Practical Clothing for Antarctica: 7 Tips on What to Wear & Pack

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Have you made the jump to book your cruise to the White Continent, but now you are wondering what is the best clothing for Antarctica? We have just returned from the most amazing trip there. It really was one of the most life changing trips you can do. However, as I recently found out, preparing for your cruise in Antarctica can be so daunting as there aren’t always a ton of tried and tested resources to refer to. While we are pretty good minimalist packers in general, I wanted to share more about what we packed, what we wished we had packed and what we didn’t need!

So, if you are heading to the White Continent soon and wondering what to wear in Antarctica, we’ve got you covered! Read on to find out more about what to wear on and off the ship as well as an Antarctica packing list that covers the basics and adds some luxury to your trip too!

Planning a trip to Antarctica? Check out our other posts here:

If you haven’t booked your trip to Antarctica yet and want to learn more about how you can get there, email me for cruise recommendations or check out Adventure Life Travel where we booked our trip.

How Much to Pack for Antarctica

One of the biggest considerations when packing clothing for Antarctica are luggage weight restrictions for your flights and onboard the ship. Much of this is dependent on whether you have a charter flight to Ushuaia or if you are doing a fly-sail trip. Additionally, if you are flying any of the small local airlines in Argentina, their weight restrictions are much lower than for western carriers.

Apart from traveling, it’s important to know that even if you have a large room on board the ship, there often is not a ton of space to store large luggage. For this reason, we highly recommend that you take as little as possible.

For our trip, we each took a backpack with our camera gear and a small carry on suitcase. Our room had space under the bed to store our suitcases during the voyage, which made our room nice and tidy. However not all rooms have that type of space.

In general I recommend to aim for a carry-on size suitcase or a small checked bag that can be stored easily. 

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Overview of What to Wear in Antarctica

Practical clothing for Antarctica includes waterproof everything!
We wore our regular ski gear that were both waterproof and wind resistant.

In general the biggest thing to know about what to wear in Antarctica is planning on layers and more layers. The weather in Antarctica changes at a moments notice, so it’s important to be prepared for anything. If you follow us at all, you know my number one recommendation is going to be wool. Almost our entire suitcase was wool and it worked out perfectly. Wool and fleece are highly recommended while in general cotton clothes in cold weather and wet climates are discouraged. 

Both my son and I had one pair of wool thermals – his were Iksplor (use this code for 20% off: NOBACKHOME20) and mine were a mix of REI brand and Smartwool. You really don’t need more as you only wear them for a few hours each day while on excursions.

While I went on this Antarctic adventure with multiples of things like hats and gloves just in case things got soaked, I didn’t need any of the extras! If you are going early or late season when it snows more than rains, you can probably do with just one solid pair of gloves and hat, but it never hurts to have extras if you have space. 

While the cruises do offer laundry service, they are not cheap. I brought my small packet of detergent and did a “load” of socks and undies in the sink which then dried easily on our heated towel bars!

If you do forget something, though, there is typically a gift shop on board where you can buy polar gear to wear. Our shop had wool socks, thermals, hats and even puffy jackets.

Provided Clothing for Antarctica

Trying on our provided boots and learning the cleaning procedures

Many Antarctica cruises provide specialized gear for their guests. What each company provides differs, but in general almost every single company will offer knee high waterproof boots for use on the trip. These boots offer protection on wet landings to keep your feet warm and dry. We loved our boots and were happy that they fit so well.

Additionally, many boats provide an outer layer such as winter parkas for use and to keep following the trip. Our boat, the Antarctica 21 did not offer these. While initially I will say I was bummed, I realized that environmentally, it just doesn’t make sense to give each passenger a jacket that they may never wear again. In Ushuaia we saw many shops offering to purchase these parkas, which I assume will be used as rentals for other guests! We brought our own puffy jacket and ski clothes and were perfectly dry and warm! Just make sure whatever you bring is actually waterproof, not just water resistant. Even if it doesn’t rain during your trip, you will get splashed in the zodiac rides. 

What to Wear in Antarctica on the Ship

Practical clothing for Antarctica: casual clothes for the boat
Jeans, a sweatshirt and a short sleeve under is great for the boat as you can take off layers as needed, but still be warm enough to pop outside for a quick photo

I scoured photos of trips in advance to get a better idea of what to wear in Antarctica on the ship. In general ships in Antarctica tend to be very casual and there is no real dress code. There is no need for fancy dinner wear or anything other than expedition clothes. Thank goodness, because otherwise it would be even more difficult to pack lightly!

My number one recommendation for what to wear on the ship is a pair of comfortable waterproof shoes that you can easily slip on and off. A friend suggested Uggs, but many people also had on rugged house slippers! It’s important that they are waterproof so you can easily hop out on the decks if there is an interesting sight such as an iceberg or wildlife. Decks can often be wet and slippery with ice and snow so do have something with good grip. Many people also just wear sneakers. Whatever is comfortable. It really is just personal preference.

Our boat had a no open toed shoe policy, which was sad for me as I live in my sandals. I wore my anyway for the polar plunge, but otherwise I only wore them in our room. Next time I would bring my crocs because I could wear my fluffy thermal socks but also have lightweight slip on shoes. 

Additionally, there were times that we were a bit toasty on the ship, so again layers are key! Wear a short sleeve with a cardigan or hoodie over the top or a long sleeve with a fleece that you can easily shed as needed.

Finally, some people may want to wear their own jackets on board the ship’s decks rather than the excursion gear. If you have room, feel free! I wore my Patagonia down jacket on the ship when needed and just layered the ski jacket over when on excursions or if it was particularly windy. 

What to Wear in Antarctica on Excursions

Waterproof everything is the best bet!

Some of this will depend on the time of year of your Antarctica cruise, but overall, I am guessing that your excursion gear will look pretty similar to ours. We wore the same things every single day!

We both started with our merino wool base layers, followed by our ski pants as our bottom layer. On particularly cold/windy days when we aren’t going to be walking around, I would layer a pair of leggings over my thermal underwear and my son would put on his wool sweatpants under his ski trousers. 

We always wore only 1 pair of warm socks so that our feet had plenty of space in our boots to keep our feet warm.

Did you know that if your shoes are too tight, your toes will get cold faster? It is always best to have space for warm air to circulate both in your gloves and in your boots!

On the top, we both put on a wool thermal top – I would mix mine up depending on how cold it was. I have both a lightweight Smartwool thermal and a thicker version. To be safe, the thicker version is probably best. I would then layer either my unbound wool hoodie or a wool sweater before putting on my puffy jacket and ski jacket.

My son would also put on his wool sweater, followed by his favorite ski fleece and then his ski jacket. These were perfect and he was never cold.

For our accessories we added on a wool neck buff around our necks (or my son wore his REI balaclava), a hat, 2 pairs of gloves and sunglasses. Several folks on our boat brought their ski goggles which came in handy on the snowy days!

I wore my simple touchscreen cotton gloves, which were fine because it wasn’t too wet on our trip, but ideally you should have waterproof gloves. My son wore these mittens that I bought for myself – he LOVED them! Again not waterproof, but they were super warm and we didn’t really encounter too much rain. 

Mittens are always better than gloves as it allows air to circulate and keep your fingers warm. Try for some that have finger holes to take photos without having to remove your gloves every time. I learned this the hard way in Finland in -35 degree temperatures!

Other Antarctica Clothes to Consider

While I did not need any additional gear, there were some things that I noticed our fellow passengers had that might be useful to consider when packing for Antarctica. One, as mentioned above are ski goggles. I wore my sunglasses and was fine, but several people on our ship brought ski goggles which I imagine helped them see better when it was super windy and especially when the snow and ice was raining down on us at Deception Island!

A must for any true polar adventurer is to partake in the Polar Plunge. To do this, you will need your swimwear. This is also helpful to have if your boat has a pool, jacuzzi or sauna. We brought our planning for many adventures in it, but it only was used during the polar plunge, which was well worth the anxiety and excitement!

If you plan to use the gym on board, you can also bring workout gear. Again, we brought this and did not ever have time to use the gym. My son went once, but I never made it. There were always too many other things happening for me to pull myself away from!

One item that we brought that was really useful was a waterproof backpack. We took this one, which was light and great, but if you need something with more structure you can consider this one

Lastly, many passengers brought foot and hand warmers which they said really helped them stay warm. If you are prone to getting super cold, this is something to consider bringing as well. 

Not clothes, but one thing you might want to bring with you is an Antarctica flag! We got this one before we left and we were so happy to have it! 

Full Antarctica Packing List

Here is an easy check list of the clothes for Antarctica:

  • Wool base layers (read my post with of our favorite wool brands and clothes)
  • Fleece jacket or other warm middle insulation layers 
  • Waterproof pants or waterproof snow pants. (This is really the most important thing as the zodiac boats often get quite wet with splashing water not to mention it might just rain!)
  • Ski jacket (not needed if your ship provides an expedition parka)
  • Wool thick socks (You don’t need as many as you think. You can reuse them easily!)
  • Underwear (I took 6 pairs of these wool undies and did a small load of wash in the sink!)
  • Pajamas (I took these wool pants that can be lounge pants and PJs)
  • Waterproof ski Gloves/Mittens 
  • Neck Gaiter (We have one from Nui Organics)
  • Hat &/or Beanie
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Leggings, joggers or jeans (for the boat)
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Short sleeve shirts (only 1 or 2 max for warm ship days)
  • Comfy closed-toed shoes for the boat (slip resistant are great!)
  • Jacket
  • Bathing Suit
  • Flip flops or crocs for the sauna
  • Workout clothes
  • Waterproof Dry Bag
  • Camera with a zoom lens and tons of extra memory cards
  • Power banks for travel days and in case a camera dies quickly due to the cold
  • Seasickness medication & other meds you may need
  • Plug adapter or small power strip

Top Tips to Consider when Packing for Antarctica

Above I have provided all the details on what to bring, what to wear in Antarctica and what I wished I would have brought (crocs!), but below I provide a few tips to consider when packing for Antarctica.

Bring Small Bags

Regardless of what ship you are on, or how large your cabin in, I highly recommend bringing small bags to Antarctica. There is never too much space to store large suitcases, especially if there is more than one of you in the room. This is especially true if you are sharing a room with a stranger in a twin share room. We brought one small backpack each with our camera gear and a small carry-on size suitcase for everything else. Even bringing our winter jackets and snow pants, we were able to fit it all in.

Pack Lots of Layers

One of the best ways to pack lightly, but know that you have enough warm clothes is to pack plenty of layers. Thermals, mid layers and then your waterproof outer layers. I love my merino wool, so that is what I recommend to take if you have it or can afford to invest in a few quality pieces. It really is the best clothing for travel, a cold climate and even hot weather. I have worn my wool from the steamy jungles of Uganda to the frigid negatives in Finland

Bring Waterproof & Wind Resistant Gear

While your inside layers should be breathable merino wool, your outer jacket should be both wind resistant and waterproof layers. The weather can change in an instant in the Antarctic so you need to be well covered. The zodiac boats often get wet as well with splashes, so best bet is to have waterproof trousers or very good snow pants, a waterproof jacket in case your boat does not provide this type of gear as well as a waterproof bag or backpack to store your camera gear in case of a sudden downpour. I was very happy with my REI snow jacket with my Patagonia puffy under. This kept me warm and dry. 

Don’t Forget Sunscreen & Sunglasses

While it might be cold, the sun is still strong on sunny days and these are two items you will regret if you don’t take them. A lot of people on our trip took ski goggles which could have been useful when it was snowing quite a bit, otherwise a good pair or polarized sunglasses will help you find the whales! Sunscreen is also useful for the little bits of your face that are exposed. You will be surprised how quickly you can burn on sunny days.

Camas & More

I know some people think that you cannot go to Antarctica without an expensive professional camera. And while for me, it would be tough to be there without the ability to take some nice photos, most people on our boat had their phone as their main camera. And honestly, most of my videos and photos are also from my phone. Don’t set yourself up for failure thinking you *need* a fancy camera. Get the best phone you can and off you go! Spend time learning your phone and how to take photos and videos quickly, but otherwise, don’t stress. Enjoy the journey!

If you do bring a camera, make sure to bring extra batteries, SD cards and even power banks. There is nothing like leaving the ship with a full battery to see it is dead after only a short time on land. The cold often makes batteries die very quickly and eronosly even when they get too cold. Carry around your cord and a power bank in your waterproof backpack and you will be fine. Add in the SD cards as well as you never know just how many photos you will take!

Just for reference, the camera lenses that we took were a Sony 70-200 F2.8 and a Canon 75-300. Even though the Sony camera lens was much better quality, the photos from the 300 zoom with a tripod ended up being much better as you cannot get that close to the penguins or other wildlife. If I were to go again, I would consider a 100-500 lens. 

Travel & Medical Insurance

Most cruises will require you to include travel and medical insurance, so this isn’t something you can skip out on this time. This trip is a major investment, so we highly recommend budgeting for good insurance. You can check wholesale retailers like SquareMouth or I particularly like FAYE Travel insurance. Make sure whatever you get covers you for lost luggage, medical repatriation at whatever level your ship requires (ours was $100,000) and covers the cost of your entire trip – flights and cruise. 

Stock up on Medications

It is a good idea to stock up on your regular medications in case of any flight delays but also to bring enough medication for seasickness. The cruise ship will often have a doctor on board who can give you more information about the medicine interactions if you are feeling sick and need to take sea sickness pills.

Additionally, most boats will have pills for you to to take, but it’s useful to have your own to start before you board the ship. That said, we really liked having these patches. They are only homoeopathic but worked well for us. Otherwise you can also get a prescription patch. Lastly, I also liked these bands which were easy to wear without even thinking about it. 

Just a word on seasickness – once you get to the waters around the Antarctic Peninsula you shouldn’t feel the water too much as there tends to be very calm water here – almost glasslike at times. 

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