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What should I pack on my polar expedition cruise to Antarctica and the Arctic

September 11, 2019

So what does Tom look like when he dresses to go out on the ice?  Watch if you dare! 

 

 

One of the most important things to prepare for your expedition cruise to Antarctica is to pack the right gear.  Read on to find out what to bring on your polar expedition cruise to the Arctic or Antarctica.

Look in your closet - you will have most gear

It is important to know that the weather during the travel season is relatively mild.  And although you do need warm clothing, there is no need to buy specialist equipment.  Check if your polar expedition cruise company includes the use of foul-weather gear and rubber boots, which you will need while on shore excursions,  in the zodiacs or in a kayak.  (Most companies include it in the cruise price).
On most polar expedition cruise ships the dress code on board is relaxed and casual, even during dinners.


Dressing in layers for your polar expedition cruise
Even though the weather is mild, sitting still in a zodiac for a longer time can mean you get cold.  The best way to be prepared  for this is by dressing in layers.  Cotton is not recommended as once wet it takes a long time to dry.  Temperatures in Antarctica hover between -5ºC and +5ºC (25º-40ºF), in the Arctic it often is a bit warmer.

Layer 1: regular underwear  
Enough said.

Layer 2: thermal underwear.  
This is the layer that will wick away perspiration.  Merino wool is the most comfortable but also the more expensive option.  Polypropylene is lower in cost but does not have the anti-bacterial qualities of merino wool and can start to smell quickly.

Layer 3:  mid-layer
The mid-layer, which is designed to keep you warm, should consist of a fleece top and if necessary a fleece bottom.  These can be taken off if you find you get too warm.

Layer 4: optional down layer
For days when you find staying warm hard, consider wearing a down jacket

Layer 5: wind and waterproof shell
This layer typically consists of a Gore-Tex (or similar technical) jacket, waterproof pants and rubber boots.  This layer will keep you dry from spray thrown up by the zodiac and precipitation.  Bright colours such as red look best in photos as they contrast with black rocks and white ice.

 


Additional outdoor gear: gloves, socks, hat, sunglasses, boots
Use gloves rather than mitts so you can take photos.  Warm socks and a tuque (winter hat) are essential.  Sunglasses protect your eyes against glare off the water, snow and ice.  Don't forget to bring sun block and lip balm.
Rubber boots are often provided by the cruise company.

 


What to wear inside the polar expedition ship
While inside the ship, dress like you would at home - this is your home after all while on cruise!  Some smart casual clothes are good if you like to dress up for dinner.

 


What to wear on the deck of the polar expedition ship
If you plan to spend a lot of time on deck (and you should as this is where a lot of the wildlife is seen while you are cruising), bring sturdy non-slip shoes and a windbreaker with you.

 


Photography on your Antarctica and Arctic cruise
A good telephoto lens is a must.  If all you bring is a standard 50mm lens, you will find when you come home that all your animal shots will have only tiny blips of beasts on them.  Most simple digital cameras come with at least a 12x optical zoom, which is fine for good close-ups.  Try to avoid using your digital zoom as it will often lead to pixilated shots.  Do bring wide-angle lenses as well, as some of the landscapes, ice bergs and skies in the Arctic and Antarctica will really stand out when shot with a good wide-angle.
Be sure to bring enough memory cards and a recharger with converter/adapter and enough batteries.
If you are planning to buy a camera, check out this camera review site.



Dressing for South America
Most people will transit through Argentina or Chile before boarding their expedition cruise to Antarctica.  Temperatures in the south of South America range from 5ºC to 15ºC (40-60ºF) by day. At night, the temperatures can fall to 0ºC (32ºF).
Unlike Ushuaia, Buenos Aires and Santiago are quite warm, and sometimes humid.  The average summer high is 30ºC (86ºF) in Buenos Aires and Santiago.  The summer night time low is 20ºC (68ºF) in Buenos Aires and 12ºC (54ºF) in Santiago.



Other must-brings to pack for your cruise to Antarctic and the Arctic

  • Binoculars are great to study far-off wildlife on your expedition polar cruise.

  • To learn more about the wildlife you are seeing, be sure to bring a good guide book.  Similarly, books about plants or a good novel set in your destination, will give an extra dimension to your trip and help you pass the time on those long trans-oceanic journeys.

  • Bring swim and beach wear if your expedition cruise ship has a pool or sauna on board, or if you visit hot springs in Iceland or Antarctica.

  • Do bring some casual shoes for while you are on board the ship and hiking boots if you plan to do longer hikes while on shore excursions.  Make sure any shoes you plan to use on land are absolutely clean of soil, vegetation and seeds as you would not want to introduce diseases or invasive species.

  • A day pack is essential to carry your camera, water and other gear with you on shore excursions.

  • Sea sickness tablets are a must - consider yourself lucky if you have calm seas on the way to or from Antarctica.  You are very likely to encounter rough seas.

  • A high factor sunscreen is important if you burn easily.

  • Finally, don’t forget your health and cancellation insurance policies, passport and visa, cash US$ and bank & credit cards.

 

 

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