The Antarctic is not your average holiday destination (read our comprehensive guide here), so you would be forgiven for overthinking your packing list and planning on taking much more than you might actually need. After all, you are heading off into a cold, icy landscape that is open to all the elements and you really don’t want to get caught unprepared. But, when considering the question, ‘what to pack for an Antarctica cruise’, remember this: You are not an intrepid explorer heading off on foot, camping in the deepest depths of a glacial ice field and, while it might still be chilly, you will be travelling in the austral summer which sees much more settled weather and a much more pleasant environment.
So, when it comes to what to pack for an Antarctica cruise, we have some top tips. We want you to be prepared, but we also think it is important to not overpack or worry about taking too much. So here goes…
Your Main Bag
OK, so let’s start with what you are going to carry all your kit in. A backpack is definitely better than a suitcase. Getting on and off ships that have very narrow corridors can be tricky so something you can carry on your back is best. And don’t go over the top in size. Pack light and you will be grateful you did.
A dry bag is also a good idea to carry electronics when you are jumping on and off your zodiac for those exciting trips to shore.
First and foremost, leave the dinner jackets and ball gowns at home. You need to be comfortable on this trip, and there is no need for fancy clothes and impractical shoes. Pack comfy clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement and perhaps one smarter outfit if you discover that your ship hosts a Captain’s Welcome evening. Don’t go over the top though. A smart top and nice pair of trousers will do just fine.
Base layers are so important. You only need a couple as they wash well and dry quickly. Silk or merino wool are our preferred materials, but if you have polypropylene, that is good too. All these fabrics wick away sweat and keep you warm. Base layers are thin and meant for layering as and when necessary.
Pop a mid-layer on over your base layer when you’re out on excursions, and you’ll stay warm and comfortable. For zodiac cruises that can get chilly, and any trips that involve a shore landing, we recommend a fleece jumper or good quality sweater too. You can always take it off if you get too warm – that is the beauty of layering!
You are going to spend time getting a cold bum on these trips. Whether it is sitting in a kayak or crouching low to get that long awaited perfect penguin pic, your bottom will make contact with the ice and cold. To help keep your legs warm, fleece lined trousers are a go-to clothing item.
Having a quality outer layer is paramount. You are at the mercy of the weather conditions in this part of the world and if you get too wet, you could be in serious trouble. Many expeditions provide a Parka coat (these are usually a bright colour so that the crew can always spot the passengers against the ice), but you need to check with the company you book with first. If your company is not providing this waterproof outer layer they most probably provide equipment hire as an alternative. This is a good option as investing in a heavy-duty jacket that you may never wear again can be very expensive.
These are essential when you are heading out on a zodiac. There is always splashing and sometimes a wave or two, so keeping the water away from your warm insulating layer is key. You can go for a lightweight pair and the simple pull-on, pull-off style works best. Waterproof trousers also stop you getting damp when you are on the floor photographing or perhaps even re-living your youth and enjoying a slide down an icy hillside (like the one in Paradise Bay)!
You definitely need to take care of your feet when you are onboard, and warm socks are a must. You should pack plenty of pairs too as these tend to be the first item of clothing to get wet. Merino wool socks are our favourite option. They are extremely warm, wash well, dry quickly and are great at keeping smelly feet at bay. Choose a stretchy sock for maximum comfort.
A Note on Laundry – Yes, some ships do offer you this facility but why not just pack enough underwear for the trip and rinse out anything you might need along the way? This is a much easier option, and the cabin laundry service can be expensive. Handwashing socks and anything merino is also easy to do. Merino dries quickly so no worries there.
Comfy Boat Shoes and Knee-High Waterproof Boots
Choose a pair of shoes will be mainly worn on the ship. Remember that the ship has a deck so they will see some outdoor action. Make sure this pair of shoes is easy to get on and off as you don’t want to miss a ‘once in a lifetime sight’ on deck because you were fighting with tricky shoelaces.
Apart from your comfy shoes on board, you will need a pair of quality waterproof knee-high boots. This footwear will be worn when you are getting from the cruise ship to the shore in your inflatable landing boat. Insulated is best, but if you bring your own and they are not lined, don’t worry, add in a pair of warm socks and you will be fine. Knee high is so important because when you get off your zodiac boat to head to shore, you often have to wade through water that can be up to mid-calf level. Wet feet are a no-no, so if your company doesn’t provide these boots, invest in a decent pair.
Great news though – two pairs of shoes is ample.
Top Tip: Buying your own boots? Go for a shallow tread. Penguin poop can be very hard to dig out of the deep treads!
On Shore Essentials
No-one wants wet hands in the cold so waterproof gloves should be top of the list when thinking of what to pack for an Antarctica cruise. Thermal lined is always a good idea, but make sure your gloves have that all important waterproof (or at least water resistant) layer too. Again, the investment is most certainly worth it.
Here at Wildfoot, we recommend packing two pairs of gloves. Being small and light they can often get lost and as they are easy and light to pack it is wise to take a couple of pairs. Liners can help anyone who is particularly predisposed to cold hands.
Fact: Up to 20% of body heat is lost through the head so keeping your head warm is key! Lots of fleeces and jackets come with hoods that are ideal as an extra head layer but having a separate hat made for the conditions and a scarf too is essential.
Neck gaiters are a great idea. No flapping ends like those on scarfs and they are made with warmth as a priority. Alternatively, you could combine your hat and scarf and go for a balaclava. These are very effective at keeping out the cold and protecting your ears, chin, nose and neck too.
Beanies are a good option for drier days. Designed for freedom of movement they are ideal for wildlife spotting. As an alternative, especially if you find beanies irritating, try a headband that covers the ears, as these can be just as effective against the wind and cold.
There is nothing quite like the brightness of an Antarctic sunny day. The high latitude and altitude create a light like no other; both bright and beautiful it can almost dazzle you if you are not prepared. Not surprising when you consider that the whiteness of the snow and ice is so pristine that the reflection of ultraviolet light can actually be quite harsh on the eyes. Even on colder days, the sun’s powerful rays penetrate the atmosphere, and it is not unusual to end up sun burnt and even suffer snow-blindness on days like these.
Eyes need protection so if you are not going ‘full-on’ snow goggles (some do and it is recommended) you definitely need polar sunglasses. These are lighter and easier to wear, but you do need to go for a quality pair and recommended brand.
You have probably looked forward to booking such an epic experience for years and no doubt you have saved up and are splashing out on indulging in every bit of this incredible cruise, which is why we really encourage you not to scrimp on camera equipment. You may very well have a good camera that you’re familiar with – great, bring that but please don’t rely on your phone for capturing this kind of holiday. A reasonable camera and even a GoPro or video camera are high on the ‘what to pack for an Antarctica cruise’ list.
Some people like to work with a tripod so add this to your list if you like. And, remember a good sized SD card for storing your daily pics and lots of spare batteries too.
We could write a whole blog post on the pros and cons of different cameras for wildlife photography, but our advice is to use the camera you are familiar with or if you need to buy a new one, go for something that you can understand and work with without too much added stress.
Don’t forget too that many expeditions have an onboard photography expert who is on hand to help you get to grips with your kit and advise on how to get the very best shots you can. This is an opportunity not to be passed up.
As any outdoor enthusiast knows, a headlamp always comes in useful. Your trip may or may not include an overnight camp onshore, but even if it doesn’t, you might do some wildlife spotting in the hours of darkness while on the ship. Having a headlamp that is hands free leaves you able to take any shots you might like to.
Go for one with good brightness quality and a decent battery life. Oh, and if you grab one that doesn’t weigh too much, that is a bonus.
Some companies provide these, but it is nice to bring your own. You are then familiar with your settings and fit and can watch the wonderful seabirds and majestic sea life at leisure.
While it may be chilly and thoughts of hot chocolate are more prevalent than thoughts of a long drink of water, you need to keep hydrated in this part of the world. Two litres of water a day is the advice, so packing a decent water bottle is essential. Choose a bottle that carries at least 750ml – there are plenty of excellent brands out there.
Top tip: Water can freeze when you are onshore so covering your bottle with a thermal sock can be a lifesaver!
SO, SO important, sunscreen needs to be applied everyday while you are in this part of the world. This should definitely be at the very top of your ‘what to pack for an Antarctica cruise’ list. The UV light is extremely strong here and you will need an SPF factor of at least 30.
Lip Balm with SPF
The sunshine and dry, windy conditions are a nightmare for dry lips. Pack a quality lip balm that offers adequate protection with sunscreen too.
Sea Sickness Medicine
This is one often overlooked by guests, which is understandable as you don’t often spend days and nights onboard a ship so it’s likely that you have no idea how you will cope. Taking some motion sickness medicine with you just in case is a sensible plan. The Drake Passage is included on many a cruise and this particular stretch of water can get quite choppy to say the least – although you could be lucky and end up travelling through on a day.
In our modern world, access to power is ever more important to us. Whether it is to recharge our camera, download our photos, charge our toothbrush or plug in our reading light, we always need power. A powerstrip is useful because power points are few and far between on board our cruise ships. Invest in a lightweight one that allows you to plug in all your devices in one place.
Even if you find that you bond with all of your fellow passengers, you don’t necessarily want to hear them snoring when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. Cabin walls can be thin and people go to bed at different times so, if you want to work to your own schedule, ear plugs are a must!
Lots of cruises include all you need in the name of toiletries, but we definitely suggest bringing your own moisturiser. Skin can get dry, especially when you have been out in the wind and sun all day so using an effective product that works for you is recommended. Remember to pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and a hairbrush too, of course.
You never know – you might decide to brave the ‘polar plunge’ while you are onboard, so a bathing suit is essential. If you are not so inclined to be daring, you may discover your ship has a hot tub, so your swimming costume could come in handy for that too.
Not for everyone, this accessory can make a huge difference for anyone suffering from Reynauds or anyone with a predisposition for cold hands. You really have no idea how you will cope in the Antarctic environment so handwarmers might be something you want to consider.
There will be downtime on the ship and while many vessels have a library, you may want to take the opportunity to catch up on all those books you have been trying to read but never got around to. Downloading some music is always a good idea but do this at home, as no matter what the info says about the strength of Wi-Fi on board, it won’t ever be as good as at your home. Download all you need before you leave and don’t forget your headphones.
Journaling a trip isn’t for everyone but if you think you may feel inspired at times to write about your experiences, then bring a journal just in case this trip gets your creative juices flowing. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a list of what you saw that day, but journaling memories is a great way of remembering your holiday and bringing your trip back to life.
Do Not Pack…
No need for fancy clothes and please stay away from open toed shoes. If your ship has a spa, they will provide flip flops for use by the sauna or hot tub.
We would also suggest that you leave any fancy jewellery you have at home. This kind of cruise is not like a river cruise or a Caribbean option. This is a trip taking you to the wildest part of our planet where expensive jewellery is very much not required. If you bring a precious item and then need to leave it behind in your cabin or take it off for an excursion, there is more risk of loss too, and you really don’t want that worry when you should be concentrating on enjoying an experience of a lifetime.
Before you go, please make sure your passport is in date and you have any visas required. Travelling is always exciting wherever you go, and it is easy to forget about the bare essentials. You won’t be going anywhere without an up-to-date passport, so make this a priority when thinking about ‘what to pack for an Antarctica cruise’.
We have an incredible range of Antarctic cruises on offer and when asked about our favourites, we always find it hard to answer. Here are three, however, that come highly recommended.
A stunning trip that takes in a crossing of the Polar Circle (subject to conditions), this cruise combines the very best of what this region offers. Glorious landscapes inhabited by incredible wildlife and dotted with historic sites stretch in every direction and, as you sail into hidden inlets and tiny bays, this undiscovered world of pristine beauty unravels.
There are few who have had the privilege of stepping onto the shores of Cape Horn, the famous but rarely visited island south of Ushuaia, but you have the exciting opportunity on this innovative expedition. After sailing the southern seas, the trip halts at the Falkland Islands for a few days where passengers have the chance to explore spectacular landscapes and enjoy wonderful wildlife spotting.
This one is a classic. Encompassing all that is true of the Antarctic region, the cruise introduces this part of our wonderful world from an authentic and genuine perspective. Spend time wildlife spotting from the deck, head out on a zodiac to explore onshore, or why not join one the many thrilling optional extra activities? This cruise brings you the very best of Antarctica and has all you need to satisfy your holiday aspirations.
When planning your trip to the Antarctic, we want to help, and not only with your ‘what to pack for an Antarctica cruise’ question. We have an expert team on hand to answer all of the questions, many of which are answered here. We can talk through your travel options and get you on the cruise that is worthy of all your aspirations. We understand that this trip could well be a once in a lifetime and we take great pride in giving every passenger exactly what they want and more. Let us take you to the most majestic part of our planet and share with you a holiday that will carve a place for itself in your memories always.