So you’ve decided to make your Antarctica cruise dreams come true! *high five* (Antarctica Packing List)
As early as now, I can guarantee you that this trip will blow your mind — hence, you definitely do NOT want to come unprepared for this ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experience. And of course, I know that there is a LOT to think about during this stage, but first: let me save you the time and effort for your preparations with this comprehensive Antarctica packing list (which is as based on my very own Antarctic experience with Hurtigruten.) This is quite important because the last thing that we need is for you to ‘underpack‘, if not overpack.
If you rather want to acquire more information about how a typical Antarctica expedition goes, you can read my travel guide here or jump to the ‘Pre-Travel Guide’ section below this post.
…But I guess the #1 question that I really get is: “How cold will it be in Antarctica?”
ANSWER: As the world’s coldest and windiest place, winter temperatures in Antarctica can fall up to -70°C (it even reached -94.7°C back in 2010 and -89.2 in 1983).
Scary right? BUT the thing is, Antarctica cruise expeditions only happen during the summer season between November and March when the ice starts to break. During this time, the temperature gets warmer and most landings which are done at the tip of the continent actually has temperatures that average at only about 0°C to 8°C (with close to 24 hours of sunlight).
So simply put: it’s not extremely cold because Antarctic weather during cruise expedition season can be nice and cool in the day. If you happen to do camping in Antarctica (like I did), temperatures can drop below 0°C but you’ll be fine because your expedition team will take care of everything and keep you warm.
Now, without further ado, below are the essential clothing and gear that you absolutely need to pack when going on an Antarctica cruise!
Ultimate Carry On Packing List
An important thing to keep in mind is that your Antarctica packing list is dependent on the kind of expedition you’ll be doing; therefore, please always make sure to recheck with your cruise operator if they happen to have any special requirements on any unique activities.
Still and the same, the clothing and gear listed below are the standard no matter if you’re spending about 10 or 20 days in Antarctica, so no worries on that. (NOTE: Below is a list of things I brought as per my 20-day expedition with Hurtigruten).
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» The Luggage
••• Suitcase or Backpack
1 piece: You can go with either a suitcase or a backpack on your Antarctica packing list — whichever you prefer is fine — but it’s best if it is something that’s not bulky and is 23 kilos (50 pounds) max when packed. Why?
- Cabin size: depending on the kind of cabin that you will book with your Antarctica cruise provider, it’s possible that you will have limited space for your stuff (especially if you book a shared room). Either way, the cabins usually have closets or cabinets for you to stow your stuff in and you can even request the crew to store your empty suitcase/backpack.
- Luggage weight requirement: some ships require only a total of 23 kilos or 50 pounds for check-in luggage and this customarily happens if you’re boarding a flight to get to your port of embarkation. For example, I took an expedition that started in Ushuaia, and all of us were flown on a chartered flight from Buenos Aires (in which the airline only allowed 1 check-in baggage of 23 kilos). That being said, even if you have a flight or not, 23 kilos is a good weight to keep for your main luggage when traveling to Antarctica.
The only time that I would strictly recommend a hard shell or waterproof/water-resistant suitcase is when you have booked a ‘fly-cruise’ kind of expedition (since the bags are transported to the ship from land via the zodiac or polarcirkel boats and there can be chances of rain, snow, or choppy waves).
1 piece: Keep the packed weight within 5 to 8 kilos. If you’re like me who’s going to bring in some camera gear (I mean, you should right?), then you must get a camera bag. If you’re looking for something that’s designed like a handbag, check out Aide de Camp; otherwise, look into BagSmart for the best camera backpack.
If you prefer a rolling suitcase instead, make sure that is around this standard carry-on size: 22″ high, 14″ wide, and 9″ deep. A good luggage for this would be Samsonite’s Luggage Winfield 20.
••• Spare Daypack or Dry Bag
1 piece: During every landing (or brief visits to locations during your Antarctica cruise), you will surely be needing a bag for storing your water bottle, camera, and some other stuff. This can be a light daypack or dry bag which should be waterproof or water-resistant in order to protect it from the rain, seawater, and snow. (Of course, as dependent on how light you will pack, this daypack can already be your carry-on.)
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» To Wear
Remember, as I’ve mentioned in the earlier part of this post, Antarctica will be cold — but NOT unbearably cold because temperatures in the day during cruise season in the Antarctic summer will only be around 0°C to 8°C.
As such, if you’re new to winter conditions, let me introduce you to the concept of layering. Basically, this is a tried-and-tested way of maximizing your comfort and warmth outdoor.
This is because by putting on layers, you can easily adjust and peel off a ‘layer’ if there are changes in the weather or your activity level. Typically, there is the base layer which manages moisture, the mid-layer which helps insulate you from the cold, and the outer layer which will protect you from the wind and the rain.
NOTE: There will be laundry services on board your ship; but, they will be pricey. Rest assured, the items listed in this Antarctica packing list will be enough for around 10 days of cruising. If you’re on a longer expedition, you can do your own laundry in your cabin’s bathroom sink if you don’t have the budget for laundry services (some people bring a mild detergent, while others are fine with the provided shampoo or body wash).
••• Base Layer
1 set of thermals ~ top & bottom: When it comes to packing for the cold, as early as now, you should remember that clothing made of merino wool is your best bet given that it is comfortable to wear, keeps you warm, wicks moisture, easy to wash and odor-resistant. Therefore, your base layers should be thermals made of merino wool, and for this, I suggest getting Kathmandu’s merino wool thermals.
2 pieces of light sweaters/jackets: These can be merino wool, fleece, or goose down. But if you want to lessen the bulk and weight of your luggage, getting a goose down jacket (also called a down jacket) is preferable due to its unbeatable warmth-to-weight ratio. A down jacket is just so light and highly compressible too being that you can roll it into the size of your hand! For women, check out Kathmandu’s Ultralight Down Jackets (for men / for women).
••• Outer Layers
Optional ~ 1 waterproof jacket: I say “optional” because most of the time, Antarctica cruise expedition companies provide waterproof jackets for free to their guests — so yes, you can take them home! (They usually come in bright colors because it’s helpful for detecting you against the ice or the rocky terrain.)
NOTE: Hurtigruten is one of those expedition companies who provides complimentary parkas or jackets. I got mine in bright red and green and it was waterproof with enough fleece lining inside for insulation. Of course,if you’re going with a different company, make sure to clarify with them if a free parka is provided too.
Sure enough, getting a parka/jacket outer shell for free definitely lessens the items that you need to pack and/or buy for your trip! If in case your cruise provider doesn’t provide it to their guests, first consider the possibility of renting one (after all, these kinds of jackets are very expensive to buy). But if you have the money to buy one, I suggest looking into Kathmandu’s XT driFILL Down Waterproof Jackets (for men / for women). The cool thing about these jackets is that due to their design that can withstand below-freezing temperatures, it’s not necessary for you to wear a mid-layer!
1 light waterproof pants: There is NO need for you to bring those thick and heavy snow/ski pants for your Antarctica packing list because light waterproof pants are enough (for men / for women). It’s vital that it’s waterproof because you can get wet while in the zodiac boats (you might even want to sit on the snow while taking photographs of cute penguins and seals). Personally, I only wore water-resistant pants when I was in Antarctica and it worked for me, mainly because the weather was fine and because my jacket was long enough to cover my butt — which saves me from any wetness on the zodiac boats and on the snow.
••• Normal Clothing
In times when you’re not out exploring the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands, you will need some comfortable casual clothes for your daily life in the ship — there’s NO need to pack anything too flashy or formal.
Sure, there may be nights when you’ll have 4-course dinners or even a Captain’s Night (wherein the crew will welcome everyone on the ship); however, there is no strict dress code (unless they say so). This means that you can come in with even just your jeans and sweaters. Trust me on this too: nobody will notice what you’re wearing all the time so it’s fine to repeat stuff and to pack light!
So for a list of typical clothing that you need to bring:
- 1 – 2 pants/jeans
- 2 – 4 shirts
- 3 – 4 long-sleeved shirts
- 2 light sweaters
NOTE: I’m NOT including warmer/summer wear in this Antarctica packing list. But if in case you’re starting your expedition in warm places like Buenos Aires, I leave it up to you to decide, but as always: don’t pack too much. For my case, I only packed 2 thin dresses and that was it.
*Optional ~ 1 pair of knee-high boots: Yet again, you do NOT have to worry about the kind of boots you need to bring for your Antarctica cruise because they will also be provided by the ship (but no, you can’t bring it home — which is totally fine, because you wouldn’t want to have that penguin poop or guano scent that perpetually sticks to the boots’ soles). The boots they provide to guests are the bogs or muck boots kind which are insulated, knee-high and waterproof, making them the perfect footwear for boat landings and for walking on the Antarctic terrain.
If I may share a tip/reminder, it’s best that you put on the socks you’re planning to wear outside when fitting the boots so that you get the best fit! Meanwhile, you can bring your own boots if you want to… but in my opinion, there’s no point in buying and bringing one especially if it will already be provided by the ship.
1 pair of shoes: Pack a pair of sneakers or hiking boots for your use within the ship. It’s best if they’re non-slip or have a good grip on the soles as it will be helpful when you go out on the deck. For your cabin use, there are always those standard open-toed hotel slippers provided by the ship (otherwise, feel free to bring along some flip-flops).
The only time I will recommend bringing extra flats is if you’re landing in a warmer city first like Buenos Aires. Don’t wear flats around the inside of the ship since it can still be quite chilly.
••• Other Clothing
*Optional ~ 1 set of bikini or swimsuit: Make sure to bring this one as a part of your Antarctica packing list if you’re planning on doing a polar plunge in Antarctica — which I think you should absolutely do! Besides, it’s not every day that you can say that you’ve “swam” in Antarctica, right? (Other than that, ships like Hurtigruten have outdoor jacuzzis).
*Optional ~ Gym clothes: If you don’t want to skip out on your workout routine, this is certainly essential for you to bring along. Most ships like Hurtigruten have well-equipped fitness centers after all.
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» The ‘Small Stuff’
*Optional ~ 1 pair of compression socks: If you’re going to spend more than 4 hours of flying, it is a must to bring some compression socks since it helps reduce the risk of DVT (deep vein thrombosis), blood clots, and leg swelling during long flights.
2 – 3 pairs of liner socks or thin socks: Liner socks are your first line of defense against moisture and blisters. Basically, you basically just wear these underneath a thicker sock.
5 pairs of thick socks or thermal socks: When it comes to thicker socks, merino wool socks are your best friend. They’re odor-resistant so it’s possible to use them multiple times (one trick you can also do is to alternate between pairs).
However, it’s possible that wearing just a pair of liner socks OR thermal socks is enough for you (let’s not forget how the ship-issued boots are already insulated). Either away, you can never go wrong with packing extra socks; just stuff them inside the shoes you’re packing!
2 pairs of gloves: For your Antarctica packing list, it’s best to pack 2 gloves in case the other one gets wet. For this, I propose that you get Kathmandu’s waterproof GORE-TEX® Snow Gloves. It even comes with a thick inner glove liner that is touchscreen compatible so you can easily clasp the outer shell gloves to your wrist, take it off and then snap away photos on your phone or camera without exposing your hands to the cold and the wind.
••• Neck Gaiter
1 – 2 neck gaiters: Also called a buff or face mask, neck gaiters will help you get through the harsh Antarctic winds. Some people use scarves instead to protect their ears, neck, and mouth so it’s an alternative to neck gaiters — but, if you’re bringing in scarves, I recommend infinity scarves. Don’t bother bringing along dangly scarves because they will either fly away or keep flopping around your face.
2 different warm hats: To be prepared for the changing cold and wind conditions in Antarctica, consider getting a beanie and an ushanka or trapper hat. There will be hoods on your ship-issued parka/jackets, but it’s still vital that you protect your head and ears. On a normal day, a beanie would be just fine but if in case the winds start to get too strong, don on your trapper hat. Just make sure that both hats are snug to your head/face because you wouldn’t want them to get blown over.
••• Sun protection
1 bottle of sunscreen: As early as now, you must know that the ozone layer is at its thinnest above Antarctica; therefore, you must protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Make sure that you pack sunscreen for your Antarctica packing list and put it on EVERY day and to re-apply every 2 hours.
1 pair of sunglasses: Even if you’re someone who is not used to wearing sunglasses, I implore you to wear one especially when you’re in Antarctica. This is for the reason that the glare from the white snow, ice, and the sun can be quite harmful (there’s such a thing called snow blindness). As such, pack a pair of sunglasses that will protect you from UV rays.
Apart from the usual medication that you need (e.g. for high blood pressure, birth control pills, etc.) and the standard ones (e.g. for headaches, diarrhea, etc.), make sure that you also pack the following:
- Seasickness pills, and/or…
- Sea Bands: This is a must for your Antarctica packing list. After all, most of the time, seasickness pills are not enough and if that happens, buy Sea Bands. At first, I didn’t believe that these things could work, but after my 1st rough day at sea during my Antarctica cruise, I was willing to try anything, and well — this one worked wonders for me! I never became seasick again (It depends on every person though if this acupressure technique will work, but most of the time it does. A lot of the people on our ship were wearing these).
Anyhow, there are doctors on board so in case you’re missing any pill, they can surely try to help you out. They also provide ‘transdermal ear patches’ for extreme cases when the seasick pills and the Sea Bands are still not working for you.
Some other stuff to take note of are…
- Lotion and/or moisturizers
- Hairbrush and hair ties
- 7 pieces of underwear: for women, 2 bras too.
- Feminine products: Or better yet, wear a menstrual cup.
- Lip balm: Best if it’s with SPF protection.
- Perfume: Do you know those small vials that you get as samples for perfumes in department stores? I keep those and pack them when I travel. It’s better than packing a whole bottle of my perfume.
- Basic make-up kit: For me, that’s my lipstick, liquid eyeliner, and eyebrow kit.
- Plastic and/or Ziploc bags: For packing any of your wet stuff. They’re also handy for avoiding condensation on your camera gear if in case the temperature gets below freezing point (it’s where you put your camera gear inside a sealed Ziploc bag before entering the ship so that when it warms up, condensation happens outside the plastic and not inside your gear).
- Water bottle: If you sail with Hurtigruten, they provide water bottles for free which lessens the number of items you need to pack. If not, I advise you to bring one since you will need it when you get thirsty during your landings.
The items below are things that you do NOT need to pack…
- Hiking sticks: Most ships lend their guests’ some hiking sticks during landings anyway.
- Binoculars: This is great when you want to see wildlife up close but you can actually just use your camera’s zoom-in function or rent binoculars on board (just ask your ship beforehand if this is possible with them). With Hurtigruten, there are even binoculars stationed on the decks that everybody can use.
- Towels, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash: Cabins commonly have these items so there’s no need to pack this added bulk.
••• For Emergencies
- Passport and IDs
- Cash, Debit, and/or Credit Cards
- Other Valuables
- Travel Insurance: I believe that all cruise ships require travel insurance from their guest. When it comes to this, I personally like and use World Nomads Travel Insurance because it insures your baggage, belongings, and flights, covers medical emergencies, it’s affordable, and can also be extended while you’re on the road (no need to go back home to apply for one).
- Another option would be Safety Wing.
- Paper Copies: in case of loss, theft, and other emergency situations, I always make sure to bring photocopies of my passport, identification cards, and other travel documents (accommodation booking, emergency contacts, etc.)
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