Here at Swoop, we often get asked about the pros and cons of buying kit vs hiring kit for an Antarctic adventure. As a passionate polar traveller and a packing obsessive, let me provide some clarity!
An expedition cruise trip to Antarctica may require some cold weather gear you don’t already own, though it’s often surprising how many things you already have. To first establish what clothes you need to bring with you on your expedition, please watch our detailed video and read our comprehensive packing list.
If you are travelling to the Antarctic interior for a land-based experience, please refer to your trip equipment list. These trips require additional equipment for lower temperatures and overnights in camping facilities.
Happily, all ships operating Antarctic expeditions provide waterproof neoprene boots (Wellington style) that you will be wearing any time you leave the ship. The vast majority of ships supply these once you are on board and all you need to do in advance is complete your boot size when you are filling in your passenger forms (if requested). A very small number of ships require you to complete a rental form and pay for the hire of these boots – if necessary, this will be made clear on the information provided in your booking.
The boots provided are good quality, keeping your feet warm and dry as you walk through the snow and step into the water during wet zodiac landings on the beach. As the bulkiest item of your polar gear, it’s great that you don’t need to worry about squeezing these into your suitcase.
Some operators may also provide a complimentary expedition jacket, but please check your booking documents to see if this applies to your trip.
With over 15 years of experience planning adventures to the polar regions and over 150 collective trips to Antarctica, our advice is to compile your kit in advance and bring it with you. Here’s why:
Fit and road testing
It is important that the clothing you are wearing is comfortable and fits well as you are going to be really putting it to the test as you explore Antarctica. Here at Swoop, we usually give any new gear a road test at home before heading south. That way, you can discover in advance if anything is a bit tight when you’re sitting down, rubs in an awkward spot, or isn’t quite as waterproof or windproof as it claimed on the label. It also gives you the ability to see how your layering technique works in practice – for example, do these waterproof trousers fit comfortably on top of my thermals, and can I easily get the ankle opening over the top of a pair of boots?
With the improvement of online shopping, it is now very straightforward to get hold of adventure clothing, even if you live in a hot weather location.
One tip I’ve learned is to look for deals at the end of the winter season when retailers are bringing in their summer ranges. This is equally valid online and in-store. Often your Antarctic trip is booked months or even years in advance, so it is usually possible to pounce on some significant reductions on high-quality gear, and then keep it stowed ready for your trip.
You don’t always have to spend a fortune to get good quality gear. Famous name brands often have a price tag to match. Of course, it is very important to carefully check exactly what you are buying – showerproof is not interchangeable with waterproof! I have found some fantastic kit by looking in unexpected places, such as local builders’ merchant catalogues. Here you sometimes find gems with hardwearing, high-performance gear priced with economy in mind, but without the flashy looks of a slick designer brand.
Buying on location
If you realise you have forgotten or lost any essential kit, the port cities have multiple adventure clothing stores where you can pick up replacements. Being in remote locations the prices in these shops are often higher than you might pay at home, but the selection and quality are generally good.
Most ships will have a small onboard shop with some handpicked gear, often including gloves and hats.
Once you have got your kit, it’s surprising how much you can reuse it back at home. Even in the relatively mild climates of the UK where I live, I’ve used my Antarctic thermals on chilly winter days, my waterproof overtrousers have come in handy on splashy summer boat rides, and my waterproof jackets have been great in the British drizzle. I should also add that polar travel is highly addictive and you may well find yourself being drawn back to the polar regions (north, or south again) to get that icy fix.
For those who don’t want to take their Antarctic kit back home, most ships will offer the option to leave it behind on board, where it is gratefully received. This is a great way to ensure that the gear continues to serve its purpose and reduce environmental impact. Often this is used as a backup for any unfortunate passengers whose luggage has not arrived (another great reason to always make sure you pack some waterproofs and thermals in your carry-on). I know the behind-the-scenes crew who keep the ship running hugely appreciate it. In some instances, the kit is donated to charity at the end of the season, where it can be put to good use for those in need.
Generally, those looking to hire clothes have one of two motivations. The most frequent is that you live in a hot climate where you are unlikely to use the clothes again. The second is that for environmentally friendly reasons you’d rather not buy new clothes. These are both really valid reasons to consider hiring.
There are a few challenges where the hiring of kit is concerned:
When you look at the cost of hiring kit, it is often just as expensive (or even more expensive) to hire kit as it would be to purchase it new.
Something that is impossible to guarantee from a rental shop is the quality of the kit and there is no way to road test it in advance. You don’t want to discover that your waterproof trousers are not in fact waterproof in the middle of a soggy zodiac ride back to the ship, or when you’ve sat down in the snow to take photos.
If you have hired something from a store based at the port, you need to ensure that you have factored in enough time to disembark the ship and get the items returned. This means that you may not be able to head from the ship straight to the airport. Equally, it is not an option if your voyage starts in one location and finishes in another (such as fly-sail combinations).
If you are still keen to hire kit, your next question is likely to be “where can I hire it from?”. Swoop has not personally tested these options as we prefer to bring our own kit for the reasons mentioned above, so we cannot vouch for the quality of the gear, or what will be available. It is worth doing your own research and contacting the stores for more information to ensure they will suit your requirements.
If your trip starts and finishes in Ushuaia, there are a couple of options for hiring kit.
- New Headings has packages designed with your core Antarctic clothing requirements in mind. These can be collected and dropped off in Ushuaia. Some operators may have specific rental suggestion packages set up with New Headings already, so do let us know if you’re thinking of this and we can check with your ship operator.
- Ushuaia stores – There are a few stores in Ushuaia that offer rental gear. However, we understand that the quality is unpredictable and have had more positive reviews from New Headings.
We are not aware of any rental stores in Punta Arenas.
Online rentals for on-ship delivery
A small number of ships have linked up with the website ShiptoShore to offer a rental service in which your kit is delivered on board. Click here to check whether your ship is listed.