PACKING FOR ANTARCTICA
How to make sure you’re prepared for one of the most inhospitable places on Earth
How to prepare?
I have a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to travel. I don’t check luggage, no matter where I’m going or for how long. I always make a carry-on and a backpack work. The same goes for every member of my family. I follow this rule for two reasons: 1) Airlines have lost my luggage one too many times, and 2) For me, “stuff” equals stress.
So you can imagine my challenge when packing for my recent trip to Antarctica with Antarctica 21 aboard the Ocean Nova. Anytime you’re visiting a cold weather location, you invariably are packing big, bulky clothing. When packing for Antarctica, there’s the added pressure of knowing that you just can’t pick up a forgotten item at the store around the corner. No towns, no stores!
Nonetheless, I did successfully pack in one carry-on bag. And I managed to stay under Antarctica 21’s weight limit of 44 pounds (22 kg) - that’s for both the carry-on and my jammed-packed backpack together. While I managed to bring my carry-on on my Delta flight from the USA to Santiago, LATAM - the carrier from Santiago to Punta Arenas - has a stricter weight limit for hand luggage (17 pounds/8 kg). So reluctantly, my son and I did check out bags.
KidTripster Tip: I don’t recommend flying LATAM, if you can help it. Read why here.
Having now returned from Antarctica, I confidently can advise you on what to bring and what to leave at home when embarking on this bucket list trip.
No surprise here, you’re going to need some serious outdoor gear. Let’s start with the jacket. You’ll want something that’s not only warm but also waterproof or at least water-resistant. My son chose the men’s Titanium OutDry Ex Diamond Piste jacket from Columbia Sportswear; I similarly picked the women’s Titanium OutDry Ex Diamond HeatZone long parka; in addition, we both had matching Titanium snow pants. We purchased these items ourselves, and Columbia is not paying us to say nice things about them. But I have to tell you, that coat is the warmest that I’ve ever owned. With the OmniHeat 3D, it was like wearing a little furnace. In fact, at one point while snowshoeing, my son and I got too warm and actually took off our jackets! I also like the fact that these jackets are lightweight.
KidTripster Tip: Antarctica is a sea of white. Choose bright colors for your outdoor clothing. It will make you stand out in your photos. My son’s orange snow pants photographed really well.
In addition to a warm jacket and snow pants, you’ll need a winter hat and gloves. My son opted for fingered ski gloves, while I brought ski mittens and wore thin, fingered gloves underneath. This way, when I took off my mittens to use my camera, I still had some protection.
Don’t forget to bring polarized sunglasses or ski goggles. The snow is very reflective. You’ll also want a small, waterproof backpack to carry during excursions.
All that being said, we actually were blessed with really good weather in Antarctica. Temperatures typically hovered around 32°F, though the wind made it feel a bit colder. Despite that, the weather in Antarctica is unpredictable, so it’s best to come prepared for the most frigid conditions.
Here, we should have listed to the folks at Antarctica 21. The cruise company (like many others) provides waterproof, insulated, rubber boots for each passenger. We were skeptical about how warm the boots would be, so we brought our own. Since we didn’t have room for them in our luggage, we ended up wearing them during our three days of travel to Antarctica. What a pain!
Turns out, we never wore them in Antarctica. The boots that were provided were warm enough. And because we often had wet landings where we stepped off the inflatable rafts into shallow water, our boots did need to be totally waterproof.
So really, the only footwear that you need to bring is a pair of sneakers or casual shoes to wear while traveling and on the ship.
3/Clothes for layering
The weather in Antarctica is ever-changing, so dressing in layers that can be added is smart. Also, as you snowshoe or hike, you warm up quickly, so you’ll want the ability to shed layers, as well.
For the 11-day trip (5-nights/6-days in Antarctica), I brought one flannel shirt, one sweatshirt, two sweaters, two thin long-sleeved shirts, two pairs of jeans, and one pair of travel pants. I also packed underwear, long underwear, and wool socks.. That’s it. And really, that was more than enough. It’s not like you’re sweating up your clothes in Antarctica. And thankfully, there are no formal dinners on expedition ships. Everyone dresses very casually.
Oh, and don’t forget your swimsuit, if you plan to do the Polar Plunge. You can watch my son take the plunge in the frigid Southern Ocean here. Me… not on your life!
Most cruise companies will provide the basics - soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Antarctica 21 provided bath robes, slippers, and hair dryers, too. You bring the rest. Don’t forget sunscreen and lip balm with sunscreen. You’ll need it!
KidTripster Tip: Electric outlets on board are 220V/50Hz and are equipped with a standard 2-prong plug or Europlug. You’ll need to bring the necessary converters and adapters.
While there is a doctor on board, I like to come prepared in this department. There are the basics: ibuprofen and a small first aid kit. I also brought remedies in case we came down with a cold: cough drops and DayQuil/NyQuil, plus chewable vitamin C to boost our immune systems.
KidTripster Tip: On Antarctica 21, you’ll find hand sanitizing stations around the ship. The staff religiously reminds passengers to sanitize before every meal.
KidTripster Tip: If you have a prescription medication, bring it. The nearest pharmacy is…. well, a really long way away!
Then there’s my own personal seasickness prevention kit; unfortunately, I have a lot of experience in this area. First, there are the Sea-bands. Then I brought a prescription seasickness medication, Meclizine. Since I hadn’t used this particular medication before, I also brought Dramamine as a backup. And I always pack ginger candies and melatonin (to help me get to sleep more quickly) as well. While the first night was a bit rocky, the rest of the cruise was smooth sailing, and I didn’t suffer from seasickness.
While I’m always the first one to advocate for a tech-free vacation, especially for kids, I admit that there are some really long flights involved in a trip to Antarctica and having a device can help pass the time. So you’ll want to pack the tablets or cell phones and necessary charging cables and converters. Don’t forget your headphones. I also brought my laptop for downloading photos daily.
KidTripster Tip: WiFi is available on Antarctica 21’s Ocean Nova for an additional fee of $59 per device. It’s adequate for checking email and social posting but too slow for big downloads or streaming, so make sure to download any books or movies prior to departure. We were able to use the WiFI to call home for free, too.
Between the stunning scenery and abundant wildlife, the photo opportunities in Antarctica are extraordinary, but you do need to come prepared.
First, let’s talk about your camera. If you were ever looking for a reason to upgrade your digital camera, this trip is it. Especially when shooting wildlife at a distance, a point-and-shoot camera or cell phone camera just won’t cut it. I used a Sony a7iii with a 24-240mm lens; I feel like you need at least that distance to capture stellar wildlife photos. Of course, others on the cruise brought those mega telephoto lens, and I do admit to having had some lens envy. However, I’m never keen on carrying multiple lenses when I travel. I also didn’t want to be switching lenses in wet or snowy conditions.
KidTripster Tip: Your guides will require that you remain at least 16 feet (5 meters) away from the animals. But if you happen to be stationary while a penguin chooses to get closer to you, that’s ok.
I did carry my cell phone in my camera bag for grabbing short videos, as uploading videos to social media via the cell phone was easier than using my camera. I also brought the cell phone inside a waterproof pouch on one kayaking trip.
Additionally, I brought my GoPro camera while kayaking. But I took my best on-the-water photos when I dared to bring my Sony camera. It was the second day out, and I felt confident that my son and I weren’t going to flip the double-person kayak. Even so, I did have the $3500 camera and lens in a newly-purchased DiCAPac digital camera waterproof case. While you technically can shoot photos through the plastic case with the camera inside, the resulting image is a little soft. So I removed the camera from the case, took my photos, and then returned the camera to the case (secured around my neck) just to protect it from any water spray. While you’re supposed to be able to use this case underwater, I haven’t been brave enough to try.
Antarctica 21 also recommends that use a waterproof camera bag when you’re out in the Zodiac, again to protect against water spray. It wasn’t particularly rough during our trip, so I got away without it, but you just never know what the weather conditions may be. At the very least, you’ll want some kind of bag to serve as a barrier between your camera and the elements.
There’s debate over whether you need to use a polarizing filter. Some photographers would insist on one, while others say it dulls the sparkle of the snow and ice. I ended up not using a polarizing filter. Instead, I made any necessary color corrections when editing. But like always, you’ll want to have at least a clear filter on your lens to protect against scratching.
I highly recommend bringing a laptop to download your photos on a daily basis. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed when you return home. Regardless of whether you download or not, do make sure to bring extra memory cards.
Finally, pack extra batteries for all your devices. In extremely cold temperatures, batteries can drain more quickly.
Ok, if you’re headed to Chile and then on to Antarctica, you’re an experienced traveler and know to take your passport! If you’re an American traveling to Chile, you don’t need a visa, and there’s no reciprocity fee.
KidTripster Tip: When you arrive in Chile and go through immigration, you’ll be given a receipt. Hang on to this receipt! You’ll need it throughout the trip.
Now what not to bring…
It’s simply impossible to go hungry on the Ocean Nova. Like most cruises, food is plentiful, and in this case, the food is outstanding. There’s absolutely no need to bring food of any kind.
KidTripster Tip: If you have dietary restrictions, the chef will accommodate you. Just let the booking agent know when you make your reservation.
2/Hand and feet warmers
We went a little crazy and brought a set of Little Hotties hand and feet warmers for both my son and me for every day of the cruise. We never used a single one! They took up valuable space in our suitcase, and they were suspicious enough to alert airport screeners at every security checkpoint. Trust me, leave them at home!
To read more about what to expect on a cruise with Antarctica 21, click here.
This writer received a discounted cruise for the purpose of this review. However, all opinions expressed are solely her own.