What to Pack For Antarctica

Like anything in life, good preparation is necessary when embarking on a trip to Antarctic.  How should you dress?  What electronics will you need?  Will you need any special medications?  I’ll look at the questions of what to pack for Antarctica in the first installment of the upcoming Antarctica Series between myself and Peregrine Adventures.

Clothing

Barrientos Island Antarctica, what to pack for Antarctica, clothing, Brendan van Son

Me standing on the shores of Barrientos Island, with my gear on

I have the luxury of being Canadian.  I am used to the adverse conditions that cold climates can throw our way.  However, to be quite honest, I may not be the best person to write this section as I often receive confused looks as I walk often around in below zero conditions in shorts and t-shirt.  Thus, to give a better guide, I will let you know what my very well prepared roommate has packed.

1)      Hat/beanie/touque – If the Russians know anything it is Vodka; oh, and they also make brilliant hats for cold climates.  Although your typical beanie will work without problems, my roommate has packed the solid Russian winter hat.  I’ll tell you, my ears were a little bit jealous of the comfy safe haven his ears hid within, and besides, he was definitely the coolest looking person when wearing it.

2)      Coat – Depending on what type of ship you’re on this is not important.  The expedition ships, like the one Peregrine uses, provides amazing winter jackets to keep you warm.  You will probably want to pack a light jacket for being out on the deck of the ship though.  If you have to pack your own winter jacket, pack one that is waterproof for time cruising on the zodiacs.

3)      Gloves – Good gloves are essential.  The reason being is that it is hard to have a proper snowball fight if everyone’s hands are cold.  A good pair of waterproof gloves should be packed.  If you’re a photographer this of bringing along a pair of mountain biking gloves that give you more feel on the camera, or a pair of gloves with a flap that opens up letting your fingertips free.

4)      Footwear – As is with the coats, this isn’t all too important.  The ship provides great boots to take with you onto land.  You will want to pack a pair of light trainers and maybe some flip flops for your time on the boat.  On any list of what to pack for Antarctica a good guide will tell you to bring lots of nice warm socks.

5)      Leg wear – Water proof pants are not only recommended but an absolute must.  I personally think that you should spend the little bit of extra money and buy a really good pair of the coverall version.  These pants will keep your legs warm on the zodiac, and more importantly will keep your backside dry while you spend hours sitting down in snow photographing penguins

 

A penguin looking at my camera, what to pack for Antarctica, electronics, camera

This penguin wanted to be a photographer, was curious about my gear

Electronics

Antarctica is one of the most visually stunning places in the entire world.  Few people are lucky enough to visit in their lifetimes, so capturing it on camera makes for great bragging rights.

-          Point and Shoot

  • If you shoot a point and shoot camera you will survive, although you might want to read my eBook first.  The landscape is so amazing, that you could capture it on a cell phone and it would still be incredible.  If you are shopping for a Camera with Antarctica in mind and still want the point and shoot ease think of buying a camera like the Canon G12 which will give you enough zoom and control to get some great penguin shots.

-          SLR

  • This is SLR heaven, or hell, depending on if you have the right equipment or not.  Those who shoot SLRs can be heard throughout the continent cursing the fact that they don’t have the gear they want.  In terms of lenses you’ll want to bring a couple.  A zoom lens up to about 200-300mm (I used the 70-200mm 4fL), a wide angle lens downwards to something between 30-10mm (my 18-55mm covers that), and you might also want to bring a prime lens of 35mm or 50mm.   My recommendation is that if you can’t afford the equipment, rent it before leaving home and take it with you.  It’s worth it.
  • Extra gear
    • A polarizer is almost a necessity as the ice can cause all sorts of exposure issues.
    • Pack a tripod around and it will save you from sticking your elbows in the snow so much.
    • I packed a monopod and I used it constantly.  It has better mobility than the tripod, and stabilizes very well.  Also, when shooting from the boat at night, the tripod won’t work due to the rocking boat.
    • Lots of batteries – The cold air sucks batteries much faster than at normal temperatures.  Pack a couple extras as you wouldn’t want to miss any cute penguin shots
    • Memory cards and/or external hard drive – You will take thousands of pictures, so pack lots of memory.

-          Binoculars

  • A nice set of binoculars will do you well especially in regards to wildlife crossing.

Medications

Room on An Antarctica Ship, what to pack for Antarctica, luggage

My room

Obviously you will be packing any normal prescription medicines with you.  What you may not have thought of regards the famous Drake Passage (more on that tomorrow).  The Drake passage is famous for stealing the lunches of many visitors, and for that you might want to pack some sea sickness tablets or patches.

Food and Drink

Each day three full meals are served, and there are usually two or three different parts of the day where snacks are available.  You will have no shortage of eating opportunities.  However, if you have an addiction for Argentinean alfahores like I do, then you might want to pack a couple for the journey, there’s no 7/11 in Antarctica.  As drinks are concerned, there is a well stocked bar.  But when you’re in Ushuaia you may want to stop in at the liquor store to pick up a bottle or two of the good stuff to take with you on your trip.

Also

Don’t forget to pack your adventurous spirit.  This is a trip of a lifetime that I think everyone should take part in.  Don’t worry if you forget to pack it, because Antarctica has a noted history on drawing the adventurous nature out in everyone.

***If you liked the guide for What to pack in Antarctica, stay tuned for more on the Antarctica series.  On Tuesday, January 18th you’ll be able to read my article on “Surviving the Drake Passage” over on Peregrine Adventure’s Blog.  Coming up I will have an Article called “Exploring the South Shetland Islands.


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: Brendan van Son is a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. He has visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than he has the desire to count. Check out his profile on . for a little bit more about him.

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19 Comments

  1. Another great article Brendan….I got lots of ideas now for packing camera equipment that will be very useful the next time I go backpackin’ and trekkin’ …What an adventure you are on…Good for you..
    Patti thecrazychef somewhere in Mexico

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  2. OMG that pic of the camera and penguin is the cutest thing I’ve EVER seen!!! The 1st pic is just amazing, wow!

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    • haha, it’s great isn’t it. He ended up going around the camera to the front an almost pecked the lens, I didn’t get a shot of that with my point and click because I was running to the camera to save it.

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  3. I speak from experience when I say your list is on target! I was in Antarctica in 2006/2007 on a Nat Geo expedition. The only thing I would recommend is solid rain boots (I wore Hunter) and extra ski socks to layer inside—our ship didn’t provide footwear. Looking forward to more posts! If you’re interested, check out my posts and photos here: http://bit.ly/hpYypy

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  4. Oh my goodness! Coming from a tropical country (Malaysia), I doubt I’ll be able to stand the freezing cold! just looking at your first picture already gives me goosebumps! But the penguin picture is oh-so-amazing!!

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  5. I think it’s great the the ships are now providing heavy coats and boots. When we went last year they didn’t. For those on ships that don’t provide them, rest assured that you can rent them easily in Ushuaia for the trip. We rented heavy coats, gloves, boots, and waterproof pants – they all worked out great.

    For camera gear, I’d recommend waterproof protection (i.e., drybag) for when you’re carrying your gear on the zodiacs (and it’s raining or you’re going through heavy waves) and also on land in case the weather changes. We also wish we had brought protective gear for our telephoto/camera – you know, the goofy camouflage covers wildlife photographers use – since our telephoto lens got damp from photographing in the snow. Quite a few people on our ship had camera failure because of the dampness. When you get on board, dry everything out as quickly as you can.

    Enjoy! It’s an incredible journey!

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    • Good call on the waterproofing Audrey! I used a ziplock bag with a whole cut for the lens, and it worked well 100% well… A drybag would have been great to store it.

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  6. Epic opening photo … now I KNOW I have to go to Antarctica before I die! The blueness of the ice drew a gasp out of me!

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  7. I never travel with binoculars but then always wished I had them- good tip. It looks like an amazing time!

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  8. i was wondering if the temperature there will kill the camera? how cold was there? did your camera worked ok in the freezing temperature?

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    • It actually wasn’t all that cold, maybe -1 at the coldest, no one had any problems. The only thing is that batteries work at about 70% of normal time

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  9. What, no thermals?! Dude, you are totally Canadian…

    Really enjoying this series, though, thank you!

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  10. thanks. i know about shooting in cold a little bit) i thought antarctica – 30 :))

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  11. The penguin image is great :) Definately one of the most amazing locations you could visit. I do have some problems with getting seasick, it happens even on what other would consider a calm sea. But it should be worth the trip to see such an amazing landscape. Didn’t you have any trouble with you camera itself freezing?

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    • Hey Tijmen! The honest truth is that the camera had no problems at all. The coldest it got was about -2, and most times we were on land it was around +3-4. Most people, however had problems with water since it was a little bit rainy. The only major temperature issue was the fact that you would go from cold directly into the building where it was warm which could lead to some condensation issues if not careful.

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  12. An excellent article and great advice. I have just returned form Antarctica (and also wrote about it today for Huffington Post — http://tinyurl.com/6c86eq8 — for those who are considering going. I took a Canon G12 and didn’t feel the zoom was HALF strong enough, even though I was less than ten feet from the penguins. What would you suggest as the next sterp up — SLR but with a very fast lens?

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  13. WOW Coming from US make it great as we have seen everything that cold nature mother can throw on us but i wonder when i will be able to visit Antarctica :)

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