What to wear on an Antarctic cruise

Cold comfort

Your absolute number one priority for enjoying an Antarctic cruise is choosing the right clothing.

Too little and you risk being miserable through the cold and too much and you have to lug around all the gear.

You’re also in danger of wasting an eye-watering amount of money on expensive stuff you don’t need and will probably never need.

And you can’t escape luggage limits anywhere, even in the parts of the world where you are going to need a lot of clothing.

If your cruising company is an Antarctic specialist, they will often provide expedition kit recommendations and even sometimes the kit itself; Viking even includes a keepsake jacket.

If you have to deck yourself out, your favourite new word is layers.

As a general rule, you should start with base layers of lightweight and breathable shirts and pants, a second layer of insulating clothing and then a third layer of a warm, waterproof and windproof jacket and pants.

Socks, and plenty of them. Light socks for on board, and thick thermal socks for shore visits and excursions. You can use a combination of both if you love a bit of overkill.

And don’t forget a close-fitting hat. Those winds can be punishing.

Boots, once again, if the cruise company isn’t supplying shoes, aim for a lighter weight pair for the ship and waterproof boots for shore excursions.

Gloves are also essential; two pairs are preferable; once again, a lightweight pair for onboard and heavier, waterproof pair for shore visits. I’d probably pack two of each as gloves for me are yet another thing that travels to another dimension including single socks, sunglasses and hair ties.

Sunglasses with a UV filter will also cut down on the glare.

Let’s get personal

Your usual toiletries will have to accommodate a few extras for an Antarctic trip.

First up is sea sickness medication. You’re not taking a gentle cruise around the Mediterranean here, the swell will probably be the worst you ever see on a cruise, especially if you are travelling through the Drake Passage. Waves can be up to 12 metres as currents at that latitude meet no resistance from any landmass.

Online forums recommend a transdermal scopolamine patch that is placed just behind the ear and can last for three days.

Like any medication, please don’t take our word for it, consult your doctor first.

Pack plenty of sun protection as the glare from the ice will double your sun exposure time and since you will probably be travelling in summer, the sun will be shining much longer than it would further north. For that reason, UV lip balm is also a must.

Moisturiser is your friend. The cold, windy conditions will sap your skin of any moisture the moment you go outside. Find a heavier moisturiser than usual before you leave because it’s not like you can pop out to the shops if your normal brand just isn’t cutting it.


The scenery is going to be jaw-dropping. Icebergs! Penguins! Ice-clad rock formations!

Pack a good camera and a waterproof bag for it. 

Batteries run down much more quickly in cold weather, so it’s always a good idea to make sure the battery is charged. Consider investing in a second battery as there is next to no chance you can return to the ship once on a shore excursion.

The waterproof bag doesn’t have to be camera specific, just make sure it’s big enough to fit your camera and a spare battery.

Online forums claim you can get away with a sturdy Ziploc bag, but I think I’d want something more robust than a glorified sandwich wrap.

Binoculars are also a good idea. If your cruise ship doesn’t supply them you can buy nifty little fold-up ones that fit in the palm of your hand if space is a premium.

If you read a lot, a Kindle is also a good idea.

Have you taken a cruise to the Antarctic? What are your packing tips. We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.

Also read: Nine cruises you need to book in advance

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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