Antarctic Packing List and Practical Tips

Here I have put together an ultimate Antarctic packing list for a 10-day expedition cruise.

On my trip to Antarctica, I spent a total of 14 days with my husband. With arrival and departure and a small pre-program in Ushuaia and a follow-up program in Buenos Aires. Here comes my ultimate Antarctica packing list for an expedition cruise and below you will find tips for the pre- and post-program, as well as for the trip to Antarctica. Zum deutschen Blog Beitrag

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Giant glacier in Antarctica

Antarctic packing list sufficient for 10 nights aboard an expedition cruise ship plus pre- and post-program

  • personal cosmetics
  • normal underwear
  • 3 long underpants, ski underpants
  • 3 ski singlets
  • 1 thicker fleece jacket
  • 3 thinner fleece sweaters
  • 1 Bermuda shorts / thin skirt or dress
  • 2 normal T-shirts and/or shirts
  • 3 functional T-Shirts
  • 1 waterproof rain pants
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 2 normal jeans /pants
  • 4 matching tops
  • 1 ski pants
  • warm insoles for the provided rubber boots
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops
  • 2 warm caps
  • 5 pairs of trekking socks
  • 3 pairs of long ski socks
  • 1 pair of waterproof gloves
  • 1 pair of gloves that can be used to operate the camera
  • a useful parka is provided, it can be kept
  • medicines, travel tablets
  • sun protection with high protection factor for face and hands
  • fat lipstick with high sun protection factor
  • sun glasses and additional glasses
  • hand cream
  • possibly nasal spray, as the air is very dry, and the mucous membranes dry out quickly
  • Camera equipment and chargers
  • Gopro
  • waterproof bags for camera or mobile phone
  • hard drive for rerecording and saving the SC cards in the evening
  • multiple SD cards
  • sportswear for fitness room
  • swimwear for sauna or (whirl) pool
  • multiple socket and adapter
  • sufficient handkerchiefs
  • credit card and some cash for gratuities
  • and last but not least: curiosity, thirst for knowledge and joy in getting to know strangers!

Declaration on the Antarctic Packing List

Surely you wonder why we have one or the other perhaps unfamiliar “thing” on the Antarctica packing list. We were on cruise with the “MS Sea Spirit”. Here we had a lot of space even in the cheapest cabin, but on the flights only 15 kg are allowed, and you must pay for excess baggage. And on other cruise ships, the cabin space is extremely limited. So tight packing is necessary. Some ships certainly also offer a laundry service (usually the costs are quite high), so you could save one or the other piece of clothes.

the red parka, a useful Antarctic outfit

We were all given an extremely warm and waterproof red parka (you must stand out from the penguins…), which we were able to keep after the trip. So far I haven’t found a better one privately! With many pockets and a hood that also fits over the cap. On board there are warm and very thick rubber boots available, which are borrowed for the duration of the trip. Since some landings can sometimes be wet, they are absolutely necessary. However, not every shipping company provides jackets and/or boots, so read the advertisement carefully!

On the Zodiacs

So, we get to the rain pants, which should never be missed in an Antarctic packing list. In the Zodiacs, with which you are brought ashore or drive through the icebergs, there are always neat splashes. The rain pants must therefore be chosen so large that it still fits over the ski pants. If you don’t take rain pants with you, you have very dirty ski pants very quickly, because it can be muddy on land. And if you want great photos, you sometimes just lie down in the not always flower-white snow.

a lonely zodiac in Antarctica

My husband borrowed a very good lens from a photo dealer for his camera. With insurance, of course, and it was definitely worth it. Use waterproof bags for packing. There were also a few people on board who only took cell phone photos. My GoPro has also served me very well here! I kept them underwater time and time again and picked up the icebergs from below or even Krill. But beware: don’t pull the loop of the swimming stick around the wrist, because maybe the camera gets hooked under water on an iceberg that is not visible, or a curious sea leopard thinks it has to pull. Then you immediately go overboard the Zodiac and in the approx. 0°C cold water you are dead within 3 minutes. Of course, you always wear a life jacket during the excursions, but this does not help much in such a case.

On Shore

The lecturers on board are also the guides who drive the Zodiacs. Some of them always drive ashore before the guests and have a look what there is to see and whether any dangers are lurking. In general, it is necessary to keep at least 5 m distance from the animals. Usually small flags are built up. It’s great to just sit down in the snow at a penguin colony and just watch. The cute guys do not know the 5 m rule and are terribly curious about you. Since you must not frighten them, you just stay calm and wait. Tip: let the GoPro turned on!

gentoo penguin

It is absolutely forbidden to take edibles or cigarettes on land. We also had to vacuum all the things we would carry on land, as well as bags or equipment before the first shore trip. The continent should be contaminated as little as possible with civilization (e.g. with cat hair from ski pants or tobacco or biscuit crumbs that could be absorbed by the animals and lead to disease).

There is a program for every day, which is presented the night before. Depending on the weather conditions or the presence of animals, however, it is also changed spontaneously. This is not a fixed cruise, but an expedition!

On board

During the cold, the devices need relatively much electricity, so that several batteries are a must. Since there are usually not enough sockets for all devices in the cabin, you should bring along a multiple socket with USB charging sockets and whenever the opportunity arises to recharge. An additional hard drive to back up the images of the day is extremely useful.

There is no dress code on board the expedition ships. It should be practical and functional. So, you don’t find a “fancy clothing recommendation” on my Antarctic packing list. I often ran out during the meal to photograph a particularly beautiful iceberg or whale. I was always happy to have my thick fleece jacket on my chair and, if possible, a few more gloves. When the ship sails, it can get very cold very quickly due to the wind.

Here are some additional tips for a trip to Antarctica:

When is the best time to travel?

In general, the Antarctic is approached by expedition ships with guests between October and April. It´s summer in the southern hemisphere then. That means, of course, that it gets relatively warm, and it is bright sunlight for up to 24 hours and animal life awakens to full life.

Weather

We were on our way from the beginning to the middle of December and have temperatures of about -5°C to about +5° (23°F to 41°F) on and near the Antarctic Peninsula. So very moderate. Depending on wind and weather, this can also be much colder. Since it is not too cold, you will also not find a high end – winter clothing recommendation on my Antarctic packing list.

sea elephants

As soon as we have left the very windy Drake Passage behind us, the sea becomes very calm and even the sea-sick passengers needed no or hardly any pills here. We are very lucky, because even during our stay on the Antarctic mainland plate there is hardly any wind. The weather changes enormously here. Every now and then a kind of fog rises, which merges all the contours, and you have no idea where the water stops and where does the land start. In addition, an almost unearthly silence, if not screaming predatory gulls are on the way. But we also got a lot of blue skies, with incredible views of the country and the icebergs!

Unfortunately, there is also rain, which should not happen. But global warming does not stop at Antarctica either. We did not really have any snow drifts at all.

Animals

If you want to see snow and ice mostly untouched, it is best to travel at the beginning of the season. The penguins then return to their nesting areas and begin nest-building. Since they are a lot on land at this time, they also pollute the snow quite quickly. Therefore, one does not always find white snow.

baby sea elephant

Also, the marine mammals, which give birth to their cubs on land, can now be seen in relatively large numbers, e.g. Wedell seals, sea leopards, sea elephants.

Adélie- Chin-strap- and Gentoo- penguins we have seen. Some were still completely busy with the bridal advertising and the construction of the stone nest, whereby they like to steal the pebbles from the neighbor´s nest. Others were already hatching one or two eggs and the longer we stayed, the more chicks we got to see.

Gentoo penguin with chick

There are many albatrosses on the way, but mainly during the cruise through the Drake Passage, Skuas and many other birds can be found on the islands and the mainland.

From about the end of January, the whales will come back in larger numbers. However, we were able to discover humpback whales, mink whales and orcas as early as December.

humpback whales shortly before midnight

Tip: I sent my whale fin pictures to Happy Whale and after a while I was informed that one of the animals had been spotted in Antarctica a few years earlier.

Which ship do I take?

There are many different expedition ships sailing to Antarctica. Some are enormously luxurious, others rather simple and have more of a hostel character. This is also a question of price. All are international, we had about 30 nations on board. Depending on which nation is on board in the majority, it may be that the editors are coming from this country. As a rule, the lectures of the lecturers (glaciologists, ornithologists, geologists, etc.) are given in English. There are usually translators for other languages.

MS Sea Spirit in Antarctica

What is particularly important when choosing the ship, is the number of passengers on board. A maximum of 114 passengers can be taken on the “MS Sea Spirit”. Since a maximum of 100 guests are allowed to go ashore at the same time, all could disembark together, because 14 people have always been on the way with the pre-booked kayaks. The guests are divided into groups, so that one or the other group is disembarking first and thus has a little longer time on land.

If a ship takes many more passengers, the time on shore will also be reduced. However, it could become more interesting in terms of price.

Tips: Pre- and post-program

Pre-Program

We arrived in Ushuaia the day before the official start of the trip. We come to the country via Buenos Aires and must change the airport there. Depending on the traffic, this is about a 45 min drive. That means, of course, also checking in again. Since only 15 kg of luggage are allowed from here, the excess baggage must be paid for. However, this is a fairly cheap rate and is worthwhile instead of decimating your own luggage.

Tip: make sure that camera tripods are not carried in hand luggage. We almost missed the flight because the intra-Argentinian airline does not allow it to be taken with us. But this was not said at the check-in of the luggage and so we had to go back completely and check in the tripod for a fee.

In Ushuaia the weather changes very quickly! We experienced temperatures from 5°C to 20°C ( 23°F to 68°F) at one day. With sunshine and rain. Good all-weather jackets are therefore an advantage. A thick winter jacket is available on board (hopefully).

In Ushuaia we have booked the same hotel that is also intended for the first night of all cruise guests. So, we had 2 nights there.

Through GetYourGuide we booked a great jeep tour and were picked up on time in the morning. Various tours are offered here. On another trip to Ushuaia we made a train ride into the boreal rainforest. Both are highly recommended and should be booked in advance.

artisan market in Ushuaia

While we are on tour, the rest of the guests of the ship arrive. Most of them we meet in the evening while eating or in the wellness area of the hotel.

In the morning, when the guests check out of the pre-cruise, we are welcomed in a conference room by some guides and informed about the trip. The “Dos and Don’ts” so to speak. There are many things to consider on such a special expedition cruise. After that there is still time for a shopping visit to Ushuaia in case something should be forgotten. But beware: the prices here in the southernmost city in the world are high! After all, everything must be transported to this former convict colony by plane or ship.

Post-Program

Instead of flying directly home from Ushuaia via Buenos Aires, we stay one more night in the Argentine capital. So, we come from the absolute cold and the snow in over 30°C (86°F), because here too of course is summer! It’s a humid heat, hence the T-shirts and shorts on the Antarctic packing list!

We have chosen a quite centrally located hotel and explore our surroundings by walking around. We pass numerous tango venues and are lucky to get two tickets for a performance for this evening.

Attention: better to pre-book, we really only had good luck and carry cash in pesos. Credit cards or US dollars are not accepted everywhere.

Tango Café in Buenos Aires

In the historic district “La Boca” there are many tango bars among the colorful houses. Some dancers already show their skills outside, but do not want to be filmed or photographed. This area is very touristy, but quite worth seeing to stroll through.

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If you have any questions about such an extraordinary journey, please contact  me!

All reports about my expedition cruise to Antarctica can be found here:

If you have a supplement recommendation to my Antarctic packing list from your own experience, then tell me! I look forward to comments!

More information about my local and long-distance trips or more tips can be found as always on my Facebook  page, on  Pinterest and on  Instagram. I am looking forward to your “like”!

All these photos were taken by my husband Dirk Wesslowski, as @bscd66 on Instagram!

Albatros flying around our ship in the Drake Passage

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