What to Pack for an Antarctic Cruise

Updated 12/2016: Though it’s been several years since this trip, the general list of what to wear is still relevant. However, I’ve updated some of the links with newer versions of their products.

In the months leading up to Antarctica, I amassed a ridiculous amount of clothing and equipment in preparation for our trip. Keep in mind – my single snow experience occurred in 1995, when we received 6 inches of snow in Bakersfield during La Nina season. So basically, I had no idea what to really expect.

I performed many a Google search for things like “what to wear in Antarctica” and “clothes to pack for Antarctica”. More often than not, the results weren’t too helpful – advice ranged from the expedition-level (no, I am not hiking 50 miles at 9000 ft elevation) to the outdated.

Below, I’ve listed everything I brought, with comments on what was/wasn’t necessary. Our trip was towards the beginning of the Antarctic summer, so temperatures were mild at about 30F degrees (give or take a few degrees due to wind chill factor). Additionally, what was originally a 6 day trip was unexpectedly extended to 9 days, which I was not entirely prepared for. We had a 25kg weight limit on our Antarctica luggage, so we had to carefully choose what to bring.

The Packing List

  • 1 North Face Tri-Climate Jacket
    You’ll want something that is water resistant (if not waterproof) with detachable layers for space efficiency. I purchased one of their tri-climate jackets, which I’ve regularly used as a snowboarding jacket since then.
  • 3 midweight base layers
    I wore these on top of a tank top, underneath my jacket, and was good to go for any kind of weather. My Antarctica shopping coincided with the annual REI sale, so I raided the SmartWool section for their midweight zip bases
  • 1 pair of waterproof pants
    I brought the REI Taku waterproof pants; however, these have been discontinued since then. A good option now would be the REI Talusphere pants for women and men. These pants consist of a light durable shell, which can be layered with…
  • 3 pairs of midweight long underwear
    Stylish, I know. Some passengers wore snowboarding pants, which works well, too. I wanted to avoid bulkiness, so I opted for a waterproof layer + long johns from SmartWool – which are currently (2016) on sale at REI Garage! I’ve remained a big fan of SmartWool since then – I still wear these layers for snowboarding, and love that they are lightweight, keep you toasty and don’t get stinky.
  • 6 pairs of heavyweight socks
    Again, SmartWool is great, if you don’t mind splurging. Knee-high socks to provide extra insulation and comfort in the rainboots you’ll be trekking in.
  • 1 wool beanie
  • 1 wool neck gaiter
    To protect the exposed bits of your neck and pull up to cover the lower half of your face. I also brought along a regular scarf, but found the gaiter more useful on those chilly, windy Zodiac rides
  • 1 pair of heavy duty, insulated gloves
    Important: your fingers are the first to succumb to the cold, and it’s surprisingly miserable when you can’t feel your fingers while trying to maintain a good grip on the edge of a Zodiac.
  • 1 pair of glove liners
    Layered with the big bulky gloves above, so you can slip them off to access camera controls and buttons.
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses
    Very important! With a thin ozone and sun reflecting off all the snow and ice, eye protection was crucial. In fact, we weren’t allowed to go on zodiac / foot expeditions without them.
  • Sneakers
    For walking around the ship. I know this will vary from company to company, but Antarctica XXI provided rubber rain boots for us to wear, so we didn’t have to bring anything special on that front.
  • Miscellaneous
    This includes normal clothing, like tank tops, t-shirts, jeans, sweatpants, etc. for lounging on the ship. I also brought some nicer/dressier tops for Christmas (and surprisingly, New Years) celebration.

The above list worked well, despite our extended stay. Disclaimer: I like the cold, so warmth was not too much of an issue for me. However, I know that many don’t have the same… affinity for cold as I do, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt. And for those of you who currently reside in colder climates (I’m lookin’ at you, Boston), the weather will definitely be on the milder side for y’all.

If I had to repack, I would have brought a few extra pairs of socks, but that’s about it. It’s likely that your clothes will get soaked with the snow and sleet – we had radiators in our cabins, which made it easy to quickly dry small items like gloves and neck gaiters.