What to wear
While average temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Austral summer hover around zero degrees, packing the right kit can make the difference between you being comfortable or not when down there. As the old adage goes, 'Any fool can be uncomfortable!'.
Being correctly prepared and having the right kit makes all the difference, particularly on a trip like this, so it’s never too early to start reviewing your kit. The good news is that between the clothing items provided and what you already own, it shouldn't cost you a lot to fill in the gaps for your Polar wardrobe.
The best way to approach your clothing is to think of it in two broad groups:
1. Under Layers
Base layers are going to be key to staying warm when you're in Antarctica, both top and bottoms, as they trap air close to your body and can be added and subtracted until you hit a happy medium. As we like to say, 'dress like an onion'.
We recommend you don’t wear any cotton, but instead choose merino wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers, as they retain body heat far better.
On top of one or two base layers, you can then add a jumper or fleece layer, before your outer weatherproof jacket.
2. Outer Layers
You will definitely need a weatherproof outer 'shell' comprising both a jacket and waterproof trousers.
A decent gore-tex or skiing jacket is ideal, which you may well already have. Similarly for the waterproof trousers, skiing trousers/pants work really well.
If you would prefer to avoid investing in outdoor clothing which you may not have much use for back home, or if you simply don’t want to travel with these bulky items, there are clothing hire shops in Ushuaia and rental isn't very expensive. Quality, however, can be variable.
Gloves & socks
Hands and feet are typically the first things that get cold when you are out on zodiac excursions, so a combination of both thin and thick socks and gloves is a great idea.
Also key to warm hands and feet is keeping them dry. Your boots will keep your feet dry, but splashing from the zodiac as you cruise through the icy water may get your gloves wet, so make sure your gloves are either waterproof or bring a pair of rubber gloves to protect them whilst you are cruising around. Fishermen have been doing this for decades.
Packing inexpensive thin glove ‘liners’ - the type motorcyclists use - to wear underneath your outer gloves provides added insulation, allowing you the dexterity to take photos and handle your camera.
Other Important Items
Also, don't forget to pack:
- A woolly hat
- UV protective sunglasses (the sun is very strong)
- High factor suncream
- Lip balm with SPF
- A buff or neck gaiter
- Your swimwear for the Polar Plunge!
- A rucksack
- A dry bag, to keep your camera dry if your rucksack isn’t waterproof
A telescopic walking pole (or poles) with a snow basket on the end – to avoid sinking into the snow – can also be a really useful extra point of balance on the ice. They don’t take up much space in your luggage and are light.
Those keen on wildlife might also appreciate packing a decent pair of binoculars. We strongly suggest bringing your own binoculars, however, each ship will have a limited number available for guest use if you don’t have your own.
What kit will be provided?
All Antarctic ships provide rubber insulated boots on loan to guests for the duration of the voyage, while quite a few also offer complimentary parka jackets. These are really decent bits of kit, often with a high neck to keep out the wind, and a zip-in fleece inner layer.
When choosing your parka jacket sizing, given the added underlayers you’ll be wearing, we suggest choosing one size larger than you would normally. The same goes for your rubber boots, to take into account the thick socks. Try on your jacket and boots straight away – if an item isn’t quite right there will always be a stock of other sizes, so don’t fret about getting the sizes 100% correct.
The details of what clothing will be provided on your own voyage can be found in your original confirmation email which you will have received by email shortly after booking. If in any doubt, please get in touch with your Customer Experience Coordinator.
If you're booked onto a charter flight to/from Punta Arenas, don't forget that the baggage allowance is 20 kg when packing.
This depends on whether you’re spending any time in Patagonia pre or post Antarctica. If you’re simply flying into Ushuaia with just one night there before embarking, then you should be OK with just a fleece or light jacket.
But if you are spending more than this - or plan to head out into the nearby national park - then a waterproof jacket to protect you from Patagonia’s highly changeable weather would be a good idea.
It's casual and leans very much towards the casual and comfortable, rather than needing to feel that you’re on parade.
Unless you’re on one of the more luxury ships (Silversea, Ponant, Hebridean Sky), you can leave your cocktail dress, blazer and tie at home.
People typically dress in a mixture of outdoor/walking attire or whatever they tend to wear at home. Bring what you will be comfortable in, it really isn’t a fashion show and the expedition ships are very ‘dress down’ in approach.
In the evening, some people may put on a collared shirt or make a bit of an effort, but there’s certainly no whipping line.
When packing it's worth also bearing in mind:
- All of the ships are kept very warm inside, to the point you could actually wear shorts and a T-shirt if you really wanted. So you don’t need to pack lots of layers while on board
- The laundry service on all ships is typically very efficient and inexpensive, so again you don’t need to bring an excess of clothing
Your best bet is to visit a reputable, local outward bound store where you’ll have access to good free advice and can try items on before purchasing.
Yes, definitely, the collapsible poles are ideal and don't take up much space.
Even having just one pole can be really useful as a third point of balance - in Antarctica particularly.
For just Antarctica they are not necessary, as you're not walking far enough and after a visit to a penguin rookery rubber boots are much better as the detritus can be scrubbed straight off with a yard brush.
But if you're going to South Georgia as well, where the possibilities for longer walks are far greater, particularly the Stromness walk which is the tail of Shackleton's route, we would recommend taking them.
Flat rubber soled shoes are best, particularly for the icy outer decks, so trainers are perfect.
What kind of luggage should I use?
We would recommend you use a soft-sided holdall (ideally with wheels) or suitcase as they are easier to stow in a cupboard or push under your bed. Some ships have dedicated suitcase storage.
What our customers think
I am very satisfied with what I received from Swoop. I felt extremely well prepared. I appreciated all the articles and checklists, and the visual format to help me stay organized. I also appreciated your recommendations around photography and lenses.
Deidre New York December 2017
The neck gators you supplied before the trip might have been the single greatest piece of equipment we had. They were a hit with the other non-Swoop people. Well done!!! Read the full review
Andrea Ehrhardt United States Of America February 2020
Definitely have the waterproof outerwear, but we did not experience the extreme cold. Layers were very important, you'll only need one layer on some days and other times need a winter coat. Always have sunscreen! Read the full review
Kevin Duncan United States Of America December 2019
You can rent most gear in Ushuaia although we bought ours. Read the full review
Rex - Len Hunt United States Of America December 2019
Keep an open mind, follow the instructions of the expedition crew and read Swoop's FAQ on what to wear and bring! Read the full review
Josie & Carmen Castro Canada December 2018
Bring extra warm stuff, it's better to have them than to wish you brought them. It can actually be warm sometimes but you can take off stuff if needed. Bring two of everything warm – gloves, hats and scarves – as they can get wet its always good to have a spare. Read the full review
Raquel & David Shulman Canada December 2018
Do not bring too many clothes. A 15 kg suitcase is enough. Two pairs of socks, a ski trouser plus a waterproof trouser, warm hat and warm gloves. Read the full review
Raymond & Claire Floreancig Belgium December 2017
Do not dress too warm because you tend to exercise a lot. But make sure you bring warm clothes because the weather may turn cold. Read the full review
Feng Zheng China January 2017