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.


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


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.  And, don’t cheap out. Get the best tripod for travel and save yourself the pain of fighting with your gear.
    • 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.


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.


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.