The first rule of packing for cruising in Antarctica? Be thorough. Remember, you can’t pop out to the local shops to buy anything while you’re there.
The second? Start early. The wind, the aridity and – of course – the cold all conspire to give the Antarctic Circle one of the most specific dress codes on the planet. You’ll fare better the earlier you start tracking items down to add to your suitcase. That being said, there's also a kind of freedom in such practical and tactical packing. The penguins don't care how cute you look, after all.
When travelling with Intrepid, you may find some expedition gear is provided for you to borrow or keep. Check the Essential Trip Information for the Antarctic adventure you’re interested in for more details.
What to pack for Antarctica
This is the stuff you simply cannot do without.
While it’s tempting to pack lots of bulky sweaters and overcoats, what you really need is a solid combo of short and long-sleeved tops – some thermal, some not. Your ship will be pretty toasty, so having layers to peel off when on board (and put back on when heading out on deck) is smart.
When in doubt, pack more socks. Packing both thick, thermal socks and thinner, everyday socks is wise. Your thicker socks are great for shore visits, so having a few to rotate is a good move. Your thinner socks are perfect for when you’re shipbound. You’ll be warm and sheltered when eating in the dining room, listening to lectures and reading in your cabin, so thermal, woollen socks are overkill when you’re not outside.
Make sure you've got waterproof, insulated snow pants for shore excursions and kicking about on deck while looking for humpback whales. The best kind are those you can pull on over the top of your inner layers.
For excursions on land, it’s essential that you have a serious waterproof parka. Some expeditions will include a supplied jacket, so be sure to check if your trip does before you shell out for one.
A tight, warm hat
Loose hats are a disaster in Antarctica – the wind is so ferocious it can rip hats off unsuspecting heads in seconds. Show that wind who’s boss and take one that fits really snugly on your head.
Yep, the sun shines in Antarctica. From December to January, in fact, it shines more than it sets. Because of the way light works on white surfaces, you can get a nasty sunburn in this part of the world. Make sure to pack your sunglasses (with UV protection), broad spectrum sunscreen and lip balm.
Packing two pairs of gloves is advisable, just in case one pair goes missing or gets wet. One waterproof pair for shore visits is a must. And a thinner, non-waterproof pair for when you’re taking photos, or to wear as an inner layer, can be handy too.
Windy and dry conditions mean you'll start to resemble a lizard if you don’t moisturise, so slather it on every day while you’re away.
If you suffer from asthma, diabetes or any other conditions, ensure you’ve got all of your regular medications packed. While your ship may stock some medicine, including basic seasickness medication, it’s not a floating pharmacy. It’s worthwhile to double (or even triple) check your medication supply is in your luggage before leaving. Please consult your doctor about seasickness or anything else that might be worrying you before your voyage.
Nice to have
Look, you'll survive without this stuff. But there's no need to leave behind all your creature comforts in order to have a real adventure.
Good book or an eReader
While there are plenty of onboard activities and amenities to enjoy on our Antarctica voyages, we still recommend packing some interesting reading material. There's nothing better than curling up with a good book while staring out a window at the Great White Continent.
iPod or smartphone loaded with music and podcasts
In storms and high seas, icebreaking ships can be noisy places. If you want to be able to hear the music and podcasts you diligently downloaded, invest in some decent headphones.
With daily excursions and landings, plus lectures and guidance from onboard experts, you'll be absorbing a lot of information. Taking down your thoughts at the end of each day is a great way to remember as much as you can from this trip of a lifetime.
Reusable water bottle
Help the planet and reduce single-use plastics by bringing a refillable canteen.
Camera, plus spare batteries and SD cards
This is on the 'nice to have' list because you technically will be able to get by without it. But really, will you forgive yourself if you forget your good camera during a visit to Antarctica?
Wet bags and waterproof cases
Because the only thing worse than forgetting your good camera is remembering it then having it break – all because you got too close to the splashback of a breaching whale.
If you’re interested in knowing if that’s a big rock or an elephant seal in the distance, bring your own binoculars.
If you’re lucky enough to make a landing at Port Lockroy, don’t forget some US dollars, euros or British pounds – or a Visa or Mastercard – to send a postcard or buy a stuffed penguin. All proceeds go towards the upkeep of the station. You may want to have some cash on hand to tip your leader at the end of the expedition, too.
Light sleepers should bring earplugs to counteract snoring cabin mates and the noises ships make when breaking through high sea or ice.
Our tours in Antarctica