Are you wondering what to wear in Antarctica and what clothing to put on your Antarctica cruise packing list? While it is important to pack warm clothes like a hat, jacket, and mitts, there’s much more to consider when thinking about Antarctica gear. The seventh continent’s weather is easily the most notorious and least habitable on Earth, so it’s natural that the question of what to put in your Antarctica packing list comes up a lot. There is no quicker way to ruin a lifetime trip than to be uncomfortable. Luckily, packing for Antarctica isn’t rocket science.
First, you should remember that almost all tourists visit in the summer when the sun nearly never sets and the weather is mild. Along the Antarctica Peninsula, where most cruises visit, temperatures hover around freezing with dry days. This makes it reasonably straightforward to pack for, as most will have experienced this weather.
As travelers, we always recommend packing in layers as it is the most versatile and packs nicely in a suitcase. With that in mind, the basic premise is to pack a shell jacket, insulating layer, thermals, and weatherproof pants. The vast majority of Antarctica cruises supply parkas and muck boots for onshore activities, so it removes a lot of stress around packing for the continent.
Our biggest tip when thinking about what to wear in Antarctica is to think more about your time on the ship and less about your time on the continent. Sea days along the Drake Passage can be long, and day excursions rarely last more than a few hours, so the vast majority of your time will be spent on the ship.
Table of Contents
What to Wear in Antarctica: Tips From Our Antarctica Cruise!
- A lightweight hiking jacket or shell jacket is a staple that should be in every traveler’s luggage, no matter the season. You will 100% want a waterproof jacket in Antarctica — granted, most expedition cruises supply an Antarctica jacket.
- Take advantage of the gear supplied. On-shore visits to the continent can be very dirty as the snow melts in the summer. Landing sites are often muddy and complete with penguin poop. You can wear your boots, but we never bothered as the large muck boots supplied were much better.
- Packing cubes are excellent at separating dirty clothes from clean clothes or wet from dry. Opt for a packing cube with mesh that will allow wet clothes to dry.
- We love to pack wool base layers such as thermals, socks, and underwear to help fight off the cold.
- Packing rain pants is always a good idea. We usually try to avoid packing them as they are bulky, but they can be true lifesavers in Antarctica. They are standard wear and recommended on all the cruise packing lists.
- A good toque/hat and gloves are a great way to stay warm without much space.
- Sun protection is a good idea in the summer, so bring sunblock, sunglasses, and possibly UPF clothing. Ice, snow, and water are highly reflective UV environments.
- Pack some items to pass the time on board the cruise ship. You’ll have plenty of downtime to play cards, read a book, or paint watercolors.
- Motion sickness medicine and remedies are well worth packing for the notorious Drake Passage. We experienced the Drake Shake at its worst and could barely escape from the bed. The doctors on board can not supply motion sickness tablets, so consult your doctor or visit a pharmacy before departure.
- Pack a tablet and download entertainment before you depart on the cruise ship. Satellite internet onboard the ship is outrageously expensive and too slow to download or stream content. It’s a good idea to download movies, podcasts, or TV series with a stable internet connection.
- Verify what your cruise ship operator provides before packing for a trip. One or two operators do not provide boots or parkas for their guests, but they are a minority. Please do your due diligence.
- If you forget anything, you can find most goods in Ushuaia before you leave. There are pharmacies, a grocery store, and outdoor stores – though the outdoor stores especially were much higher priced than back home, not unusual given the location.
The Weather in Antarctica
Travel to Antarctica is only during the summer months – from October to March. This is when it’s warmer, and lighter, and the sea ice melts enough to let ships safely navigate the waters, so most visitors will not experience Antarctica at its worst. We’d go so far as to say most will have seen worse winter weather at home. We certainly have (granted, we live in Alberta!)
Most visitors head to the Antarctic Peninsula, not the South Pole, so the weather remains mild. Temperatures on most days range from a few degrees below freezing to several above freezing, around -4 C to 2 C (5 F to 35 F). The weather remains stable thanks to the ocean’s current and long summer days.
Large swells and wind that pass through the Drake Passage are the greatest weather threat to visiting the continent; however, guests will remain inside a cozy ship during this time. That being said, it’s a good idea to come prepared for the possibility of wind and cold weather. Expedition parkas do a great job protecting your core, but a hat and gloves will make a massive difference in comfort.
Antarctica Cruise Packing List Essentials
- Passport – This is obvious, but you won’t make it far without a passport. It’s a fun Antarctica fact that Antarctica does not require a passport as it’s not a country, but you will most likely need to pass through Argentina to reach the continent.
- Credit Cards – We use several travel credit cards offering purchase protection, rewards, and no foreign transaction fees. This has to do with purchases on the ship, as there aren’t many day-to-day expenses once you’re on board.
- Visa – Make sure you have a visa if you need one.
- Cash: This is super helpful for tipping staff on the ships. Almost all ships allow guests to tip on their account; some add an automatic gratuity to the final bill. However, having USD dollars is an excellent idea if you’d like to tip staff directly or individually. We also wished we had extra cash on hand for our Port Lockroy visit as the post office did not accept credit card.
- Argentinian Pesos: This is not something you’ll need on the ship. However, as ships depart from Ushuaia, most travelers spend some time in Argentina. The country is currently being rocked by hyperinflation, which makes the international markets and currency exchange very odd. Travelers can best exchange money with USD on the black market or via wire transfer to Western Union.
What To Wear In Antarctica
Before you pack for Antarctica, it’s good to determine what you’ll need for your trip. Travel plans have an enormous impact on this. You’ll likely need some outdoor gear that is well-suited for movement and offers protection from the elements. As most cruises depart from Ushuaia, Argentina, it’s a fabulous time to tack on a trip to Patagonia.
There are several staple items that I would recommend everyone bring for their trip to Antarctica. Pack functionality with clothes that can serve multiple purposes. Layers are key, as the weather and temperatures change significantly in one day. The right outfit and layers can handle just about any environment or climate.
Our first concern for an expedition cruise to Antarctica is comfort and warmth. If one article of Antarctica clothing is made for travel here, it’s the wool sweater. You’ll always want a sweater on your packing list, and it’s likely the same thing the first explorers wore on their trips to the South Pole.
The versatile piece can be worn under a jacket as a layer of insulation or as casual loungewear onboard the ship. They’re comfortable, stylish, and warm. We each brought two sweaters and they were easily our most worn items on the ship.
We have plenty of sweaters, but our favorites are made with organic materials like wool. If you’re not a fan of wool or don’t own a wool sweater, polyester or synthetic-based sweaters like the Patagonia Better Sweater are a tremendous alternative.
Shop For A Wool Sweater
Although most Antarctica cruise ships give visitors a parka to wear for the duration of the trip (and keep for later), we still suggest a packable rain jacket for the outdoors/hiking as an additional jacket. It’s an excellent jacket for visiting Patagonia before or after the trip. They also make a great additional jacket if you’re lucky enough to get a mild weather day. Parkas tend to be a little overkill.
Any rain jacket will do, but the top-dollar ones designed for the outdoors will hold up and help in inclement weather. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof — the wind may be the most important as it can be unrelenting.
It’s a great second jacket on extended expeditions that visit South Georgia or the Falkland Islands, as the weather at those destinations is often too mild for a heavy parka. You’ll never regret having a shell jacket in your luggage.
Shop For A Shell Jacket
A packable down jacket is an outdoor staple and perfect for any trip to Antarctica and we travel everywhere with our Arcteryx Cerium jackets. They’re warm and provide decent protection against wind. Although down jackets were created for outdoor sports, their comfort and practicality have made them perfect for daily life.
It’s a rare day when the weather is too warm to warrant a down jacket. Down jackets are lightweight by design and easy to pack in a backpack or suitcase. We always have one in our luggage on any extended trip.
Thanks to the parka many expedition cruises supply, you may not get a ton of use out of your down jacket. However, just like our shell, we like to come prepared and find them super useful for time off the ship in destinations like Ushuaia.
Down Jacket Recommendations
Favorite Travel Outfit
Most time is spent on board the ship, so you should pack outfits that are comfortable for briefings, ship activities, and dinners. It all has to do with personal style. However, the ship is very casual, and unless you’re sailing on a luxurious cruise, there is no dress code or formal evenings. Walking around the ship in daily wear was expected, and we saw everything from dress shirts to athletic shorts.
We prefer to keep it simple and spend most days on the ship in our favorite travel clothing that combines technical elements with modern styles. Some great examples of our favorite travel clothing include DU/ER, Western Rise, Unbound Merino, Handful, prAna, and Kuhl. I’ll cover a few of my favorite items.
Laundry onboard the ship is prohibitively expensive, so you’ll want smart packing strategies to avoid a considerable bill. We do this by packing base layers that get dirty the fastest with synthetic materials. Our favorite underwear is from Icebreaker, and our socks are from Darn Tough.
When it comes to shirts, we love the classic style and wool performance from Unbound Merino. Wool shirts are tremendous as they stay fresh longer and do better at thermoregulation. A wool shirt can keep you cool in hot and warm in cold weather, but don’t make the mistake that they’re scratchy like an old wool sweater.
When it comes to men’s staples like dress shirts and pants, we love Western Rise. They have an excellent selection of wardrobe staples with technical elements for travel clothes that are durable, comfortable, and look sharp. We love brands like Lululemon, prAna, and Handful for women’s clothes.
See Our Recommendations
There is a lot of downtime on the ship, and guests will spend a lot of time in their rooms lying down to combat seasickness. We can not recommend some comfortable loungewear enough. We both wore Athleisure clothing comfortable enough for a nap but appropriate for a lecture or quick lunch in the galley.
We were extremely unfortunate with our Drake Passage crossings and had some of the worst seas possible. Our passage videos even created a bit of a media storm, reaching hundreds of millions of people and various news outlets covering the crossing.
Shop For Loungewear
With the often wet weather in Antarctica and Patagonia, we suggest some technical pants made from synthetic material. Most of these pants are designed for hiking but look casual, such as the Kuhl Renegade and Freeflex pants.
Technical pants are water-resistant, quick-dry, and comfortable. Iceland is all about the landscapes and spending time outside, so a pair of hiking pants should be in your suitcase. If you want to know our favorite hiking pants, we suggest the Fjallraven Keb Trouser.
The pants in the photo are the Arc’teryx Gamma LT Pants, which we use for winter sports. That being said, for most of our landings, we wore rain pants at the advice of the staff and crew. This is something we highly recommend for the Antarctic Peninsula.
Shop For Hiking Pants
In all our time traveling, we’ve never felt a need for rain pants aside from Iceland and Antarctica/Patagonia. While technical hiking pants can easily handle snow or brief rain showers, they aren’t great for rough seas.
Rain pants do an exceptional job on the small boats, where guests spend most of their time exploring the coastline or making landfall. One day the wind picked up, and we would have been soaked had it not been for our rain pants. This is why almost all expedition cruises recommend rain pants.
The Helly Hansen Loke Rain Pants offer exceptional protection and are what we wore on our cruise. Not that it should be a surprise as the Norwegian company designs and makes sailing clothes for those tackling the Arctic Oceans along their coastline. Best of all, their gear has tremendous value, and we find them were worth their price. Amazon has some affordable options if you’re not a serious enthusiast who needs performance rain pants.
Rain pants offer much better performance than “snow pants” that are often insulated and cumbersome. When the insulated pants soak through, they remain wet and take ages to dry. Our biggest complaint about these pants is that the large “snow pants” trap moisture, pulling heat away from your body. We spend half our year playing in the winter mountains with far colder temperatures and confidently say that insulated pants should be avoided.
Shop For Rain Pants
Thermal underwear is essential to remain warm and dry. Your base layer is the first key to wicking away moisture and keeping your body heat from escaping. We always wear quality base layers when active in cold temperatures like hiking, snowboarding, scrambling, or camping.
For the base layer, we recommend they fit snugly and are made from a noncotton material like nylon or wool. We wear wool thermals from Helly Hansen and Smartwool. Most days, it was the only thing we wore underneath our parkas and rain pants.
However, as we also had our hiking pants, sweater, and down jackets, we could layer up when needed. Those items were also tremendous when we visited Patagonia after our cruise to Antarctica.
Shop For Base Layers
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of socks. You will want to keep your feet dry with all the wet weather in Iceland. Most importantly, wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with several pairs of wool socks on any trip. They make every style and cut, so finding your desired pair is easy. Our recommendations for socks are Darn Tough, Smartwool, and REI Co-op. If you still want some classic cotton socks, check out Bombas.
Our Favorite Wool Socks
With all the wind and ice around Antarctica, a pair of gloves will make your voyage far more pleasant. We suggest a lightweight and water-resistant pair of gloves as temperatures are mild. There is no need for anything bulky as it makes it more difficult to grip things like a camera or the sides of a boat when you land on the continent.
Bulky winter gloves in mild temperatures make your hands sweat which will, in turn, leads to cold hands. A lot of people will then combat this with hand warmers, which in turn leads to a vicious cycle of hot and cold hands. If you want to pack hand warmers, keep them in your pockets and grab them when your hands are cold, don’t place them in gloves.
We both wear leather gloves from Hestra and compliment them with wool liner gloves. With the two gloves, we’re able to mix and match to adjust to any temperature comfortably. Our cruise weather was below freezing, and we felt comfortable the entire trip with lightweight gloves.
Shop For Gloves
Along with gloves, a hat is an exceptional item to pack for Antarctica as it takes up no room in your luggage and provides a lot of warmth. A well-fitted toque is perfect for those blustery days on the continent.
We say well fitted because a loose one does a poor job insulating your head and can blow off when the winds pick up. Antarctica is the windiest continent, so come prepared! In general, loose clothing is a bad idea when visiting the continent. We love this beanie from The North Face as it’s comfy and affordable.
If you’re after a fantastic souvenir Port Lockroy is a stop on many cruises, selling some fantastic wool penguin hats. If you plan to shop, one of our top Antarctica travel tips is to make sure you have USD or British Pounds as it’s the only currency they accept (it shouldn’t be any surprise they don’t accept cards).
Shop For A Hat
A swimsuit is not the first thing you expect to pack for a cruise to Antarctica, but you may regret leaving one home. Fortunately, we were on a ship with hot tubs on the top deck, an incredible way to warm up and take in the views.
While not every ship has a pool or hot tub, most expeditions offer guests the opportunity to do a “polar plunge.” Under the supervision of staff, they set up a floating dock or zodiac, and guests can leap into the frigid waters.
Shop For A Swimsuit
A neck gaiter may be the smallest item in your luggage, but it provides a nice layer of warmth. Similar to a hat and gloves, it helps with protection from the wind, which can chap your face. Additionally, a neck gaiter is a great line of UV defense on sunny days.
We both have wool neck gaiters from Buff, the industry standard. Buff offers a wool thermal neck gaiter and a traditional lightweight synthetic neck gaiter. For our cruise, a lightweight one was more than adequate, plus it had a cute penguin print.
Shop For Buff Neckwear
A stylish pair of sunglasses is an excellent addition to an outfit. Everyone owns at least one pair of sunglasses. However, it’s best to ensure they have UV protection for the health of your eyes. UV exposure is at an all-time high, with all the water, snow, and ice reflecting the sun. Snow blindness is real, but it’s unlikely you’ll be out long enough to worry about it.
We always travel with two pairs of sunglasses as we’re pretty active. A pair of Smith Optics for hiking and outdoor adventures and a couple of stylish sunglasses to wear at the beach or around town for the day. My stylish ones are Persol, and my Active ones are always the Smith Lowdowns.
Shop For Sunglasses
Comfy Down Booties
This is the one item we did not pack for our cruise that we regretted. When we first started packing for our trip, we thought about adding booties to our Antarctica packing list, but they got cut because we were traveling to too many other destinations.
However, down booties are for cold weather camping and can be worn inside the tent on cold evenings. While you likely won’t be in a tent while visiting Antarctica, they are tremendous ship shoes.
We often found ourselves running out on our deck to take in a quick site like a whale and running up to the lounge for some hot tea. A pair of booties are easy to slip on and perfect for those moments. We have The North Face Thermoball Booties at home and LOVE them!
Shop For Down Booties
Another excellent suggestion for footwear is a pair of leather boots. However, we never wore our boots on the continent as the cruise supplied muck boots. We still recommend packing a pair of boots for landings in destinations like the Falkland Islands and Patagonia. A pair of lightweight hiking boots or leather boots will cope with all the wet weather.
We recommend boots with a thick sole to protect your feet and that the boots have some form of weatherproofing. It’s up to your style preference and plans, but a leather or synthetic hiking boot works best.
We’re active and love hiking, so we packed trail runners and Blundstones on our last trip. The one thing you need to know about footwear is to pack one shoe for casual wear and one that is weatherproof and matches your travel plans.
See Our Boot Recommendations
Casual Travel Shoes
A comfortable pair of shoes is always nice when packing your bag for Antarctica. The majority of your time on an expedition to the continent is onboard the ship. So a pair of casual shoes will get the most use.
A comfortable pair of travel shoes that are easy to stash in the bag is a great idea. We love Allbirds as a lightweight shoe, but any comfortable casual shoe will work. A more casual shoe is great for heading to dinner or exploring Buenos Aires on your way to Ushuaia for the cruise departure.
Recommendations For Travel Shoes
A daypack should be enough to hold your belongings if you’re not going on an overnight backpacking adventure. You’ll likely want a daypack to carry your belongings. My daypack usually consists of a shell jacket, down jacket, hiking poles, snacks, water, gloves, chapstick, a buff, and a camera.
I love a versatile size around the 30L mark if you only have one pack. The size gives enough room for gear-heavy days, but it’s light enough for short treks or walking around a town. That being said, by the end of the trip, the excursions were so short we stopped taking out backpacks on shre.
See Our Recommendations
Accessories To Pack For Antarctica
Keeping your toiletries organized and separated from your clothes is a great idea. It almost feels like a toiletry bag is essential for any trip. Plus, it should not be surprising that ships’ bathrooms are cramped.
Buying a hanging toiletry bag is an excellent option if you are limited on counter space. This bag style tends to have a better organization system with various sections for storage than the traditional option. We love the Peak Design Wash Pouch. It contains a hidden hook to hang and features terrific organization.
We love to spend our time on holiday with a good book. If the seas are not too rough, it’s perfect for crossing the Drake Passage. Some great books to get in the spirit of Antarctica are Endurance, South, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and Mawson’s Will.
I love traveling with a power bank to ensure my electronics never die. I usually don’t need to use it on long flights as some new international flights provide entertainment systems with USB ports! (Always make sure your charging cable is handy when boarding the plane)
We also find a charging point during layovers, but getting to a new city without your hotel reservations and map can be a significant pain. I recommend purchasing this power bank because it’s a great value with solid reviews.
Packing cubes are phenomenal for the organization of any backpack or suitcase. They are one of those packing essentials that should be in every bag as they keep all of your clothes and toiletries organized. Cubes also keep clothes folded and protect them from wrinkles.
Our favorite packing cubes are from Peak Design. It’s a slick design, and each cube has a divider to separate clean from dirty clothes. This saves the need for additional cubes and makes organization easier.
Ice, water, and snow create an extremely high UV environment. We can not recommend packing some sunblock for your face and body enough. We like to use sunblock from SunBum and carry one of their portable sticks for applications while we’re out and about.
Along with sunblock for your skin, you’ll want some lip balm to fight chapped lips and supply sun protection. We always carry the classic Blistex.
Cards are another great way to pass the time on a long cruise. You’ll spend a minimum of 10 days on board the ship, so you’ll want plenty of ways to stay entertained.
Ginger is a natural way to soothe the stomach and combat seasickness. Our ship supplied plenty of candied ginger along with herbal teas to soothe the stomach. However, we still appreciated having a bag of ginger candies. We loved these Tummydrops ginger candies.
Lots of cold, windy air can dry out your throat. A pack of throat lozenges is worth throwing in your suitcase for Antarctica.
The passengers often bring those cool flags you see people posing in their Antarctica photos. Our ship did not have one onboard; however, we were able to make friends with some fellow passengers who let us borrow their flag and penguin suit!
If you want to dress up to take an Antarctica photo, it’s pretty easy to become a penguin.
We were lucky enough to have smart televisions on our ship; however, if your ship does not have programming, it’s nice to have some entertainment downloaded onto a tablet or laptop. We wouldn’t buy a new one for the trip, but it’s nice to pack if you have one.
The stretch of ocean known as the Drake Passage, between Ushuaia and Antarctica, is one of the most fearsome bodies of water. If you’re embarking on a voyage along this route by ship, we recommend you have some seasickness medication. Even if you typically don’t experience seasickness, we suggest you add it to your Antarctica packing list.
We suggest you pick up meclizine, the non-drowsy generic version of Dramamine. The other option is a prescription for the Scopolamine patch, which can prove highly effective for certain individuals. That said, we highly recommend you consult your doctor or pharmacist prior to taking any medicine.
More Motion Sickness Gear
If you think you will get motion sickness or nausea on your way to Antarctica, here are some items we recommend purchasing.
- Motion Sickness Glasses: They make look funny, but you’ll have the last laugh if you get a bad Drake Passage crossing!
- Wristbands: We didn’t have these, but everyone that did said they worked wonders.
- Dramamine: Take it before the Drake crossing – trust me!
- Ginger candies: Our ship had ginger candies on board, but some may not.
- Motion Sickness Patch
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.