Antarctica Packing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a trip few people have the opportunity to take so the audience for this information is small. Still, we learned a few things that may be of some use or interest. 

Our Silversea expedition cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica was from 3 to 21 February 2020 which is pretty much the heart of the Antarctica summer. Temperatures were usually just above freezing. Earlier or later in their summer season temperatures are apparently colder. 

In order to keep South Georgia and Antarctica as natural as possible, strict bio-security standards are enforced to keep seeds, bugs, and diseases out. This means that your boots, clothing, and accessories have to be very clean before going ashore. 

Before we boarded, we had to answer some medical questions and have our temperatures taken. This was due to the Corona/China Virus. At that time in early February, no one seemed very concerned. No one on our cruise became ill—well, there was sea sickness. 

The packing guidance we received from our cruise line, Silversea, was good and helped us prepare for the weather conditions, but there were a few things we learned during the trip that would have been helpful if we had known about them before the trip. The information in italics is from the packing guidance we received before the cruise. At a minimum the items marked with an asterisk* below should probably be in your carry-on bag in case your checked bags are delayed or lost.

  1. Base Layer: Long underwear: We each took two sets. My wife used hers. I wore my “long johns” once. In hindsight, I could have just brought one pair. 
  2. Insulation Layer: 
    1. Expedition stretch top and bottoms: A lightweight layer worn over your base layer with tapered legs to fit into boots: We each brought REI fleece pants. These were perfect for the trip. We wore them everyday we had a wet landing. We also brought zip-up fleece tops and did use them. 
    2. Loft vest: Provides extra warmth when an additional layer is needed: We did not bring these and did not need them. You might if the weather was very, very cold. 
  3. Outer Layer
    1. Hooded parka: Windproof, waterproof and custom-designed for polar travel is provided onboard, compliments of Silversea: These parkas had a removable insulated jacket, and are wonderful. The red shell sheds water and blocks the wind. The shell and the liner have lots of useful pockets including one on the left sleeve for the ship’s card. We ran into a Seabourn passenger who said he’d trade his orange jacket for ours! (His jacket looked very nice—I guess he was not big on orange.) I ordered an XL, but it seemed a little tight so I exchanged it for a 2XL during a scheduled jacket exchange session the first day at sea. My jacket had some Velcro fasteners but they did not catch much debris. My wife’s jacket had fewer Velcro fasteners. Velcro easily catches seeds and debris and is hard to keep clean. 
    2. Waterproof pants*: Essential. Wide enough to fit over boots with knee-high side zippers: Yes, these are essential. We bought ours at REI. Ours had zippers and snaps on the legs and did not have Velcro fasteners. People who had Velcro on their pant legs had to clean them well in order to pass the bio-security checks. 
    3. Rain jacket*: Pack this piece in your hand luggage so that you have a windbreaker ready when you deplane. We did bring light weight rain jackets and did wear them a few times. Once we got the red Silversea shells, we really did not need them, but they were useful in Ushuaia before we boarded. 
  4. Footwear
    1. Boots: Essential. At least mid-calf high (12-15 inches / 30.5-38 cm in height). Preferably insulated. Yes, very essential. We decided to rent the boots in order to have less stuff to pack. The rental boots were made by Boggs, and were comfortable and warm. The only problem with them was that gravel and penguin poo would stick in some very small crevices which then had to be cleaned out with a paper clip. Some of the boots other passengers brought with them did not have those little crevices and were easier to clean. That said we would still rent boots if we went again. 
  5. Hats, Gloves & Socks
    1. Hat*: Fleece hat with a visor and ear flaps is recommended. We both had this type of hat and they worked well. On many days those hats would have been too warm so I wore a baseball cap and just pulled up my hood when on the Zodiac and when it got windy or cold. 
    2. Socks*: Extra heavyweight socks made of wool or wool blend. Minimum two pairs. Two pair was plenty. 
    3. Sock liners: Thin sock liners, worn under your socks for extra warmth. Pack as many liners as you have socks. My wife used a lighter sock as a liner and she did fine. I did not use any liners and my feet were never cold. 
    4. Neck gaiter: Preferred to scarves for Zodiac travel. These proved to be a very good idea for the Zodiac rides and when it was cold and windy. 
    5. Gloves*: Windproof and waterproof ski gloves or mitts. Our ski gloves worked well as did some light weight gloves designed to be used with a cell phone. Gloves can get wet on the Zodiac so it is a good idea to have two sets. On several days I put a heavy ski glove on my left hand and a light glove on the right hand so I could use my camera without having to take off my glove. A few other people had some insulated waterproof gloves—they looked like ones you might use in a garden. Those kept their hands dry and were warm enough for the February weather. 
    6. Glove liners: Provide extra warmth on cold days. We did not need liners because the weather was relatively mild. The cell phone gloves we brought could have been used as liners. 
  6. Accessories
    1. Backpack: A water-resistant backpack is provided on board, compliments of Silversea, for carrying items ashore and keeping your arms free for embarking/disembarking the Zodiacs. These are pretty nice packs. We only used one of them, but it was very handy. 
    2. Waterproof backpack: Recommended if you have a lot of camera equipment. The serious camera people brought these. 
    3. Binoculars*: Compact with at least 10X power and 25mm objective diameter for wildlife watching. The cabin had a pretty good pair of binoculars, but I was glad we brought our own. The pair of 10×30 Nikon ProStaff 7s binoculars that we brought were the same model used by some of the Expedition staff. 
    4. Trekking poles: Provides a sense of security, increased balance, and confidence when walking on rugged terrain. We brought our collapsible snow shoes poles even though we normally do not use trekking poles when we hike. We were very glad we had them. The terrain is very rugged and the rubber boots do not have the ankle support of a good hiking shoe or boot. Having the poles made the hikes much easier. 
    5. Seal-proof waterproof bags: To store your electronics. We had some bags but did not need them. If you have some valuable electronics you will want some. 
    6. Foot/Hand warmers: For extra warmth. We brought some but did not need them. 
    7. Sunglasses* or goggles: U.V. filter protection to cut the glare. Sunglasses are essential. A few people used goggles. We brought some but never needed them. Some of the Zodiac drivers did use goggles. 
    8. Sun and wind protection*: Lip balm and waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30 minimum). Essential.
  7. Other things that were not on the list:
    1. Shoes and boots: We both brought hiking shoes/boots. We did wear them on one of the rare dry landings. We also wore them on the deck a few times when the weather was cold and wet. We also each brought slip-on Sketcher canvas shoes. These proved to be great. We wore them every day on the ship. They were especially nice for wearing to the room where our rubber boots were stored. The room is often very congested and it was very nice to be able to easily slip our shoes on and off without have to tie them. We also wore them to dinner, and we traveled in them. 
    2. Camera*: We brought our iPhones and an Olympus waterproof camera. The camera had a 4x zoom lens which was okay for some shots, but, obviously, a longer lens would have been better. I put a wrist strap on my wife’s iPhone so she would not have to worry about dropping it. That was a very good idea and another woman asked about it. The ship’s professional photographer used Canon gear and told me that after being out in the weather and the salt water spray, he always wiped his gear down with baby wipes. Many passengers had expensive cameras. 
    3. Casually Elegant Clothes: There were no formal nights, but the crew dressed very well for the Captain’s welcome cocktails and dinner, the Venetian Society dinner, and the farewell dinner. Several of the men wore ties and sport jackets. Others did not dress up at all. I brought a simple tie and nice cotton sweater that sort of looked like a sport coat. My wife had a pair of dress flats and some nice informal outfits. High heels are a bad idea on a rocking ship. 
    4. Books: We highly recommend reading about Sir Earnest Shackleton before you go, especially if you are going to South Georgia Island. We bought a guide book before we left and we did refer to it on the trip, but Silversea does provide quite a bit of information at appropriate points during the cruise. 
    5. Seasickness preparation*: It is a good idea to see your doctor about getting some of the seasickness patches. We did have some, but never needed them. Several people did use them and told us the patches did help them. One passenger told us that the patches made him feel worse. We did bring some ginger candy but did not use much of  it. The ship does have ginger candy, ginger tea, and ginger ale. All three do help to settle an upset stomach. 
    6. Business/personal cards: We always bring a few cards with our contact information on them to share with new friends we meet on the trip. Many other passengers do the same—and some of them have some pretty cool cards. 
    7. Water bottle: Provided by Silversea and filled by our Butler before a landing. 
    8. Expedition Staff and Sailors: All of them were extremely helpful. Our Expedition Leader, Luke, personally helped scrub boots when we got back on the Zodiacs to return to the ship. We did have to clean our own gear, but the staff made that job much easier. Also, we cannot say enough good about the sailors who helped us get on and off the Zodiacs at the ship. Even when the sea was a little rough, they made the transfers safely. 
    9. Patience and a sense of humor: Antarctica is as remote as it gets and it takes a while to get there. The flights are long and go through a 3rd world country with lots of problems. Most of the people on our cruise were really good travelers and handled the long cruise well. Of course there were a few whose patience was tested. 

JSK March 2020

Photo: Silver Explorer off South Georgia Island with King Penguins and Zodiac. 9 Feb 2020 by JS Kline

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