It may not be for everyone but a visit to Antarctica is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (read more here). With its stunning views and wildlife, it’s one of the most fascinating places in the world. But as beautiful as it is, it’s also the coldest continent and therefore comes with challenges. The environment itself can be dangerous, and even in the summertime it’s extremely cold. You should be in good health if embarking on an Antarctica camping trip because only basic medical treatment is available. It is the challenges, however, that make this majestic continent the ultimate destination for outdoor enthusiasts/campers.
The first thing you should do when planning your Antarctica camping trip is decide when you’d like to go. The main tourist season is during the Southern Hemisphere summer (between November and March). November is also the mating season for penguins and other birds. The rest of the year is extremely dark and cold and not the best time to visit.
Highlights of Antarctica Camping
- Hike through mountains
- With almost zero light pollution, star gazing is superb
- Sleep under the stars
- Listen for polar bears
- Deep sleep in the snowy silence
Who Can Do It?
It doesn’t matter how old or young you are or even how fit or experienced you are – anyone can camp in Antarctica. As long as you are in good health and have a yearning for adventure (oh and a couple of extra layers of clothing) you are in for an incredible experience. We offer this activity as an optional extra on your Antarctica cruise, available for an additional charge.
What we provide for camping:
We want to make sure you are as comfortable as possible on your overnight stay under canvas, so we provide much of the essential equipment. That way we are confident you have the best quality gear that will keep you safe and warm.
- Insulated waterproof rubber boots
- Bivouac bag (one per person) and a mattress
- Sleeping bag (waterproof) with a cotton inner liner
- Portable field toilet (one per group)
What we cannot take onto land:
There are strict rules on this continent with regards to what we can and cannot take onto land. The Antarctic Treaty and IAATO have regulations in place that ensure the environment remains protected. We are not permitted to take stoves, fuel or food on to shore with the exception of emergency rations, survival equipment, water and medical aid/supplies.
Penguin Watching in Antarctica
There are eight different types of penguin in the region, and an Antarctica camping excursion can give you the opportunity to see some of them up close in their habitat. Here we introduce them to you:
Definitely the most iconic of all the species, the Emperor Penguin is the largest, growing up to 122cm tall and weighing up to 45kg! Inhabiting the Ross Sea and Weddell regions, they come together to live in large colonies on the sea ice. Thriving on crustaceans and fish, they are also the only penguin to breed in winter (end of July-August). Care of the chicks is a shared responsibility between male and female. There are around 220,000 breeding pairs alive today.
These are the ones you will most definitely see on your trip. In the summer they flood to the continental coastline and islands. Only growing up to around 71cm they are much smaller than the Emperor Penguins, although they can dive up to 175m and enjoy a similar diet. Adélie penguins live in dense breeding colonies that are made up of thousands of birds and they give birth to chicks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, usually in December.
This penguin is the third largest penguin behind emperors and kings and can reach 90cm tall and weigh 8.5kg. They make their nests on beaches and in the grassy surroundings and defend their territory very aggressively. They feed on squid, fish, and crustaceans and reside in large breeding colonies along the coastlines of the northern Antarctic Peninsula, South Orkneys, South Shetlands, South Sandwich Islands, and in the sub-Antarctic Falklands and South Georgia. Gentoos build their nests using stones, and males often give stones to females as courtship gifts.
There are almost seven million pairs of Chinstrap Penguins, so you would be unlucky not to see one from the ship or while camping. These chicks are born between February and March and are usually born in pairs. They are of average penguin height and weight and tend to feed near the shore, foraging among the pack ice. They rarely dive more than 60m but can travel at 18mph in the water. On land you may well see them sliding around on their bellies using their feet and flippers to propel them.
Very similar in terms of appearance to the Chinstrap Penguin, these Macaroni Penguins are found close to the Antarctic Convergence, breeding in the Falklands, South Georgia, South Sandwich, and South Orkney Islands. Living in colonies on hillsides and rocky cliffs they breed in late October. As with other penguins, the parental responsibility is shared and parenting comes at a cost. Adult Macaronis lose up to half their body weight while looking after their chick.
There is debate about what exactly distinguishes this type of penguin and so subspecies have been identified depending on reproductive behaviour and breeding location: northern, southern, and eastern rockhopper. When on board your ship you will most likely see the northern and southern rockhopper. This species is the smallest of the penguins, only weighing around 2.5kg. Their name is derived from the fact that they form their colonies on rocky windswept shores. Get close to one and the noise can be quite remarkable – they literally chatter to each other!
These penguins are named after the famous explorer Ferdinand Magellan. They are closely related to Galápagos penguins, Humboldt Penguins, and African Penguins. If you come across a colony, you may find that many of the inhabitants run for cover – they are rather shy of humans. Magellanic penguins are found around the Falkland Islands and South America but there are notable vagrant populations recorded in South Georgia and the South Shetlands. They are nervous creatures and like vegetation so that they can burrow themselves away.
The second largest after the Emperor, these majestic beasts stand around 95cm tall. Dining on squid and fish, they live along the coastlines of the sub-Antarctic islands. Interestingly they spend more time at sea than other penguins and can dive up to 300m deep, holding their breath for around 9 minutes. It is no wonder they have been noted by scientists to enjoy an afternoon nap! Probably the most sociable of the penguins, they spend lots of time in their colonies.
So, with so many different types of penguins living all over this wonderful continent, you are guaranteed to see at least one species on an Antarctica camping expedition. Travelling between December and January when the majority of the chicks hatch gives you so much opportunity to spot the babies in their creches and nurseries. Don’t take our word for their beauty, majesty and elegance. Words only paint half the story. See for yourself and book a cruise with us.
What to Bring
There are certain must-haves that you should take to Antarctica. This includes plenty of layers – insulating clothes to keep in warmth and base layers to keep moisture at bay. Your outer layers of clothing should be waterproof and windproof. It definitely goes without saying that you should bring padded gloves and hats. For your feet, you will need insulated, rubber boots (these are usually provided on board ship) and thick socks. Finally, bring some good sunglasses. The sun in the Antarctic is dazzlingly bright due to the ice and the coldness.
- Warm hat and snood, turtleneck or neck gaiter
- Thermals are a must so thermal underwear, fleece vest or jacket are essential, as are thermal glove liners, fleece finger gloves, or warm mittens
- Breathable down jacket (e.g., Gore-Tex)
- Thick socks and a spare pair too
- Good sunglasses with excellent UV protection
- Suncream (at least factor 15) or total sunblock
- Torch or lightweight headlamp (for departures in February – March)
Special note: Cotton clothing is not advisable so no regular T-shirts and definitely no jeans. Cotton tends to get wet and doesn’t dry quickly while moving in a cold environment. We always recommend thermal underwear.
How Does it Work?
When you arrive at your Antarctica camping ground, the ‘camp’ will be ready and waiting for you and your tents already pitched. We use 2-3 man tents but in good weather you may prefer to join the more adventurous and sleep out in a bivouac (bivvy) bag under the open sky. If you have the chance to do this you really should snap it up – there is nothing quite like the sight of a South Pole sky under the cloak of darkness. The following morning you’ll be picked up early in time to return to the ship for a hearty breakfast,
You should be aware that you can’t take any food or drink ashore for an Antarctica camping session. You can only take a bottle of water. Also, you can only go to the toilet if you really need to – relieving yourself on the continent is prohibited. There will be a disposable toilet but it is best used for emergencies only.
It’s important to be aware of the challenges of the Antarctic before you plan your camping excursion but don’t let these distract you too much from the benefits of visiting. Antarctica equips you with an opportunity to experience things that you never have before and never will again. There aren’t many places on earth where you can get so close to thousands of penguins. You can also see different types of whales and seals too. Surely being able to say that you’ve slept under the stars on an Antarctica camping excursion is the ultimate in outdoor adventure.
If camping in Antarctica sounds like your kind of adventure, contact us to make arrangements.
Some of Our Favourites
At Wildfoot we offer a diverse selection of trips, and you can read about them all here. The following are some of our favourites.
Antarctic Circle via the Falklands and South Georgia
Want to make the very best of everything this stunning continent has to offer? Then this diverse and exciting expedition might be just what you are looking for. Combining a trip to the most rugged and remote parts of the Falklands Islands with an epic wildlife experience in the paradise of South Georgia, this cruise is unforgettable. Twenty-three days spent discovering incredible flora and fauna, camping, walking amongst penguins and uncovering the rich history of one of the most majestic parts of the world make this one of the best Polar expeditions out there! There is also the addition of crossing the Antarctic Circle too – a wonderful itinerary that ticks all boxes and photo opportunities aplenty!
Antarctic Explorer with Helicopter Activities
For a Polar experience with a difference, join our deluxe, brand-new expedition ship that is equipped with two twin-engine helicopters, ready and waiting to whisk you off to the most out of the way parts of this incredible region. On visits to areas that are inaccessible to most other visitors, you’ll witness the wonders of this majestic paradise from a whole different perspective. Onboard the ship you will journey through the scenic wonderland, flanked by towering ice formations. Get up close to penguin colonies made up of thousands of birds on an Antarctica camping excursion. Discover the islands of the South Shetland and the Antarctic Peninsula and even step foot on the 7th continent – the most mysterious and least visited of all!
Spirit of Antarctica
This exciting expedition on board our custom built vessel takes you to the very heart and soul of this most magnificent polar region. Showcasing all of the classic highlights, your trip will take you through some of the most stunning scenery you can imagine. Icebergs stand tall, flanking your route and giving way to coastal stretches teeming with bountiful wildlife, while on land you can visit historic sites and marvel at the fact you have set foot on the most incredible continent on Earth. We also have a resident photography expert on hand to offer lots of tips and tricks on how best to capture your experience. Optional extras include kayaking, zodiac excursions, snowshoeing, Alpine skiing and even a chance to experience Antarctica camping!
Frequently Asked Questions
Will there be toilet facilities?
This is a tricky one but for those ‘caught short’ while out on the ice, we do provide emergency facilities. This is in the guise of a portable ‘camping toilet’ which we will discreetly position away from the tents. We also make sure it is screened behind a makeshift snow wall. We really prefer guests not to use the toilet but we understand that this is not always possible, and we would rather you do this than ‘go’ on the ice – this is strictly forbidden.
What if there’s an emergency?
We have a sound emergency procedure in place so no need to worry. The accompanying expedition team member is always in direct radio contact with the ship and should an emergency arise, a zodiac can quickly be dispatched from the ship.
How cold will it be?
In the summer months (December-February), temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula are often warmer than expected. On average they sit somewhere around close to freezing or even slightly higher. This makes an Antarctica camping trip much less difficult than many people imagine. In fact, for anyone living in the northern hemisphere during these months, it can actually get much colder at home!
Do I need special gear?
You will be provided with all of the camping equipment you’ll need, so all you need to bring are a couple of extra layers of clothing.