Unlike packing for a Mediterranean or Caribbean cruise -- where swimwear and casual clothing are the norm -- packing for an Antarctica sailing requires considerable thought. Count on ever-changing and unpredictable weather, from sunshine to rain and snow -- sometimes all in one day. The temperature might be above freezing, but it's often cold and windy, particularly when out on Zodiacs, which you often do twice daily. Adding to the packing conundrum, you may spend time in embarkation or debarkation ports like Buenos Aires or Santiago, where the summertime weather is hot.
So, what's an Antarctica cruiser to do?
Expedition cruise lines provide precise lists of what to pack for an Antarctica cruise. Heed their advice to ensure your comfort and safety on an upcoming sail. There's no guarantee an onboard shop (if there is one) stocks what you forget to pack. Also, check to see what your ship provides (either complimentarily, or to rent) for passengers; some offer parkas, hats, boots, reusable water bottles and backpacks. To supplement your ship's bring-along list, here's our selection of must-haves when you're packing for an Antarctica cruise. Combine the two lists and consider yourself ready for an adventure of a lifetime.
Layers make all the difference on an Antarctic expedition where the weather can rapidly fluctuate. You'll even layer gloves; you want liners, or under gloves to wear beneath an outer waterproof pair (look for Thinsulate). Plus, if you want to change a camera lens, or any other task requiring dexterity, you can do so wearing only under gloves without exposing your fingers to cold temperatures. Layer your socks, too -- one thin and one thick wool blend -- for extra warmth on excursions.
Pack both top and bottom thermal underwear for base layers. (They may feel thin, but they sure keep you warm.) Bring waterproof trousers to wear over pants for wet landings, or if the weather is inclement. You might also wish to pack a fleece or down vest to wear underneath your parka for an extra layer of warmth.
Some cruisers prefer using the zoom on their DSLR cameras to view and snap pictures of wildlife, but if you prefer using binoculars, pack a high-quality waterproof pair. Make sure the pair you pick is light -- much easier to hold when you are using them a lot. Also, practice using your binoculars before you leave for your cruise; you don't want to be fiddling with focus knobs and eyecups rather than viewing the wildlife. And, if you wear glasses, be sure to select binoculars that offer enough space between your brow and the eyecups so you can see through them properly.
3. Rain and Snow Gear
If your ship doesn't provide a complimentary parka and waterproof rain jacket with a hood that fits over it, bring your own. Waterproof knee-high boots, for wading in and out of Zodiacs on wet landings, are an absolute must.
4. Hiking Shoes
You may want to wear waterproof hiking shoes or boots with traction for walks ashore as paths may be muddy or snowy. Some Antarctic cruisers wear the same waterproof knee-high boots used for wet landings while hiking. However, when venturing out on icy trails, hiking shoes or boots provide a much better grip.
5. Sun Protection
Surprisingly, despite cool temperatures, you can easily get sunburned in Antarctica. Apply a sunscreen on all exposed areas of your skin, which will primarily be on your face. (Don't forget a moisturizing balm for your lips, too, as they can chap easily in Antarctic's climate.) Pack polarized sunglasses with a UV filter; they block harmful ultraviolet rays, reduce glare and improve vision.
6. Photo Gear
For a once-in-a-lifetime trip, only the best photo gear will do. Bring your DSLR and at least two different lenses (wide angle and telephoto, for sure) for wildlife shots, and multiple SD cards. A camera raincover comes in handy, too. (A shower cap can work in a pinch.) If relying on a cellphone camera, check out lens attachments that might boost the smartphone's photographic capabilities.
Do pack a small waterproof camera that slips easily into your jacket or pants pocket. You never know when it comes in handy; you could be dining and suddenly the captain announces he sees whales starboard. If you take the time to run to your cabin to get a camera, and then run outside, the whales might be gone. Or, you might be zipping along in a Zodiac and spot otherworldly icebergs, but it's snowing hard and you're afraid to take your pricy DSLR out of the protective backpack.
Don't forget to pack extra batteries, chargers and converters, and always recharge batteries before heading out on excursions. They lose their charge faster in cold weather.
7. Motion Sickness Remedies
Although the Drake Passage gets all the notoriety for its potentially tumultuous waters (and many ships sail two days each way through this passage), storms or strong winds can appear nearly anywhere along an Antarctic-bound route. To avoid seasickness, some cruisers swear by wrist bands such as Sea-Band, others pack over-the-counter remedies like Bonine. There's also a battery-powered wristband you can buy that uses electrical pulses to combat motion sickness. Most expedition ships offer complimentary over-the-counter seasickness pills, too. As a natural backup, green apples and ginger tea and candy often calm queasy stomachs.
8. Waterproof Backpack
Some expedition ships provide water-resistant backpacks. To fully protect all your electronic gear (such as smartphones and camera equipment) bring your own waterproof backpack, which is more protective than a water-resistant one. One ocean tumble, big wave crashing into a Zodiac or drenching downpour can ruin your equipment stashed in a water-resistant backpack. Considering how much photography gear costs to replace -- and how you'll miss out on shooting pics for the remainder of the cruise -- you'll be glad you opted for extra protection.
9. Dry Bags
If you're using a water-resistant -- rather than waterproof -- backpack (or you're just extra-cautious), bring dry bags for smartphones and camera gear. Dry bags provide extra protection if your backpack gets soaked. Plus, they're great for protecting a cellphone or small camera that you keep in your pocket, rather than in a backpack.
10. Body and Hand Warmers
Heat packs keep your hands and feet toasty-warm, even in wind-whipped frigid conditions. (We like these all-natural warmers, which are TSA-approved, air-activated and odorless.) Place a single-use heater between your socks and boots, and between layers of gloves; never let warmers touch bare skin.
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