Antarctica Inside Scoop: What to wear?

It’s not everyday that you head off to the Antarctic on a 100-passenger luxury boat to go zodiac riding past icebergs, walking amongst thousands of penguins, and maybe kayaking and camping. So how do you pack for such a multi faceted trip to the Great White Continent?

First off: forget fancy. You can, if you wish, get dressed up for dinners. But it’s not necessary. And even though the ship interior is warm, in the daytime you want to be ready to go out on deck quickly if some spectacular wildlife appears (think albatross, whales, dolphins).

pack for wildlife viewing

Having said that, you should prepare for a wide array of weather conditions from sunny and relatively warm…

pack for sometimes warm

to most definitely cold.

pack for cold

For on and off board, the key concepts are comfort, warmth and layering.

Let’s start with the all-important top layers for excursions. Before the cruise you send us your sizes, so waiting for you in your suite are a pair of  ‘Muck’ boots.

There is also a brand new jacket, which is yours to keep. If the jacket isn’t a perfect fit, don’t worry! You quickly have the chance to exchange it for another brand new one.

PL jacket perfect size

And the boot refitting follows. You wear these all the time you are ashore, so it’s important they are comfortable.

PL boots right fit

The other essential top layer is a pair of rain pants. You need these in the zodiac, or in wet conditions, or sitting down on a rock where penguins have – ahem – been before you.

As for the rest: here is my daily wear – ALL the possible layers – laid out and ready for me to don.

pack daily wear layers

From the left:

  • Two merino wool sweaters, one a light inner layer, the other a heavier top layer, both with high collars and front half zips.
  • A light down sweater.
  • Two pairs of leggings, one heavier than the other.
  • Rain pants
  • Polar Latitude jacket.
  • Wool cap.
  • Light inner gloves to wear under mitts.
  • Two pairs of socks, one thin, one thick. pack for the weather
  • Muck boots
  • A very light dry bag/backpack which I got onboard, using my $100 gift certificate. It was fantastic.
  • Not showing, but important, are a silk scarf and a Buff, both to keep my neck warm.

Before every excursion there are announcements about the weather conditions, and this information is also posted on a board in the lobby.

Based on this you can decide how many layers you need. But if you are wearing less, do bring extra layers along in case conditions change. And be prepared to take off layers if things warm up.

pack for icy excursions

Kayakers have a different routine. You wear a dry suit over your clothes, so you don’t need the outer layers.  Putting on a dry suit is an interesting experience. One of the guides gives your group a demonstration.

dry suit demo

Then you get to have a go yourself:

Add a spray skirt, life jacket, hat, kayak booties and gloves and you’re ready for Antarctic paddling!

dressed for kayakingNow you’re all geared up, it’s time to get off the mothership and into the wild. In the next couple of blogs I’ll be describing how land and kayak excursions work. So stay tuned!




  • For footwear onboard the boat, slippers or backless shoes are not encouraged. This is for safety reasons and also because you need to able to go out on deck at short notice. I wore my runners, but I was jealous of the passengers who had brought Ugg boots with sturdy soles: easy to pull on, warm, practical – and they look cool too.
  • And here are some other shopping tips: 
  • Rain pants from North Face. These are light but durable, with smooth material that doesn’t ‘swish’ when you walk.
  • Merino wool tops from Icebreaker. Brilliant in terms of warmth and wicking, not to mention style.
  • Down sweater from Eddie Bauer. Full disclosure: I have three of them (they are frequently on sale), and one goes with me wherever and whenever I travel.
  • Socks: Darn Tough. Fabulous. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pairs I have.
  • Mitts: Nordique from MEC. (For non-Canadians: MEC is Mountain Equipment Co op, my go-to store for most outdoor stuff.)
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