Updated: Aug 16
Would you believe me if I told you that I traveled to Antarctica with a carry-on only?
Would you believe me if I told you that I traveled to Antarctica with a carry-on only AND I still had clothes that I hadn't worn by the end of my trip?
Again, probably not.
But, I did.
For a 10-night journey to the White Continent, you can easily get by with minimal gear. I brought a lot of clothes that I didn't end up using since I brought a mix of casual, comfy, and fancy clothes. At first, I had no idea how I would fit everything in a carry-on because my list just kept getting longer; from several pairs of gloves, to a neck warmer, to snow pants...
Traveling to cold destinations is much harder to pack for as you require more layers and ultimately, more clothes, which means more space. However, Antarctica was warmer than I expected! Temperatures ranged from -4 to 5 degrees.
Below, you will find a list of essentials that you will need for Antarctica. If you are unable to pack it into a carry-on bag (and plan on bringing that only), you can also consider using a vacuum-sealed bag so that you can make more space in your luggage. This is best for airlines that don't have a weight restriction on carry-on luggage as your bag may be heavier.
1. BASE LAYERS
If only someone told me before going to Antarctica that thermals would be enough, that is all I would have packed instead of taking several layers. I had thermals that I had bought from Mountain Warehouse, MEC, and Eddie Bauer. They were of great quality and kept me very warm. Thermals are the number one must-have for any Antarctic journey in my opinion.
A lot of the expeditions to Antarctica offer either a free parka (for you to keep), one for you to borrow, or one available for rent. Getting a parka from the company saves you a lot of headaches and space as they can be bulky and hard to pack. As our cruise included a free parka, I only brought a windbreaker with me (very helpful to have for the times you don't want to go to the mudroom to get your parka!).
About halfway through the cruise, I also found the parka and 1 thermal to be enough for me (instead of wearing 3-4 layers under) as it wasn't too cold. When you go on expeditions, it also tends to get hot as you exercise (ie: hiking in the snow). It was only very cold if we were doing a zodiac cruise (as it gets windy).
Since I wear the hijab, it was an advantage for me because my head was constantly covered. I also brought pashmina scarves since they are thicker and thus warmer. On top of my hijab, I also brought a bomber hat that I borrowed from my dad (a lifesaver for my ears!), two pairs of gloves (one thin and one thick), a scarf for my neck (which I barely used), and legwarmers (that I didn't really need, because the snow pants were enough).
4. COMFY CLOTHES
On this trip, I did not dress for the 'gram, rather comfort was my priority. Being on a cruise that had casual wear was also great because for once I didn't have to worry about dressing up for formal nights. I loved having sweatpants and one thick sweater handy because it meant I could just walk out on the deck whenever I wanted and not feel cold.
5. ATHLETIC WEAR
One of the biggest mistakes I did on my first expedition was that I wore jeans under my snow pants. As previously mentioned, Antarctica is unlike any other vacation and expeditions can get tiring, especially if you don't have the proper gear. As our expeditions had a lot of hiking on land (sometimes in the snow), the best was when I had my gym pants on under my snow pants. Keep in mind that if you don't want to wear snow pants every time you go on land, then you need pants that are waterproof and of similar material.
This would also be perfect for additional activities you may want to sign up for, such as kayaking, paddling and/or camping.
This is only a necessity if you plan on doing the polar plunge or you plan on using the hot tub, sauna, and/or pool on board. I packed mine because I knew I wanted to do the polar plunge. If you are unsure, it is best to have it handy as you may change your mind later.
One of the people we met on board said that one of their friends booked a second trip to Antarctica only because they regretted not doing the polar plunge the first time.
I personally did not being any boots, because once again, this is another item that was included in our package (we returned them at the end). I brought 2 pairs of shoes only; one pair of sneakers (for the gym, which I never ended up using and to walk around the ship) and one casual footwear, that I wore to the restaurant. I didn't really need boots when I would be out on the deck, since it wasn't that cold.
8. FORMAL, BUT KEEP IT CASUAL?
Depending on the cruise you are going on, formal outfits may not be a necessity. For us, despite the casual wear, some people still dressed up for dinner and the staff was dressed up for the Gala nights. Thus, it would be best to have something handy in case you don't look too underdressed or change your mind along the way. We had 2 Gala dinners on board (one at the beginning and one at the end) on our 10-night journey.
This is a basic list of some of the important items. Of course, I had the major essentials like underwear, my toiletries, and pajamas as well.
If there is something you should not forget, it is to ensure you have sunscreen and seasickness medication (or motion sickness patches). Some people also brought a small backpack with them ashore, but personally, I did not need it because I brought only my phone and ID card with me. Drones are not allowed in Antarctica, but it would be best to have a professional camera handy for the trip in my opinion, as it is probably one of the most picturesque places on Earth!
Additional items that could be helpful include binoculars, a power bank (I didn't need it much since our expeditions were only up to 2 hours each, so I had enough time in between to recharge my electronics), and sunglasses.
We were also provided with a lifejacket every time we exited the ship. It was mandatory to keep it on at all times during our excursions. Walking sticks were also provided which was extremely helpful, especially for days when we hiked in the snow.
Is there anything else that you would pack for Antarctica?