Packing for Antarctica

What should I pack for Antarctica?

What to wear

While average temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Austral summer hover around zero degrees, the reality is that the weather can be extremely variable. If the sun is shining, there's no wind and you're hiking uphill, you can find yourself getting very warm and needing to remove layers. However, this can all change in an instant, and the wind picking up can have you shivering in seconds. Zodiac cruising can be particularly chilly, due to the lack of body movement, so we recommend wrapping up extra warm if you're heading out for an hour or two on the water.

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, and you can even hire kit for Antarctica.

What should I wear in Antarctica?

Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

Pack some clothes in your hand luggage in case your luggage gets lost, then you can still enjoy your expedition. Pop them into a vacuum pack style bag, squeeze the air out and place it in your carry-on. We recommend a waterproof jacket & fleece (if your ship isn't providing them), waterproof trousers, gloves (thick + liner), a hat, a couple of pairs of socks and underwear and a set of base thermals, as well as your photography equipment and binoculars.


1. Under layers

What to wear in Antarctica

Base layers are key to staying warm in Antarctica, both top and bottoms, as they trap air close to your body and can be added or subtracted until you hit a happy medium. As we like to say, 'dress like an onion'.

We recommend you don’t wear cotton, instead choose merino wool, silk or polyester as they retain body heat far better.

On top of one or two base layers, you can then add a fleece layer, before your outer weatherproof jacket. We recommend bringing several different warm layers, whether they be fleeces of varying thicknesses or down-style lightweight liner jackets, so you can layer up according to the weather and activity.  

Note: If your ship includes a parka please be aware that some expedition parkas are 3-in-1 jackets with a removable inner quilted jacket, whereas some are outer shells only with no inherent warmth. What is provided in Antarctica will affect what you decide to pack, so if you are not sure if your ship includes a jacket, please check with us.

2. Outer layers

What to wear in Antarctica

As zodiac rides to and from the ship can get splashy, you will definitely need a weatherproof outer 'shell' comprising both a jacket and waterproof trousers. Many of the ships provide a complimentary outer jacket, which will be waiting for you in your cabin and can be taken home as a fantastic souvenir. Some of these are 3-in-1 jackets with a removable inner quilted jacket, whereas some are outer shells only. If you are not sure if your ship includes a jacket, please check with us.

If your ship does not provide a jacket, a decent Gore-tex or skiing jacket is ideal, which you may well already have. It must be totally waterproof and windproof.

Similarly, for waterproof trousers, skiing trousers/pants work really well and can be layered up with thermal leggings underneath. However, it is important to check that they are completely waterproof, not just snowproof. They will need to go over the top of the rubber boots that most ships provide* (not tucked in, as this directs water run-off straight onto your socks), so a loose ankle is needed.

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 and it requires you to have additional time post-cruise to return them, rather than being able to go straight to the airport. Please note that this will not be an option if your cruise includes a charter flight package.

Read more about renting versus buying Antarctic gear in our article, 'Should I buy or hire kit for Antarctica?'.

*If you are travelling on a voyage operated by Silversea or Lindblad you will need to rent these from Ship to Shore.

3. Gloves & socks

Best luxury Antarctica cruise

Hands and feet are the first things to get cold when you are out on zodiac excursions, as you are not moving around generating heat and helping blood circulation. There are some excellent "tog-rated" thick thermal socks available nowadays – get them in a ski boot length and these will keep your feet toasty.

For your hands, a pair of waterproof ski-style gloves are a must, and ski mittens are even better for keeping your fingers warm. Of course, these are no good for taking photos, so we recommend a thin pair of liner gloves underneath; silk or those with a touch-sensitive finger pad will allow you to take photos on a phone more easily. If you are using a phone for photos, we strongly recommend using a case that has a loop to secure it around your wrist. Likewise, for cameras, a neckstrap is essential. Zodiac rides can be bumpy and can easily jolt you causing you to lose grip. You may also need to keep your hands free to hold on to the rib.

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. It is worth taking a second pair of gloves to allow for drying time if you do get wet. 

Customer review background image

What our customers think of What to wear in Antarctica

The advice about layering was spot on! Temperatures were hovering around freezing for the entire trip and I never felt cold. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2023

Leanne Matthews - USA

Enclose your mobile phone camera in a waterproof case on a neck strap to take photos while in the zodiac. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Betsy Shake - USA

If you are planning on kayaking bring some thin waterproof gloves. The gloves I had would not fit inside the poggies and as I was constantly taking cell phone pictures my hands were gloveless and consequently cold. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Stanley Rumbough - USA

I recommend one expedition grade pair of long johns and several proper upper long sleeve top of the line shirts as layering is absolutely essential as well as a good wool cap, one pair of outer gloves, no cheapies! Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Richard Arthur Saber - USA

Bring two sets of base layers and two sets of your middle layers at least, so you have a pair to swap out when one gets wet. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Talia Salenger - USA

Don't feel like you have to overpack - you'll wear the same layers every day. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Tyler White - USA

The guides on the Swoop web site are spot on. Layers of clothes and merino wool first layer was really helpful. Waterproof pants I bought new and was glad I did, the showerproof walking trousers I had been considering would have been a disaster. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Rick Greer - UK

When it comes time to start packing, you don't need to bring fresh clothing for every day. You will often wear your base-layers many times during your expedition. Pack lightly but remember to bring essentials like gloves, hats, warm socks, medication, camera gear, etc. Read the full review

Travelled: January 2023

Maricela Alaniz - USA

Trust the information provided by Swoop regarding necessary gear for the trip. Don’t overthink it and don’t overbuy items that you will never use again. Stick to their recommendations. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Erwin Perl - USA

Get the proper gear, you don’t need a lot as it isn’t that cold but waterproof gear and merino base layers are critical. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Joanne Liddle - USA

There is no such thing as bad weather. Just bad clothes— obtain the appropriate clothing to stay warm and dry throughout the adventure.. you will be so amazed at how the right clothes and gear enhance your adventure Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Joan Siegel - USA

Polarized sunglasses and good binoculars and you're set. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2022

Tyler Steffenson - USA

The weather in Buenos Aires was 95 degrees F and the weather in Ushuaia was 40 degrees F and the weather in Antarctica was 30 degrees F. Pack wisely! Be prepared for all types of weather and situations! Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Janet Thayer - USA

Be prepared for a broader range of temperatures than you might think. We had one on-land excursion that was quite warm, and those who didn't have backpacks into which to stash unneeded warm layers were stuck being hot and sweaty. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Rik Myślewski - USA

Use your sunscreen! I underestimated the effect of sun reflection off the snow and ended up badly burnt. Bring lotion. You will be very very dry (Antarctica is absolutely a desert) and with the cold this can lead to skin splitting and scarring. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Matt Martin - USA

Bring second pair of waterproof gloves and make sure your outerwear is waterproof. We found goggles to be really helpful…if you wear glasses, make sure they are the kind that fit over glasses. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Joe Brubaker - USA

Pack short sleeves too. The temperature difference between Buenos Aires and Patagonia was surprising. 30deg in Buenos Aires down to 6deg or so in Patagonia. The ship is also warm so short sleeves on board will be handy. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

It does get chilly and wet on Zodiacs so make sure you take waterproof gloves. Read the full review

Travelled: November 2022

Helena Polackova - UK

Ski goggles are a must on the zodiac on snowy days. Read the full review

Travelled: March 2022

Kiera Rumbough - USA

Layers! It's not as cold as you think it will be but it's not warm and layers give you options; layers of gloves too. Make sure your overpants have zippers at the ankles to go over the muck boots; mine didn't. A pair of slip on shoes makes gearing up easier. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2022

Jennifer Ruth - USA

The sunscreen and clothing recommendations are right on. Layers for sure and waterproof for everything exposed to the elements. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Mike Walcher - USA

Ship tends to get warm. People generally do not dress for dinner but remain in their clothes from the day. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2021

Allan Harari - USA

Pack layers for keeping warm ashore. I wore a thin thermal top, a thick thermal top, a sweatshirt, a sleeveless fleece and then the big jacket provided as part of the trip. I also had a fleece neck scarf, fleece hat, inner gloves and over gloves and I made an 'elastic string' so I could quickly and easily take my gloves off to take photos and I didn't have to put them in a pocket or drop them, they just dangled. Read the full review

Travelled: February 2020

Ann Freeman - United Kingdom

You can rent most gear in Ushuaia although we bought ours. Read the full review

Travelled: December 2019

Rex - Len Hunt - United States Of America

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

Travelled: December 2018

Josie & Carmen Castro - Canada

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

Travelled: December 2018

Raquel & David Shulman - Canada

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

Travelled: December 2017

Raymond & Claire Floreancig - Belgium

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

Travelled: January 2017

Feng Zheng - China


Other important items

Viewing icebergs and wildlife onboard the Greg Mortimer expedition ship

Taking part in the Polar Plunge!

Walking with penguins, Cuverville

Also, don't forget to pack:

  • A lined woolly hat – make sure it can be pulled down to cover your ears from bracing winds
  • A foldable wide-brimmed sunhat – useful on hikes when it's a bit too hot for your woolly hat
  • UV protective sunglasses, polarised if possible, to combat the reflections from snow and water
  • High factor suncream
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • A Buff or neck gaiter
  • Your swimwear for the Polar Plunge!
  • A rucksack - we strongly recommend using a fully waterproof dry bag style backpack (with straps) for splashy zodiac rides as your bag will be on the zodiac's floor, and also to keep your hands free while walking on land. (This will allow you to take off and store layers if you start overheating during landings.)
  • Camera equipment for taking photos – advice on what to take can be found in our Photography in Antarctica guide
  • To observe wildlife, you should bring a good pair of lightweight binoculars (the best degree of magnification is 7 or 8 X 30). Nikon is a really good and affordable brand. Our UK and EU customers have also recommended Opticron binoculars. 
  • 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.

If you are booked to travel on the Seaventure or Island Sky, one walking pole will be provided.

Swoop Says background image

Lizzie says

It's essential that your binoculars are waterproof. It's a good idea to go try some out in a shop to work out what is most comfortable, especially with the magnification. If you have shaky hands it can really influence your decision. Also, think about weight – even the most expensive binoculars are no good if you're never wearing them because they're too heavy!

Lizzie Williams Polar Product & Partnerships Manager

What kit will be provided?

Most Antarctic ships provide:

  • Rubber insulated boots on loan to guests for the duration of the voyage
  • When choosing your rubber boots, we suggest you choose one size larger than usual to take into account the thick socks
  • Try on your boots straight away – if they aren't quite right there's always a stock of other sizes, so don’t fret about getting it 100% correct

If you are travelling on a voyage operated by Silversea, please check with your Customer Experience Coordinator to see if boots are provided. If you are travelling with Lindblad you will need to rent these from Ship to Shore.

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 size, given the added underlayers you’ll be wearing, we suggest you choose one size larger than normal
  • Try on your jacket straight away – if it isn't quite right there's always a stock of other sizes, so don’t fret about getting it 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 unsure whether to buy or rent any kit that is not provided on your ship, have a read of our article 'Should I buy or hire kit for Antarctica?'.

Swoop Says background image

Swoop says

If you're booked onto a charter flight to/from Punta Arenas, don't forget when packing that the baggage allowance is 20kg – this is inclusive of 5kg of hand luggage.

Clothing: FAQs

  • Will I need to bring a winter jacket if a parka is provided?

    This depends on whether you’re spending any significant time in Patagonia pre or post-Antarctica. If you’re simply flying into Ushuaia with just one night there before embarking, then a showerproof softshell lined jacket would be ideal to cover you for the morning prior to embarkation. This can later be layered underneath your expedition parka and is useful if you are outdoors on deck for shorter periods.

    If you are spending more time than this, or plan to head out into the nearby national park, then a waterproof shell (with a warm layer underneath for chilly/windy days) to protect you from Patagonia’s highly changeable weather would be a good idea. If you are planning to do any hiking or more strenuous activities, you may prefer something more lightweight and packable to the parkas provided by the ship.

    Some expedition parkas are 3-in-1 jackets with a removable inner quilted jacket, whereas some are outer shells only. What is provided in Antarctica will affect what you decide to pack for Patagonia, so if you are not sure if a parka or jacket is provided on your voyage, please check with us.

  • What is the typical dress code on board the ship?

    The onboard dress code 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 luxurious ships, you can leave your cocktail dress, blazer and tie at home.

    Many of the ships may have a Captain's Farewell on the final evening where you have the opportunity to dress up a little if you wish. For ladies a nice top will suffice, gentlemen may opt for a shirt. This is not required but it may be worth packing one marginally smarter outfit – also useful if you're going out to dinner in South America pre-cruise.

    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. The emphasis is on practicality; you need to be able to dash outdoors at a moment's notice to enjoy an impromptu wildlife sighting.

    When packing it's worth also bearing in mind:

    • All of the ships are kept warm inside. However, we recommend taking a warm outer layer (and your camera) with you at all times. We have often abandoned dinner mid-meal to race outside to see whales!
    • The laundry service on all ships is typically very efficient, so you don’t need to bring an excess of clothing for longer cruises. It can be a little expensive for smaller items (socks, underwear) so sometimes guests choose to wash these out in the bathroom.
  • Where would you recommend to buy polar 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.

  • Is it worth taking trekking poles?

    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.

  • Is it worth taking walking boots?

    For just Antarctica, they are not necessary. You will be required to wear the neoprene rubber boots (high-grade wellies) that are provided by most operators* for all landings, as you will generally be stepping off onto the beach into ankle-deep water. The rubber boots are also far more suited to walking in snow as they are warm and completely waterproof. These boots are also much easier to scrub down, which everyone must do to remove any penguin muck and maintain biosecurity protocols.

    If you're going to South Georgia where the possibilities for longer walks are far greater, particularly the Stromness walk, which is the tail end of Shackleton's route, you may wish to take some comfortable walking shoes – you will still need to wear the rubber boots to get ashore. However, please note that it is not always possible to do this extended hike.

    The rubber boots are perfectly comfortable to wear in all other walking scenarios, both in Antarctica and South Georgia. So many passengers (and Swoop staff) stick to the boots.

    *If you are travelling on a voyage operated by Silversea or Lindblad you will need to rent these from Ship to Shore.

  • What sort of footwear do we need for the boat?

    For life on the ship, flat closed-toe shoes with a good grip are a must for slippery outdoor decks. We suggest a pair of hiking trainers/sneakers – not full hiking boots, but warm and comfortable for standing outside for hours watching the spectacular scenery.

  • Do I need anything different for a land-based trip?

    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.

    You're likely to need rated snow boots, properly insulated trousers/pants, a parka, a -40C sleeping bag, balaclava, goggles and more. It is possible to rent some clothing and gear (boots, pants, parka & sleeping bag). Before joining your expedition, you will likely need to pass a gear check. 

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 to wear in Antarctica