship.


Parka – Provided for you by the cruise lines and yours to keep.  Most cruise lines will provide one for you on all Antarctic/S. Georgia sailings.  Please check with your Travel Agent or the cruise lines to make sure you will have one.

Hand and Feet warmers

When all else fails, and you just cannot keep your extremities warm, there are always hot hands.  Need I say more!

Other Miscellaneous items to pack:

Swimsuit or swim trunks – You can’t NOT do the polar plunge!

A decent pair of UV sunglasses.  It may be cold in Antarctica, but the sun can be very bright, especially during the long Austral summers.  Eye protection is paramount for those extra sunny days when the bright sun reflects on the white snow.

Lip balm and sunscreen – Again, it may be cold, but the sun can still take its’ toll.

Binoculars – For birding and whale watching

Camera and all the accessories – An expedition cruise is a photographers paradise.   Come prepared to take some epic photos!

A waterproof bag/backpack – Essential to protect your camera equipment and binoculars as well as your hat, gloves etc.  Important when getting in and out of zodiacs, or putting stuff down on the snow while taking pictures.

Don’t Overpack

It can be easy to get carried away with packing for a trip like this, but honestly, aside from a couple of extra pairs of slacks and sweaters, you don’t need much else.  Evenings on the ship are laid back and relaxed.  No Captain’s Galas or formal wear required.

Full disclosure: Some of these items are affiliate links – I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase through that link. 

Grab the downloadable version of my packing list below.

Til next time,

Explore. Discover. Learn.