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Packing for Antarctica

I always stress out about packing, no matter where I go. I insist on being well-prepared and overthinking the contents of my suitcase for days before I travel, but it’s usually worth it. Living in Montana, I already had most of the essentials for an adventure in Antarctica, but I was still anxious about being cold, so I purchased a couple extra base layers and a good pair of waterproof mittens. Much of the advice I received from colleagues who’d already been to the white continent was the most valuable. They suggested:
  • Ski goggles: While you won’t need them all the time, you’ll be grateful that you brought them on the days when the wind is blowing. They keep your face warm and make it easier to see. Sunglasses would be the next best thing, but many travelers who had them were still jealously eyeing our goggles.
    Karen and Meg all bundled up in Antarctic gear
    Karen and Meg all bundled up in Antarctic gear (Meg Giddings)
  • Wool, wool, wool: Try to bring a wool hat, a wool neck gaiter, wool socks, and wool next-to-skin layers. Wool is that magic fabric that keeps you warm, is breathable, and somehow doesn’t stink. Many synthetics would probably work as well, but don’t even think about cotton.
  • Heavy, warm socks: Don’t let your cold feet put a damper on your excursions, when it’s so easily preventable. Layer with a good liner and a heavy hiking or mountaineering sock (again, wool!). Try that out, and if you’re still a bit cold after the first excursion, add another layer. You can also try hand and foot warmers, but I didn’t find that I really needed them if I just had warm enough socks and mittens (also layered with a glove liner).
  • Shoes that are easy to slip on: Wildlife sightings can happen at any time, and you don’t want to miss something because you have to lace up your boots every time you leave your room.
  • An extra of almost everything, in case it gets wet: There isn’t enough time for mittens and such to dry out in between a morning and an afternoon excursion, so avoid the moist and chilly unpleasantness of putting back on a wet glove and just bring an extra pair.
Was there anything I wish I brought but didn’t?
If I went again, I would bring more comfortable clothes just to wear around the ship. I packed heavily for the Antarctic weather outside, but you’re also on the ship quite a bit, with the days on the Drake and evenings after excursions. The temperature was kept quite toasty inside, so I wish I would have brought a few more light shirts and pants just for lounging.
Karen and Meg prepped for kayaking in their dry suits and life jackets
Karen and Meg prepped for kayaking in their dry suits and life jackets (Karen DiGangi)

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