Antarctica is a beautiful, otherworldly place. Tall black mountains mostly covered in pure white snow. Large icebergs with stunning curves and unimaginable blues slowly drift through channels. Humpback whales gracefully slip into the turquoise waters. Penguins squawk loudly to ward off large brown skuas from stealing an egg or young chick from their pebble nests.
To get to Antarctica one must board a boat. Usually, cruises launch from Ushuaia, Argentina and cross the infamous Drake Passage known for its rough seas before exploring the Antarctic Peninsula. During the summer, the light in the sky never fades. Wildlife gathers to feast on krill. The weather can be snowy and grey one day to clear to reveal a brilliant blue sky the next.
I’ve wondered many times if people should visit Antarctica. Humans being here in our big ships and trampling through penguin colonies are bound to have effects. But it’s arguable that we benefit from seeing this fragile ecosystem. It’s changed me and pushed me to become zero waste. Hopefully, others take their experience and become change-makes and environmental defenders. Ultimately, I believe the pros outweigh the cons. That being said, people and companies should be aware of the implications of visiting this remote, delicate region of the world. If you visit the beautiful continent, be mindful of your presence and be careful.
What You Really Need to Bring
When I tell people that I’ve worked and traveled in Antarctica, the first thing they’ll say is, “wow, that musta been cold!” But, truth be told, most of the time it wasn’t any colder than your annual ski trip or a harsh winter day back home. I found there are only a few things you really need to bring with you, but if you aren’t prepared you may be a little bit chilled.
Probably the least expected item, sunglasses are one of the most important. During my travels of Antarctica during its summer, there were numerous sunny days. The bright sunshine reflects off the white snow and becomes blinding. Sunglasses make hiking through the snow on a sunny day enjoyable.
Waterproof baseball hat and warm hat
A baseball hat helps keep the sun and snow out of your eyes. I recommend getting a waterproof one unless you don’t mind possible discoloration from water on regular ones. My signature style is to wear my warm hat over my baseball hat. I find it’s ideal because if it becomes too warm I can take off one layer and still have sun protection from the baseball hat.
I wear thin gloves that work with electronic touch screens underneath thick waterproof/resistant mittens. The gloves allow for mobility while the mittens keep you warm. I’ve used thick gloves in the past but found that my fingers got cold easily. Plus, if the weather was a bit too warm, I’d have to opt to have completely bare hands whereas my method gives me more options.
Balaclava or neck cowl
The wind can be harsh on your face, especially on small tender boat cruises.
Thermals (one or two pairs)
You really only need a warm pair of wool or synthetic thermals to wear under your outer gear to be comfortable. My favorite shirt has a built-in balaclava which can be worn either as a neck cowl or pulled up to cover your lower face.
A pair or two of good wool socks keep you warm in boots usually provided by the ship.
Preferably waterproof and in a dark color. Penguin colonies can get a bit gross and may stain light colored pants.
A good puffer jacket is essential. Alternatively, one could wear a warm wool sweater.
A shell helps keep the wind and snow/sea-water away.
Sunscreen and lip balm with sunscreen
On one trip I worked, every member of the crew except me got sunburned. Wear sunscreen!