Packing 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.
1. Under layers
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.
2. Outer layers
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 you can take 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 your provided rubber boots (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.
3. Gloves & socks
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.
What our customers think
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
Other important items
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 – ideally waterproof for splashy zodiac rides (this will allow you to take off and store layers if you start overheating while walking around during landings)
- A dry bag to keep your camera dry if your rucksack isn’t waterproof
- Camera equipment for taking photos – advice on what to take can be found in our Photography in Antarctica guide
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. These are particularly useful when watching some of the huge passing seabirds such as albatross and petrels.
What kit will be provided?
All 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 normal 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
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 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.
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 fine with just a fleece or light jacket.
But if you are spending more time 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.
A showerproof softshell jacket would be ideal. This can later be layered underneath your expedition parka and is useful if you are outdoors on deck for shorter periods.
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.
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. You will be required to wear the provided neoprene rubber boots (high-grade wellies) 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.
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.
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.