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What to pack for Antarctica or your next winter adventure

If you’re the type who wants to board a ship bound for Antarctica, you already know who you are. And it should come as no surprise that packing for an Antarctica cruise can be a daunting challenge. The weather is notoriously unpredictable and constantly changing, and much of your time outdoors is spent on a Zodiac, which can be wet and windy. If you forgot something, it’s not like you can run to the store and get it back. Packing for a trip like this can be tough, but tips on gearing up for a trip like this can help you make smart packing decisions for any extreme winter adventure. After all, you don’t have to be headed to the South Pole to want to pack some great waterproof pants.

However, unless you are a scientific researcher, you will probably visit the White Continent during its summer season, when temperatures are only a few degrees below zero. This means you don’t have to go overboard with polar gear. The most important thing is to choose pieces that are windproof (fun fact: Antarctica is the windiest continent) and waterproof.

We asked Shaun Powell, Field Staff Manager at Lindblad Expeditions, and Karin Strand, Vice President of Expedition Leaders at Hurtigruten Expeditions, about the essentials you need to bring to Antarctica and what to pack. into account when purchasing these items. Between the two of them, they’ve been to Antarctica more than 200 times, so if anyone’s the authority on traveling to the frozen continent, it’s Powell and Strand. Read on to find out what they do and don’t recommend bringing your expedition to Antarctica (or your next extreme winter adventure).

A waterproof jacket

Stay warm, comfortable and most importantly, dry

While many tour operators provide a parka for their guests, not all do. And it’s not a bad idea to bring a backup, just in case that jacket gets wet or doesn’t fit well. (They usually ship to the boat, so you often won’t know it’s sized for a smaller version of you until you get there).

Because you risk getting splashed on the Zodiacs, it is essential to choose a waterproof and windproof coat. Look for something that has a hood with a slight brim to protect you from the sun, ventilation zippers for hiking and kayaking, and is slightly longer in the back. The latter is due to the fact that you will often be sitting in cold, damp seats while riding back and forth to shore, so the extra length helps you stay warm. About this jacket from REI, Powell says the Co-op jacket ticks all the boxes.

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Waterproof and windproof pants

Because wet long johns are never fun

Considering all the snow and ice in Antarctica, you might be tempted to bring snow pants. But, Strand said, rain pants like these Marmot bantamweights generally do a better job because they’re easier to layer. You want to be warm but not sweaty – being wet is dangerous in sub-zero temperatures.

Look for a windproof and waterproof pair that will work with any base layers you plan to wear (including your boots). An important point: Powell says “avoid velcro at the ankles if possible, as it gets flooded with guano on the penguin sites and is difficult to clean.”

A comfortable boat shoe

Easy to put on quickly

If there’s a pod of orcas out in the bow, the last thing you want is to fumble around with shoelaces. No matter what type of boat you’re on, heading to Antarctica or otherwise, it’s worth packing a comfortable pair of warm slip-on shoes that you can slip on and off your cabin.

This option from Glerup is made from wool, which holds up well to the cold, and features a rubber sole, which won’t cause you to slip on deck in even the roughest seas. It should be noted that Glerups are meant to be worn barefoot so the wool can mold to the shape of your foot. During this process, natural excretion is common.

An inner layer of gloves

Warm hands and Instagram-worthy photos

Like all the other outerwear on this list, having waterproof gloves is essential when the action takes you through water and snow. The problem: Waterproof gloves are often difficult to use with photography equipment and phones. It’s a good idea to layer lighter gloves (the type designed for touchscreens) under a pair of heavier waterproof gloves. But make sure both pairs are a little loose.

Powell says, “Too often people make the mistake of wearing tight-fitting gloves, and no matter how hot the material, your hands and fingers will turn cold from restricted blood flow.”

Hats that cover your ears

Keep Your Noggin Cozy

At the bare minimum, your hat should cover your ears. And you get bonus points if it has a brim to protect your face and eyes (sun shining on snow and ice is guaranteed to give you a sunburn whether you’re circling around Antarctica or on the slopes of the Rock Mountains), like this Plush, water-resistant offering from REI.

And if it covers your neck, even better. “Bring two and skip the acorns,” Powell said.

Wool base layers

Comfortable, stretchy and stackable

They say there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. In Antarctica you want to make sure you choose thin but warm base layers. Silk, polypropylene, and merino wool are your best bets, as they are high-quality, quick-drying fabrics that wick sweat and keep you warm.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to use natural fibers that are closest to the body because they breathe and dry without making you feel cold,” Strand says. “Wool longs, woolen tops and sweaters or a down jacket will keep you warm in strong winds.”

Tall Insulated Boots

The bigger they are, the drier you will be

Let’s cut to the chase: you’re going to want the tallest boot you can find. Booties are often too low for landing sites – a rogue wave will overwhelm them. Also, be sure to choose an insulating and comfortable pair for walking around.

Don’t pick a pair with a deep tread, though. You’ll need to thoroughly clean your boots each time you return to the ship, and penguin guano is extraordinarily sticky and smelly.

Wool socks

They are warm and odor resistant

This is perhaps the category of clothing in which you should pack more than you plan to use. Because socks can get wet so easily, you’ll need multiple backup pairs. Merino wool is best for warmth and odor resistance, although it’s wise to find a pair that has almost a mix of nylon (for durability) and lycra (for stretch).

Powell points out that, despite what you might think, it’s better to have a really good pair of socks than to layer several. Wearing two or more pairs at once adds compression to your blood vessels, which makes your feet colder.

A pair of binoculars

Focus on penguins, whales and seals

Is it a chinstrap penguin or Gentoo? It will be easier to tell if you have a reliable pair of binoculars. Maven’s B.5 comes with either 15x or 18x magnification to help bring Antarctic creatures closer to you, and can be mounted on a tripod to ensure stable viewing (useful if you’re on a floating vessel). They also weigh only 45 ounces, so you don’t have to worry about exceeding the weight of your luggage.

A way to protect your camera gear

A little something to keep your camera warm

There are few things worse than lining up the perfect shot of a penguin diving into the water and finding that the cold weather has zapped the battery juice. One way to protect your gear is to use an insulated dry bag. The Matador Camera Base Layer will keep your camera warm and dry.