Are you about to take the most epic trip of your life and not sure what to wear in Antarctica? No need to worry about freezing your little toes off! With a few essential pieces of clothing, you can explore the icy continent in style (well, as stylish as a parka and snow pants can make you look) and comfort.
I ticked Antarctica off my bucket list in January of 2023 when I celebrated my 40th birthday. We actually did our first landing there on my birthday – epic! After a few days of being there, I created this comprehensive guide to help you figure out exactly what to wear in Antarctica.
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I suffer from the cold. So much so, that my friends and family all questioned my sanity when I said I was going to Antarctica. They laughed at the thought of me spending days and nights outside in one of the coldest places on earth.
Funny thing was that it was colder in Ireland than it was in Antarctica! More on the weather later.
This is a complete list of the essential items you’re going to need for your once in a lifetime experience – whether it’s what to wear in Antarctica, what to pack for around the ship or your must have accessories, I’ve covered all basis here!
You might also like:
- 18 Awe-Inspiring Things To Do In Antarctica
- All You Need to Know About Taking The Polar Plunge in Antarctica
- Camping in Antarctica: Could This Be The Ultimate Antarctic Adventure?
- What’s the weather like in Antarctica
- What to wear in Antarctica
- What to wear around the expedition ship
- What to bring to Antarctica – other essentials
- What you don’t need to pack for Antarctica
- Staying elsewhere before or after Antarctica?
- Antarctica Packing List in a Nutshell
What’s the weather like in Antarctica
The weather in this polar region is certainly something to talk about! It’s the land of the midnight sun, where temperatures can dip down to negative 60 degrees Celsius and conditions are so extreme snow remains on the ground year-round. Even the bravest of adventurers would say “brrr!”.
But don’t worry friends – summer brings with it days of beautiful sunshine, perfect for whale watching and sightseeing!
That said, we faced some changeable weather while we were there.
For example, the night we were leaving the ship to camp out for the night on the snow, it was snowing / raining as we got onto the zodiacs. We were all feeling a little ‘meh’ about our camping experience at this stage.
But, by the time we reached land (literally 5 minutes away), the snow and rain had stopped and we had the best weather of our trip for the remainder of the night!
Starting out from Ushuaia, the cold weather begins to hit as you head through the Antarctic Peninsula. The farther south you go, the colder it gets. As you’ll likely be doing your Antarctic cruise during the summer months, the average temperature will be around 0 degrees Celsius (not as cold as you thought, right?).
What to wear in Antarctica
Having layers of warm clothes is key to keeping yourself warm and comfortable in Antarctica.
For those in the back…LAYERS ARE KING!
As I mentioned before, my friends and family thought I was insane going to Antarctica. Given that I’m the person sat on the couch with an electric blanket over me to keep me warm most evenings (and I live in Dubai), you could understand why they were questioning how I, of all people, would be warm enough.
Let me tell you… I didn’t feel cold once. Even when doing one of the add-on excursions – camping out on the snow for a night!
That said, I did overpack. So I’m in a great position to share exactly what’s needed for your expedition gear and what you can leave behind.
If you don’t have time to read the full article right now, you can download the full Antarctica packing list straight to your inbox below (and read the article later!).
Right, let’s get into it.
What to wear in Antarctica: On the top
Your base layers are what’s going to keep you warm in Antarctica. This is the layer that touches your skin and helps wick away any moisture from sweating (which, yes you will still do even the cold!).
Merino Wool Tops
Ideally, you should have a few merino wool base layers with you. I had two of these tops (from Smartwool) and one of these (from Amazon) and it was enough for the entire trip. For the camping excursion, I wore two pairs of these base layers as I was worried about being cold (I wasn’t!).
I know they’re worn underneath your clothes but I still loved how the Smartwool ones had a variety of colours (yeah, yeah, I know).
Warm pair of gloves
Whether it’s for taking pictures or just for extra warmth on land excursions, you’ll want to make sure you have a pair of warm gloves. I found these Patagonia ones which did the trick nicely. They’re also touch screen compatible, perfect for when an adorable penguin pops up in front of you.
Long sleeved top
I added this extra layer for warmth and it was perfect for me. If you don’t usually run cold, you may not need this layer, but this Under Armour top worked really well for me. I also bought a really cute one onboard as I needed a second one.
Hoodie / Fleece jacket
I lived in my Lululemon hooded jacket both on and off the ship. So much so that I had to send it for laundry during the trip! With so many layers, it’s hard to keep any kind of shape, but this hoodie is fitted so it was great for me. I also wore this fleece top over my base layers for extra warmth.
Our expedition company gave us our very own insulated jacket to wear on the trip and to keep afterwards so I didn’t have to bring my own. I already had one but I left it at home to save on space.
If your company doesn’t offer insulated jackets, pick a different company! Nah I’m kidding. But you will need one, so I recommend this North Face Eco Jacket (hard on the cold, easy on the planet!). They also have this men’s version of the same jacket.
What to wear in Antarctica: On the bottom
Next up, we have our legs and feet. You won’t need as many layers on the bottom. Most people only wore two, but of course I wore three. At times I was waddling like a penguin!
Just like with the tops, merino wool leggings are essential. I wore the matching Smartwool bottoms to my tops. I only need to bring two of these (and wore both on the camping night).
Fleece lined leggings
I also wore these fleece lined leggings over my merino base layer. While they’re probably not the best quality you’ll ever find (they started to bobble after a few wears), they still did the trick and were perfect for under my ski pants.
If you choose to do the camping activity, be sure to have a spare pair of socks to wear at night. Warm socks are a must and if your feet get cold, the rest of your body will soon follow.
What to wear in Antarctica: Outer layers
Your outler layer stops you from getting wet, which in turn stops you from getting cold. So, yeah, it’s pretty important.
These will be your outermost layer on the bottom.
What’s important to note is that not all Ski trousers are waterproof. So if you don’t have a pair that are waterproof, you’re going to need a separate pair of waterproof pants. When you get off the zodiacs for land excursions, you might be standing in water up to your knees. If the water is higher than your boots, you’re going to need your pants to be waterproof. Also, when on the zodiacs, you can get splashed from all directions.
I had these really cheap (in price) Arctix snow pants and luckily they were fully waterproof. I never once got my inside layers wet when I wore them. Another great things about mine were that they stood out amongst the crowd because of the colour! Most people had dark coloured ski pants but because mine were light green, I was able to spot myself in group photos!
I had also brought these waterproof pants but ended up never having to wear them.
Ski gloves / waterproof gloves
While two pairs of gloves might seem excessive (since you already have your warm inner liner pair), it’s absolutely necessary when headed out on wet landings. I usually just wore mine on the zodiacs and when it was raining and then took them off when I was on land. Luckily, these ones had handy wrist straps so you could take them off without losing them. I also think the mittens style was easier to wear with my liners.
Most expedition companies will provide you with an expedition parka, which is a waterproof jacket, on loan throughout your trip. Some actually provide this instead of an insulated jacket to keep. Either way, you likely won’t need to bring one of these yourself. Which is a good thing, as they’re pretty expensive!
If you do have to bring your own, I recommend this North Face Arctic Parka.
Waterproof boots, or mud boots, are what keep your feet warm and dry on excursions. Those waterproof pants aren’t going to save you if your boots aren’t up for the job!
Luckily, again, your expedition company will likely provide you with these on loan for the duration of the trip. I couldn’t believe just how warm and dry these kept my feet. Be sure when trying them on for the first time that you’re wearing both pairs of socks you’ll be wearing.
Neck gaiter / buff
I let myself down with my neck gaiter if I’m honest. I had this Merino Wool one, which was great and kept me really warm, but I found it a little hard to breathe in it. I was seriously jealous of my friend who had one like this and I wish I had it. If and when I do the Arctic, I’ll have to get it!
I also recently found this one which looks really cool. It’s a two in one neck warmer and hooded scarf.
Most people had the same kind of beanie, which was just a plain one. You’re not allowed to wear ones with bobbles or fluff that might leave ruminants behind. This is really important as it’s an area with no human inhabitants and the wildlife needs to be respected and protected.
This beanie was just great for keeping my head warm but what I wish I had was this waterproof hat which covers the ears. I have a really small head and trying to keep the parka hood up when it was snowing and windy was almost impossible!
Sunglasses / eye protection
The sun is surprisingly strong in Antarctica. I brought a pair of polarised sunglasses with me. I won’t link to them as they’re a tiny pair of kids ones (remember, I have a tiny head) but these sunglasses are quite similar to what I had.
I found mine did the job but many people had ski goggles. I think these are probably a better option as they will protect your eyes from the wind and snow too, not just the sun.
What to wear around the expedition ship
Luckily, the cruise ship I booked didn’t have a dress code. That meant no having to dress up for dinner (this was actually one of the things people said they liked the most about our company!). You can wear some of your expedition clothing during the day and evening, but you’ll still want some extra clothes to keep you comfortable.
Surprisingly, the temperature onboard was nice and warm, even though we were in the middle of Antarctica. We mostly wore normal clothes like jeans, sweaters, and t-shirts. I found my warmer mid layers really useful for this.
Here’s what you’ll need to wear around the ship:
- Comfortable pants / jeans
- Everyday socks
- Flat closed toe shoes (no heels!). Trainers are perfect.
- Short sleeve shirts / long sleeve t-shirts
- Sweaters / light jackets
- Light pjs (the cabins were really warm)
What to bring to Antarctica – other essentials
Aside from clothing, there are some other items you’ll want to bring with you on your Antarctica trip. These are:
Sunscreen and lip balm
Even if you don’t think the sun is shining, you need protection on any area of exposed skin. My lips (and everyone else’s) were chapped soooo much.
Waterproof phone case
There was an ongoing joke onboard that if you had a Samsung phone (as I did) you probably didn’t need a waterproof phone case. You could tell the iPhone users from the Samsungs! Either way, if you’re worried about your phone getting wet, this waterproof case will keep it dry and you can still take shots using it.
Insulated water bottle
Most expedition ships provide stations onboard so you can fill up your water bottles throughout the day. I also highly recommend filling up your water bottle with hot water if you plan on doing the camping. This is why an insulated water bottle works best. I spent the morning sitting up watching the incredible scenery and sipping hot water – bliss!
Binoculars are totally optional but so worth it to be able to spot whales in the distance.
As well as your usual medication (and be sure to bring an extra week’s worth just in case) you’ll likely need seasickness medication. Even if you don’t usually suffer, the drake passage can be rough! I magically survived but on that first morning, there were so many people missing from breakfast. You can also get patches and wrist bands if you prefer the natural way of doing it.
This is a given to bring your camera if you have one. Mine is this Nikon D3500 which is perfect for beginners. But if you don’t have a waterproof case for your camera, I highly recommend you buy one. Mine got condensation on the screen and for the last two days I had no idea what I was snapping.
Hand warmers and toe warmers
Hand and toe warmers are great to pop in the inner layer of your gloves/boots to keep extra warm if you really suffer from the cold. While I brought them with me, I only used them for the camping night.
A dry bag is really great to store your camera in and keep it dry when you’re out on the zodiacs. It will also store your water bottle and you can throw extra layers in there if needed.
Bikini / swimwear
You read that right! One of the most fun things to do in Antarctica is to take the polar plunge in the ocean! There may also be a steam room, swimming pool and hot tub on board.
Read more about my swimwear here.
Many people brought fun bathing suits. The guy in front of me doing the polar plunge had the tiniest pair of yellow bottoms that said ‘budgie smugglers’ – he gave everyone a great laugh before belly flopping into the ocean.
Spare batteries / chargers
You’re going to be taking a lot of photos on your trip, so make sure you bring spare batteries and chargers so you don’t run out. There’s power on the ship so you can recharge in the evenings.
On the note of charging things, be sure you have a universal adapter if you’re travelling from abroad and not sure if your devices will fit the ship’s sockets.
Something to read and watch
While there’s almost always something to do on board, you’ll have 2.5 days of travel through the drake passage at either end of the voyage where can’t leave the ship. Be prepared and bring something to read as well as some downloaded shows to watch at night (you have to pay for internet and it definitely isn’t up to streaming).
USD / Credit Card
Most expedition ships will take a credit card for payment of any items on board (although you’ll have the option to pay in cash if you prefer).
It’s also good to carry some USD in the event that you’re lucky enough to stop off at The Penguin Post Office at Port Lockroy. Because of a major storm, our path had to change but it meant we got to stop here instead. There’s a gift shop, a small museum and an opportunity to post postcards (which you can buy onboard the ship)! While they do accept credit cards, they had just had a storm a few days’ earlier which knocked our their internet so we had to pay cash.
A sense of adventure and flexibility
More than anything, you need a sense of adventure and flexibility. The weather can change in an instant and the itinerary might change due to unfortunate circumstances (such as sea ice or storms). But you just need to be prepared for anything and enjoy the ride.
What you don’t need to pack for Antarctica
- Bobbly / fluffy hat – while they look super cute, they shed fibres which can be harmful to the environment and you’ll be asked to leave this behind.
- Open toed shoes / heels – it’s hard enough to stay upright on the drake passage let alone in heels! Open toed shoes are also not recommended in case you stumble into anything and hurt yourself. Flips flops are ok to be worn to and from doing the polar plunge, but not around the ship.
- Full face of makeup – honestly, all you need on your face is a good sun protection. It’s not a party type cruise and there’s zero pressure to look super presentable.
- Snow boots – these are provided for you, so no need for you to bring your own.
- Shell jacket – also should be provided to you by the expedition company.
Staying elsewhere before or after Antarctica?
Chances are, you’ll be doing something else before or after your expedition, such as Ushuaia, Buenos Aires or Santiago. It’s important to remember that if you are doing this, you’ll need to pack for a completely different climate than Antarctica.
Some things you might want to pack for
- Comfortable walking shoes / hiking boots – there are some incredible hiking trails around Ushuaia, as well as wonderful free walking tours in Buenos Aires I highly recommend.
- Leggings – there are still some quite chilly days in Ushuaia and the weather is always changeable. Leggings will help you stay warm while exploring! They’re also the comfiest clothing for flights so I always have spares.
- Light rain jacket – while it’s summer in these places, there’s still chances of rain. The temperature is warm so a light rain jacket is all you’ll need for this.
- Shorts and tshirt – for the warmer days, a pair of shorts and a light tshirt will do.
- Skirt/dress – there’s something about the Latin American culture that’s so vibrant and alive. I love to bring a few items of clothing that really embrace this, such as my Baiia multiway dress (can be worn as multiple dresses or a skirt).
Antarctica Packing List in a Nutshell
The moral of this blog post is, if you’re headed on an Antarctic adventure, as long as you have your sense of adventure, layers and layers of clothing and the rest of the above list, you’ll be sure to have an amazing time down there!
Don’t forget to download my Antarctica Packing Checklist so you don’t leave anything behind!
Happy packing! xx