I have traveled to cold and cold/wet climates many times. We went to Tromso and the Snow Hotel above the Arctic Circle in Norway. We went to the Alaska Wilderness and Iceland. Sometimes, we had the right gear. More often than not, we were missing something or were not quite as warm or dry as we wanted to be. When we went to see the Northern Lights, we were cold! When I decided to go to Antarctica, I was determined to get it 100% right. We developed this Antarctica Packing List and Winter Travel Packing list to make it easier for you.
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Packing for Antarctica Travel
Being in the Water with Penguins, Whales and Seals was unforgettable. About a month before the trip, I began check the Antarctica weather and to think about all the Antarctica gear that I would need.
I started looking at my winter travel packing list from Norway and Alaska.
Then, I read about the weight limits for the charter flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia: 20 Kg for checked luggage and 5 Kg for carry ons. My camera gear alone weighed 5 kg.
I was worried.
How Cold is Antarctica?
The coldest recorded temperature in the Antarctic is -83°C (minus 128°F). Fortunately, the travel season for Antarctica is in summertime from November to March. The best weather tends to be in December and January. When I was there it was mainly in the 0°C range. With the wind a bit colder. Weather in Antarctica is very variable so you need to be prepared for cold, wind and snow. Plus, you’ll be on a zodiac and likely feeling the water.
What Makes an Antarctica Packing List Challenging?
When we went to Norway in the winter, we knew that it would be cold. Any precipitation would be snow. And, that we would be on land the entire time. Most importantly, we had no weight limit for our luggage. We created the winter travel packing list and kept it.
In Antarctica, you need to be prepared for cold, wet and windy. You also need to be prepared for the Drake Passage when you would be on the boat for 2 days up and back. On top of that, you might have multiple cameras. I had a DSLR, tripod, iPhone, underwater camera (for kayaking) and a GoPro. That’s a lot of gear for a 25Kg total. And, don’t forget your bathing suit for the polar plunge.
Winter Travel Packing List-Photography Essentials
I created a list of the most essential photography gear for Antarctic. I’ll start with cameras. I brought my Nikon 3100 DSLR with a 18-300MM lens. That was a good combination. Many others had DSLR (Canon seemed to be the most frequent) and point and shoots, iPhones and everything in between. Whatever you bring, you should be very familiar with how to operate. It’s hard to be figuring out while you see a whale or penguin.
The Waterproof camera that I brought was incredibly useful for the trip, especially during kayaking. I didn’t want to have to worry about ruining my expensive DSLR and I wanted to get good pictures. I’ve had a Lumix underwater camera for many years and it has served me well. I got a lot of great pictures. I even held it underwater and took a picture of the underside of an iceberg.
As far as DLSRs, I am a Nikon user and the D3100 is an older model. Here’s a link to the D3400 and the 18-300MM lense that I use. We recently switched to a mirrorless DLSR and you can read about that as well.
One of the best purchases that I made was a Waterproof case for my iPhone. It enabled me to take photos and videos while in the Kayak and on the zodiacs. In fact, almost everyone on the kayaks had the Vanksy Floatable Waterproof phone case. I still use it now when kayaking.
I brought my GoPro on the trip. I did not use it as much as I thought I would. The batteries did not last long in the cold and it was difficult to change the batteries while in the kayak. One of my kayaking colleagues did use his quite a bit. You need to be very adept with the GoPro before going to Antarctica, so I’d advise a lot of practice if you’re not already an expert user.
Floating Devices and SD Cards
In preparation for Antarctica, I brought a Waterproof float for my camera. With the float attached, I did not have to worry about dropping my camera in the water. If that happened, it floated back up again! This is something that I use all the time now. I also have a version of this for my glasses so I don’t have to worry about losing them in the water either.
I took thousands of pictures in Antarctica and I used a lot of SD cards. Many people buy 1-2 large cards. I prefer to buy several smaller 16G cards and I change them periodically. That way, if a card gets corrupted or damaged or lost, I only lose some of my pictures–not all of them.
Since you’ll be carrying a bunch of SD cards, spend a few bucks to buy card holders. They really do store the cards safely. I ordered 20 pack of Memory Card Plastic Storage Cases so I always have some handy.
Last but not least, cold temperatures will drain your camera batteries very quickly. Make sure you pack spare batteries and chargers for your cameras.
More Antarctica Gear
Did I mention that it was wet, and windy and cold? You’ll want to keep your DSLR dry and protected. A rainsleeve for your camera is an economical way to do so.
And, your hands will get very cold while taking pictures. If you have a tripod, a remote shutter release for your camera will be very useful. You can read about how we used our tripod and remote on our trip to Norway to get pictures of the Northern Lights. Remote shutter releases are brand specific, make sure you research and test them out before leaving for your trip! I have a Nikon 3100 and did a lot of research to find a remote for my camera. The 3100s don’t have an infrared sensor so most remotes do not work with the 3100s. This is the remote that I found. It works with any camera that has a hot shoe.
Important: Make sure to get the right one that is made for your camera.
Winter Travel Packing List-Dry and Compression Bags
I also needed a backpack carry on for the plane that was lightweight (remember the weight limit–I didn’t want to waste any space with a heavy backpack). It had to be large enough to hold all my camera gear and electronics along with passport and other travel papers. It also had to do double duty as my dry bag. In Antarctica, when I was not on a kayak, I was on a zodiac. In either case, I had to protect my camera from the water.
Note: This is water resistant, not waterproof.
I am a big fan of compression packing cubes. They are lightweight and compress your clothes without wrinkling them. They also make unpacking easy. I travel. Just take them out of your bag and put them in a drawer. You are done. My favorite are the Gonex cubes and I use them every time them Be careful with the zippers as they can catch when the bags are not full.
We also use an Ultralight Compression Bag for things we don’t care about being wrinkled. It doubles as our laundry bag on the way back. We pull the straps as tight as possible for full compression. It’s also easy to loosen once you get familiar with it.
Antarctica Packing List-Clothes
In addition to the camera gear, I needed the right clothing for the trip. The good news is that I didn’t need to bring a parka–the cruise provided that. They also provided rubber boots for the zodiacs and a dry suit with booties and rubber boots for the kayaking.
What did I have to bring? Base layers, waterproof pants, gloves and hats.
Antarctica Gear – Hands
Let’s start with hands. I brought two pairs of gloves–the Swany Artic Mittens for when I was on land and neoprene fisherman’s gloves for kayaking.
I loved the Swany mittens. They kept my hand warm. These gloves have a zipper that allowed me to keep them on while I took photos. I simply unzipped, slide out two fingers to snap. The gloves have an inner liner so my hands were still covered when I unzipped. And, I did not have to worry about dropping gloves and taking them on an off while I was trying to take the perfect picture of a penguin.
You’ll want to have a second pair of gloves in case one pair gets wet or lost. The alternative to a mitten is glove liners. With glove liners, you take off the outer glove and leave on the liner to take pictures. We did this on our Northern Lights Tour and still use them in the winter. I prefer the mittens.
For kayaking, I brought Glacier Glove Fishing neoprene gloves. These were great BUT they are not waterproof. The kayaking team had a very inexpensive solution that worked very well. They gave us dishwashing gloves to wear over whatever gloves we had brought. While it did not look sleek, the combination of the neoprene and dishwashing gloves was very effective. Keep in mind that you will need dishwashing gloves that are large enough to slide over the gloves.
Antarctica Packing List–Pants and Base Layers
Most of the tour operators require that Antarctica travelers have waterproof pants. In fact, one of the people on my tour was refused entry to the zodiac because she did not have a pair. She had to buy a pair on the boat (much more expensive).
I have had Helly Hansen rain pants for many years. They are great. Lightweight (remember the weight limit for bags) and waterproof. You’ll want to size up because you’ll have several base layers underneath.
I thought about bringing snow pants along as well. I left them home and I was glad that I did. You really won’t need them as long as you have enough base layers and good rain pants. Snow pants are heavy and take up too much space.
A good base layer is very important. You don’t want to be sweating underneath your layers during the land excursions and kayaking. Unfortunately, I am allergic to wool so I cannot wear any of the smart wool products. Instead, I wear EMS Techwick base layers. They are very comfortable. I wear them in the winter and they were great in Antarctica. You’ll want to nuy either medium or heavyweight.
In Antarctica, I wore 2-3 additional layers underneath my dry suit (kayaking) or my waterproof pants. Some of my fellow passengers wore as many as 6 layers. The additional layers were mid- and lightweight. You’ll want to be able to mix and match based on the temperature.
Our Antarctic Travel Guide: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went will give you many more tips about going to Antarctica.