Luggage and bags:
First, this tip is for people who travel with USAP, the United States Antarctic Program. In Christchurch (New Zealand), they give you a lot of ECW gear (Extreme Cold Weather) so you do not need to bring too much stuff of your own (see photos). You may want your own warm underwear and underliner socks and gloves, and your own balaclava.
For luggage, they give you 2 large orange bags to put your clothes in.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: You need good walking shoes for around McMurdo, with soles with traction. A good pair of tennis shoes will probably do.
For the field, you are given "bunny boots", large double sheeted plastic boots.
I enjoyed having mitts which top comes off so that you can use your fingers when you need to write or manipulate something (with underliner gloves).
A full face mask is very useful in the field for wind protection, some paintball masks work wonders!
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Sun protection is essential (think sun + snow + ice!!). So a good sun cream with high UV protection. I found the stick type of sun protection practical because you do not need to take off your gloves to put it on your face. You do not need a huge amount because it is only for your face. Finally, good sun glasses are extremely important.
For the field (camping), I used a lot of baby wipes, as you cannot take showers.
Photo Equipment: See my tip about what camera to take.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: All camping gear was provided to us.
I enjoyed having an eye shade to sleep with because it is always bright out as the sun never sets in the summer.
Down (feather) booties are wonderful to wear in the tent and around camp.
Miscellaneous: Bring a towel because you are not provided one at McMurdo.
Bring books and a kindle for the field as you may get stuck in your tent for days by bad weather. A pack of cards is also good.
Dont forget to bring gloves to Antarctica !!! My best ones were really cheap gloves, ment for sports like Nordic Walking, they were thin and they were getting dry rather fast, I could wear them also while making my photos and even in heavy rain- or snowfall they kept my fingers warm, although they had been totally wet.
Also for the rides in the Zodiak gloves are essential, because the speed and the wind will otherwise make you feel terrible without any protection for your fingers.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Riding a Zodiak is a lot of fun in sunny weather. In Antarctica there will be rough seas and in each ride you might get totally wet, when you dont have a really good weather-gear ! Forget about Goretex and similar things that might be recommended in your shop at home, these people have no idea about getting wet in the Antarctic and what it feels like to walk in such clothings, while a really icy antarctical wind is blowing...
Wellies are the best solution for using the Zodiak. The beaches will never be totally flat and in 95% of all landing-places you will not find a pier, but you rather have to step into the water and that is best when wearing wellies, AND make sure they are as high as possible, mine were around 50 cm high, that was sufficient.
Unfortunately Wellies will have an important disadvantage : you will feel cold all the time, even with 3 pairs of socks.
Some of the most expensive ships will provide all passengers with complimentary wellies,but on the Bark Europa we had to bring our own.
Renting the Wellies in Ushuaia is possible for 40 ARG.$ (=10 euros for 22 days), while bying them in another shop is just a bit more expensive like 60 ARG.$ (=15 euros) that I had to pay for mine - see my shopping-tips.
Luggage and bags:
I'd suggest taking duffel-bag style luggage - very easy to stuff away into the ship's storage areas.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Most boats have Wellington waterproof boots for the passengers. Otherwise, you really only need a pair of decent tennis shoes, and maybe some lounging around shoes or sandals for on-board. Don't overpack. You don't need snow boots and such.
You'll need a waterproof jacket/parka and waterproof pants, something long that can go over the outside of your Wellies. Bring layers - simple fleece shells, long-sleeve knit shirts, etc. And of course, for going outside, you're going to want long underwear. I'd suggest bringing two pair of polyproylene tops and bottoms each. They dry fast, and that will keep you good to go if you need a little time to dry one pair ahead of another landing. Also get a couple of pair of polypropylene sock liners.
When you wear your Wellingtons (Wellies), put on the liners and then a pair of fuzzy ski socks or the like. Very warm and very comfortable.
You can RENT gear if you'd like. (See my next tip)
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Seasick meds. Options include bonine, dramamimine, phenergan and Trans-Derm (Scop) patches.
Photo Equipment: It's really good to have some telephoto capability. I'd suggest two zoom lenses, something like a 28-75 and then something like a 75-300. You do need a waterproof bag if you're going to take your camera and lenses ashore. Make sure you have plenty of batteries and a charger. FILM - if anyone still uses it, take a lot.... you'll shoot zillions of pictures and there is NOWHERE to buy film once you leave port. Make sure you have plenty of memory stick room, or bring along a laptop to download frequently. (lots of folks brought the lappies to download... they're generally useless for internet - no connections. But you can keep daily logs, download photos and such)
One option for those visiting from warmer climates (we came from Florida, for example) is to rent colder weather gear. I mean, sure... you can spend $400 on a parka and some waterproof cold-weather pants, but what the heck are you going to do with it back home? We rented parkas and waterproof pants from a place called Antarctic Equipment, located in Ushuaia, Argentina. You could probably find a similar place in Punta Arenas, Chile. (You could find other places in Ushuaia, but I will recommend Antarctic Equipment because of their quality service and attention to detail - thanks, Daniela)
To get a feel for the cost savings, we all three rented cold weather gear for the trip and spent a total of $300. Buying for all three of us would have been about $1200. Saved a bundle.
Our boat - and most boats - do have a supply of Wellington waterproof boots. But if you have really hard to fit feet or are on a boat that does not supply the Wellies, Antarctic has those too, along with waterproof backpacks.
Here is their contact info. If you see Daniela, please tell her hello from her friends in Tallahassee, Florida. (photo below)
Gobernador Paz 865
9410 Ushuaia - Patagonia Argentina
Luggage and bags:
Small day pack or fanny pack. You can't take a lot of stuff ashore with you, so you don't need a huge backpack. I just carried my camera, extra batteries, tiny notebook and pen.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: I brought clothing for extreme weather, and didn't use all of it. We were ashore for an hour at a time; it would be different if you were outside all day. I didn't need the long underwear or the expensive bulky gloves. (I wore the knit gloves I had expected to use as liners for the other ones.)
What you do need:
Waterproof pants, cap, gloves, heavy socks, sweaters and/or fleece jacket with windbreaker over it (or just a windproof warm jacket), knee high rubber boots, sunglasses.
Check with your tour company, because some of them provide the boots. Mine also provided an expedition jacket (lined windbreaker.)
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Hand cream! (The air is amazingly dry)
Seasick remedy of choice
Adequate supply of any meds you use regularly
I always toss in a small first aid kit --neosporin, aspirin, ace bandage, etc.
Photo Equipment: Take more memory cards or film than you think you'll need.
Luggage and bags:
one suitcase and water resistant backpack. pack light since you will be charged by the airline if overweight. we kept our cases under the bed and there was lots of room in the cabin-closet/hooks.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: dress in layers, it's not as cold as you might think! down parka with pockets.
thin fleeces, long underwear, wool socks, couple t shirts long/short, a few sweaters (light warm cashmere or wool).
comfortable shoes for the ship. i wore uggs since they were light, quick to pull on and toasty! (not much traction on a wet deck though)
tight hat, scarf, two pairs gloves, and possibly a larger thin wp mitt to put over for wet zodiac rides.
select a ship which provides wellington boots;you have to go through a foot bath coming and going and regular hiking boots will not be up to it. you will also be getting in/out of a zodiac so will need higher boots. toward the end of the trip there will be a distinctive penguin smell...
have waterproof pants. ski pants ok but not really necessary.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: select a good anti-nausea if vulnerable to seasickness;some ships provide medication-take it!
Photo Equipment: the trip was 19 days and i took about 1200 photos and edited as i was going. i used a canon rebel digital srl mostly on auto and had a telephoto lense. i also had a small canon elph which was good to whip out quickly. take some ziploc bags to protect your camera and an extra battery in case of freezing. you can usually recharge in your room. i also had a tiny video camera which was new to me and came in handy to record some animal behavior and a touching speech at shackelton's grave.
Photo Equipment: I didn't see a need to bring a tripod, and was perfectly fine lugging around 2-3 heavy lenses without using one to take photos. I did see a guy using a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS using it though (understandly so!). But out of 114 people, only 2 brought a tripod, and another a monopod. So if you want to pack light, a tripod is not necessary.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: The UV rays are VERY strong in Antarctica because of the thin ozone layer. So please bring sunblock (SPF 45 recommended) and sunglasses. I had a friend who actually got a headache after standing out in the sun for a while.
Luggage and bags:
Waterproof camera bag will be important as the weather changes quickly and it could rain. Also, you could get wet in the zodiacs.
Photo Equipment: For those who plan to bring an SLR (that is, not a small point and shoot consumer camera) I recommend two lenses. The Sigma 10-20mm is unbelievable when it comes to taking wide angle shots. I can't imagine my photos without that. Also, my Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L was great for the nature shots. You could bring a faster lens like the f/2.8 version, but I never had trouble shooting in the summer conditions with the f/4 (plus, it's much lighter!) Zoom is so important because the birds, whales, glaciers and sometimes even penguins are far away. I brought the Canon 1.4x extender, which was quite good too. For a sample of what these lens can do, visit my Antarctica galleries: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2156262&l=dcfb6&id=202900103
You can rent these lenses online for a small fraction of their retail price.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: I went to Antarctica from Jan 5-15. Honestly, aside from the strong winds in the Drake Passage, it was never that cold. Temperatures were about zero degrees celsius. Here's what you will find useful: Double layered hat/beanie, a turtleneck or a neck gator, a good waterproof jacket (or just buy a can of waterproofing spray from a drug store), waterproof pants, and a pair of gloves (ordinary ones are fine). For the more adventurous, pack swim suit for the polar plunge. Boots are not necessary as the cruise provides you with it (at least Quark does).
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: The Drake Passage is the terrible part about travelling to Antarctica. I have never been seasick but I lost to the Drake Passage with its terrible waves. (Also, ship didn't have a stabilizer) Remember: BRING SEASICK PILLS/EAR PATCHES!
Luggage and bags:
Pack an additional soft duffel to take all the extra items home with you. You will probably receive a parka and other goodies as part of the excursion, leave room. Many of our travel mates had to purchase additional luggage, which is not cheap in Ushuaia.
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Slippers and town walking shoes will suffice. Shore boots (check with your company) are provided on the ship. Even if you have your own boots it is best to wear the provided shore boots, because you scrub them every time you enter the ship, thus not transporting stuff (microbes, feces, etc.) from site to site.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: All toiletries, except toothpaste was provided.
Photo Equipment: The photo gear aboard the ship was unreal. Everyone had the latest and greatest. I bought my wife a 500mm lenses for Safari's, which was nice to have and took some excellent shots, but everyone else had big cannon's as well. Shot composition is most important, having a great all around lens, will be easier to carry and allow freedom to concentrate on short range composition. Everyone, shared photos in the end, and there were outstanding shots taken by the other 80 "professional" photographers.
There were one or two people that rented lenses. This also seemed like a good idea.
Bring a polarizer, the sun is brutal.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: Don't bring lots of cold weather gear; you won't be going out if it’s cold, unless you’re camping.
Miscellaneous: The ship is rough on the way down. Bring your drugs, good ones!
There was more room under the bed and in the closests (2) than we could ever carry.
Laundry service was available.
Luggage and bags:
Many Icebreakers lack storage space so you may want to bring luggage that can be folded up when it is empty.
Once on the boat you will be leaving your outerwear (parka, boots...) in the ships changing room. This is good news since it will get wet and stinky quickly. It just takes one visit to a penguin colony to leave your clothing smelling like penguin poop.. Don't worry the smells sweet and not bad BUT you wouldn't want your room to smell like it!
Most ships have nice closets and you’ll be hanging up the rest of your other clothing to dry, so your luggage will be put away.
I was traveling before and after the arctic so I used those giant zip lock-like packing bags. You put your clothing inside and take the air out and them so they shrink down to a smaller size. They work great with polar fleece, which shrinks to nothing once the air is removed!
Clothing/Shoes/Weather Gear: Bring clothing that can be layered. For cold climates multiple thin layers are superior to one or two thick layers since the thin layers trap insulating air in between.
I averaged 5 layers of clothing on the landing. The most important layer, the one closest to your body, should be be made of a Wicking Fabric to keep the moisture off your skin.
Make sure that the layers closest to your skin are something you can wear around the boat. On my boat we did 2 to 3 landings a day and it was great not to have to go back to my room to change every time.
Also be sure to try on five layers of clothing at the same time BEFORE the trip to ensure the top layers fit over the bottom layers.
Cotton clothing is not recommended. Cotton retains moisture which takes the heat away from your body.
Polar Fleece is a miracle fabric for the arctic! I would recommend buying Polar Fleece, pants, shirts, jackets, socks, gloves, hats...its softer and warmer than wool and helps to block the wind too.
Toiletries and Medical Supplies: Bring 45 + sunscreen, wear it and reapply frequently. There is a hole in the ozone here and with all the snow the reflection is killer. I wore 45 and still got sun poisoning. My entire face was swollen and peeling and I had to wear a full face mask whenever I was outside the rest of my trip!
Antarctica is the windiest place on earth. The wind is cold and dry and can have disastrous affects on your skin. Bring lots of the best lotion you can find.
Polarized sunglasses are also a MUST due to the sun - my roommate wore regular sunglasses one day and got polar blindness!
Bring all of your medicine and supplies with you. You cannot run to the corner drug store here!
Photo Equipment: For this trip I brought two weatherproof Instamatic cameras instead of my professional camera and was grateful I made that choice. The conditions can be pretty harsh for a professional camera and they may get wet. The smaller Instamatic cameras can be easily tucked inside your parka to keep them dry and from freezing.
With two cameras when one freezes (and they do freeze) you can whip out the one warm one and snap away. I found that by the time I was out of film with one camera the other was normally warm enough to be operational.
I had a tape camcorder and found that the tape kept on breaking due to the cold so I gave up trying to use it.
Camping/Beach/Outdoor Gear: Since you will be hiking to the wildlife be sure to buy a parka with vents that can be opened when you get warm.
You'll need rain boots for the Landings. They are $15 @ Walmart. Try them on with 2 - 4 pairs of thick socks AND a Insert.
MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE! Buy shoe inserts made for cold weather. My biggest problem was cold feet since on many landings I was standing on ice the entire time.
Several of us brought specially made boots and were told not to wear them, save yourself and buy the cheap rain boots.
They also have chemical heat packs to put in your boots and gloves. Bring lots of them.They saved my life! These can be found online or at a sporting goods stores.
For your hands bring silk sock and glove liners, mittens (they are better than gloves for warmth so bring a pair to wear over your gloves) & gloves. I wore inexpensive fleece gloves under my mittens. This worked well since I seemed to need to take my mittens of fairly often to change film.
Miscellaneous: Bring a hat with a bill - its real bright out and the hats with a bill made a big difference. A fellow traveler had a great fleece had with a bill that had flaps that went over her ears...If I went again I'd get one of those
Bring TONS of Film or tons and/or memory cards for camera - most people on the boat took 20 -40 rolls of film a WEEK. A friend of mine went to Antarctica recently and they brought their laptop which allowed them to clear and download their cards on a daily basis. The day they got back they uploaded 100's pictures to snapfish to send to friends...they had named the files and organized them on the boat. Not a bad idea.
The picture is our polar swim inside the Deception Island Volcano (the water by the shore is warmer here due to the geothermal activity) the air is about 0 though - I am in the front in the white and black bathing suit