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You’ve been planning for months (or maybe even years) for your much anticipated trip to Antarctica and now it’s almost here. After selecting the time of year to travel there and the company that you’ll travel with, determining what to pack will be the third most critical decision in your preparation. Trust the packing advice of someone who has personally made the journey (and survived 😉). Here are 10 items that you should not leave home without:
#1 Base Layers
Columbia Omni-Heat Base Layer Tights and Top
I have lived in cold weather climates before (Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis) and did not understand the value of wearing quality base layers until this trip to Antarctica. The thing that worried me most about this trip was that I would be so cold that I wouldn’t be able to experience all the landings and explore as I wanted.
Well, I can tell you that with the right base layers, I had zero problems keeping warm. In fact, a few days I was sweating while we were hiking various terrains (for reference, during my trip, the coldest days we experienced were around 15 degrees Fahrenheit). I was thoroughly pleased with Columbia’s Omni-Heat base layer tights and tops. They were comfortable to wear under other layers, the material was breathable, and the thermal reflective material kept me warm.
#2 Wool Socks
Merino wool socks were the best option for Antarctica. When you consider the cold climate and the risk of wet feet getting in and out of zodiacs, wool socks made the most sense since cotton retains moisture. I’m notorious for getting cold toes, and I’m happy to report that the merino wool socks I purchased on Amazon worked wonders for me.
#3 Water Resistant Pants
Please don’t wear jeans to Antarctica. Feel free to wear them on your ship but these won’t function well on land. Antarctica can be wet, cold, and quite windy. You will be on the zodiac where the water can splash on you and while you’re on landings, sometimes you will be the lucky person to find the soft patch of snow where you will sink knee deep into the ground. For these reasons, you will need a pair of water-resistant pants to wear over your base layers. I chose to purchase a pair of Ski Snowcrew Pants from Outdoor Research. I appreciated these pants because they were not only waterproof, but they also had an additional layer of insulation inside the pants, a snow gaiter to keep snow and water out of my boots, and vents along each thigh that I could use if I started heating up and needed air. Also, one pair of pants is enough – you do not need a different pair of pants for each day.
One of the Warmer Days in Antarctica
#4 Outdoor Jumper Vest or Insulated Jacket
Interchange Jacket: Interior Used for Layering
This was a big test for me – how heavy a coat I would need while on land in Antarctica. If you’re traveling with any of the big polar expedition companies to Antarctica, they are likely to provide you with a water-resistant jacket that you’ll need to wear while in Antarctica (check in advance with your travel company). No matter how much research I did ahead of time, I couldn’t figure out before that first landing how many clothes I would need to put on.
What I quickly learned was that with the base layers and my water-resistant pants, adding a well-insulated jumper vest or jacket in addition to the provided water-resistant coat was enough for me given the hiking and other activities we were doing. In this instance as well, I alternated between a Columbia Omni-Heat Infinity Insulated Vest and the interior of a Whirlibird Interchange Jacket. (The brilliance of the interchange jacket is that when I was layering lots of clothing, I would wear just the interior component. When I was wearing regular clothes, I would wear the full coat to keep warm.)
#5 Hand and Foot Warmers
So, I think this is another area that I completely slept on when I lived in colder climates. I had used disposable hand warmers in the past but had never tried reusable hand warmers. Before the Antarctica trip, I met Aurora Heat that specializes in warmers made of beaver fur! As previously mentioned, my toes are always cold. Likewise, my fingertips tend to get cold before the rest of my body. On each outing, I put the hand warmers inside my gloves and the foot warmers in my socks. As advertised, the beaver fur locked in my body heat and kept me warm even while being out for 2 hours at a time. These are a great investment for anyone that travels to cold weather destinations.
Aurora Heat's Hand Warmers
Dressed for the Adventure
#6 Neck Gaiter or Fleece Tube Scarf
Protect that neck! As I previously mentioned, it can be windy in Antarctica. Also, as you’re cruising by zodiac, the cold air can whip around you so it’s important to make sure you have some layer around your neck to stay warm. I opted for this Columbia CSC II Omni-Heat Fleece Gaiter. As mentioned before, Omni-Heat technology was great for retaining my body heat. Additionally, the fleece was soft and comfortable.
#7 Warm Hat and Gloves
Ok you’re probably thinking DUH when you read to pack a warm hat and gloves. However, I do have a few tips. For the hat, make sure you bring a hat that covers your ears. For the gloves, please consider that you’re going to have your hands out a lot when you’re on landings because you’ll be using walking sticks a lot to navigate the snow and terrain. So, a thick pair of waterproof gloves is necessary. One additional tip is that you’ll want to use your camera and it’s hard to do that with big gloves. So, pack a pair of gloves that have a removable glove liner that enables you to slip your hands out to take your picture and still have your hands protected. Because Columbia became my shopping buddy while packing for Antarctica, I purchased the Bugaboo II Gloves and the Snow Diva Beanie.
#8 Polarized Sunglasses
Believe it or not, the sun can be quite intense in Antarctica during the summer. The ozone layer is very thin over the Antarctic. At times, I found if I did not have my glasses on, I could barely see without squinting…especially with the brightness of the sun reflecting off all the white snow. For the best experience, purchase yourself a pair of sunglasses that has side shields as well.
#9 Waterproof Backpack
A waterproof backpack is probably not on your radar, but it should be. When you go on landings or cruising by zodiac, you will want to take your camera, binoculars, and maybe have somewhere to put your gloves or gaiter if you get warm. Having a waterproof bag that had back straps was a lifesaver. I saw some people that had dry bags that they had to tote by hand and, you could tell it wasn’t the easiest thing to navigate while holding walking sticks and sinking in the snow. I found this waterproof dry bag backpack to be a great addition. My camera, lenses, cell phone, and binoculars were always protected from the water and weather, and it was nice to throw this on my back and have full access to other things with both hands.
I know in our current culture, everything that we do needs to be Instagrammable but, I found during this trip that there are so many moments that could not be captured by camera (unless you have one of the super-duper camera lenses that can see 50 miles away 😉). Many memories were created on this trip to Antarctica by just standing on the deck with my binoculars and watching penguins play in the water or catching the short breaching moments of a humpback whale. My pictures of these things look terrible…but what my eyes were able to see through the binoculars will always stay with my memory! There are many options for superb binoculars, but I chose to take a pair of Nikon Monarch M5s with me to Antarctica. I’m absolutely in love with them for their wide field of view and the sustained clarity over long distances.
Wildlife Watching on my Deck
Beautiful Views from Paradise Bay. Photo Credit: Ronda Wright
Now that you have gone through my list of items that I packed for Antarctica that really made a difference, I hope this can shorten your own preparation time while still feeling like you are ready to tackle The White Continent.
Hey, I'm Ronda Wright 👋🏽
I’m the founder of The Wright Getaway. I love all things travel and helping other people experience the world.
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