So you booked an Antarctic expedition. Congratulations! But, now you’re wondering what to pack for an Antarctica cruise. Before panic sets in, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s a complete breakdown of what’s on my Antarctica cruise packing list.
After my 10-day Antarctica expedition, I learned some things about what to pack. This list covers what I learned, including what I’d bring again, what I’d leave behind and other tips to help you prepare for your Antarctic adventure!
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- Weather in Antarctica: What to Expect
- Antarctica Packing Tips: Know Before You Go
- Complete Packing List for an Antarctica Cruise
- Clothing for Antarctica: For Cold Weather Excursions
- Clothing for Antarctica: For On Board the Ship
- Clothing for Antarctica: For Buenos Aires Before/ After
- Hygiene & Toiletries to Pack for Antarctica
- Packing for Antarctica: Seasickness & Other Medications
- Packing for Antarctica: Electronics
- Packing List for Antarctica: Other Essentials
- Packing for Antarctica: Not-so-essential Items
- What to Pack for an Antarctica Cruise: A Complete Guide
Weather in Antarctica: What to Expect
Since Antarctica is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite the northern hemisphere. Much of Antarctica is basically inaccessible in their winter, so expeditions typically fall during their summer (from November through March).
During this time, daytime temperatures are regularly in the 20-30F range with nighttime temperatures dropping down into the single digits. As a Minnesotan, these are temperatures common on a relatively warm winter day. What I’m trying to say is that Antarctica isn’t as cold as you might expect. In fact, it was common to overhear passengers say that they were warm during the outdoor activities!
Antarctica Packing Tips: Know Before You Go
Before you start packing for Antarctica there are a few things you should know, especially if you are newer to cold weather adventures!
1 | Avoid cotton.
I go into detail on why in my post about what to wear for winter hiking. Essentially, wearing cotton next to your skin can trap sweat and actually lower your body temperature. Whenever possible wear a wicking material like wool or a synthetic alternative as your base layer. This will help keep you warm on your Antarctica adventures!
2 | Bulky is not necessarily better or warmer.
As a Minnesotan, I have learned a lot about how to stay warm in the winter. While big bulky sweaters and sweatshirts may feel cozy, they don’t necessarily keep you warm when you’re outdoors in the cold. Plus, bulky items take up a lot of space in your suitcase!
Focus on layering the right fabrics to stay warm and save room in your luggage. With wool or a synthetic alternative as your base layer, add on a breathable mid layer (or two) and a water and/ or windproof jacket and pants. Fleece is a great option for a mid-layer!
3 | Most Antarctica expeditions provide you with a winter jacket and boots to wear for excursions.
I was surprised (and relieved) to learn that most expedition companies provide you with a high quality windproof winter jacket (to keep!) and tall rubber boots to wear on excursions. Double-check what is provided with your expedition.
For environmental reasons and to minimize the spread of avian influenza (bird flu), it is advised that you do not bring your own winter boots or, if you do, deep clean them each time you return to the ship. Hurtigruten requires passengers to wear the provided boots and walk through a boot wash after each land excursion.
4 | Batteries drain faster in cold temperatures.
Again, find more about this in my winter hiking guide, but batteries drain fast in cold temperatures. If taking photos is important to you, bring extra camera batteries, a power bank to keep your phone charged, and charge your electronics frequently.
5 | Charter flights may have baggage weight limits.
Many Antarctic expedition companies include charter flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. This simplifies travel planning but beware! Charter flights may have baggage weight restrictions. My charter flight had a limit of (1) 50lbs checked bag and (1) 17lbs carry-on bag.
Complete Packing List for an Antarctica Cruise
As a general rule when I travel, I plan to wash clothes every 3-4 days. Having clothes laundered can become expensive so I carry pouches of laundry detergent so that I can wash items in my room and allow them to hang dry.
Clothing for Antarctica: For Cold Weather Excursions
Again, most expedition companies will provide a waterproof and windproof jacket. This can be layered on top of the clothing listed below for cold weather excursions.
Lightweight Packable Down (or Synthetic Alternative) Jacket
The Patagonia nano puff jacket is my go-to packable winter jacket. It’s lightweight and warm, but breathable. It’s an ideal mid-layer to wear over your base layer and under the windproof shell provided by your expedition company.
Almost daily, weather-permitting, there will be an opportunity for a landing, a zodiac cruise or both. Even when the weather is sunny, it’s inevitable that you will get wet. Plus, the weather in Antarctica can change rapidly.
Bring one pair of waterproof pants. Because the temperatures are warmer than you may expect, I recommend unlined pants combined with a pair of thermal base layer pants. Many passengers opted for snow pants, but I prefer cross-country skiing pants. They are slim fitting, less bulky and waterproof.
Long Sleeve Base Layer Tops
Pack three wool or synthetic alternative base layer tops. If possible, make at least one of these a quarter-zip base layer top as a way to help regulate your body temperature. My favorite brand of base layers in SmartWool.
Base Layer Pants or Leggings
Each daily excursion is generally 1-2 hours maximum, so you are only wearing them for a small portion of each day. Two pairs of wool or synthetic alternative base layer pants are ideal for a 10-day expedition. Again, I recommend SmartWool.
Pro Tip: The base layer pants must fit under the waterproof pants. Be sure to try them on together before you pack.
Warm Hat or Beanie
Be sure to pack a warm hat or beanie! If possible, bring a wool hat that fits securely in windy conditions. Make sure the hat will fit under the hood of the windproof winter jacket provided by your expedition company.
Neck Gaiter or Buff
Lightweight Gloves or Glove Liners
For most parts of the expedition, lightweight gloves or glove liners will work great. These can be worn onboard the ship when wildlife watching from deck as well as on daily landings and cruisings. There were several landings where I brought gloves but didn’t wear them.
I prefer lightweight gloves when possible because they allow for easier camera control. Since my lightweight gloves are not waterproof, I use a waterproof mitten shell (see below) with them. I brought two pairs of lightweight gloves so I could alternate pairs if they got wet.
For colder days of excursions like camping, a pair of warmer mittens will likely be needed. In colder conditions or prolonged exposure to cold, warm mittens combined with hand warmers work well. I’ve tried several pairs of warmer gloves and mittens and this is the pair I like best.
Waterproof Mitten Shells
If you have waterproof mittens or gloves that work well for you, skip this item! Waterproof mitten shells are designed to be worn over lightweight gloves or warm mittens that are not already waterproof.
Lightweight Wool Socks or Sock Liners
Again, avoid cotton next to your skin including on your feet. Thin wool socks or sock liners can be worn under warmer wool hiking socks to keep your feet cozy in the cold weather. Bring 4 pairs of wool socks or sock liners. SmartWool and Darn Tough are my favorite brands.
Thick Wool Hiking Socks
These are worn over the lightweight wool socks or sock liners. Since these are not touching your feet, they can be worn more than once between washing. Bring 3 pairs of thick wool socks.
Pro Tip: For extremely cold days or excursions like camping, consider placing a 10-hour disposable hand or foot warmer on top of your toes between your two sock layers for added warmth.
Clothing for Antarctica: For On Board the Ship
Most ships are fairly casual with some options to dress up for dinner if you like. My ship, through Hurtigruten, also has a hot tub, sauna and gym which I used. Some expeditions may also include a polar plunge!
A pair of jeans can be styled in a number of different ways to create lots of outfits for on board the ship. I packed a pair of black jeans so that I could easily dress them up or down.
Joggers or Sweatpants
Combined with a sweatshirt, a pair of joggers or sweatpants can be worn to breakfast, the sauna, lectures, lounging in your cabin and more! I was glad I packed this pair of lightweight comfy sweatpants.
Black Leggings (or Other Pair of Pants)
Black leggings are what I wore on the airplane and on board the ship. They are on almost every packing list I make because they are comfy (to me), lightweight, and pair well with just about anything. If leggings aren’t your thing, bring a pair of lightweight and versatile pants.
Lightweight Long Sleeve Tops
While on board, there are lectures, meals, workshops and entertainment to enjoy. Bring two lightweight long sleeve tops that can be mixed and matched with your other items. I packed a lightweight black turtleneck and a denim button down shirt.
Sweatshirts or Sweaters
A sweatshirt or sweater can be so cozy on a cold day, but they can also be bulky! Consider bringing one lightweight and one heavier sweatshirt or sweater. I brought a lightweight fleece Eddie Bauer sweatshirt and a quilted Patagonia sweatshirt.
Short Sleeve Top
Consider packing one short sleeve top to wear on its own or underneath one of the long sleeve layers. I brought a black short sleeve top.
Whether or not you do the polar plunge, a swimsuit can come in handy for the sauna, hot tub or pool if your ship has these amenities.
Pack at least one set of pajamas. If you plan to launder them in your room like I did, one set will be plenty. If you prefer to have them laundered on the ship, bring two sets to rotate between.
Boots or Shoes for On Deck
While you likely won’t need to bring boots to wear onshore (see above), you will need a pair of boots or shoes to wear on deck. The deck can be wet or icy at times, so boots with good traction are recommended. Ideally the boots will be easy to get on and off so that you can get them on quickly when wildlife is spotted near the ship! Here are the boots I packed.
Don’t forget your undergarments! I recommend bringing 4-5 pairs of underwear, with at least two pairs being wool or synthetic. These are easy to launder in your room every few days.
Bras or Sports Bras
Antarctic expeditions are not your typical vacation. The excursions will get your heart pumping. For this reason, I recommend bringing three sports bras and one regular bra.
Slippers certainly aren’t necessary, but I was glad I brought mine. They kept me cozy in my cabin but also on deck or for a casual meal.
Workout Clothing (optional)
Between excursions, the amount of movement and activity on board the ship can be limited. If you are an active person and your ship has workout facilities, consider bringing one change of workout clothes. I brought one workout top, one pair of gym shorts/ leggings, and a pair of gym shoes.
Clothing for Antarctica: For Buenos Aires Before/ After
Summer temperatures in Buenos Aires are in the 80’s and 90’s (F). It’s important to pack a few pieces of warm weather clothing if you plan to stop in Buenos Aires before or after your Antarctica cruise.
For four days in Buenos Aires, I recommend packing the following:
- (1) Pair of shorts
- (1) Skirt or lightweight pants*
- (2) Tank tops
- (1) Lightweight breathable short sleeve shirt
- (1) Pair of sandals (for walking)
- (1) Pair of sneakers (if different from what you will wear on the ship)
- (1) Strapless bra
- (1) Swimsuit (if not packed already)
*Note: I brought a lightweight long black skirt that could be worn with a tank top and sneakers.
Pro Tip: All of my Buenos Aires clothing fit into a relatively small compression packing cube. I packed this in my carry-on in case my bag got lost.
Many hotels and apartments in Buenos Aires have access to a pool, which is a great way to cool off. If you haven’t already packed a swimsuit for Antarctica, consider bringing one for Buenos Aires.
Hygiene & Toiletries to Pack for Antarctica
Toiletry and hygiene needs will vary quite a bit based on personal preference. Note that I do not pack body wash as this is generally provided through the lodging.
Face Cleanser and Moisturizer
Antarctica is incredibly dry. In fact, it’s classified as a desert! Be sure to pack facial cleanser and moisturizer.
This may be a bit unexpected, but bring sunscreen for your face! The ozone layer over Antarctica is very thin, making the sun more intense. Even with sunscreen, my face got noticeably more tan during my time in Antarctica.
SPF Lip Balm
For similar reasons, be sure to protect your lips with an SPF-rated lip balm!
Toothbrush and Toothpaste
This should always be on your packing list! Don’t forget a toothbrush and plenty of toothpaste for the duration of your trip. For a lightweight alternative, try toothpaste tabs like these from Lush.
Shampoo, Conditioner and Hair Styling Products
After a major hair-related travel fail in Fiji, I am particular about hair care when traveling. Consider all your hair care needs for traveling including shampoo, conditioner, hair oil, gel, hairspray, etc. Also, don’t forget styling products such as a hairbrush, comb, hair straightener and hair ties or clips.
Pro Tip: Hurtrigruten’s MS Fridtjof Nansen provides high quality hair dryers in each cabin. Check to see what is provided with your ship if this is important to you.
For adventure travel, I pare my makeup down to what I call the essentials. This includes concealer, powder, blush cream, eye liner, and a travel sized mascara.
Not essential, but a razor may be worthwhile to pack for Antarctica, particularly if you plan to use the hot tub, sauna or pool.
Hand/ Body Moisturizer
Since it is so dry in Antarctica, hand and/ or body moisturizer is worth packing.
Packing for Antarctica: Seasickness & Other Medications
It’s important to consider packing items to help with seasickness on any Antarctica packing list. The Drake Passage is notoriously difficult, even for those who don’t typically experience seasickness. Of course, consult with your doctor to decide what’s best for you. These are the medications I packed for Antarctica.
- Scopalomine patches, prescription seasickness medication
- Meclizine, over-the-counter nausea and vomiting medication (different from Dramamine)
- Sea Bands, over-the-counter acupressure bracelets for nausea and vomiting
- Anti-diarrheal medicine, over-the-counter in case of food poisoning
- Azithromycin, prescription diarrhea medicine
- Benadryl, over-the-counter antihistamine in case of allergic reaction
- Ibuprofen, for general aches/ pains/ inflammation
- Mucinex and/ or Nyquil, for cold or flu symptoms
It’s important to understand that the two anti-diarrheal meds are different. Over-the-counter products, like Imodium, help address the immediate issue. Conversely, prescription Azithromycin helps treat the source of diarrhea. I always travel out of the country with both.
Packing for Antarctica: Electronics
Antarctica is a photographer’s dream destination. It’s also a place to disconnect and unplug from the world. Here are the electronics items on my Antarctica cruise packing list.
Phone Charging Cable and Plug
Be sure to pack the charging cable and plug for your phone. Hurtigruten uses an app to communicate daily programming and even dining menus, so keeping your phone charged is essential!
A power bank is a must on any packing list in my opinion. Travel can be unpredictable and keeping your devices charged can not only keep you connected but also safe. I used my power bank to keep my phone and portable wifi device charged during the day in Buenos Aires. This allowed me to use Google Maps and Uber for navigating without interruption.
Apple Watch/Fitbit Charging Cable
Keep track of your steps and activity by keeping your wearable charged throughout your adventure!
Travel Plug Adapter
It is likely that a plug adapter will be necessary both in Buenos Aires and on board the ship. Verify what plugs are used in your destinations. It is unlikely that a power converter will be needed.
Camera Gear with lenses, battery charger, cable, filters, SD cards, lens cleaning kit and rain sleeve
I will be publishing an entire post about the camera gear on my Antarctica cruise packing list as there is so much to consider! For now, here is a list for you to consider. This list assumes you are bringing a mirrorless or DSLR camera that accommodates different lenses.
- Camera body (consider bringing a second as backup)
- Camera lens(es)
- Camera battery charger and charging cable
- Lens filters (UV and CPL recommended)
- SD cards
- Camera batteries (bring extra)
- Lens cleaning kit
- Rain sleeve or cover
- Camera bag or insert
Laptop and Charging Cable (and/ or External Hard Drive)
Whether or not you bring a laptop to Antarctica is really personal preference. However, there is one important consideration.
It is unlikely that you will be able to reliably connect to the cloud to upload photos. This means it is important that you have a plan to backup your photos while on the cruise. Consider bringing a laptop and /or an external hard drive to regularly backup your photos.
Pro Tip: Many cameras now have two SD card slots. These can be setup so that one card is a backup of the other.
Portable Wifi Device with Charging Cable (optional)
When I travel solo, I bring a Solis portable wifi device to keep me connected when my cell phone service is limited. Solis has unlimited global day passes for $6-9 per 24 hours. This boosts my confidence and keeps me connected!
Plug Extender (optional)
The cabins on board the ship may have a limited number of outlets. If you have a number of electronics to keep charged, a plug extender can be helpful. I was glad I brought one!
Whatever your preferred style of headphone, be sure to pack them (and the charging cable if needed)!
Packing List for Antarctica: Other Essentials
For a unique adventure like Antarctica, there are a number of other items you may want to pack.
Small Dry Bag
Unless you have a backpack that is also a dry bag, a small dry bag is useful for keeping your camera and other electronics dry during excursions. Here is the dry bag I carry, which doubles as a compression sack for packing.
Pro Tip: A waterproof phone pouch could be helpful when cruising and on optional kayaking excursions.
The sun reflecting off of a landscape of snow and water is unrelenting. Protect your eyes with polarized sunglasses.
Compression Packing Cubes
Compression packing cubes changed my packing game! Not only do they help you fit more into less space, they also keep your gear organized. It’s not necessary to break the bank with expensive packing cubes. There are tons of low cost options on Amazon!
Be sure to pack your prescription medications, including contact lenses and eyeglasses!
This is on the “essentials” list because I only pack for 3-4 days worth of clothing. There are convenient travel-sized detergent pouches available online!
Minimize your environmental impact by traveling with a reusable water bottle.
Getting to Antarctica can involve long travel days and long days at sea as you cross the Drake Passage. Download books or podcasts, bring a journal, books, magazines, or a deck of cards.
Packing for Antarctica: Not-so-essential Items
These items may not be essential for Antarctica but may be worth packing!
- Hiking poles (may be provided)
- Small packable backpack or bag for on board
- Ear plugs (if sharing cabin)
- Hand warmers
- First aid kit
- Duct tape (always in my bag)
*If you are bringing a high quality camera with a zoom lens, binoculars are not necessary. I did not bring them and did not miss having them.
What to Pack for an Antarctica Cruise: A Complete Guide
There you go! A complete guide to what to pack and clothes to wear in Antarctica. Hope any panic you had about what to wear in Antarctica has subsided and you can focus on enjoying every second of this beautiful destination.
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