What I Wish I Packed For My Antarctica Cruise

I told myself I wouldn’t leave packing for my Antarctica cruise until the last minute. I’d be braving unforgiving and extremely changeable weather – wind, snow, rain, and ice – not to mention living onboard MS Fridtjof Nansen with Hurtigruten Expeditions for 10 days on my first-ever cruise vacation. Did I listen? Nope. Fast forward to five hours before my flight, and there was no time to check Hurtigruten’s packing suggestions, let alone a last-minute shop.

Naturally, I ended up with a list of items I wish I had packed for my polar exploration, but I didn’t. Learn from my mistakes, and don’t skip these 8 Antarctica cruise essentials.

Extra base layers

Your base layer is the most important. I was eternally grateful for my long thermal underwear (specifically, the Uniqlo HeatTech Extra Warm Thermal Leggings & Long Sleeve Thermal Top) while on excursions. The problem? I only packed one set, meaning I had to fork out for onboard laundry after a few days. I wish I’d packed at least one more pair of thermals, which are super comfy for sleeping in and don’t take up much luggage room.

Mainland Antarctica | Ali Pantony

Sunscreen and SPF lip balm 

It may sound unnecessary when traveling to one of the coldest places on the planet, but most Antarctica cruises occur during the southern hemisphere summer – between October and February – and UV rays are surprisingly strong, reflected off the ice, water, and snow in all directions. In fact, one 2020 study found the highest UV irradiances recorded in the continent in over two decades. So yes, it is possible to get sunburnt in Antarctica! I borrowed a waterproof SPF 45 from a fellow passenger and picked up a Nivea Sun Protect SPF Lip Balm in Ushuaia. Similarly, pack sunglasses or ski goggles with adequate UV protection.

Neck gaiter

While I was grateful for my wool hat for keeping my head and ears warm during the blisteringly cold (and often wet) zodiac trips, my cheeks, nose, and lips were not so toasty. So when a fellow passenger lent me his spare breathable neck gaiter from Trek USA, it made a huge difference. Balaclavas and snoods work well, too, but best to avoid scarves, which get easily tangled and can blow away in the harsh winds.

Photo: Ali Pantony

Waterproof mittens and hand-warmers

I packed a pair of cheap gloves (£16) that claimed to be waterproof, but quickly left my hands sodden and frozen. Good-quality waterproof, windproof, and thermal gloves are well worth investing in, and mittens were preferred by most onboard as they leave room for holding handwarmers (genius). Wear thin underlayer gloves too, for when you need to whip your mittens off to take photos or change your camera lens.

Proper waterproof trousers

Similarly, don’t skimp on trousers. Invest in decent waterproof trousers – not just water-resistant ones – to save you spending a fortune in the onboard shop when you return from your first excursion with soaking wet legs (like I did). I purchased the Helly Hansen Rain Pants for £80, and the waterproof, windproof, and breathable construction kept me comfy and dry for the rest of the trip. 


Again, you may not think you need to pack your bikini or swimsuit for a vacation to the continent of ice, but you may wish to take a dip in the hot springs at Deception Island or, if you’re really brave, partake in a ‘polar plunge’ – literally diving into the icy-cold Antarctic waters at the end of one of your expeditions. Plus, there is an outdoor plunge pool, jacuzzies, and a sauna-with-a-view onboard MS Fridtjof Nansen, which aren’t to be missed.

Spare memory card

You’re going to be taking a lot of photos on your Antarctic adventure. Pack multiple SD cards – such as a few SanDisk 64 GB cards – and extra batteries if your camera battery isn’t rechargeable. This will save you time reviewing all your photos and choosing which to delete to save space, as I did. Somewhere to back up your photos, such as an external hard drive, is a good idea.

More snacks!

A common conversation onboard was how most cruise ships are surprisingly sparse in-between-meal snacks to keep you going. My sole pack of M&Ms and a mini bag of almonds were gone within two days. Use any extra luggage space for your favorite snacks; protein bars will boost energy for expeditions. Don’t pack any snacks that aren’t pre-packaged, processed, or unopened – fruits, vegetables, and meats won’t be allowed as these can interfere with different ecosystems. Always check the rules for bringing food onboard your specific cruise line beforehand. 

Rubber boots and waterproof jackets were supplied by Hurtigruten. Most expedition companies do the same, but make sure to check before you travel.

Ali is a Contributing Writer for Porthole Cruise and Travel. She is a part-time Website Director of GLAMOUR UK, part-time freelance lifestyle and travel writer, living in north London. She has visited all 7 continents, is a keen scuba diver, and will judge a hotel based on its breakfast buffet.