Snow shoes, Antarctica

Antarctica – what to take?


These notes will give you a brief idea of how to prepare for, and what you may encounter on your voyage. We stress that this is an “expedition” style cruise. Our emphasis is on wildlife encounters, personal contact with the environment, visits to sites of historical interest and, to a lesser extent, local conditions, spontaneous opportunities and wildlife. No two voyages are alike: there is always an element of the unexpected.

Required documents

Valid passport and visa if required. Please make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your trip ends. Since visa requirements differ for each nationality, we ask that you check with the nearest consulates/ embassies and secure visas if required.


Vaccinations are not required for these cruises. However if you are visiting certain parts of Asia, Africa or South America prior to joining the expedition, you may be visiting areas infected with yellow fever. In that case you will need a yellow fever inoculation. Please consult the Public Health Service nearest to you.


Any major health problem, disability, or physical condition that may require emergency care must be brought to our attention prior to the voyage.
Please complete the Personal Information Form, which you will receive upon booking, and return it to your booking agent 8 weeks prior to departure.

Personal Medications

Be sure to carry ample supplies of any prescription medications you require as well as medication against motion sickness (sea sickness). Carry your medication in your hand luggage.


The choice of clothing for cold climates is a very personal matter. It depends on your individual experience with cold conditions. Are you more susceptible to cold temperatures than other people?

For your comfort and safety, avoid getting wet (whether from perspiration, precipitation, unsuitable boots or sea spray). Bring wind and waterproof outer layers. Beware of tight clothing that leaves no room for trapped air, which is an excellent insulator. Wool, silk and some of the new synthetic fibres like polar fleece retain heat better than cotton.

The secret to keeping warm is the “layer principle”. It is better to have several light layers of clothing than one heavy layer. This also gives you flexibility in your clothing so you can take off a layer if you are too warm or put another layer on if you are cold. The most important layer is the outer waterproof and windproof shell because even a light wind of 6 kph (about 4 mph) can carry away eight times more body heat than still air! The so-called “wind chill factor” measures the increase in cooling power of moving air, whether it’s wind that is blowing or you who are moving rapidly and, in effect, creating a wind against yourself.

A common complaint is “it’s not the cold, it’s the wind”, but an equally common polar maxim is “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!”

Tips to stay comfortable and warm in cold weather

  • Avoid overdressing to reduce perspiration.
  • Wear water repellent outer garments that will keep you dry on the outside and still “breathe” enough so that moisture from your body can escape.
  • Body heat is most likely to be lost from parts that have a lot of surface area in comparison to total mass – namely, the hands and feet. Keep them warm and dry. For hands, mittens are better than gloves.
  • Another polar maxim is “if you have cold feet, put a hat on!” If the rest of your body is covered, as much as 90% of the heat you lose can come from your head, so be sure to wear a cap, beanie or balaclava. These items can be pulled down to protect your ears, forehead, neck and chin. The neck also needs protection with a woollen or synthetic scarf that can be wrapped around the face when travelling against the wind.
  • Dress in comfortable, loose layers. For anyone out in the cold, it is far better to wear layers of relatively light, loose clothing than one thick, heavy item. Between each layer there is a film of trapped air which, when heated by your body, acts as an excellent insulator. Keep from overheating.
  • Wool and silk are superior to cotton because they can trap warm air.
  • Synthetic fabrics that spring back into shape after compression are also good. When damp or wet, polyester down is a better insulator than goose or duck down. Polar fleece is popular and recommended.

What to pack for your shore excursions

When packing, don’t weigh yourself down with too many clothes or too much gear. Select informal, practical attire for your trip that can be worn in layers, including:

  • Warm trousers – Ski pants are suitable if you have them; otherwise, bring any sturdy trousers that can be layered between your long underwear and rain over-trousers. Jeans and corduroys are good both for excursions and wearing aboard ship.
  • Waterproof trousers – Water resistant over-trousers are essential for your comfort. Wear them over your regular clothes to keep you warm and dry. Gore-Tex and similar fabrics are both waterproof and ‘breathable’.
  • Thermal underwear – Silk or polypropylene underwear is highly recommended since it keeps you warm without adding bulk. Most people prefer a lightweight version – but this depends on your personal thermostat.
  • Sweaters or a polar fleece jacket of medium weight are recommended.
  • Turtlenecks – Bring several practical turtlenecks for layering and use around the ship.
  • Mittens and gloves – Keeping your hands warm and dry is a challenge – and important. Thin polypropylene gloves can be worn underneath warm mittens. Thus, you can take off the mittens to operate your camera and still have some protection from the cold. It’s a good idea to bring an extra pair of wool mittens to wear if your other pair gets wet (or lost).
  • Woollen cap – A warm cap to protect your ears – and a scarf.
  • Warm socks – Sturdy, tall wool socks worn over a thin pair of silk, polypropylene or cotton/wool socks should provide enough insulation for your feet. Bring several pairs, since you will inevitably get your feet wet.
  • Waterproof & windproof jacket – A well-fitting jacket with attached hood that can be worn over your under layers with reasonable comfort. It is most important that this garment is thoroughly waterproof. Gore-Tex or sailing gear are ideal although it is possible to find more economical waterproof gear. The waterproof jacket is the most important layer of clothing. There is nothing worse than wind on wet clothes at zero degrees.
  • Backpack – A waterproof nylon backpack, rucksack, or similar bag with shoulder straps, for carrying your camera and other gear during shore excursions. Be sure to choose one with shoulder straps so that your hands are free. It is very important that you have some means of keeping your camera dry. Every summer we have disappointed people whose camera has been splashed in a Zodiac.
  • Sunglasses – Good quality sunglasses. Note that the glare from the water and surrounding snow/ice can be quite penetrating, even when the sky is overcast.
  • A pair of binoculars is highly recommended.
  • Camera and plenty of memory cards / film. From experience, it is advisable to bring an extra camera in case of malfunction or accident. Cameras have been dropped in the water and it is a disappointed photographer who can’t take pictures. Bring twice the amount of memory cards or film you first plan to bring.
  • Earplugs may be useful if you are sharing a cabin with a snorer!
  • Teva sandals or similar are very useful to wear around the ship and when using the shared showers.
  • T-shirts are recommended (to wear inside the vessel as temperatures are comfortably warm).
  • Rubber boots (very important!) – see below.

Rubber boots

A pair of pull-on rubber and completely waterproof boots that are mid calf or higher with a strong, ridged non-skid sole is ESSENTIAL for landings. Stepping out of the Zodiacs to shore almost always involves stepping into water, it is important to have waterproof boots that are high enough to avoid water going over the top and into the boots.
Also, expect poor footing on the ice and ashore. For this reason boots such as Sorrels, snow boots, hiking boots or low rubber boots are not satisfactory (you’ll get your feet wet!).
Please note: if you don’t bring the correct footwear you might not be allowed to land during the expedition cruise.
Do not bring heavy, cumbersome boots that make it difficult to walk.
Boots with waffle soles like those on a hiking boot or running shoe tend to give the best footing. Avoid imitation rubber boots made from PVC. These are unyielding and more prone to slipping. Ideal boots are “Wellies” or “Viking” boots: other brands of rubber boots can be purchased from work clothing stores, surplus stores, farm co-op stores, garden supply centres, outdoor stores and marine supply houses.
Sailing boots that are sold at marine stores have good non-skid soles that are good for slick ship decks and wet rocks, but they lack traction on snow, ice or mud. The all-around traction soles are good for ice and snow but are not as slip resistant on slick decks or rocks.

Remember that you will be wearing these boots a lot. So they must be comfortable for extended wear and walking. The boots should not be too tight or too sloppy. If they are too tight you will get cold feet. If they are too loose you can, within reason, add an insole or extra socks to take up the space. For maximum warmth, wear loose-fitting boots and two pairs of socks. Rubber boots generally come in whole sizes and many brands are uni-sex. Be sure to get the best fit no matter what size they are.

Your boots are probably the most important item you need to bring, so if you have questions or just need some further advice please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Those travelling to Antarctica can rent equipment in Ushuaia instead of carrying all the way from home.

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